When many people think of someone struggling with an eating disorder, they think of a thin, white, upper-middle-class girl, probably in her teens or early 20s, who fears weight gain and exercises constantly. While this is the experience of some people with eating disorders, this stereotype often hurts many others who are struggling with eating disorders, such as people of color and folks in larger bodies.
According to the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), people of color are significantly less likely to be asked by a doctor about their eating habits and/or eating disorder symptoms, even though they are likely to struggle with an eating disorder at the same rate as their white peers. Black and Hispanic teenagers are actually more likely to suffer from bulimia than white teenagers, but are less likely to be diagnosed with it (click here for more information). Many practitioners, both in the medical and counseling fields, are less likely to see eating disorder behaviors as problematic within people of color, and therefore may not make the appropriate treatment recommendations that could help. Project Heal, an organization that is working on making eating disorder treatment more equitable for everyone, recently posted a blog about a 29-year-old Black queer woman who struggled to get treatment, presenting symptoms that were clearly red flags but were not seen as problematic by her doctors. Her story shows some of the barriers that people of color and folks within the LGBTQ+ community must overcome in order to get the treatment they need and deserve. Click here to read the blog in full.
The stereotype also hurts people who live in larger bodies, as their eating disorders are often invalidated by medical professionals, supports, and even therapists who do not have a thorough understanding of the different presentations of eating disorders. Many of our clients in larger bodies talk about weight stigma that they have experienced, which means they have experienced bias or discrimination based on their body size. I have heard stories of friends, family, and physicians praising clients for restricting or purging (especially through exercise) for “trying to be healthy.” Physicians are less likely to refer them to treatment for any of their eating disorder behaviors and insurance companies sometimes deny coverage due to them not meeting low-weight requirements (obviously, this is bullshit). Check out this post about seeking treatment in a larger body.
For people of color and people in larger bodies, their experiences with their eating disorders are often invalidated because they do not fit the stereotype. I have heard clients say that their recovery is “less than” those who started in a smaller body and needed to gain weight, regardless of diagnosis, because their recovery bodies may not necessarily meet the standards of the toxic diet culture that we live in. Recovering from an eating disorder is hard enough – adding implicit bias and weight stigma makes it even harder. For more information on how you can help eliminate treatment inequity, visit Project Heal’s website at https://www.theprojectheal.org. To learn more about weight stigma and the impact this has on people in larger bodies, check out Christy Harrison’s website here.