We’re talking about EDs so much more, so why is nothing changing?

We’re talking about EDs so much more, so why is nothing changing?

We’re talking about Eds so much more, so why is nothing changing?” is a question that occasionally rattles around my brain with an air of frustration. I’ve been doing ‘this’ – and by ‘this’ I mean attempting to combat stigma, and increase awareness of Eating Disorders – for over 15 years now.  Yet, despite the thousands of conversations I must have had in those years, I still hear and see so many of the same issues as when I started.

I still see an over-overemphasis on weight when people talk about Eating Disorders, and when people try to access the care they need.  I still hear the stories of rigid referral criteria being a barrier to care, and the painfully sad reality that some of those affected feel that they have to get sicker (and by ‘sicker’, essentially, I mean thinner or actively suicidal) to be deserving of care.

I still see that the image of Eating Disorder-lived experience is mostly only visible in the form of a thin, white, middle class female, usually under the age of 25…. and that the REALITY of Eating Disorders is not being truly understood except by those with personal experience via their own struggle, or that of a loved ones.  With the highest mortality of all mental health illnesses, and with an ever-rising number of cases, I just don’t understand why we are still in the same situation.

Maybe I’m being a little blind to some changes that HAVE happened…. because I am aware that it seems to be easier to talk about mental health now than it did those 15 years ago…. there has also been more stories and news articles on the topic of Eating Disorders in mass media over the duration of the pandemic than ever before.  But what use is it if that talking isn’t actually creating meaningful change?  

I want to see change

I want to see change in the form of all people understanding that Eating Disorders are mental health illness in which those affected experience huge amounts of mental distress, and struggle to engage with life as we live it.  AND I want all of those affected with Eating Disorders to be able to access the care they need with a combined physical health and mental health approach that is tailored to the individual’s needs.  It doesn’t feel like the huge ask that it seems to be.

Earlier this week I was speaking at the Eating Disorder International Conference (EDIC) – Beat’s main professional conference – and I felt this rattle of frustration flying around my thoughts so much that I am pretty sure I wasn’t very articulate, and I didn’t say what I’d hoped to say….  Because all I could think was, “how are we still having the conversation?” and “where do we even start to improve things?”.

The topic for the panel I was joining was “How can we ensure that government obesity strategies do no harm to people with eating disorders?” and the speakers consisted of a group of professionals who I’d like to think all have a shared goal to help people, but who might not all be on the same page about what that help might mean.  Some spoke of the importance of challenging weight bias (something which I happen to think is so very important) but from others there was still a sprinkle of terms like ‘treating obesity’ and ‘healthy eating’ in ways that (to me at least) confirmed some weight bias.  We also are still focusing on the underweight folks, and the folks in bigger bodies – we’ve known for some time that most people affected by Eating Disorders “look average”, right?  Very few people with Eating Disorders are underweight, some might be in higher weight bodies, and most just “look average”.  You can’t tell someone has an Eating Disorder by their body size….  You can’t tell ANYTHING about a person, including their health status, based only on their body size.

So, here I am still hoping, still waiting to see a conference topic focused clearly on ensuring that all people, in all types of bodies, have equal access to Eating Disorder-related care, and physical health-related care – exactly as they deserve!

6 Comments
  • Stella Neophytou
    Posted at 13:15h, 27 March Reply

    Hi Kell.

    It strikes me that the reason nothing much has changed is that we are too focused on the issues and not seeing the person in front of us as a living human being with their own unique experiences. If we focus on each individual and empower them to focus on how they would like to see their lives going forward only then is progress possible.

    By helping people to envision a better way they tap into their own creative flow and miracles happen. External fixes never work, only tapping into our internal resources, can we come to find our solutions and thrive even during the most difficult of times.

    • Kel_MHB
      Posted at 13:23h, 27 March Reply

      Stella. Your first comment takes the words literaly out of my mouth with regards to when other professionals ask me why I am stating I work humanistically, rather than using a fixed, ‘gold stardard’ approach…. because I’m not treating Eating Disorders, I’m supporting PEOPLE!

  • Nia Griffiths
    Posted at 19:47h, 29 March Reply

    The points raised in this have been worded perfectly! Kel, you are so right! The awareness around eating disorders is out there, not enough is being done. Early intervention and prevention is key when it comes to eating disorders, yet, there is still so much red tape around it, and criteria’s that are ‘required’ to be met in order to receive help? Eating disorders do not have a look and no one should feel as though they have to be at a certain weight to have an eating disorder. I believe that when eating disorders are assessed, there should be more focus on the individuals mental health, yes, physical health is important and a healthy weight should be the aim, but what about the mindset of an individual? Surely that needs to be a main focus too, individuals need to be guided into developing a more healthy relationship and thought process surrounding food, appearance and eating habits. Too many individuals are being let down and being made to feel invalid due to them constantly being reminded of BMI’s and weight. Anyone should be able to openly speak about their eating disorder and should never feel the need to keep it to themselves because they have a fear of being judged due to them not typically having all of the symptoms the health services use. Any individual can have an eating disorder and should not feel as though they are not valid or not warranted help and support. We need to break the stigma and make more people aware of how weight does not define an individual and that they are entitled to support despite the number on the scale or on a chart.
    Keep going, you’re an inspiration to many x

    • Kel_MHB
      Posted at 20:00h, 29 March Reply

      Thank you for your comment Nia, and especially your kind words. We will keep hoping, and we will keep pushing forward. 🙂

  • Jennifer Pitt
    Posted at 17:16h, 06 April Reply

    Such wise and important words, Kel … I completely feel , see and hear your frustration.

    I am going to PM you, if that is ok but meanwhile, if you and your followers/colleagues haven’t heard this already, this is worth a listen: .https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0bzdc7z

    Thank you for all you do

    Jennifer
    x

    • Kel_MHB
      Posted at 07:48h, 07 April Reply

      Hi Jennifer – thanks for sharing the link. I had noted it had aired but not had chance to listen yet. Perhaps today.

      I really value you sharing in the comments for other readers to see. I hope you and others can’t get back to using the comments in this type of way.

      As always feel free to message me.

      Kel

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