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Why Eating Disorders are Social Justice Issues


Eating disorders started with racism and sexism.

It’s no coincidence that deeming certain body types as ‘good vs. bad’ started during the time when America was colonized and later began the transatlantic slave trade. Controlling women's bodies came about through colonization, when European settlers in America were intimidated by the matriarchal structures of most indigenous groups. By classifying certain bodies (BIPOC) as 'bad' and 'sinful' colonizers could justify their inhumane treatments: genocide, slavery, sexual exploitation. For European women, this provided 'social order' as it instilled messages that a larger body was bad, sinful and to be avoided (cue fatphobia).


Colonization and the Morality of Food

The morality of food (good vs. bad) started during colonization in the U.S. Colonizers believed indigenous foods (foods mostly grown in the ground) were bad, wrong, and would cause white folx to turn into 'savages.'

This dehumanization paved the way for colonizers to take over their land, food and wipe out large amounts of indigenous people.

This also influenced conformity to the idea that certain foods are good vs. bad- which still plays out today and keeps the diet industry rich and thriving.


Long Term Effects.

The trauma of famine, starvation and food scarcity that BIPOC folx faced (and still face) lead to disordered eating behaviors across generations. Starvation changes your brain. It changes how you behave around food, and this is passed down through many generations through epigenetics.

People with a family history of food scarcity are much more likely to develop issues with eating even if it is not currently a problem in the individual's life.


The Diet Industry and Capitalism

The diet industry is a 72 billion dollar plus industry that knowingly promotes diets that fail. This is done to keep people coming back to the next latest and greatest diet, in order for the industry to stay in a state of profit.

The diet industry does this under the guise of 'health', when food/exercise only compromises 10-25% of overall health combined. Social factors and genetics are the largest contributors to our ‘health’- much of this we have no control over as individuals. Things like access to resources, finances, experiences of oppression and weight stigma are some of the biggest contributors to our health and well being.

The diet industry targets mostly women, and promotes thin, white, cis, able bodied women as the ideal.


Racism, classism and access to treatment:

Doctors are less likely to assess for ED's among BIPOC folx even though black women are 50% more likely to develop bulimia.

There is a serious lack of ED treatment centers in low income communities; due to high cost of treatment, rising cost of health insurance and lack of government funded ED programs. This means, the majority of people that need treatment, will never receive it.

Further, current evidence based treatments for eating disorders are largely normed and studied on white folx; leaving cultural sensitivity completely out of the picture. So, if marginalized groups manage to break through all the barrier and do end up getting access to treatment; the likelihood that their identities will be affirmed and treatment will be relevant to their specific needs, is even less likely.

Food scarcity STILL exists primarily in BIPOC communities- a primary risk factor for disordered eating.

AND eating disorders are among the deadliest of ALL mental health diagnoses.


Diet/wellness culture is ableist.

The 'wellness' industry (just diet industry in disguise), pushes the idea that our 'health' is of premier importance to our worthiness.

And, that if we're not healthy- it's our fault.

This is bullshit. Health is influenced by a wide variety of factors, many of which are out of our control, like genetics.

People will still have chronic illnesses no matter how much kale or quinoa they eat. People of all body sizes have health issues AND health is not a fixed state. It fluctuates for all of us-sickness is part of life for many people.


Last but not least, all of this is fatphobic AF.

Body diversity is a thing, always has been, always will. Some people are meant to have larger bodies. Our DNA is the largest predictor of this (look up set point weight theory if you don't believe me).

Health does not come in a one size fits all body type. People in all body types can work towards health behaviors regardless of size. AND no one needs to work towards health if they don't want to. It's not an indication of worth or success.


People in larger bodies face real discrimination- often forced to buy multiple plane tickets, lack of public transport accessibility, medical discrimination, less pay and job opportunities compared to thin folx, etc.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of all the ways system issues impact eating disorders. However, these are some of the major themes. I hope these inspire you to keep pushing forward in recovery because everyone that recovers is actively dismantling these harmful systems. The work to dismantle systems of oppression starts within ourselves. We uncover the lies we have been sold, we evaluate our behaviors and thoughts. We realize the very things driving some of our thoughts and behaviors are also keeping others oppressed- and we vow to do differently- one baby step at a time. HUGE shoutout to everyone in recovery, and every provider helping people recover. Together we are resisting these harmful structures.


Resources & Recommended Reading on these topics:

Fearing the Black Body by Sabrina Strings

You Have the Right to Remain Fat by Virgie Tovar

The Body is Not an Apology by Sonya Renee Taylor

https://socialistrevolution.org/how-capitalism-profits-from-eating-disorders/

https://www.wellandgood.com/ableism-issue-in-wellness/

https://haescommunity.com/

https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/size-diversity-health-every-size


Blog by Allyson Ford, MA, LPCC


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