Eating Disorders in Diverse Populations

Pamela Moore, Getty Images

A common and particularly dangerous myth about eating disorders is that they affect primarily economically advantaged white teenage girls. However, in reality, as summarized in Truth #5 of the collaborative consensus document, the Nine Truths, “Eating disorders affect people of all genders, ages, races, ethnicities, body shapes and weights, sexual orientations, and socioeconomic statuses.” 

One of the problems with the myth is that it can prevent those who do not fit the stereotype from recognizing they have an eating disorder.

It can discourage loved ones and professionals from noticing as well. A 2006 study found that clinicians were less likely to assign an eating disorder diagnosis to a fictional character based on her case history if her race was portrayed as African American than if it was portrayed as Caucasian or Hispanic.

Indeed, many eating disorder sufferers from diverse backgrounds have now come out and said that their failure to fit the stereotype caused delays in diagnosis and treatment. As we know, early intervention significantly improves treatment outcome, so such delays may have serious repercussions.

When I work with people of diverse backgrounds, they consistently tell me they are frustrated that mainstream eating disorder narratives do not portray people who resemble them. Not only the popular media — television, film, print articles, online publications — but even the marketing materials of many eating disorder treatment centers continue to depict eating disorder sufferers mostly as the common stereotype: female, white, and thin.

People of diverse backgrounds find it helpful and encouraging to see themselves reflected in stories and images about eating disorders. They may be more likely to recognize their own problem and seek help when they feel included. With that in mind, I thought it would be useful to share some of my favorite eating disorder resources by, about, and for people of diverse backgrounds.

People of Color

Not All Black Girls Know How to Eat by Stephanie Armstrong is the first eating disorder memoir published by a person of color. The book details her struggle as a black woman with bulimia nervosa.

Nalgona Positivity Pride is a body positive site that focuses on eating disorder awareness for people of color including indigenous people. It was founded by Gloria Lucas, a young American woman of Mexican descent who experienced an eating disorder and “the difficulties of receiving adequate support due to common white-centered misconceptions” of eating disorders.

Soul Strong is an organization that aims to raise eating disorder awareness in the Spanish speaking community in the US and abroad. It was founded by Natalie Miscolta-Cameron, a Latina woman in the US who recovered from an eating disorder.

Thick Dumpling Skin is an online community for Asian Americans to share and discuss body image and eating disorders. It was founded by Lynn Chen and Lisa Lee, Asian Americans who both struggled with food and body image.

Gender Diverse Populations

Trans Folx Fighting Eating Disorders (TFFED) is the first grassroots recovery initiative for trans and gender-diverse communities. Founded by Dagan VanDemark, a trans/genderqueer person who struggled with both an eating disorder and gender dysphoria, it seeks to illuminate, interrupt, and undermine the disproportionately-high incidence of eating disorders in trans and gender-diverse individuals.

Eating Disorders in Older Individuals

A Girl Called Tim is a memoir by June Alexander. The book tells her story of recovery after 40 years of illness in middle age.

Male Eating Disorders

Shattered Image: My Triumph Over Body Dysmorphic Disorder is a memoir of recovery from eating disorder and body dysmorphic disorder by Brian Cuban. He addresses the stigma of being a male with a “female illness.” Since publishing his memoir, he has become a leading advocate for awareness of male eating disorders.

Men Get Eating Disorders Too is a UK Charity that raises awareness of and provides resources for male eating disorders.

The National Association for Males with Eating Disorders (NAMED) is a professional association that provides resources for males with eating disorders.

General Resources

The National Eating Disorders Association, in association with Reasons Eating Disorder Center, has launched the Marginalized Voices Project to highlight the struggles of marginalized and underrepresented communities. Follow also the hashtags: #MarginalizED and #EDshift.

Help me build this list

This is a big world and this list is not exhaustive. I’d like to treat it as a living resource. If there is something you’d like to see added to this list, please email me at drmuhlheim@gmail.com

Source:

Gordon KH, Brattole MM, Wingate LR, Joiner TE., Jr. (2006). The impact of client race on clinician detection of eating disorders. Behavioral Therapy.

Continue Reading