Every February, the National Eating Disorder Association hosts NEDAwareness Week, an annual campaign to provide education, hope, and support around eating disorders to the broader community and empower individuals to share their own experiences. NEDAwareness Week 2022 is the week of February 21st-27th and is centered on the concept, ‘See the Change, Be the Change.’ Efforts like this have created much change in the eating disorder field over the past two decades which include increased awareness of the prevalence of these disorders and decreased stigma. Still, misconceptions about eating disorders continue to persist. Historically marginalized communities, such as Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC), have been and continue to be left out of eating disorder research. By not centering the full diversity of lived experiences, our research is flawed, our services are inadequate, and our communities are left underserved.
More than ever before, people are publicly sharing their own struggles with eating disorders and participating in efforts to reduce stigma. In addition, there has been greater public awareness about the distinct types of eating disorders. For instance, Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa have often been at the forefront of conversations on eating disorders, however, more recently other eating disorders have been identified. While many people may have a long history of struggling with these eating disorders, there was previously no language or terminology to help name them, such as Orthorexia or Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder. To learn more about these and other eating disorders, you can visit NEDA’s ‘Information by Eating Disorder’ page.
There has also been increased awareness that eating disorders impact more populations than just cisgender, heterosexual, young, White females—a historical misconception. Still, there is more work to be done.
Despite progress in the field, there continue to be gaps in scientific literature regarding eating disorders. In other words, science does not reflect the full richness and diversity of lived experiences. There are many lived experiences that have long existed but have not been documented or validated by research. Eating disorder research samples are often limited by their lack of diversity in race, gender, sexual orientation, and other aspects of identity. For example, Egbert and colleagues (2022) found that less than half of all studies published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders in 2000, 2010, and 2020 reported race and ethnicity and of those who did, White participants comprised about 70% of their samples. These findings highlight the ways in which historically marginalized BIPOC continue to be left out of eating disorder research (Egbert et al., 2022).
The overrepresentation of White communities in research limits our ability to understand eating disorders among BIPOC and limits the generalizability of our studies (Egbert et al., 2022). Moreover, without full representation our measures, materials, support systems, and interventions cannot adequately address the needs of diverse communities. Current measures and interventions do not resonate with people of all identities, appeal to a variety of lived experiences, or simply apply to several groups of people in our society. For us to be the change, we need to be inclusive of intersectional identities to ensure they are represented in research, which can expand our understanding of the myriad ways eating disorders manifest among diverse groups.
By: Hannah Wolfe
Hannah is a first-year student at UNC-Chapel Hill’s MSW program, and this is her first year working in the Living F.R.E.E. Lab.
Egbert, A., Hunt, R. A., Williams, K., Burke, N. L., & Mathis, K. J. (2022). Reporting racial and ethnic diversity in eating disorder research over the past 20 years. International Journal of Eating Disorders. https://doi.org/10.31234/osf.io/ys6xz