I’m sitting in the San Francisco airport having wrapped up my week at the International Conference on Eating Disorders 2016. Perhaps it’s my fatigue setting in, but I don’t feel terribly enlightened from the experience. Instead I continue to feel sad at the state of the industry. Here’s why.
My two personal areas of expertise and specialization is the treatment of binge eating disorder (BED) and the treatment of men with eating disorders. I go to these conferences around the country, put on by a multitude of treatment centers and non-profits. And invariably the “experts” in the field continue to focus on the young anorexic female. There are dozens of us in the field who continue to shout into the wind that this is a limited and antiquated representation of the eating disorders experience. Yet the money for research still focuses on this sector. And the big money spent by insurance companies and families for lavish treatment centers overwhelming comes from the care of the young, female, restricting patient. If this is your moneymaker, there is no need to change the message.
As a result, the continued misinformation keeps getting shared. I heard presenters say binge eating disorder is a less serious disease. I heard that men and boys are not really a concern. I heard virtually no mention of LGBTQ or none-binary gender or gender queer individuals. Thank goodness for those advocates and researchers who did stand up, try to create awareness, do their best to educate and open minds. But here’s the real deal.
It’s not going to matter until those who are not in the well-recognized group of sufferers start to seek and even demand treatment. Researchers won’t get funding until there is a known need. Treatment centers won’t open up programs for specific populations like men and those with BED, muscle dysmorphia, or atypical forms of eating disorders unless the market demands it.
Look, I know full well that seeking treatment can suck. This is a shame-based illness, secretive in nature and very much misunderstood as some kind personality issue. It’s not. It’s a biological illness, predominantly neurologic in origin and driven by external pressures from neglect and abuse to cultural norms and lack of available resources.
It’s not your fault that you have an eating disorder. But it is your responsibility to get help. You do it for you. You do it for your loved ones. You do it for your future. And hopefully you do it to help create a cultural shift that those with the dollars to help raise awareness on a large scale start to take note of people just like you who may not fit the typical model of an eating disorder sufferer.
We have a long way to go to get there, but if you seek help, the treatment options will come and the research dollars will open up. The result is we get better at both prevention and treatment of this deadliest of mental illnesses.
By Andrew Walen, LCSW-C - Founder, Executive Director, Psychotherapist at The Body Image Therapy Center. If you would like to get in touch with Andrew please call 877-674-2843 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.