Author Jodi Jaspan is a licensed professional counselor (LPC) and serves as the director of business development for Seeds of Hope, an eating disorder treatment program with a location in Center City. Seeds of Hope serves people of all genders and aims to create a safe and welcoming space for all.
To honor and help the estimated 30 million Americans battling the condition, the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) hosts an annual awareness week. This year it runs Monday, Feb. 25, through Sunday, Mar. 3.
“Come As You Are” is the 2019 theme, with an emphasis on diversity in the community. Although young white women are often thought of as the primary group affected, eating disorders occur in all demographics. They’ve recently been found to be on the rise in women over the age of 35, and are increasingly being diagnosed among people of color.
Here are seven ways to help fight eating disorder stigma and support people in recovery.
Attend events to raise awareness
Every February, NEDA coordinates walks in different cities to raise awareness and collect donations. The Philly walk is set for April 27 at Xfinity Live, with a fundraising goal of $75,000.
Donate to an advocacy org
Along with city-funded efforts coordinated at Healthy Minds Philly, several organizations exist to advocate for people with eating disorders and provide treatment resources and support. February is the perfect month to make a donation — you may want to consider a recurring contribution to offer support throughout the year. Here are a few orgs — both locally- and nationally-based — that help people in the Philadelphia area:
- American Anorexia & Bulimia Association of Philadelphia
- Eating Disorders Coalition
- Anorexia Nervosa and Related Eating Disorders, Inc.
- Binge Eating Disorder Association
- National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders
Poke around and do some research
Eating disorders are complex illnesses caused by a variety of factors, from genetic to environmental. Take some time this month to educate yourself about risk factors, symptoms, and treatment options. There are many free online resources, such as the Academy for Eating Disorders. Improving your own understanding will put you in a better position to advocate for those who struggle.
Speak out against stereotypes
There are many stereotypes about eating disorders and body image issues. People often believe these illnesses are a choice, that you can always tell when someone has an eating disorder, or that being dangerously thin is desirable. Whenever you hear someone express a misconception, speak up and correct it. Also, make a conscious effort to avoid commenting on appearance. Focus instead on positive traits that have nothing to do with someone’s body.
Use social media to decrease stigma
Social media is a powerful platform for raising awareness. Share info about eating disorders this month, including videos, blog posts, or even a personal testimony if you have struggled with an eating disorder. You can also share body positive messages to encourage people who are experiencing body dissatisfaction.
Offer support to friends and family
People with eating disorders may not even realize they are struggling. These illnesses alter the way a person views themselves and the world. This month, take some time to check in with friends and family. Offer them your support. Talk to them about any body image issues they may be having. You may be the one who convinces them to seek treatment or challenge negative thought patterns.
Get an assessment
Early intervention is key to recovery. Now is the perfect time to get yourself or your children screened for an eating disorder. Talk to your primary care provider about warning signs and symptoms. You might also consider taking a self-assessment online, or contacting a treatment center for a formal evaluation if you are concerned about a potential eating disorder.
While these are all appropriate activities for the month, we should ideally be working to raise awareness throughout the year. Use these ideas to form a habit of advocating for body positivity. Breaking down stigma starts at the individual level; don’t underestimate the impact your efforts can have on your community.