March Against Eating Disorders

The inaugural March Against Eating Disorders was held on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. this past Tuesday (Sept. 30th). This event, coupled with the Eating Disorders Coalition Lobby Day, brought together individuals from across the country to unite in a common cause. Twenty-eight nonprofits (including REbeL), those in recovery, their families, and treatment providers joined forces to fight eating disorders.

As the representative for REbeL, I attended both events (and was excited to have one of my favorite people, Lauren Breithaupt, REbeL’s Research Coordinator, with me)! In experiencing the emotions of the day, connecting with the many beauty-full advocates, and seeing the effort put forth to make a difference, I was reminded of why I do what I do. I left D.C. thinking about why I marched (and lobbied!).

I marched . . .

Because I spent nearly 10 years in a daily battle with myself . . . my thoughts consumed with exercise, food labels, and “thigh gaps;” my mind never turning off. Because the very substance needed to nurture my body was the thing that terrified me. Because when I was struggling, I felt ashamed, alone, and afraid.

Because throughout my education, including a doctorate degree in clinical psychology, eating disorders were barely discussed. 30 million Americans are diagnosed with an eating disorder1,and in fact, eating disorders are the most deadly of all psychiatric illnesses. And yet, in becoming a psychologist, we learned almost nothing about how to effectively diagnose and treat these biologically-based brain disorders.

Because eating disorders research is woefully underfunded. The National Institute of Health has allocated only $1.20 in research funding per affected eating disorder patient, compared to $159.00 per affected individual with schizophrenia.

Because recovery is possible and treatment works–yet only 1 in 10 of those with eating disorders receive treatment. Federal legislation is needed because there continues to be no requirement for eating disorders to be covered by insurance companies. And even when insurance does pay for treatment, there are typically significant limitations placed on patient care that are not consistent with promoting recovery.

Because awareness, education, and prevention programs are needed in the schools. Food and weight preoccupation can be prevented. Eating disorders can be prevented. But to accomplish this, we need increased awareness and education, and early intervention when these problems do develop. Our schools can and should become more body-positive environments for our children—environments free of calorie-counting health assignments, BMI testing, and weight stigma.

I marched . . .

Because we have created a culture in which appearance is valued over substance, what you look like is more important than who you are, and judging others’ bodies has become a national pastime.

Because our intense fear of fat has influenced widespread policy and funding decisions that are not based on research or “best practices,” and are only compounding the problems.

Because we spend $60 billion per year on diet products (that don’t work!)2.

Because I work with the next generation of activists. I ask them to be brave advocates who “REbeL” for the greater good, and I must do the same.

Because I have a voice, and I know that, in using that voice, I can and I will create change.

Because I was lucky. I recovered. But so many others don’t have that chance. Every 62 minutes, someone dies as a direct result of their eating disorder. I marched because THAT. IS. NOT. OKAY.

I marched because this matters.

1All statistics are courtesy of the Eating Disorders Coalition for Research, Policy & Action unless otherwise noted.

2http://www.worldometers.info/weight-loss/; accessed on October 4, 2014.