Eating disorders are serious conditions that impact both emotional and physical health, and can have life-threatening consequences. Despite how they may be portrayed in the media, eating disorders are not fads nor are they choices, and they require serious interventions to allow for full recovery. In the United States alone, 20 million women and 10 million men have been diagnosed with eating disorders at some point in their lives. These statistics likely don’t capture the full breadth of people with eating disorders, as many people go undiagnosed and thus untreated throughout their lives. Furthermore, many people suffer from subclinical disordered eating behaviors. While these individuals do not have diagnosable eating disorders according to the DSM-5 (the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic tool), their struggles with body dissatisfaction and food and weight preoccupation may impact their lives and relationships.
Here’s the bad news: despite the fact that the incidence of new eating disorders has been on the rise since 1950, insurance coverage for eating disorder treatment is lacking, research on eating disorders remains underfunded, and there has been little to no change in societal pressure around the thin ideal. To give you a sense of just how underfunded eating disorder research is, take a look at the numbers: in 2011, research dollars spent on Alzheimer’s disease averaged around $88 per impacted individual. For Schizophrenia, that number was $81 per impacted individual. For eating disorders, on the other hand, the average amount spent per impacted individual was just $0.93. Clearly, there is a missing piece of the puzzle in our quest to provide the best possible funding and care for eating disorder treatment, and that’s where you come in.
Here’s the good news: whether you are struggling with an eating disorder yourself or have a close friend or family member who has been impacted by one, there are many ways to get involved with eating disorder advocacy. Advocacy comes in all shapes and forms (just like humans!), and I hope this article will give you the resources to find the type of eating disorder advocacy that best suits your specific needs and goals. Whether you have a desire to promote awareness about eating disorders within your community, educate friends, family, and government officials on the gravity of eating disorders and their comorbidities, or advocate for the need for affordable treatment for all individuals suffering with eating disorders, there is something for everyone.
Where to Begin?
Getting involved in eating disorder advocacy may feel like an overwhelming undertaking. I suggest starting off by checking out the websites of eating disorder organizations. Many of these organizations are always looking for volunteers to help with outreach. Some tasks may include making phone calls, assisting at an event, or sharing information on social media. While this may not sound like much, all advocacy, no matter how big or small, is impactful. Some organizations to check out include the National Eating Disorders Association, the Academy for Eating Disorders, the Eating Disorder Coalition, and Project Heal. In addition to these more well-known eating disorder organizations, you may also find rewarding volunteer opportunities with smaller, more local organizations. Mirror-Mirror has compiled a thorough list of eating disorder non-profits that may be able to use your help.
As eating disorder awareness grows, more and more conferences and events have begun to pop up around the country. Both the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD) and the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) conferences occur annually. These conferences host healthcare providers, individuals with eating disorders and their families, educators, and advocates (like you!), and include panel sessions, workshops, and discussions. Conferences are great opportunities to network and plan for future advocacy events with like-minded individuals.
You can also head to Capitol Hill for lobby days. Through Eating Disorders Coalition’s annual advocacy day, you can join eating disorder activists in Washington, D.C. as they educate lawmakers about the grave realities of eating disorders, and the importance of adequate funding, insurance coverage, and accessible treatment for all individuals impacted by eating disorders. If you aren’t able to make it to Eating Disorder Coalition’s advocacy day, there are many other chances to lobby with eating disorder groups throughout the year. Once you connect to an eating disorder non-profit organization, you may be able to join them as they lobby for eating disorder rights. In addition to lobbying, you can join The National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) at one of their eating disorders walks throughout the country to raise money for and awareness about eating disorders, treatment, and recovery. There are numerous upcoming walks this fall, you can find a full list here. Not only are these walks empowering, but they raise money for a great cause and may provide you with the opportunity to meet other eating disorder activists in your area.
And finally, you can partake in eating disorder advocacy from your own home by joining the conversation on social media. Many non-profit organizations have open forums that allow you to connect with other individuals who are struggling with eating disorders, in eating disorder recovery, or have friends or family suffering from eating disorders. Additionally, you can share your unfiltered selfies on Instagram using the #NEDAselfie hashtag. This movement hopes to promote feeling comfortable in your skin. This may not sound like advocacy, but not only is it an act of bravery, it may inspire someone who is struggling with their own eating disorder to post a selfie of their own or seek help.
As people suffering with eating disorders know, the road to recovery isn’t an easy one. It’s possible, though, that getting involved in eating disorder advocacy, whether it be from the comfort of your home or by joining a walk in your city, can help provide inspiration and healing. You may find it empowering to become a part of the solution, and you may help others along the way.
About the Author:
Lauren Koffler is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist based in New York City. Her counseling focuses on health promotion and disease prevention with an emphasis on intuitive eating and size acceptance.
What Are Eating Disorders? NEDA Website. Published 2012. Accessed September 20, 2017.
NEDA Walk, Save a Life: Published 2017. Accessed September 20, 2017.
Written – 2017