My Call for Change on World Eating Disorders Action Day
Today, June 2nd 2017, is the second annual World Eating Disorders Action Day. This is a grassroots movement designed for and by people affected by an eating disorder, their families, and the medical and health professionals who support them. On their website and facebook page they promote nine truths about eating disorders and nine goals for action on eating disorders. I believe in this day and I appreciate the focus on action together, #WeDoActTogether.
It is about awareness and, ultimately, it is about hope.
It feels like the groundswell around eating disorder awareness and treatment reform is growing and that systems and decision-makers are realising that we are not doing enough or doing it as well as we could be. Evidence of this in Australia is the impact and wins of the recent MAYDAYS campaign by the Butterfly Foundation. Through their consistent and increasingly loud advocacy efforts eating disorders have received the attention of and commitmment for change by federal politicians.
This is all welcome and about time.
Thinking about my own experience with and recovery from anorexia, as well as the learnings I get through supporting many others therapeutically, I have reflected on what I believe needs to be happen in this area and I share these now.
What I call for action on:
-> professionals and supporters believing in recovery and holding hope for everyone
Not all helpers realise how important this belief in recovery and hope is to the interactions they have with people and the lasting impact it can have for the trajectory of the eating disorder and recovery. Hope is held, severely compromised or banished by others and it matters.
-> less medicalised and number-focused support options or ‘risk’-based decisions for therapy
Much of the treatment available for eating disorders is based on medical needs or numbers, like bmi, as primary indicators of distress. Whilst these are clearly relevant and important they should not be the sole determiner of who receives treatment and who does not or the way that treatment happens. We know that eating disorders have many social influences and impacts, including experiences of trauma, that are critical to the support that people require. To look at only one element in isolation just does not make sense to me.
-> availability of non-hospital based treatment options
Whilst hospitalisation is required by some people, the majority of people who experience an eating disorder do not and would benefit from stepped down residential or day support options that are wholistic in nature and financially accesible. Recovery happens in the community yet intensive community options are essentially non-existent in Australia.
-> the voice of people with lived experience included at all levels of action and support
Including people with lived experience of eating disorders in awareness campaigns and service response planning, implemention and delivery will make a difference. We need it to be ‘safe’ for clinicians with lived experience to speak up too without being ethically questioned or judged for doing so. Through my own experience I know that this matters to people and is sought after. It is also something that the US does well with Carolyn Costin, who I admire immensely, at the forefront.
-> changing the way eating disorders are understood and talked about
Understanding of eating disorders needs to increase broadly in the community as well as specifically with people that do or may treat people with an eating disorder. Outdated knowledge about cause and treatment and misinformed ideas of the type of people that are impacted inhibit recovery and service access.
-> dignity, respect and compassion as the foundation of all treatment and support
People with eating disorders are human and extremely vulnerable. This does not mean that they are weak or need to be pitied or cannot make decisions for themselves. Removing control, limiting focus to what is already hard and invalidating their experience has no place in support or treatment of people with an eating disorder.
-> what about partners?
Increasingly awareness campaigns and treatment methods are focused on families, whilst this is crucial it is also important to create space for other relationships that people have. More and more people are living with an eating disorder at older ages and more and more people with disordered eating are living with partners and/or children. We need to remember the diversity of families and living situations and speak to them all.
So these are my thoughts. What actions and change do you believe needs to happen for eating disorders? I would love to hear, inbox me at ellie[at]elliehodges.com.
… with heart,