Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Why I Lobby (and Why You Should Too!)

Richmond, Virginia
By: Matt Wetsel

One of the Bills that the Eating Disorders Coalition (EDC) supports is the Federal Response to the Elimination of Eating Disorders, or the FREED Act. Sometimes people see that word ‘eliminate’ and ask us – do you really think that’s possible?  Well, here are the facts: We know recovery is possible. We know many of the warning signs for the onset of eating disorders. We have effective treatment models. So, those make you wonder…

Why, then, are eating disorders on the rise?
Why are people dying from them?
Why is it so hard to get help for an eating disorder?

Unfortunately, it’s complicated. Long before someone seeks help, there are a lot of barriers already in place. These often include:

1) Stigma. Although eating disorders are talked about by the general public more now than even just ten years ago, the average person still lacks significant understanding of the complicated nature of eating disorders, and the seriousness of the diseases.  The lack of understanding remains, in part, because eating disorder sufferers often try to keep their disease secret – those suffering from eating disorders go to many lengths to try and hide or cover up their behavior and try to appear ‘normal.’  It also doesn’t help that, many still view eating disorders as an “illogical problem.”  Despite increased discussion and awareness, it is still difficult for people who haven’t ever been close to someone with an eating disorder to understand how such a disorder develops and takes root, because many people still wonder, “Why would you choose to starve yourself? Why would you chose to throw up your food? Why don’t you just stop binging?”  To many, eating disorders don’t make logical sense.  These uninformed ideas and opinions about a disease that is anything but a choice, are reinforced by…

2) The Media/Pop Culture.  Just this past Thursday, going through the check-out lane I was greeted by a celebrity gossip magazine cover devoted to eating disorders (EDs). The cover consisted of a collage of emaciated models and actresses, along with a list of other celebrities covered in the issue, their various EDs, and the promise of lowest weights and caloric intake in the articles contained within. Anyone see the problems here?  The main problem is the myths purported.  First, they were only covering women.  Second, to have an eating disorder, you do not have to look emaciated.  Binge-eaters and compulsive overeaters typically aren’t underweight, and bulimics often seem to maintain (emphasis on “seem to”) what appears to be a healthy weight due to the way the body responds to purging activities. The magazine’s glamorization of emaciated celebrities misrepresented the breadth and variation of those who suffer eating disorders.  If the extreme portrayals exhibited in the magazine stories are all the general public ever sees or hears on eating disorders, then that makes early detection and prevention harder.  For people in a position to support someone with an ED, this media misrepresentation instills a bias before they even approach the subject, and makes it harder for people to take seriously. Speaking of taking it seriously…

3) Treatment Coverage. A recent Glamour article highlighted the fact that most doctor’s do not know how to diagnose eating disorders, including if the patient is underweight, whether slightly or grossly, or exhibiting signs and symptoms of bulimia or binge eating disorder.  Part of the reason why doctors don’t identify eating disorders in their patients is because they are undertrained in medical school, and they rely on pop culture to judge whether or not a patient has an eating disorder.  All too often patients have heard things like:

-“Well, you’re not that underweight, so you’re not anorexic.”
-“Just don’t let your diet get out of control.”
-“Hey –at least you’re not overweight!”

Unfortunately, appearances can be deceiving, and not even doctors are immune to the thin-is-healthy bias. This is further compounded by the lack of research done on eating disorders. To date, there have been no comprehensive, nationally representative studies on eating disorder prevalence. There is endless debate about the ‘cause’ of eating disorders, and almost as much debate about the best way to treat them.

Looking at what we’re up against, it’s pretty easy to feel discouraged. The good news is, there are already members of Congress, the individual advocates and the Member Organizations of the EDC and other organizations working to address these problems.

For starters, the EDC has partnered with Mothers Against Eating Disorders and The Alliance for Eating Disorder Awareness to put on the biggest event in EDC National Lobby Day (Lobby Day) history yet! On September 30, 2014 the Mothers and Other’s March (M.O.M.) Against ED will take place in Washington, DC. The day will conclude with the world premiere of America the Beautiful 3 (ATB3) and the filmmaker himself, Darryl Roberts.  The ATB film series has shed light on the many ways that the beauty industry contributes to the unhealthy relationships that so many people suffer with their body, and we’re thrilled to have him join us!

October 1, 2014 will see the EDC’s 26th Lobby Day on Capitol Hill. We’re excited to continue advocating and gathering support for the FREED Act.  And, we’ll also be introducing new legislative initiatives around the Body Mass Index (BMI). 

So how can you get involved? For starters, join us for Lobby Day and the M.O.M March! Full details and registration can be found here:

Showing up in numbers on Capitol Hill, sharing our voices and collective message with Members of Congress and their really amazing staffers is ultimately the best way for us to advocate together and make change, but… If you can’t make it to DC for Lobby Day and the M.O.M. March but you still want to be a part of history, stay tuned to the EDC’s FB, Twitter and blog for how you can make a difference even if you’re not on the Hill with us that day. 

Whether in DC or supporting from a distance, we hope you’re as excited as we are about the upcoming events and Lobby Day efforts. It’s a chance to make a difference for millions of people and continue to advance a cause we all care so much about. That’s why I’ve been involved for the past seven years, and why I keep coming back. So please, join us however you’re able. See you soon!

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