Episode 14: Eating Disorders Aren’t Just a Thin White Woman’s Disease

Woman sitting on bed with food

Episode description:

Eating disorders affect everyone. Unfortunately, one major eating disorder stereotype is that the illnesses only affect thin, white women, leaving men, nonbinary folx, and BIPOC on the outskirts of the conversation. To discuss this stereotype, the reality, and what we can do to work against the incorrect assumptions around eating disorders, we talk to Emily Program therapist Jamila Helstrom. 

Episode show notes:

Jamila Helstrom is a Pre-Independent Licensed Therapist at The Emily Program. She began working with adolescents and their families at the residential level of care and now works with adults in both outpatient and intensive day treatment settings. Her formal education is from the University of Saint Thomas, but her life experiences working with individuals in eating disorder recovery has taught her the most. Outside of work, she enjoys being a newlywed, listening to music, and speaking Spanish. Jamila joins this episode of Peace Meal to discusses eating disorder stereotypes, culture, and how to facilitate lasting recovery for all individuals.

Jamila has conducted research on eating disorders in the Latin American community and African American populations to learn more about how eating disorders affect non-white individuals. This research demonstrated that all individuals, across populations, can be affected by eating disorders, however, not all of these individuals are seeking care due to stereotypes and lack of treatment accessibility.

We discuss how stigma prevents individuals from seeking eating disorder care and how it also renders some providers unable to spot eating disorders in people of color. Jamila explains that medical training is largely dependent on what is tangible and detectable and that the measures used to assess disordered eating often fail to pick up on signs in minority populations. She suggests looking for signs such as family dynamics, trauma, societal pressures, and culture to detect eating disorders in minority populations. Some specific ways include being aware of co-occurring disorders, body displeasure, altered clothing choices, frequent bathroom trips, and more.

We finish out the podcast discussing ways to promote inclusivity and acceptance in eating disorder treatment. Jamila believes in fostering productive client-relationships that allow each client to have a say in their treatment. By providing each individual with agency in their treatment, we can work to incorporate and understand different experiences while embracing culture as a tool of recovery. Jamila’s best advice to those in recovery is to share your story and to know that recovery is difficult. She hopes folks always remember that there is a community around them—from family and friends to therapists and fellow recoverees.

We cite studies and statistics from NEDA in this episode.

You can find us at The Emily Program online or by calling 1-888-364-5977.

About the podcast:

Peace Meal is an Emily Program podcast that discusses topics related to eating disorders, body image issues, and how society may contribute to distorted thinking.

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