Allies coming out of the closet.

In response to the ridiculous Lincoln University fat-students-can’t-graduate debacle, some allies of Health at Every Size have stepped out of the shadows.

In an unprecedented show of concern, The Academy for Eating Disorders (AED), Binge Eating Disorder Association (BEDA), Eating Disorder Coalition (EDC), International Association for Eating Disorder Professionals (IADEP), and National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) have joined forces and are urging focus on health and lifestyle rather than weight as a measurement of well-being.

“There is concern that we have lost sight of avoiding harm in the process of addressing obesity,” AED President Susan Paxton, PhD, FAED states.

Eating disorders practitioners have long been, in my experience, proponents of body diversity and Health at Every Size approaches, since these philosophies are essential to helping people recover from eating disorders and body image crises. In fact, I often advise people who contact me looking for a dietitian or nutritionist to search for those who specialize in eating disorders. Why? Because they are more likely to be familiar with and supportive of Health at Every Size, and less apt to promote weight loss.

And because these organizations are well-known and respected, I am extremely pleased to see them coming out against programs like Lincoln University’s — which would require students with a BMI over 30 to either lose weight, or pass a “healthy lifestyle” class in order to graduate — and firmly in favour of valuing health over weight.

Five or six years ago, I spent a year volunteering at a local eating disorders community centre. As soon as I walked in the door and saw the murals on the walls, and the signs saying “Please don’t talk about your diet,” I felt right at home. It was the first time in my life I’d ever felt I was in an explictly size-friendly space. It was an experience that made a deep impression on me in my fledgling efforts at self-acceptance and activism.

Though I was surrounded mostly by thin people, I was never uncomfortable being the fat lady because I knew we all struggled with the same cultural pressures, the same messages, and we were rebelling against a common enemy — the forces in our society that tell us we are not worthy of food or self-love. There was a simultaneous feeling of subversiveness and support. We were in it together.

Make no mistake — these are our sisters and brothers, fighting a parallel battle.







18 responses to “Allies coming out of the closet.”

  1. Suzanne Avatar

    I don’t think I ever had a full-blown eating disorder, but I do know that I indulged in some “disordered eating”. I have often wondered if some Eds are not already present in people, but just needing the “fertile ground” of our diet/weight/food obsessed culture to come to fruition. A girl I graduated from high school with never made it to our 10 year reunion, she died from complications brought on by anorexia nervosa. I was sitting next to her in Spanish class. It almost feels like a terrible virus or something, there we were same age, same grade, same gender, why did she “get it” and not me?

    Anyhow, I can see how HAES and recovery from any type of Ed are natural allies. It is a sorry state of affairs when people are dying trying to achieve the thinness that equates to health in our seriously messed up society.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      I have often wondered if some Eds are not already present in people, but just needing the “fertile ground” of our diet/weight/food obsessed culture to come to fruition.

      This is how I think of it, too. There appears to be a biological component, but, like so many conditions, it requires both the genetic predisposition + the environmental trigger to come about in any individual. And that’s another reason why it’s so concerning that we live in a such a fat-shaming culture.

  2. HeatherJ Avatar

    I discovered FA through talking to fellow sufferers of binge eating disorder on the internet. I’ve suffered various eating disorders for over 20 years, during which time I hated myself and my body (whatever I weighed) and was on a continual binge/deprivation loop. You can imagine the relief, then, of discovering intuitive eating, HAES and FA. I haven’t looked back and my ED is very nearly gone now, though I’m only on the start of the long journey towards body acceptance.

    I’m so glad the various ED associations have come out against focusing on weight as a measurement of health.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Yay! Glad to hear you’re at the end of the eating disorder and at the beginning of self acceptance. It is a long road, but really, really worth it.

      1. HeatherJ Avatar


  3. Ephraim Avatar

    I’ve really struggled with the idea of people who are suffering with or recovering from anorexia and bulimia as allies in working for fat liberation and against fatphobia. Certainly, we have a common enemy (the culture of fat shaming and body fascism), but does that in itself make us allies? It’s hard for me to see those eating disorders as anything other than the pathological embodiment of fatphobia, and can anyone with that much uncontrolled (if not necessarily unexamined) fatphobia really be my ally? I’m hoping the answer is yes, but i’m not there yet.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Ephraim, I understand your discomfort, and insofar as people who are actively suffering and making no attempts to recover (people who just haven’t accessed treatment yet, or are engaged in “pro-ana” efforts, for example) are concerned, your assumptions may be correct.

      But I’d challenge you to consider another perspective as well — most, or even all, of the people I’ve met who are in active recovery from an eating disorder are very interested in, and even passionate about, body acceptance.

      It’s not all black-and-white. Yes, people who are in the midst of an eating disorder are sometimes succumbing to cultural prejudices about fat people. But in recovery, HAES plays a big role.

      1. Ephraim Avatar

        I totally agree that it’s not at all a black-and-white issue. And i see how HAES is really key for both sides here. My worry, really, is that in playing up the commonalities, the very real power differential between fat people and non-fat people will be overlooked or eclipsed. But, maybe it’s an overblown worry…

  4. Rachel Avatar

    I think the eating disorders awareness and fat rights movements share much in common and could be strong allies, and that’s why I address both on my site. Unfortunately, some in the eating disorders research field (including many in the AED) view obesity itself to be representative of an eating disorder — despite the fact that even the AED admits that its studies show that only 1 in 5 obese people meet the criteria for binge eating disorder — and I think this erroneous stereotype hinders the movements from making closer alliances.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      That’s really interesting, Rachel. I didn’t know that about AED in particular, though I know that “theory” has floated around a bit in the ED world.

      I know there’s also some controversy over whether binge eating itself should or shouldn’t be classified as an eating disorder. I’ve heard from both sides of the argument, but I don’t really have an opinion as yet, because I’m still learning about eating disorders and I have a long way to go before I can really understand the issues well enough to formulate opinions on them. But, I obviously can’t agree with classifying “obesity” as an eating disorder — since eating disorders rely more on specific behaviours for their diagnosis (though, for A/N, weight is also a component in the DSM-IV criteria), and “obesity” itself is not a behaviour.

      1. Linda Avatar

        I think it is sad if the fat acceptance and ED world cannot be allies due to weight stereotypes. I’m in therapy for binge eating/compulsive overating and body acceptance and HAES are extremely important in the process. Weight loss is not a goal in my treatment at all, in fact I’ve thrown out my scale and have for the first time in my life no idea how much I weigh. In my experience one of the really difficult things about recovery is to reach a level of balance and normalcy in a world which in general has a pretty skewed view on eating, health and body issues. We need all the sane voices we can get – I definitely need it.

        1. Michelle Avatar

          That’s really encouraging to hear, Linda, because in the past, I’ve run into people in treatment for binge eating where the treatment model is really similar to weight loss dieting, and that always perplexed me. Glad to hear you’re in a more HAES-style form of treatment.

          1. Linda Avatar

            Well, I think I’m just lucky because I have a really supportive GP and a good therapist, who specialises in eating disorders.
            I ‘m actually from a country where binge eating is not officially recognised as an eating disorder so lack of treatment options is a far larger issue here.

      2. HeatherJ Avatar

        As a long-term sufferer of binge-eating disorder, please believe that it is every much an ED as anorexia nervosa and bulimia. I developed AN as a teenager which later morphed into bulimia and later still into BED after I lost the gag reflex. The binging was every bit as compulsive and self-destructive as the starvation and the purgeing.

        1. Michelle Avatar

          Thanks, Heather. It’s always helpful to get the perspective of someone who’s been there.

  5. HeatherJ Avatar

    Glad to be of service :-)

  6. julie Avatar

    If sticking my finger down my throat had ever worked to make me puke, I would have been bulimic. If ipecap was slightly more tolerable, I would have accepted that too, but it was worse than just keeping the calories. I think it’s great that all these ED groups are advocating pushing health instead of thinness, hopefully some of the more mainstream health groups will jump on board as well. Possibly if health instead of skinniness at any cost was a goal, my life might have followed a different, happier path.

  7. Gorda Avatar

    I am a big believer in allies, not only institutional like the ones you mention in your post, but also individual allies who support the cause of HAES with their everyday comments, actions and behaviours. I firmly believe FA and HAES need more thin/slender/athletic allies to believe in the principles of size acceptance and to be vocal about them. As a fat woman, I often feel that my appearance somehow decreases my credibility when speaking out about fatphobia and sizeism. I can almost hear people thinking: “Of course you would say some people are just fat and no amount of dieting will make them lose weight – you want to convince yourself of this, so you won’t have to make the effort of dieting!” Or “You say it’s ok to be fat because you are one of them, but we all know you are in denial about your weight and your health.” Afterwards, I get the distinct feeling that people do not think “Gorda made an interesting point about fat and dieting, I had never thought of it that way”, but “Oh, look, we talked about fat and Gorda got all upset and defensive, I really hope she manages to lose that extra weight sometime soon”.

    The only moments in my life when I wish I was thin are when I discuss body issues (body diversity, body shaming…) with my fifteen-year-old goddaughter – because I want her to really listen to what I have to say, not to dismiss it as a fat lady’s attempts to justify her cellulite. (Then again, I also believe being fat allows me to be the cool fun kickass fat godmother, and to become a positive role model of the kind I did not have growing up.)