Tag Archives: men with eating disorders

Truth in Advertising – Spring 2014 with the Eating Disorders Coalition

We’ve known for years that consumption of media that pushes thin ideals makes people feel worse about themselves, which in turn can lead to or reinforce dangerous disordered eating behaviors. That’s not just a bunch of body image activists talking – in 2011, the American Medical Association (AMA) did it’s own extensive research on the subject. The AMA concluded that “photoshopped” ads which portray unrealistic human bodies have such a detrimental effect on body image and self esteem that it became the organization’s official opinion to strongly discourage the practice. You can read about the AMA’s 2011 findings here on the AMA’s official site, the Huffington Post, ABC News, and EatingDisorder.org.

Briefing Kmac

Kathleen MacDonald of the Eating Disorders Coalition discussing computer-altered advertisements. Photo by Jim Knapp.

Unfortunately, the AMA doesn’t exactly have any authority to enforce that policy on the beauty and diet industry. However, Congress does, and with the strong precedent established by the American Medical Association, that’s exactly what we’re hoping to do.

On April 3, 2014, the Eating Disorders Coalition took to Capitol Hill for it’s 25th lobby day (wow!). I’m happy to say I’ve been there for approximately half of them, having attended twice a year since 2007. In addition to supporting the FREED Act, we’re terribly excited to be advocating for a new Bill that has been introduced with support out the door from both Republican and Democrat lawmakers. In late March, Representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Lois Capps (D-CA), and Ted Deutch (D-FL) introduced the Truth in Advertising Act of 2014 (read the full bill text here). The Eating Disorders Coalition also put out a press release on their blog.

Rep. Ted Duetch and EDC Board President Johanna Kandel

Rep. Ted Duetch and EDC Board President Johanna Kandel. Photo by Jim Knapp.

This new Bill would ask the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which already regulates false advertising as a means of consumer protection, to further study the effects of computer-altered ads involving the human form. A pharmaceutical company can’t put out a new drug saying it will do something that it indeed doesn’t do – that’s a deceptive advertising practice. That’s why all those really up-beat drug commercials with smiling people in perfect suburban neighborhoods have fine print at the bottom informing you they’re actors and that results may vary.  Essentially, if a diet or beauty product puts a model in their advertisement, but then photoshops the heck out of the image so much that the model doesn’t even recognize himself or herself, that’s false advertising, too. They can’t truly say that someone who used their product achieved those results, because they clearly didn’t.

What about Free Speech? Yeah, that was my first question, too. Obviously, artistic expression is a protected form of free speech. The Bill would not effect magazine covers or editorial content – only advertisements meant to sell products. The FTC already exercises that power over advertisements as a means of consumer protection, it’s just usually an authority used on literal words or statements. Given the strong empirical link between computer-altered media and negative body image, low self esteem, and disordered eating behaviors, it’s an easy argument to make that this is a matter of public health. The authors of the Bill have been very careful and clear in their wording of it, and there’s no doubt in my mind that Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen would be championing the effort is there was any risk of it infringing on free speech. Not to mention, it’s less than three pages long – you can read the whole thing faster than you can read this blog post!

As leader of the Virginia Team, my group managed to meet with seven different offices the day we were there. We had very positive meetings in every office, and an especially good meeting with Congressman Robert Hurt. Meetings usually occur with Congressional staff, but Representative Hurt met with us personally and took a special interest in the cause.

Congressman Hurt

Virginia Team with Congressman Robert Hurt

 

By the way… this issue isn’t going away any time soon. TIME Magazine did an amazing write-up about the efforts on April 3 (please share and RT!):

Search #TruthInAds on Twitter to follow the conversation online, and use that hashtag when sharing information about the efforts!

Care about this issue? Can’t attend Lobby Day but still want to make a difference? Good news, you can! Remember, the Truth in Advertising Act of 2014 has already been determined to be zero-cost. Price of new legislation is usually one of the biggest barriers to getting new laws passed, in addition to finding ways of legislating that both parties can agree on. As previously stated, this Bill is already bipartisan!

If you live in the United States, asking your Representative in Congress to support a Bill is really easy. First, go here:

http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/

Find out who your rep is, and then from there you can locate their office contact info from their personal website. You can call or a write letter (or both!) and ask them to check out HR4341. If you have a personal connection or experience with eating disorders, let them know why this is so important to you. And of course, you can consider coming to DC in the Fall!

The next Lobby Day with the Eating Disorders Coalition is September 30-October 1. Mark your calendars now!

Finally, we bid farewell to our Policy Director, Jeanine Cogan. After 14 years she is ready to move on to other things, but the EDC wouldn’t exist without her amazing efforts and commitment to the cause. You can read her farewell statement here on the EDC blog.

Alright, here are some pictures from Lobby Day and the reception the night before. Please ask your rep to support Truth in Advertising, share this post with everyone, and please consider coming to advocate with us in the Fall!

Group Shot

Group shot! VA Team didn’t make this picture, unfortunately, since we had an early meeting. Photo by Jimm Knapp.

Reception 1

Some very attractive advocates having a very important conversation. Photo by Jim Knapp.

Reception 2

Kathleen MacDonald and EDC Board Member Jaye Azoff. Photo by Jim Knapp.

20140403_160748

Another shot of VA team at the end of the day after a few others had to leave. Seriously, everyone on the team did an amazing job letting me drag them around Capitol Hill.

Capitol Night

We had the good fortune of some perfect weather. Photo by Jim Knapp.

Seth 1

This is Seth Matlins. If it wasn’t for him, the Truth in Advertising Bill wouldn’t exist. Special thanks to him for his passion, advocacy, and commitment to this issue. Photo by Jim Knapp.

 

20140402_164849

Saw this a block away from the Senate buildings. It’s quite fitting, no?

Thanks for reading. Please contact your representatives, and maybe I’ll see you in DC in October?

 

1 Comment

Filed under Activism

2013 Year in Review

Currently reading: A Queer History of the United State by Micheal Bronski
Currently listening: Bubblegum by Kevin Devine

Another year over. If you’re new around here, this may be a great way to get acquainted! Here’s a handful of my favorite posts from the past year, along with some other developments.

March 1, 2013: Anorexia in Men on the Rise
I started off last year with a few segments discussing eating disorders in boys and men. I keep saying it, but it’s still true: I’m very grateful to the Huffington Post for their continued coverage and interest in the subject!

April 10, 2013: Striving For Perfection – Boys & Body Image
Another segment, this one with Al Jazeera English, where we were joined by my friend Claire Mysko and some other great panelists. Appreciate the good questions and discussion we had, check it out!

April 21, 2013: No More Gender Bias
I finally got a hold of the recording of the speech I gave in 2011 at the EDC Spring Congressional Briefing. Very honored to participate. You can watch the full thing at the link above, along with the full transcript.

April 19, 2013: Eating Disorder Advocacy in Washington DC
April saw another Lobby Day on Capitol Hill. I’ve been going twice a year for over seven years, and it’s still the most important thing I’ve done. Educating Congress and reforming health laws to meet the needs of people with eating disorders has the potential to help millions and save lives. Kari Adams of the Kari Adams Show was there with us, and she did a couple of interviews with people from the EDC about the work we do in DC.

December 7, 2013: …We Now Face Death
In November, one of my favorite professors died of pancreatic cancer. He never knew it, but he had a profound impact on my life and my recovery. In case you don’t have time to read it, at least heed some of his last words in the final email he sent out:

So, please use your life well. It truly is like having a bucket of gold dust with a little hole in the bottom. I know that we tend to see the value in something more, when we are about to lose it. Maybe that’s why I’m saying this stuff to you. But, I have understood the truth of the value of life for a few years now. When I look back over my life now, I see it as one of extraordinary value… How lucky I was! … It will be hard to equal the value of this life.

We should all be so lucky to look back on our lives and see the extraordinary value in them. RIP, Dr. Perdue.

In 2013:

We also had to say goodbye to Matt Ryd, who lost his battle with depression and eating disorders.

There were a number of policy achievements on the federal level:
-Health and Human Services released the final rulings for the 2008 parity law, which has important implications for patients with eating disorders, including the requirement for insurance companies to make available the criteria by which they deem treatment “not medically necessary!”

-The EDC put together a report on the benchmark plans for the state exchanges through the Affordable Care Act to see what benefits might potentially help people with eating disorders.

-The National Eating Disorders Association had a very successful Lobby Day as well!

And finally… here’s my own 2013 in pictures. I went to Brazil, I finally met face to face with some fellow ED activists, I finished the Gender Studies program I was in, won an award from the Virginia Social Science Association for a paper on eating disorders and health policy, and a whole lot more!

NEDA 2013 with Benjamin O'Keefe and Brian Cuban

NEDA 2013 with Benjamin O’Keefe and Brian Cuban

Award reception with Dr. Tim Brazil of the Virginia Social Science Association, April 2013

Award reception with Dr. Tim Brazil of the Virginia Social Science Association, April 2013

NYC 9-2013

Meeting with lovely friends and activists: Caroline Rothstein, Claire Mysko, Jenn Friedman, and Kendra Sebelius

Flying over Rio on the way to Salvador

Flying over Rio on the way to Salvador

Presenting at the University of Virginia, November 2013

Presenting at the University of Virginia, November 2013

Visiting friends in Asheville

Visiting friends in Asheville December 2013

Tomorrow is always a new day, and eventually it’s a new year. Here’s to 2014.

Leave a comment

Filed under Review

…We Now Face Death

Join me in saying goodbye to one of my favorite professors, who unknowingly had a profound impact on my recovery and my life.

********

“Having been born in this life as we have been,
we now face death.”

Perdue1

Dr. Daniel Perdue, 1950-2013

That was the very first statement Dr. Dan Perdue made to the religious studies classes he taught. He would go on to explain that, no matter the differences between the many religions of the world, what they all have in common is that they are concerned with what happens to us when we die. His specialty was Tibetan Buddhism, but he also taught general survey classes on eastern religion. He was one of the most interesting, wise, and challenging professors I ever had, and though he never knew it, his classes had an indelible impact on my life and played an important role in my recovery.

When I heard that Dr. Perdue had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last year, I and many others wondered how he would face his death. Though he had devoted his academic career and spiritual practice to such questions, no one wants a fatal diagnosis, especially at the age of only 63. As a man who had taught classes the world over and developed many close friendships here in Richmond, he sent out mass emails in August to update everyone on his condition. A friend forwarded me the first one, and I mistakenly thought I had gotten on the mailing list for future emails.

Following his passing on November 18, I re-read the first email and realized he had stated he would send out another. And so it happened that I didn’t read his second email until the day before his memorial service, billed as a Celebration of Life.

I was surprised and touched by what I read. The jovial man whom we all thought incapable of anything but a gentle, happy disposition shared that, in his late twenties and early thirties, he had struggled with substance abuse and depression. In August 2013, he wrote:

I think I did not adequately value my life. I reckon that I wasted nearly a third of it/about 20 years… On many days, especially between the ages of about 27 to 33, I thought of suicide… In time, I gave up on the idea of suicide, but I sort of symbolically threw myself against the wall, drinking and smoking too much and practicing unhealthy habits. Perhaps seeing the scope of what was to come for me, one day completely out of the blue, Kensur Yeshi Thupten said to me, “Toenyoe, happy people don’t drink and take drugs.” But I did. It was a sort of petit suicide, day by day for years.

During his service, someone shared what many of us had all thought at one time or another – a suspicion that Dr. Perdue was actually a bodhisattva, so committed he was to teaching, to the Dharma, and how he built friendships everywhere he went. His apparent struggles with depression and substance abuse made the accomplishments of the second half of his life, as well as his demeanor and attitude, all the more impressive.

Yet I was touched on a much more personal level to hear of the suffering my professor endured, because when I took my first class with him in early 2004, I was suffering immensely.

My eating disorder was arguably at its worst. Truly, I probably should have been in a hospital instead of a dormitory. I was near my lowest weight. I wasn’t sleeping well, and it was in those quiet moments trying to fall asleep at night that the mental chaos and physical pain anorexia had wrought was hardest to escape or ignore. I was miserable, unable to think or function well from the malnourishment. I often thought of suicide. This is not something I have often shared publicly, but in the wake of Dr. Perdue’s last testament, I see no reason to censor this fact.

And so it was that as he began his lecture on eastern religion and the nature of suffering as he always did, there is no way that Dr. Perdue could have known about the Hell I was living in.

“Having been born in this life as we have been, we now face death.”

As he began the introduction to Buddhism, he started with the first of the Four Noble Truths: the truth of suffering, or dukka (dukka is also translated to mean anxiety, stress, and dissatisfaction, among others). The truth of suffering is that we all suffer.

We all endure hardship.
We all get sick.
We all experience loss.
We will all eventually die.

It’s in our nature to try and minimize displeasure and to maximize comfort – human nature is hedonistic on a very basic level. We all put on coats to avoid the discomfort of being cold, for example. If there is one thing that every living thing has in common, it is our capacity to experience suffering.

Perdue went on to explain that, as Buddhism understands the world, there is nothing in our fragile lives that cannot result in suffering – even things that we enjoy or are inherently pleasurable. He offered the examples of ice cream or even sex. Even things that bring us pleasure, done in extreme excess, may result in some mental or physical pain.

I was intrigued. I had never contemplated the world in this way, and one of the support groups I had started attending had a spiritual component that had become a giant roadblock. Others in the group who had a belief in God sailed through it, but my agonistic and at times atheistic disposition seemed incompatible.

Contemplating Dr. Perdue’s words, I slowly began to wonder if there was anything that we could experience in this life, in this world, that we could indulge in that would never result in suffering. If it could be identified, then maybe it could offer me some direction – something bigger, greater than myself that I could take refuge in.

I continued going to the group and attending his classes. Buddhist teaching and recovery programs were not so different: both emphasize, in varying capacities, the practice of compassion towards oneself. While I can only speak for myself, as far as I am concerned, without loving and forgiving oneself, there is no recovery. And self-forgiveness requires that we love ourselves unconditionally. Similarly, a central part of Buddhist practice is learning that compassion, practicing it inward, and then turning it outward. One day, it hit me so hard that I wondered how I never saw it before. I realized that there was something we’re all capable of experiencing and indulging in that will never cause us to suffer.

Unconditional love. Or, to put it another way, love without condition. This means we love others without wanting or expecting anything, including love, in return. This initially feels contrary to human nature, since there isn’t always an immediate or obvious benefit. Sometimes people mistake this idea of love without condition as a circumstance which might allow or encourage someone to stay in an abusive relationship, or to be taken advantage of. This is not the case.

Rather, it allows us to approach individuals and situations with the compassionate understanding that we all suffer. Just as Dr. Perdue had no idea the immense suffering I was experiencing in that first class with him, any person you encounter has their own burden. The positive regard he had for every one he encountered, though, created a circumstance where his compassion and love of life was infectious. He once said that, while he had never had any children of his own, the university gave him more children every semester.

After describing his substance abuse as a petit suicide, Dr. Perdue concluded his email with the following:

…Let me just say what I say at the beginning of the Asian Medical Systems course, “Don’t do as I do. Be smarter than me.” I have never been a model of health or how one should use a good life.

So, please use your life well. It truly is like having a bucket of gold dust with a little hole in the bottom. I know that we tend to see the value in something more, when we are about to lose it. Maybe that’s why I’m saying this stuff to you. But, I have understood the truth of the value of life for a few years now. When I look back over my life now, I see it as one of extraordinary value… How lucky I was! … It will be hard to equal the value of this life.

I cannot help but get a little choked up every time I read that last sentence. If it was not for Dr. Perdue’s class, it’s impossible to say how my recovery would have gone. Ten years since that first class, I only wish now that I could express my gratitude to him.

Despite many hardships, I find myself agreeing with his final sentiment. Though I (hopefully) still have many years, it truly will be hard to equal the value of this life.

Thank you, Dr. Perdue. I’ll see you on the other shore.

You can read Dan Perdue’s full obituary here.

4 Comments

Filed under Essay

Keeping Up With Recovery Over the Holidays

Holidays. While most people look forward to the time off, seeing family and friends, and all the delicious food that usually comes with them, if you’re in recovery, that last one can be quite the challenge. It’s something I struggled with a lot while I was still in recovery, so I thought I’d share some of the things that got me through difficult times.

Keep in mind, these are things that worked for me. Recovery is a very personal process and any kind of suggestions or advice will need to be fine-tuned to meet your own needs. As they said so often in the groups I attended, take what is useful, and leave the rest.

1. Psyche Yourself Up

If there are going to be a lot of people for lunch or dinner wherever you spend your holidays, then that means you need to prepare yourself so you aren’t caught off guard by the things people might say or do.

Holidays often mean seeing family members you haven’t seen in a long time, and in our image-focused, weight-obsessed culture, one of the first things people comment on is appearances.

People who don’t know you have an eating disorder might say something like, “You look so good! Have you lost weight?” not realizing that it’s actually a problem and is nothing to be complimenting or celebrating. When I was in recovery, sometimes even being told I looked healthy would get filtered through the anorexic voice in my head and I would hear something closer to, “You’ve gained weight and they can tell!”

The way I worked through either version of this situation was to remind myself that whatever people had to say, they were trying to be friendly and were well-intentioned. People who have never had an eating disorder may never fully understand what it’s like, so internalizing a well-intentioned greeting or attempt at a compliment doesn’t do anyone any favors.

Of course, even if you do psych yourself up for it, that doesn’t mean you won’t need additional support. That’s why the second tip is…

2. Recruit An Ally

This was never something I really needed for holidays, but I do have a perfect example of this. In 2004, I went on a trip to New York as a part of Alternative Spring Break when I was an undergraduate. I was still very early in my recovery, and the trip involved traveling with nine other students. We stayed in a hostel, worked in clothing banks and soup kitchens all day, and then we took turns cooking dinner for the group most nights.

In other words, it was terrifying.

After a few days, I realized if I didn’t speak up for myself, I was going to have a really difficult time. I asked someone on the trip if we could talk privately, and when we had the chance she and I lagged behind the group. I told her I was in recovery from an eating disorder, and that I couldn’t always put it into words but sometimes I was just overwhelmed by food. I assured her I intended to eat and take care of myself, but that sometimes I might need to get my own food or do things separate from the group. I was fortunate that she was so understanding.  For the rest of the trip all I had to do was walk over to her and tell her I was feeling anxious or freaking out, and she would walk outside with me or keep me company. Sometimes, people would start talking a lot about weight or food, and if she noticed I was trying to change the subject, she would chime in and help redirect the conversation.

The same thing can be done for the holidays. Maybe you have a sibling, a cousin, or an aunt who you can trust to be understanding with these things. Reaching out to someone in advance and just knowing that they’re in tune with the fact that a big Thanksgiving dinner is a challenge can help ease some of the tension.

Having a friend to text or call can be just as good. Letting a trusted friend know you’ll need support and to ask if they can keep their phone handy can be a lifesaver. Sometimes I would call a friend and we would talk about anything but food – I just needed the distraction.

Maybe you don’t have someone like that in your family or who will be in attendance. If you have a friend to call, maybe they aren’t able to answer when you call. What do you do then?

3. Have a Backup Plan

Even if you recruit someone to help support you, they might not always be available the whole time, and there’s always a chance they won’t know exactly what to say or do. And that’s okay!

I always had a backup plan. Above all else, recovery to me was not optional, and I was firmly committed to not acting on urges to engage in disordered eating behavior. It’s a process and we don’t always succeed all of the time, but when we are in the moment and are feeling overwhelmed, that’s when it’s important to know what you’re going to do instead.

Eventually, that anxiety or stress or sense of discomfort passes. To facilitate that process, you can have any number of backup plans. When I was in recovery, sometimes being out to eat at a restaurant would be too much, but I didn’t want to draw a lot of attention to myself either.

Sometimes I would just say I had an important phone call to make and walk outside. Some fresh air along with some peace and quiet went a long way to helping myself calm down and get back to #1 – psyching myself up to go back inside, have a meal with my friends, and enjoy the company and food.

Other times, I needed the exact opposite of peace and quiet! If I had driven, sometimes I would go in my car, turn on the stereo, and blast the loudest, most energetic music I had to drown out my thoughts. If you have your headphones handy, they can work just as well. Even if you have to step into the bathroom, listening to a favorite song can help a lot. Both served the purpose of taking my mind to another place, refocus, and tell myself, “I can do this.”

4. Believe In Yourself

I frequently told myself “I can do this.” And if you’re reading this, then you should know – you can do this too! So much time with an eating disorder is spent engaging in negative self talk. Talking down to ourselves. Thinking we aren’t good enough, that no one understands or cares.

That’s why positive self talk can be such an important part of recovery. Maybe you don’t fully believe the positive things you say to yourself. It’s okay to doubt whether or not you actually can do recovery. It’s okay, because recovery is hard. That’s why we practice believing in ourselves even if we aren’t sure that we know something for certain. It may feel silly in the beginning, but is telling yourself you can do something any sillier than constantly telling yourself that you’re unattractive or incapable? I think not.

The truth is, the human body and spirit is incredibly resilient. Recovery is hard, in fact it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but it’s also the most worthwhile. There’s no shame in having an eating disorder, and there’s no shame in reaching out to others for help.

I’m sure I’m not the only one with suggestions for how they’ve gotten through holidays before. Share any ideas or tips you’ve got in the comments below!

4 Comments

Filed under eating disorders, Recovery

It’s Already October??

Currently Listening: Nine Inch Nails – Hesitation Marks
Currently Reading: There is No God & He Is Always with You by Brad Warner

Busy, busy, busy! I feel like it’s still May, but apparently it’s already October? I haven’t had much time to do a post, so I thought I’d let everyone know what I’ve been up to and some of the amazing people I’ve had the pleasure of connecting with lately.

In September I spent a long weekend in New York City, and in addition to providing a much needed change of scenery, it afforded me the opportunity to finally meet up with some wonderful friends I’ve been in touch with and/or collaborated with online.

NYC 9-2013

From left to right: Caroline Rothstein, Claire Mysko, my friend Kenny, me, Jenn Friedman, & Kendra Sebelius

If you don’t already know who they are, you should check out their work!

Caroline Rothstein and I had been meaning to try and meet up for awhile now. She’s one of the strongest and most unique voices in eating disorder advocacy I know, turning her own experience with recovery and body acceptance into some powerful work. From writing to blogging to slam poetry, Caroline is a force to be reckoned with. Check out her poem, “Fat” and see for yourself:

Claire Mysko and I were on a segment together on The Stream earlier this year. Claire has made quite a name for herself, getting international attention for her work on body image and body acceptance. An accomplished author, speaker, and consultant, she has served as the director of the American Anorexia Bulimia Association and has held senior positions at SmartGirl and Girls Incorporated. Check out http://clairemysko.com/ to learn more about her work, and definitely check out her recent (and excellent) editorial on The Frisky, The Wolf in the Cereal Bowl.

Jenn Friedman is a musician and eating disorder recovery advocate. She’s been busy working to combine those two passions in a project called “Eating Disorders On the Wire: Music and Metaphor as Pathways to Recovery,” which is supposed to come out really soon!

Kendra Sebelius runs Voice in Recovery, where she focuses on recovery not just from eating disorders, but from substance abuse and addiction as well. Kendra’s own efforts to get sober and recover inform her advocacy work with eating disorders, body image struggles, mental health issues, substance abuse and self harm. She’s also a fellow Junior Board member with the Eating Disorders Coalition.

By the way, we were at TeaNY, one of my favorite NYC spots. All their food is wonderful and the cheesecake is almost worth the trip alone.

Stay tuned for updates from Lobby Day last month, and the NEDA conference!

1 Comment

Filed under Activism

Should NEDIC Reconsider Their Ad Campaign?

Update:
NEDIC put out a response for which I’m appreciative (see here). Perhaps my rhetoric was a little over-the-top, but I do feel strongly about these things and believe they must be treated with the utmost care (see the comments section for further discussion). The nature of the internet can sometimes blow things out of proportion, and I hope that hasn’t happened here. To borrow a phrase from one commenter, I’d never want to ‘silence an ally’ and NEDIC does some extremely important work!

Original Post:
The following photo shows an ad that the National Eating Disorder Information Center is currently running on subways to attempt to get people talking about eating disorders and make them aware of local resources. But am I the only one who has a problem with it?

NEDIC

In response to some initial critique, NEDIC (at least, whoever runs NEDIC’s Facebook page) issued the following replies:

“It does say Hunger is my bff- it is meant to shock, leave an impression and encourage dialogue. Thank you for the feedback and engaging with us.”

…Is the image controversial? Polarizing even? Yes, but as long as it makes people think about it, and talk about it, we feel we have made progress in making more people aware of available resources and support- our end goal. This is our first such campaign and we will be doing market research to gauge reaction on-the-street, and how the campaign is being perceived by the general public. All information will be used to deliver more effective campaigns in the future…”

Where to start?

They actually stated that this is their first such campaign and are doing market research to gauge reactions. Did no one think that perhaps that feedback could have been garnered online via activist communities or opinion polls? In other words, they’re beta-testing this idea to the general populous.

Worse, I have a problem with that whole “as long as it makes people think about it… we feel we have made progress.”

See…

In some situations, I agree, but this is not a “no press is bad press” type situation. When dealing with something deadly like an eating disorder, an ad that (not-so-clearly) aims to satirize the behaviors of disordered eating comes off as trivializing the issue for people who are suffering from EDs and confusing passerby who don’t get it. When going for “on-the-street” reactions you have a responsibility to be concerned about the affects of your message on a general population, and this doesn’t meet that criteria.

You know what’s even more attention-getting? Statistics like the fact that eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental health disorder, upwards of 20% of anorexics WILL DIE as a direct result of their eating disorder.

If you were an advocacy organization that campaigned against self-harm or suicide, would you put a similar “controversial and polarizing” message up to turn heads, like “Cutting is my BFF”? I’d certainly hope not.

This campaign is as vapid and harmful as those Urban Outfitters shirts that say “Eat Less.” There is honestly no difference, and whoever thought this up should reconsider what they put out into the world and whether or not this actually helps more people than it harms.

Eating disorders are deadly disorders, and this ad makes a mockery of the families that I have met doing lobby work who have lost loved ones to these terrible illnesses.

To be clear, I love 99% of the images on their page and it looks like they generally do good and important work. As an outspoken and passionate eating disorder activist, I love to see other people and ‘orgs trying to reach out to others. But this particular campaign doesn’t cut it, and hiding behind statements like “Yes, it’s shocking, let’s talk about that” doesn’t cut it, either.

Seriously. Do your “market research” internally or with the population you hope to reach out to. I can think of many forums and groups that would be happy to assist in providing feedback before you pay money to put up harmful ads on subways.

7 Comments

Filed under Activism, eating disorders

Eating Disorders: Not Just a Woman Thing – Huffington Post Live 7/31/13

The only way we’re going to change the landscape of mental health and eating disorders is to keep talking about it, which is why I’m so thrilled that The Huffington Post covers this topic fairly regularly. I joined their live segment on 7/31 along with Dr. Ted Weltzin, and eating disorder survivors Bryan Piperno and Brian Cuban (who’s first book is about to come out – congrats Brian!)

Here’s the full segment:

I took the opportunity to talk about the most important avenues to create change  - policy reform. Men aren’t always included in eating disorder studies for a variety of reasons. Men are less likely to seek help, to be diagnosed with an eating disorder, and most inpatient facilities don’t accept male patients. All of these factors make it harder to actually identify and locate patients to participate in research. That, and most large studies are funded through public money, and currently there are very little research dollars available for eating disorder research.

That’s one of the reasons I’ve been working and volunteering with the Eating Disorders Coalition for the past 7 years. The EDC advocates on Capitol Hill for mental health policy reform, and we always need more people to come and share their stories. If you’ve been  personally impacted by an eating disorder, whether suffering from one personally, watching a loved one struggle, or in your professional life, we want you to join us! Check out http://www.eatingdisorderscoalition.org for more info.

1 Comment

Filed under Activism, Uncategorized, Video

Interviews with Eating Disorder Advocates – The Kari Adams Show 4/17/13

This past Lobby Day with the Eating Disorders Coalition, Kari Adams of The Kari Adams Show joined us to check out the policy side of the fight against eating disorders. Already a big advocate for positive body image and self-acceptance, Kari was a great fit w/ the EDC. She interviewed a few advocates that were in town, including EDC President Johanna Kandel. Check out the videos below to get a feel for what drives EDC volunteers, why we’re passionate about eating disorders, and what keeps us coming back to Capitol Hill to promote change:


Johanna Kandel is the current President of the Eating Disorders Coalition, founder of the Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness, and author of Life Beyond Your Eating Disorder.


Suzanne Lewandowski is the founder of the Eating Disorders Collaborative of Massachusetts and a current Junior Board member of the Eating Disorders Coalition.


Seda is the founder of the Cambridge Eating Disorder Center, which offers a spectrum of recovery services including residential and outpatient programs.


Gail is recovered from an eating disorder and the founder of the F.R.E.E.D. Foundation, a fundraiser for treatment scholarships. You can read more about Gail and the foundation here.


We actually don’t know who this guy is. I hear they found him wandering aimlessly around the House of Representatives, clearly sleep-deprived and mumbling something about locating the nearest Metro stop.

Like this post? Stay up to date by ‘Liking’ my blog on Facebook, following me on Twitter or Tumblr, subscribe via email, or just leave me a comment to let me know what you think!

1 Comment

Filed under Activism

No More Gender Bias – EDC Congressional Briefing, April 2011

In April 2011, I was given the honor of presenting at the Eating Disorders Coalition’s Congressional Briefing. I can’t believe it’s already been two years – this was before I had even started this blog! Until recently, this video (along with the other speakers) had been sitting on a hard drive somewhere, but it’s finally made it online. Below are some excepts, or just scroll to the end for the full video.

I am proof that eating disorders DO NOT discriminate.  It is not a disease of vanity. It is not a “woman’s disease.” It is not a “phase.” It is a life-threatening mental illness epidemic. Despite the data we have that demonstrate that millions of Americans – men and women alike – currently suffer from eating disorders, the shoulder-shrug excuses that are used to trivialize and dismiss eating disorders persist. Despite the fact that upwards of 20% of all anorexics will die as a direct result of their eating disorder, there is a lack of awareness in virtually every level of support that should be there to help someone. From the social level with friends and family, to health care providers, emergency room doctors, and of course, insurance companies.

When I should have been making friends, focusing on school work, and growing into the person I was going to become, I instead lost two years of my life to anorexia, two years of my life that I can’t ever get back. My senior year in high school, I had a falling out with some close friends, and fell into a deep depression. I lost my appetite, and couldn’t sleep. I didn’t know what was happening – everything occurred so quickly. Though I had visibly lost weight, it was a few months after my problems began that I ever bothered weighing myself. Co-workers who didn’t know me well would compliment me on the weight I’d lost. My friends could tell something was wrong, they just didn’t know how to approach it. Not knowing what was wrong myself, when they’d ask if I was OK I would insist that I was fine (a word that a good friend of mine refers to as ‘the real F-word’). Eventually, someone at work asked me how much weight I had lost. The thought hadn’t crossed my mind, and out of sheer curiosity I went home and weighed myself, and my bitter relationship with numbers began.

In those early months I never had ‘goal weights’ or anything else – it was all curiosity. The more I lost, though, and the more my body reflected it, the more I started to wonder how low I could actually get. It’s important to note that, at the time, you could say I was on auto-pilot. I was aware of what I was doing but I was never really in control. Our bodies depend on the intake of food and on regular sleep to function properly, and when deprived of those things your judgment and emotions can get quite disrupted, among other things. I didn’t just wakes up one morning and decide that I was going to be anorexic, any more than one might decide to become a drug addict or to have cancer.

My family and friends could tell something was wrong, but they didn’t know the right questions to ask. I skipped enough classes that my teachers started to worry, too, and even the guidance counselor checked in with me. They could all see I was losing weight very quickly, but they danced around it, wondering if I was depressed or if things were “OK at home”. Maybe they just weren’t used to screening eighteen year-old males for eating disorders. Either way it’s not as if I blame them, I was as clueless as they were. I went through my own denial, listing off all the reasons that I couldn’t be anorexic. “That only happens to models.” “You’ve just been depressed and haven’t felt like eating.” “It’s not that serious, things’ will be OK.”

… My story is not a unique one, and until we have the FREED Act, millions of others will continue to struggle. Children are being exposed to an endless stream of messages and advertising that tells them they should dislike their bodies, and dieting is becoming common among elementary school girls who haven’t even started puberty. This is a problem which is only going to get worse until there is a real intervention on the federal level.

By passing the FREED Act, Congress has the power to give health professionals the tools they need to identify, treat and prevent eating disorders effectively. They have the power to make sure no one has to go through what I went through ever again.

Congress has the power to make sure no one else has to become a statistic. I have friends who are struggling with eating disorders who I’ve encouraged to come to Capitol Hill with me for EDC National Lobby Day. Every day and every month that they don’t get the help they need to recover, I wonder if they’ll be able to make the trip to Capitol Hill with me, or if I’m going to have to bring their picture and memory instead.

And so I’m asking. I’m pleading. Pass the FREED Act. Thank you.


You can access the full speech transcript here.

Like this post? Stay up to date by ‘Liking’ my blog on Facebook, following me on Twitter or Tumblr, subscribe via email, or just leave me a comment to let me know what you think!

2 Comments

Filed under Activism

Eating Disorder Advocacy in Washington, DC – 4/17/13

I just got back from Washington, DC for another fantastic day of advocacy on Capitol Hill. I’ve been volunteering with the Eating Disorders Coalition (EDC) for six years now, and I’m honored every time to take part in it.

S13 04

All photos courtesy of Jim Knapp unless noted.

The EDC advocates for legislative reform to better improve access to treatment, advance research, and educate both professionals and the public about eating disorders. If you or someone you know have ever had to seek treatment, then you know it’s often difficult. This is because of a complicated mix of disputes over diagnosis, established guidelines, and a misunderstanding of eating disorders.

Even though the American Psychiatric Association has compiled very specific and detailed guidelines for treatment, insurance companies have no obligation to follow them and often make up their own guidelines – which physicians often don’t have access to even while treating patients. So even if treatment is approved, it’s hard to know if it will be the kind of comprehensive treatment a particular patient needs.

Jeanine Cogan & Kathleen MacDonald. Jeanine is the EDC Policy Director, Kathleen is the former EDC Policy Assistant.

Jeanine Cogan & Kathleen MacDonald. Jeanine is the EDC Policy Director. Kathleen is the former EDC Policy Assistant and now applies her expertise at Kantor & Kantor LLP.

The legislation the EDC is advocating for is called the Federal Response to the Elimination of Eating Disorders (FREED) Act, and it would help address these problems. It also contains provisions for helping medical professionals know what to look for and how to treat the specific physical health problems that can threaten the lives of eating disorder patients. You can read a full summary of the FREED Act here, along with some background and history here.

[Fun fact: the idea behind FREED, the elimination of eating disorders, was also the inspiration for my blog title!]

The EDC wouldn’t exist if not for the tireless work of the advocates who make up the organization. Spring 2013 marks the first event under the leadership of new EDC President Johanna S. Kandel, author of Life Beyond Your Eating Disorder. A common statement from first-time advocates is often: “What difference does my being here make?”

Well, Johanna came to Capitol Hill ten years ago to lobby with the EDC and got a meeting with her Congressional Representative, Ted Deutch. Their meeting educated him about eating disorders and their severity, as well as putting a human face on them. We can quote statistics all day long, but sometimes a personal testimony says more than amount of data.

Now in 2013, Representative Deutch is championing the FREED Act in the House of Representatives and has made eating disorders a priority during this Congressional session – and it’s all because of Johanna’s hard work and advocacy.

Johanna Kandel (far left) with EDC board members, guest speakers, and Ted Deutch.

Johanna Kandel (far left) with EDC board members, guest speakers, and Ted Deutch.

Myself and Ted Deutch after the briefing. So grateful for his commitment to ending eating disorders & the EDC! (Also, when did my hair get so long??)

Myself and Ted Deutch after the briefing. So grateful for his commitment to FREED & the EDC!
(Also, when did my hair get so long??)

I also want to say thanks to the offices that took the time to meet with the Virginia Team: Senator Mark Warner, Senator Tim Kaine, Representative Bobby Scott, and Representative Morgan Griffith. Virginia is already a leader on eating disorders with HB1406 establishing screenings in public schools, and I’m looking forward to Virginia carrying the torch and seeing our Congressional reps take up the cause!

Our next Lobby Day is September 18, 2013. Even if you can’t make it to DC, there are plenty of ways you can make a difference and advocate for FREED! Consider doing the following:

  • contact the local offices for your Congressional Representatives in your district to meet with them and/or their staff
  • write letters to their offices and share your own stories about how eating disorders have affected your lives, asking them to support FREED
  • donate to the EDC to support their ability to advocate on Capitol Hill, or hold a fundraiser of your own

Shout-out t0 Kari Adams of The Kari Adams Show for making the trip to DC and cover the policy side of eating disorders! Below is an interview she did with Gail Schoenbach, the Executive Director of the F.R.E.E.D. Foundation and current EDC Treasurer, along with some other pictures from Lobby Day!

Some seriously perfect weather on Captiol Hill.

Some seriously perfect weather on Captiol Hill.

S13 13

Ran into the Minnesota team on our way to the briefing! (Thanks Britt for the picture!)

Team Leader meeting at the reception the night before. So honored to be working with so many amazing people! Also, I'm the only one with my eyes closed.
Team Leader meeting at the reception the night before. So honored to be working with so many amazing people! Also, I’m the only one with my eyes closed.
EDC President Johanna Kandel introducing the next speaker at the Congressional Briefing.

EDC President Johanna Kandel introducing the next speaker at the Congressional Briefing.

Team leader brainstorming!

Team leader brainstorming!

 

Myself and other advocates during the reception.

Myself and other advocates during the reception.

Full photo sets available on the EDC Facebook page. Videos from the briefing will be made online shortly. For past Lobby Day coverage and testimonials, click here to search for all posts tagged ‘FREED’.

So what are you waiting for? Come join us in Washington, DC and help us END eating disorders!

Like this post? Stay up to date by ‘Liking’ my blog on Facebook, following me on Twitter or Tumblr, subscribe via email, or just leave me a comment to let me know what you think!

4 Comments

Filed under Activism