Breaking: A White Girl Studies Anorexia

It’s a pattern that’s been pointed out countless times by even the most casual observer. A striking number of people with eating disorders go on to study eating disorders, become dietitians, or receive nutritional degrees. On the other hand, talk to a dietician and a surprising number will admit to an eating disordered history.

So what do I do about the fact that’s I’m joining those ranks? What do I do about the fact that I’m get another white, middle class woman with a history of eating disorders going into the field of research?

This year I’m writing a senior thesis about eating disorder recovery groups. It’s fascinating, bewildering, sometimes overwhelming. I find that after about 2 or 3 hours of data collection, I’ll start crying for no particular reason as the discussion of calorie restriction, weight recovery, and familial tension overwhelms my defenses. Mostly, I just feel excited to have the opportunity to research it, and scared at the task of having to write a 100 page essay. But sometimes, I feel guilty (or maybe anxious, or maybe I’m just wrestling with cognitive dissonance) that I’m studying what I am.

I really don’t have an answer for these questions. There aren’t enough eating disorders researchers as there are, and the psychological field as I see it has been narrow in scope. We need more people studying eating issues with nuanced perspectives and variations in interpretation. What do we do to get more people interested in the topic, especially if it seems that only past sufferers gain enough interest to pursue study?

Figuring out how to navigate a place where you’re just another of the common faces without being complicit in that is difficult. Clearly, this phenomenon (and yes, my participation in it) points to a need for a restructuring of the field of psychological research and more specifically eating disorders research.

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