Weight Stigma in Diverse Populations: Divya Kakaiya, PhD, MSc, CEDS

BEDA promotes cultural acceptance of, and respect for, the natural diversity of sizes, as well as promoting a goal of improved health, which may or may not include weight change.  The views expressed by our featured bloggers are their own.

Dr. Kakayia-4x5

Divya Kakaiya, Ph.D., Clinical Director and Founder of Healthy Within treatment program in San Diego and Past President and Founder of Healthy Within Foundation, California, has been treating eating disorders since 1985. In addition to her Doctoral Degree, Dr. Kakaiya received a Post Doctoral M.Sc in Psychopharmacology in May 2011. This is in hopes of becoming a Medical Psychologist.

Dr. Kakaiya’s Wellness Center incorporates treatment modalities that are on the cutting edge of brain and biochemistry issues. She has been utilizing Neurofeedback at her treatment center for the last 4 years and sees tremendous success with all her patients. In 2013 Dr. Kakaiya presented On “Neurofeedback with Eating Disorders” the first presentation of its kind in the Neurofeedback and the eating disorder world. Her program is one of only two Eating Disorder programs in the country that utilize Neurofeedback.

She wears numerous hats in the eating disorder community, the Asian community and the addiction world. She has received numerous awards for her service to the community.

Her passion for working with Eating Disorders translates into the extensive prevention work she conducts in San Diego, California. Since 1994, Dr. Kakaiya had begun massive outreach efforts in the community, and since 1999 she and her team have conducted about 50 to 80 presentations a year in high schools and middle schools. In October of 2002, she founded the Healthy Within Foundation through which she has trained over 15 -22 volunteers each year, who conduct outreach efforts in the community with prevention issues. Her prevention work has translated into Life Skills workshops which her team has been implementing in San Diego Middle and High schools. In February 2010, Dr. Kakaiya and her current team of 24 active volunteers are simultaneously launching FREE “Full of Ourselves” program in 5 locations in San Diego. FOO is a 12 week Wellness Program that Dr. Kakaiya and her team have been presenting in the community. Dr. Kakaiya and her team now present workshops for pre-adolescent and adolescent boys.

The Council for Boys and Men is the first time this program has been offered in San Diego.

 She believes in empowering clinicians to see the damaging impact of the internet and rapid technology on the development of the teen brain. Dr. Kakaiya presented at a Ted Talk in Claremont, CA in September 2012. 

Eating Disorders and Weight Stigma Are in All Cultures!!

As America has developed into the melting pot that it is currently, it’s hard to imagine that any person would believe that eating disorders only affect white, upper socioeconomic groups of girls, though initially, in our eating disorder field, the majority of treatment centers were treating mostly white women. In the last 15 years though, we have become acutely aware that the same forces are at work against the Latina girl in South San Diego and the Korean girl in Michigan, or the Afghani refugee woman in Minnesota. 

Having trained many psychotherapists over the last 20 years on how to deal with the cultural issues surrounding ‘family’ and eating disorders, some forces are very evident. These forces include culture clash, issues of conflict from one generation to the next, and mass media pressures which are at the core of the conflict and which makes the girls attack their bodies.

Many first generation immigrant parents are unable to identify with the particular stresses that their sons and daughters have as they navigate the dominant culture and my patients will often talk about their struggles experiencing their “American” identity along with their “Ethnic” identity.  The pressures that come from media are acutely felt by these young souls as they try to figure out how to be accepted and how to fit in, meanwhile, their parents may be making demands to sustain their ethnic identity, making the teens feel as though they are abandoning their “self.”

Again, many of these first and second generation immigrant teens feel the need to achieve, prove themselves and hence become extremely perfectionistic and rigid in their routines. Becoming the ‘model minority living the “American Dream”’ becomes such an all-consuming ideology that self-care and balance are lost. Women and teens who are highly acculturated into the Western culture tend to have higher rates of body dissatisfaction which translates into internal weight stigma.

No wonder refuge is sought in calories, fat grams and weight……Ultimately the obsession with numbers and weight loss “calms” down the intense conflict that is raging in their minds.

What is incredibly tragic is that there are so few studies and data being collected on the prevalence of eating disorders among ethnic populations. This bias is manifesting itself even though we have been treating women of all ethnic backgrounds for the last 20 to 25 years.

Dieting and weight stigma do not discriminate. 

All communities fall in to the brainwashing created by the dieting industry. Italian, Jewish, African American, South Asian, Chinese cultures all have huge celebrations with food and each of them also have a HUGE tyranny about thinness. One only has to add these two realities to see the incredibly volatile combination it creates and the opportunity for weight stigma to take hold culturally and personally!

As a sensitive culture, we really need to embrace the diversity of body types that comes with various ethnicities. The body of an Argentinian woman will be quite different from that of a Japanese teen or that of a Native American woman with a Palauan dad. I teach my clients to truly become bicultural in their sense of self, in that they honor the American part of themselves as well as the rich culture that they hail from.

Nature, God, the Universe (call it whatever you wish) has made each and every one of us have a unique DNA code that makes us completely different from every other human being on the face of this earth!!! This is such an incredible miracle that we cannot and must not ignore.

This can be so liberating if we choose to think of it from the perspective of LOVING our individuality and uniqueness and the knowledge that there can NEVER, NEVER, NEVER, NEVER be two identical bodies!!

Love your body, reject the notion that there is one perfect body type, and teach others about your culture.