Weight Stigma in Diverse Populations: Sam Thomas

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.

Sam Thomas at MGEDT conference

Sam Thomas founded UK based award winning organisation Men Get Eating Disorders Too (www.mengetedstoo.co.uk)* following his own experience of an eating disorder throughout his teens. Having had bulimia for eight years, he managed to recover in his early twenties. Reflecting on his experiences he realised being male was largely why he found it difficult to get appropriate support.  

He is dedicated to raising awareness of male eating disorders and frequently talks about his experiences and of the issue of male eating disorders in the national press/media, organised workshops for professionals and at conferences.  

*MGEDT is a platform for which male sufferers can share their voices and experiences heard and provide peer support. 


Weight Stigma and Men with Binge Eating Disorder (BED)

Weight Stigma Awareness Week began this week and Men Get Eating Disorders Too (MGEDT) is proud to be a part of this movement to tackle weight stigma. As the Founder and Director of MGEDT I hear regularly see the negative impact of weight stigma, which remains one of the lasting taboos in society today.

Whilst weight stigma is not something I’ve experienced personally, it’s baffling to me why it’s still ok to be ‘fattist’ and make remarks about one another’s size.  I know how ‘fat talk’ or ‘weight talk’ can play a major part in the negative re-enforcement about the way someone thinks and feels about their shape or size through my professional role. Both males and females are subject to this kind of talk and possibly, men are more likely to ‘take it on the chin’ so to speak. However, I question whether the less defensive attitude males take towards criticisms about their body image may actually mean the message is being internalised, further perpetuating their behaviours.

Earlier this year I wrote a blog post for the MGEDT website where I welcomed Binge Eating Disorders (BED) to the DSM-V. For the first time, men are more likely to fit criteria for an eating disorder. In my view, it’s clear that the official recognition of BED as a diagnosable mental illness is a positive step. The inclusion of BED as an official diagnosis provides important validation and definition as an illness that impacts the health and quality of life of males and females of all ages however, we must not be complacent, as many BED sufferers are unable to seek referrals for support as BED is still a widely misunderstood mental illness.

One of our BED members and an MGEDT supporter named Keith, recently said to me: “The biggest problem I encountered was often with doctors or practice nurses that I had to visit for various health reasons. I developed type II diabetes, high blood pressure, joint pains, kidney problems and liver problems to a certain degree and I would often be told that I was ‘morbidly obese’ and I had to change what I was eating and exercise more to get rid of my excessive weight. By this time my BMI was well into the 40% range and each time I mentioned my eating disorder it was completely dismissed. I felt so demoralised and stigmatised that I even asked my wife to sit in on the appointments with the medical professionals to verify my story was true. I used to eat a very healthy diet and stayed away from all of the fatty, sugary foods that were ‘bad’ for me and when I was binge eating it was these foods I was eating to excess.

Being stigmatised about my weight and my ‘lack of willpower’ affected my everyday life. I spent most of my time locked in the house feeling like I couldn’t venture out because I was so grossly overweight. When I did venture out I would often get people laughing at me and making sly comments like ‘who ate all the pies’ and being called a ‘beached whale’ when I did try and go to the swimming baths to get some exercise. This fed into my binge eating disorder’s destructive cycle and made things worse.”

Keith’s testimony highlights the need to end weight stigma so that GPs can recognise the illness as NOT being simply over-weight and/or obese. Having spoken with other male BED sufferers, it’s apparent that Keith is not a lone case. Scores of male sufferers in the US and UK are struggling to get help as the stigma associated with BED undermines both the reality and complexity of the illness.

Moreover, BED needs to be better understood as an emotional response often linked to stress, anxiety, depression low self-esteem and trauma.

Dieting and cutting certain food groups misses the point completely. After-all, eating disorders are not about food…