Validation is the first step in getting our needs met. It sounds simple, right? I can’t take the steps to eat dinner if I have not first identified my hunger cues and validated my need to eat. Validation prior to action is true across the board for almost all of our needs and wants. We must identify our needs/wants/dreams/goals/values/etc. as real in order to take the next steps. Validating our needs is not that simple though, especially if a person has experienced consistent invalidation and dismissal of their own needs and experiences. “You don’t need that snack/meal/dessert/etc,” “You think your problems are tough? Wait til you hear mine!” “If I could work my way through college, so can you; you’re just lazy.” I could go on and on with examples of how our needs and experiences are invalidated by others throughout our lives, but I bet you get the picture.
Eating Disorder Awareness Week is the last week of Black History Month. I would feel remiss in my position as an ED therapist if I did not bring attention to the role that invalidation (especially by people and systems in positions of power) plays in dismissing mental health needs for people who have been historically marginalized and oppressed. In order to effectively combat the racist, sexist, ableist (and many more) systems that distance folks from support, we must validate the experiences of the people who share them.
Eating disorders come in all shapes and sizes just like people. They are all valid, just like people. Eating disorders are about the relationship between a person and food. Food is no longer social, tasty, and fueling. Food becomes a tool used to manage emotions, manipulate values, and make concrete “solutions” to abstract problems. The relationship one has with food is what we must validate and discuss in order to take the next steps towards recovery. It is crucial to examine our relationship to the strife of others in this journey, as we will never get to Step Two if Step One (validation) is not met.
The stereotype for folks with eating disorders may be a young, underweight, white woman, but these are just some of the identities included in the vast and diverse world of ED. It is impossible to see an eating disorder from the outside, but if we listen, we might be able to start validating the experiences of the people who are struggling and surviving. Do not discount your own experiences either, as we are often the first people to invalidate our own needs. Whether it is your own voice dismissing your experiences or the voice of another, know that race, weight, gender-identity, age, ability, religion, or culture are not the criteria used to identify eating disorders. You deserve to have your needs met, and there is support for you.
Instagram is free and could be a great place to start seeing inclusive communities. Here are some accounts that may help you feel seen:
- @covid19eatingsupport – This account is also providing live stream meal support
- A Hunger So Wide and So Deep: A Multiracial View of Women’s Eating Problems by Becky Thompson
- Not All Black Girls Know How to Eat: A Story of Bulimia by Stephanie Covington Armstrong Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay