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Eating disorder support in works for Black people in Nova Scotia

Rising food insecurity highlights need for support

3 min read
Hand holds reaches for chocolate chip cookie set on a table surrounded by snacks like cheese, croissants, and apples.
caption A person reaches for a snack at the Eating Disorders: Not Just a White Folks' Problem event hosted by Eating Disorders Nova Scotia at SMU on Jan. 24, 2023.
Chase Fitzgerald

Eating Disorders Nova Scotia (EDNS) is creating support and services for Black communities in Halifax and beyond.

“It does not matter if we’re African Nova Scotian or African or Black or Caribbean,” said Amber Grosse from East Preston. “We greet each other by our weight first.”

Grosse coordinated an event called Eating Disorders: Not Just a White Folks’ Problem. It took place at St. Mary’s University on Jan. 24. 

Fourteen community members attended, including post-secondary students and professionals. Most shared how growing up in a Black community shaped their relationships with food and their bodies.

Woman in a neon orange shirt and a mask around her chin stares at whiteboard filled with notes on how eating disorders affect Black people.
caption Amber Grosse looks up at a whiteboard at the Eating Disorders: Not Just a White Folks’ Problem event hosted by Eating Disorders Nova Scotia at SMU on Jan. 24, 2023.
Chase Fitzgerald

Research released in 2020 finds Black people are less likely to receive access to care although eating disorders can affect anyone.

The group discussed how cultural nuances make it harder to recognize eating disorders as a mental illness.

“It goes back to the historical trauma and the generational trauma,” Grosse said. She explained that eating disorders are not normalized within Black communities and even the word ‘disorder’ is taboo.

Those nuances go unrecognized by most healthcare providers, according to Mazella B. Fuller, a PhD clinical associate at Duke University in North Carolina. She co-authored the clinician’s guide Treating Black Women with Eating Disorders.

Fuller said that’s because most doctors with Western education lack the level of “cultural intelligence” and expertise to gauge Black eating disorders.

“There’s no way in the world anybody could do cultural-affirming treatment if they haven’t had some type of training,” said Fuller. Helping doctors understand Black people’s lived experiences, cultural nuances and different presentations of eating disorders can create more access.

Attendees at SMU voiced similar needs.

Handwritten notes in black dry-erase marker are filled on a whiteboard, describing takeaways the attendees mentioned during this conversation.
caption Whiteboard drawing of notes on key takeaways from the event Eating Disorders: Not Just a White Folks’ Problem hosted by Eating Disorders Nova Scotia at SMU on Jan. 24, 2023.
Chase Fitzgerald

Their responses will inform a “closed support group” workshop EDNS aims to launch in the spring, according to program manager Debra Wells-Hopey.

It will provide tools to empower Black communities by removing barriers and increasing awareness  — as food insecurity ties in with the cost of living crisis.

“There’s a huge correlation between food insecurity and having an eating disorder,” said Wells-Hopey.

Research published in 2020 finds adults who experience food insecurity are more likely to demonstrate eating disorder behaviours.

“We’re holding this event to start generating conversation about these issues,” said EDNS executive director Shaleen Jones.

N.S. Health community outreach worker Kyiaisha Benton attended the event to learn and bring better support to the people she works with.

She said hearing other Black people relay their struggles with eating disorders helped her understand her own personal experiences, especially with how “family dynamics” come into play.

“We don’t talk about this topic a lot, especially relating to marginalized communities,” said Benton.

“It gives me hope being here.”

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