Championing the BIPoC Eating Disorders Conference

February 26th through March 3rd is Eating Disorders Awareness Week this year. It’s also the tail end of Black History Month, and the transition into Women’s History Month. A while back we had the incredible privilege of sitting down with Dr. Whitney Trotter DNP, APRN, PMHNP-BC, RDN and Angela Goens MS, RDN, LD, co-founders of the BIPoC Eating Disorders Conference. With the conference now entering its 3rd year, we wanted to take this opportunity to reflect on our conversation with Whitney and Angela, and to discuss their incredible project (which Galen Hope has been proud to sponsor since year 1).

We hope that you’ll take a moment to register for the conference, and to explore sponsorship opportunities.

Where did the BIPoC Eating Disorders Conference Come from?

In 2021, Angela and Whitney decided that enough was enough. For years, they had noticed that “Black, Brown, and Indigenous People of Color have often been excluded from eating disorder treatment, employment, advocacy, and research.” They knew that there was a need for community, a need for collaborative spaces, and a need for visibility. And, coming out of the social upheaval of 2020, they were determined to do something about it.  Angela explains:

“There’s a lot of people who have eating disorders who don’t fit that sort of stereotypical mold, and we want to make sure that those people are getting access to care, and they have the same availability as everybody else.”

But the problems of access and representation also extend to the experiences of BIPoC clinicians. Whitney says:

“We had to fight so hard to get here. I mean people. I remember 2020 vividly, and how people were treating us and other established BIPoC ED clincians as if we were just these newbie clinicians. It’s wild to me how much we had to fight for our voices to get heard, and it’s almost like the ED Field had this awakening. Like “Oh my God, people do exist. Oh, BIPoC People do have eating disorders.’ As if 2020 was the first time BIPoC people were getting diagnosed.”

Angels expanded on this by sharing that at the same time, due to the combination of the pandemic and the social upheaval that occurred at the same time, connections were made. In her words:

“There were a lot of us kind of in our own little niche or in our own little world, and after the unrest, certainly the pandemic and things becoming more virtual, we were all then able to connect and really learn more about each other’s work and really want to spotlight, and highlight, what we were doing and each other’s voices and expertise. And we wanted to sort of bring that to the forefront, not just be tokenized or unpaid for our work or have our work stolen and repurposed.”

It was from those understandings, and with those problems to begin to solve, that Whitney and Angela put together the first iteration of the BIPoC Eating Disorders Conference.

Part of what Whitney and Angela are doing with this conference is emphasizing eating disorder treatment and intersectionality. Both have worked in treatment centers and can speak to the increased recognition of how BIPoC people engage at higher levels of care. This led to putting thought into how the conference is designed, as a multi-day event with recordings available for an extended period after, so that people from ED treatment centers can participate. As Whitney says:

“If the clinicians and community members from the ED treatment centers aren’t participating in the conference, it’s null and void because then you may still do harm. We were so intentional. And we were very intentional with the intersectionality of making sure we had BIPoC people, or had voices from people who are trans, disabled, and neurodivergent. So that was important to us too. We don’t just want people to come to the BIPoC ED conference to only hear BIPoC people, because obviously that’s important, but also the intersectionality of it too.”

Why is this project so important?

Far too often, DE&I initiatives and similar initiatives can be very performative—high visibility, and not enough action. Galen Hope continues to be a sponsor for the BIPoC Eating Disorders Conference, as we feel strongly that the work that is happening in and around the event is vital to the field. And yet, even when there’s some intentionality about actionable steps related to diversity, such as recognizing the need to hire more providers who are BIPoC, trans, fat or with intersecting identities, there is always a perpetual need for more awareness and more effort. Simply put, we want that representation in our space for our clients that come in with those identities. Representation matters.

It feels incredibly important to take those action steps and yet it still feels almost like we’re barely scraping the surface. Looking at the roster of speakers from last year’s conference, for example, we see people who are known for talking about things like harm reduction, an abolitionist framework for treatment, medical apartheid, food insecurity and so much more. When asked for their thoughts on some of these deeper kinds of paradigm shifts that really need to happen in eating disorder treatment, mental health, and those sorts of systems, Whitney told us:

“I think one of the things that I’m most disappointed about is the unwillingness to have the paradigm shift. In substance use and mental health fields, there are conversations about paradigm shifts–of things not working, of insurance, reimbursement. But with eating disorders it’s often so narrow in its view of who has eating disorders and who gets access, it’s like limited imagination. My city is 65% Black, and I can find substance use treatment. Right? If somebody is having a manic episode, I know where to send them, no matter if they’re uninsured or insured and how the city is insured. There are states that don’t even have ED centers. So you’re asking people to literally uproot their entire life and move states. We don’t look at the systems that prevent people from accessing care when any other mental health diagnosis, arguably at least, have something in the county. 

I think there’s just an unwillingness to creatively and critically think about other options.”

It can be jarring to hear critiques of this field that we work in, and that many of us are passionate about. What Whitney and Angela are doing with their conference, and what they shared with us in our conversation, is a reminder that while our healthcare system as a whole has glaring deficits, we can’t simply absolve the eating disorder treatment field from them because of the passion itself. Instead, because the lack of ingenuity and the specificity of the field’s unwillingness to shift and innovate that Whitney described is part and parcel with those glaring deficits, it makes the need for change that much more urgent. Perhaps in the very conversations happening in and around the BIPoC Eating Disorders Conference are the solutions and shifts that can shape our future.

How you can join the conversation

We asked Angela and Whitney how those of us who have historically been centered in the field can help to support the continued elevation and visibility of thought leaders like the two of them. Angela response was that one of the biggest ways to help is “talking to us and really getting the ins and outs”. She says it’s important “to really feel committed to the level of advocacy, not just the learning piece of this. This is a one-time occurrence in the year where the conference happens, and that’s where the learning occurs. But there are still all these other days and hours that advocacy can be so important.”

To learn more, register for the conference, and if you are in a position to do so, explore sponsorship opportunities.

the road to wellness starts by seeking help. today.

Built on the principles of assertive community treatment, Galen Hope is an eating disorder and mental health treatment center offering individualized treatment options that include Intensive Outpatient (IOP), supported housing, and Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHP). As a “Community of Integrated Wellness,” we pride ourselves in fostering a thoughtful and meaningful care experience that can guide our clients on their road to recovery and increased quality of life, regardless of diagnosis. Galen Hope currently offers separate, age-specific programming for adolescents ages 12-17 and adults 18 and up, of all genders.

To learn more, or to join our community for integrated wellness, please contact us today.

 

Belong. Heal. Grow.

ANGELA GOENS, MS, RDN, LD is a dietitian who aims to help others explore and restore a mindful and personalized relationship with food. She does this via years of experience, education, and understanding by using a whole-person, weight-inclusive, body-positive lens. She is the Co-Founder of the BiPOC Eating Disorders Conference.

Whitney Trotter, MS, RDN/LDN, RN, RYT is a Registered Dietitian and RN, Anti-racism Educator/Consultant, Human Trafficking Activist and Co-Founder of the BiPOC Eating Disorders Conference

 

 

 

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