Parallel Session 16

Exploring Stigma towards Individuals with BED and MDD


Binge eating disorder (BED) and muscle dysmorphic disorder (MDD) have only recently been recognized under the spectrum of eating and weight related issues. It is important to better understand the attitudes and perceptions held towards individuals with these problems.  This workshop presents findings from research conducted at a Canadian university investigating the stigmatizing attitudes and beliefs graduate students hold towards individuals with eating disorders. 

The focus of this workshop will be towards the stigmatization of individuals with BED and MDD.  BED is marked by consuming large amounts of food without engaging in compensatory behaviours, whereas, those with MDD believe their bodies are too small/frail and wish to add more muscle. Historically, researchers have concentrated their efforts towards the study of those with clinical eating disorders (i.e., anorexia nervosa [AN] and bulimia nervosa [BN]). The objective of this workshop is to increase awareness of stigmatization of other diverse bodies that are impacted by the spectrum of eating and weight concerns and explore potential explanations for this stigmatization.



This workshop is based on the stigma directed towards individuals with binge eating disorder (BED) and muscle dysmorphic disorder (MDD). BED and MDD have only recently been recognized under the umbrella of eating and weight related issues, as such, the differences in stigma between these conditions and eating disorders (EDs), namely AN and BN, have not been fully explored. Research was conducted at a Canadian university investigating stigma held by students in five graduate programs in regards to EDs. Master’s and PhD students were invited to complete online surveys that contained vignettes of individuals with different EDs (AN, BN, BED, and MDD). The disorders were not labelled in the vignettes and students were asked whether they would identify the character as having a particular health disorder.

Questions following each vignette assessed whether students could identify the condition that was being described, what factors they felt could have contributed to the individual’s circumstance, and stigmatizing attitudes. The research builds on previous work that has examined stigma towards people with EDs in other countries.

The workshop will focus on results related to BED and MDD, as these presenting concerns have been under researched and are less recognizable as disorders traditionally characteristic of EDs. Traditionally, research on disordered eating has focused on AN and BN, both of which have primed professionals to expect to encounter underweight bodies or individuals determinedly motivated to lose weight. With the focus most often targeted toward people whose weight decreases as the condition progresses, those who experience an increase in weight and muscle as a symptom are often not seen to require the same level of treatment. Therefore, the objective of this workshop is to increase awareness of the diversity of bodies that are impacted by the spectrum of eating and weight concerns and to explore the nature of negative attitudes, stigmatization, and misconceptions that individuals with BED and MDD may face. 

While stigma towards those living with an ED has been shown to be severe compared to other mental health conditions, the stigma towards those with eating issues who exist in larger bodies is much less understood. We examine the possibility that individuals living in larger bodies experiencing BED and MDD face a stigma that is twofold: (1) carrying excess weight or not aligning with gendered expectations and (2) experiencing stigma and discrimination that results from having a mental illness. Explanations will be offered as to possible reasons for this different experience of stigma toward individuals who present in a body traditionally not associated with disordered eating. Collaborative small group discussions will focus on the role of the media, gender expectations, and weight bias in society. Workshop presenters will integrate dialogues generated from small group discussions, with the aim of illustrating a range of possible explanations for the stigma and misconceptions towards those with BED and MDD.  Participants will be encouraged to share personal and professional examples of observed stigma and bias. This workshop is intended for health care professionals, clinical supervisors, and post-secondary educators.


Knowledge Level: Intermediate

Presenter Biographies

Dr. Gina Dimitropoulos is an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Social Work at the University of Calgary. Dr. Dimitropoulos has extensive clinical experience in both tertiary care and community settings delivering family based treatments, group therapy and individual counselling for adolescents and adults with mental health issues, particularly eating disorders.

Emily Williams, MSc is a PhD student in the Counselling Psychology program at the University of Calgary. Emily is interested in the areas of disclosure, eating disorders, and stigma.

Laura Henderson, MA is a PhD student in the faculty of Social Work at the University of Calgary and is particularly interested in eating disorders in men, male body image, and stigma.