A few years ago, a dear colleague of mine told me that she was on her way to our nation’s capital to participate in Lobby Day, a twice-yearly event in which advocates visit the Capitol Hill offices of our senators and congresspeople to promote eating disorder legislation.
I remember thinking, Wow… that’s incredible! Those are lucky people to be able to do something so powerful.
Could I be an advocate?
I have to admit, it didn’t occur to me at the time that I might participate myself. I thought: I advocate for patients, but I’m not an “Advocate.”
I had this idea that being an Advocate meant you had to have special training in the legislative process or that you were out there on the front lines every day. I pictured Advocates holding signs on the steps of government buildings and giving talks at congressional briefings. At the very least, they must be writing a lot of letters!
That didn’t seem like me, I thought.
My advocacy work was, up until then, a bit quieter: writing blogs, submitting appeals to insurance companies when they denied care for my patients, and educating patients on how to find and receive high-quality care.
I was advocating, sure, but was I an Advocate?
Lobbying for eating disorders in D.C.
When the opportunity to attend Lobby Day myself this April came along, I jumped at the chance. I thought to myself, would our elected officials be interested in hearing from me? I quickly learned that not only would they be interested, but they needed to.
Along with my Eating Disorder Coalition team leader, a group of advocates and I visited the offices of several congresspeople and senators in our nation’s capital.
Our group consisted of professionals, individuals who had suffered with eating disorders, and family members. Each had an important story to tell, and together we demonstrated the impact that legislation could have if made into law.
We explained why the Anna Westin Act was so important by sharing the following:
- Millions of Americans are struggling with eating disorders
- Insurance companies should comply with the law by including benefits for residential treatment
- Education on eating disorders should be available to medical and mental health professionals
The process was empowering!
I came home from Lobby Day inspired to continue this important work. And I realized that whether or not I’m in Washington, I’m an Advocate. We all are.
Five ways that you can get involved
Here are five ways that you can become an advocate for the eating disorder community, whether you choose to go to Washington, D.C., or not.
- Share information on the Anna Westin Act or share this post.
- Challenge others who share myths about eating disorders by educating them on the Nine Truths about Eating Disorders.
- Call or email your congressperson to encourage them to sign on to this historic legislation. Find out if your state has a local Lobby Day or organize one.
- If you are in treatment, don’t give up! Continue the journey to full recovery so that you can be a strong advocate.
- If you can, please join us for our next Lobby Day!
There are so many ways to advocate for individuals with eating disorders — if we work together and let our voices be heard.
While in D.C., I was fortunate to visit the memorial of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who said,
“The time is always right to do what is right.”
And the time for advocacy is now.
Ashley Solomon, PsyD, CEDS is Executive Director at Eating Recovery Center, Ohio.