Trigger Warning: This blog centers around my own struggles with societal expectation of body image and how it impacts my relationship with food. I have never been diagnosed with an eating disorder, but I will briefly describe my struggles, as well as a general list of eating disorders and signs of concern. I will also include a hotline or website to reach out to if you have concerns about yourself or a loved one with an eating disorder.
I am on a weight loss journey for like the millionth time in my life. There is a part of this journey that I believe doesn’t get talked about enough. We all know about yo-yo dieting and how weight loss business, because it is an entire industry, feeds it to us in headline form to sell us products. It makes me want to spew, to be quite frank. “Stop yo-yo dieting. We have something that WORKS!”
Do you, though? DO YOU?
I’ll tell you exactly why I fail at dieting over and over and over again. Because it’s freaking HARD and it takes commitment and consistency, and I don’t even have a regular schedule for when I wash my hair. It’s also DISCOURAGING. We put such value on what the scale says, and we know we shouldn’t! But, here we are for the 10th time today, standing butt-naked on the scale after taking a pee to see if “maybe that will help.”
It’s also discouraging because there is no quick fix for cellulite, stretch marks, lose skin, or the fact that I only lose weight in my boobs.
The result? Bad habits replaced by more bad habits. I replace overeating with restrictive eating. I replace lack of exercise to feeling guilty when I don’t. I go from- YOLO-MORE-FROYO, to I can’t have anything ever again.
Today, I want to talk about why we do this. More importantly, why I do it, but if you do it too, keep reading. We are about to be best friends.
Did you know there is a formula for obesity? As if the expectations and photoshopping alone isn’t enough discouragement, let’s take a look at a numerical standard. Not just BMI, oh, no. According to the National Institute of Health, a waist (natural waistline) measurement of 30″ or more is obese and considered high risk for certain diseases. Y’all read that right, 30″. To give you a perspective, my arm circumference at my bicep is half of that.
Let’s also talk about BMI, or body mass index. I am 5’1″ tall. A BMI of 24 for me, which is boarding on “overweight” I would have to be 127lbs. The last time I was 127lbs, I spent 4 hours a day in the gym. My point is, I understand the scientific need for a standard. However, for someone trying to “be healthy” these numerical standards seem pretty impossible. They are supposed to indicate an average, but I can’t help but feel like they are more of an outlier.
I have family members that fall into a “normal” BMI range, and they often get criticized for being too thin. You are damned if you do, and damned if you don’t. Amirite?
You can’t be too bulky or muscular if you are a woman, either. How dare you appear strong and defined? The horror.
Growing up, the hardest part of my body image issues was the fact that, as a women, no one prepared me for the fact that my body would be ever-changing. My body looked different at all stages of my development. That is why they say you should get your bra measurements checked frequently because, even as fully developed adults, our bodies can change so much over a short amount of time. No one explained to me how healthy weight loss looked, or what was damaging or harmful (not that I would listen anyway). But as an adult, I wish I knew. Education is so powerful.
The fact is, there is a VERY fine line between dieting and restrictive eating disorder. Sound new to you? Nope, it’s not bulimia nervosa or anorexia nervosa, it’s something different.
Bulimia nervosa, roughly described as binge eating and purging, as well as anorexia nervosa, restricting calories out of fear of gaining weight are most well known. But, there are other eating disorders such as Avoid Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID), binge eating disorder, rumination disorder, and other non-specified eating disorders. The signs and symptoms are scary to read, because they parallel a lot of what average people do when “dieting.” I say this not to denounce or reduce the seriousness of any of the aforementioned disorders, which are very specific to the person affected and very serious health disorders. But, I want to list some signs and symptoms to show how fine of a line we dance on when we aren’t careful and intentional with the health of our bodies.
Unusual behavior around food: can include restriction, eating too much, eating in secret, skipping meals or making excuses for not eating.
Strange behavior around mealtimes: can include getting up to use the bathroom, being unwilling to eat the same food as friends and family.
Being obsessed with getting it out: can include vomiting, the use of laxatives, supplements, herbs, and excessive exercise.
Obsession with body image: always talking about, complaining, worrying about their size, shape, and weight, being hyper-focused on eating healthy, or spending too much time obsessing about their image in a mirror.
Trauma or mental health issues: people who have experienced trauma or suffer from other mental health issues are at higher risk for developing eating disorders.
The statistics surrounding children and young adults in regards to eating disorders is alarming. According to ANAD.org:
- 42% of 1st-3rd grade girls want to be thinner.
- 81% of 10 year old children are afraid of being fat.
- 46% of 9-11 year-olds are “sometimes” or “very often” on diets.
- 35-57% of adolescent girls engage in crash dieting, fasting, self-induced vomiting, diet pills, or laxatives.
- In a college campus survey, 91% of the women admitted to controlling their weight through dieting.
This is not a helpless situation. We can do so much for ourselves and our youth by making simple changes.
We can be conscious of how we talk about our bodies in front of our kids and other people’s kids. There are little ears everywhere, and your feelings of insecurity can manifest in your kid, or someone else’s kid who looks up to you faster than you probably realize.
We can be more conscious of how often we compliment people based on looks alone. “You look good”, “Are you losing weight?”, “What are you doing to lose weight?” can seem like harmless questions, but try to pay attention to how focused you are in regards to people’s weight. How often do you tell them they are a joy to be around, or how smart they are, or resourceful, kind, empathetic, strong, etc.? How often do you tell your friend that they are a good friend?
We can stop assuming that people who are losing weight are being healthy, and people who are overweight or larger bodied are less at risk for eating disorders.
According to ANAD.org:
- Less than 6% of people with eating disorders are medically diagnosed as “underweight.”
- Larger body size is both a risk factor for developing an eating disorder and a common outcome for people who struggle with bulimia and binge eating disorder.
- People in larger bodies are half as likely as those at a “normal weight” or “underweight” to be diagnosed with an eating disorder.
We can be healthy and make healthy choices, but we can also have a healthy relationship with foods that aren’t so good for us too. When you are out for a hike, and you bring something higher in sugar, explain to your kids why. Explain the importance of what ALL foods in their own forms can bring to our bodies beneficially.
We can talk about food differently. Food doesn’t have to be bad or good. Food also doesn’t have to be a reward for everything either. “I was good today, so I deserve a junk food.” How about, I was really productive today, so tonight I will relax and put on a facemask, or paint my nails, or spend time with loved ones doing something silly.
This crisis revolving around image starts with ourselves, and then we teach it to our kids, who teach it to their kids and their friends. The problem is that we are teaching our kids something, but it’s not as healthy as you think it is. Health isn’t restriction. Health is balance, mind and body. It starts in the mind and how we think about food, and what we know about food.
If you think you may have an eating disorder, or someone you know might be at risk, please utilize the following website for more information, crisis lines, and chat lines: https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/
The statistics listed in my article, definitions, and facts are not my own. Please see the websites referenced below: