Categories
Body Image

Teen Male Body Image Issues Are a Thing

There have been many efforts to raise awareness for body image issues and eating disorders, especially among girls, who try to strive towards an unattainable or unrealistic body and torture themselves physically (and mentally) in the process. These health conditions, especially eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia, are deathly serious. But they aren’t solely unique to girls. Teen boys can and do worry about their body image, often to a similar level of detriment. Male anorexia does exist, may be underdiagnosed, and does carry a significant death toll – but many teens with male body image issues are worried about being too small rather than not thin enough.

As with other body image issues, the core of the matter isn’t your teen’s actual body. While we should take care of ourselves, many physical elements are relatively set in stone when we’re born – from potential height to facial features and bone structure. Even the level of muscle we can put on is dependent on our genes, and not everyone can hit a genetic lottery. Teen male body image issues are born from an intense self-loathing and a feeling that – no matter how one looks – it isn’t good enough.

Understanding Teen Male Body Image Issues

While some boys do struggle with an obsession with thinness, our focus today will be on a different kind of body dysmorphic disorder, commonly called muscle dysmorphia. Teens with muscle dysmorphia generally perceive themselves as less muscular than they are or feel that they need to be much more muscular.

This can lead to unhealthy eating habits, exercise regimens, and even anabolic steroid abuse. It’s important to separate a healthy and positive relationship with sports and progressive physical goals to a disordered perspective, where self-destructive habits are a symptom of underlying self-loathing and depression.

Teens with body image issues aren’t training to reach a certain goal, nor are they training solely because they enjoy it. Their eating and exercise habits are an unhealthy coping mechanism and consequence of a mental health issue that stems from a disordered self-image. Even professional bodybuilders, who win awards for their dedication to size and symmetry, have confessed to looking in the mirror and seeing nothing but flaws.

How Do Teen Male Body Image Issues Develop?

As with other mental health issues, there are several factors at play. One might appear more prevalent than others – such as being bullied for one’s looks, pressure from coaches or peers to perform and get bigger, or an obsession with online fitness content. But it’s usually multiple factors coming together that lead to the development of body image issues. These include:

    • Genetics
    • Home environment and stress
    • Pressure to perform
    • Peer influence
    • Media
    • Depression and anxiety

Advertisements and Social Media

It’s become something of a staple to blame social media for our societal problems, especially mental health. Still, the evidence for social media’s impact on self-esteem and male body image is quite strong. The very nature of social media as a reflection of society’s pop interests and a medium that plays an active daily role in shaping a teen’s worldview means that teens are strongly influenced by what they see online.

When it comes to masculinity and male attractiveness, teens are regularly bombarded with images of incredibly muscular athletes, actors, and influencers, not all of which attained their bodies through “natural” or healthy means. It’s no secret that the average Hollywood star has been steadily trending towards a more muscular body in the last few decades, and male influencers – especially in the fitness industry – are all chiseled out of the same marble.

The average teen or adult male can pack on some muscle in a year of training and make about half of the same gains in their second year, diminishing returns over time. Some are luckier than others, and some take longer to develop. Most fitness transformations – especially in industries where these are meant to make a sale, from movie tickets to diet programs – go “above and beyond” regular exercise and healthy eating, to the point that they may often use some supplemental help.

We aren’t talking about protein shakes, either. For impressionable teens, these unrealistic transformations and training goals can be actively harmful – especially when they realize they aren’t making anywhere near the same amount of progress. These influences aren’t black or white. There is certainly an argument to be made for the positive impact of a social media feed revolving around health and wellness.

And teens with interest in physical fitness and sports are just pursuing their hobby, as any other teen might. But as with anything else, the dose makes the poison, and to an insecure teen, overexposure to the “ideal male body” can greatly warp their sense of what is normal and healthy. Where that line should be drawn depends entirely on the person.

Body Image Issues and Mental Health

Low self-esteem and body image issues correlate heavily with existing mental health issues. This means that boys struggling with anxiety, depression, or other mental health conditions are more likely to feel inadequate about how they look, regardless of what pressure they’re exposed to (or lack thereof). Sometimes, it’s enough to look around and realize that you look different from your peers to begin feeling down about that difference, especially if you perceive it to be negative.

Conversely, a burgeoning body image problem can lead to other mental health issues later down the road. What might begin as a hobby, but has since turned into an obsession, can fuel feelings of depression and anxiety, especially concerning one’s appearance and physical fitness. You can look conventionally attractive, perform above average in sports, and be stronger and fitter than your other classmates, but still be deeply unhappy with your body. Maybe you think your quads are too small.

Maybe you feel weak because you only bench more than your peers but haven’t claimed the state record. Meanwhile, a teen with a healthy body image might not be the strongest, tallest, or fittest in their group, but don’t feel worried about it either. When struggling with body image issues, how you currently look never matters – your goals will always shift towards the unattainable and will become a source of constant misery rather than a form of motivation. The problem doesn’t start with your body. It’s always a matter of mental health.

How Are Teen Body Image Issues Treated?

If your teen is showing signs of body dysmorphia, such as being deeply unhappy about how they look, being overly critical of their body at all times, and going to unhealthy lengths to try and change themselves, it’s a good idea to contact a professional first. It takes time to address and confront disordered thinking, especially when it’s rooted in strong self-loathing. Teen male body issues require learning to accept oneself, tackling low mood and anxious thoughts, and developing a healthier way to cope with negative thinking through therapy and medication.

Categories
Body Image Eating Disorders Events Mental Health Recovery Teen Activism

Eating Disorder Awareness Week: Visions’ Stefanie Boone, MS, RD Shares Insight

It’s National Eating Disorder Association‘s Eating Disorder Awareness Week

often referred to as EDAW. I asked Stefanie Boone, MS, RD, to provide some insights and tips on what an eating disorder is, what is is not, and ways in which you can be supportive. This year’s EDAW theme is “I had no idea.” We are grateful to have Stefanie as part of the Visions family:

When I see parents, friends, or significant others trying to support their loved one with an eating disorder, my heart goes out to them. Besides feeling guilty (is this my fault?), worried (will he or she be OK?), and overwhelmed, they are often at loss around how to be helpful. Friends, family, and community need education around the following concepts:

–       That an eating disorder is really a symptom of deeper underlying issues;

–       That their loved one cannot just simply stop the behavior;

–       Certain things you may think would be supportive can actually make things worse;

–       That their own talk and behavior around food, diet, and being dissatisfied with their own bodies have and will continue to affect  their children or loved one;

–       That the sports team their child is a part of may actually be feeding into their ED.

My top five tips for those who want to be supportive are:

1. If you are trying to get your loved one to seek help, take a loving and non-judgmental stance with your loved one. An eating disorder is a mental illness, and requires professional help. Express your concern from a loving place.  Share how the ED is impacting you and your family.

2. If you are supporting an adult (spouse, parent, adult child) – do not be the food police. This is usually not helpful. With children and teens parents may need to be more involved – your child’s treatment team will guide you.

3. Be a positive role model – even if you do have your own opinions about food and even if you think you are “fat”, you need to stop sharing these thoughts and comments with your loved one.
And NEVER comment on how your loved looks – this is a very sensitive area and often a completely innocent comment such as “you look great” can be twisted into “is she saying I look fat?”

4. If your child is on a team sport, contact the coach – get more information as to what he/she is advising your children around food and exercise. Your child will most likely need to discontinue this sport at least temporarily while in recovery.

5. If you are a teen and have a friend you are worried about, talk to an adult about it immediately– teacher, school counselor, parents. I know this may be hard, but you may be saving your friend’s life.

 

Eating Disorder Awareness Week begins TODAY: 2/23-3/1. Please share your experience, strength and hope this week, using the hashtag #EDAW14. You never know who you’re helping or who might “hear” you for the first time.

Links to Check out:

How much DO you know? Take the NEDA QUIZ.

Proud2BMe Teen activist guide

Download NEDA’s Key Messages HERE and let others know why you’re participating.

 

Categories
Body Image Parenting Recovery Teen Activism

Surefire Girls: Teen Girls Empowered

Surefire Girls is a groundbreaking event happening THIS WEEKEND for high-school girls to ask questions, discover ways in which to empower themselves, get internships, and find their voices in relation to media literacy and self-awareness.  The event is, Saturday, October 12, 2013, 10 AM – 5:00 PM at the Art Institute of California:  2900 31st Avenue, Santa Monica, CA 90405.

 

This Surefire Girls event is smaller and more of a sneak peak into what will be, however a larger event is slated for 2014.  Online registration is closed, however, there will be limited tickets available onsite. There are workshops for parents too, so while teens are working in one workshop, parents are working in another. 

 

Teen workshops include:

  • Your Story & Social Media
  • Fashion
  • Beauty
  • Fitness
  • Change Your World
  • Money Matters

For parents,  workshops include:

  • Websites and apps to make your life easier, and decoding the ones your daughters use
  • How to listen and communicate with your teen
  • Getting back your inner calm
  • How girls can be influenced by the media in body image as well as career choice

 

Being a teen is not easy. Bodies are changing at a rapid pace, the brain is developing, and the individuation process is in full force. To add to the melee, teens are confronted with the influences of media, their peers, pop stars, et cetera, which are often confusing and misleading. Finding our authenticity is hard work, and harder still when you are bombarded with distortion as the status quo.  Surefire Girls presents a wonderful opportunity for forward-thinking, curious young ladies to smash down the existing paradigm of beauty to create a more empowered, sustainable existence.

 

Melanie Klein, MA, writer, speaker, expert contributor at Proud2BMe, a NEDA project, founder and co-coordinator for Women, Action, Media (WAM!), and adjunct teacher at Santa Monica College (teaching Women’s Studies and Sociology) will be doing her Body Collage project at Surefire Girls.  In this workshop, Melanie will talk about the cultural limitations of beauty ideals, and she will facilitate a process of uncovering and discovering that beauty is limitless, dismantling this idea that there is only one type of attainable beauty. The Body Collage involves creating a floor to ceiling montage of commercial images using poster board. The girls stand in front of this and find that they are not represented, viscerally shifting their perspectives on reality. As part of the project, I will be hosting a photo booth, further facilitating the shift toward acceptance. It’s incredibly empowering to see how beautiful YOU are in the midst of photoshopped, surreal imagery.

You can read more about Melanie and the Body Collage Project in this more in-depth interview with her from Shaping Youth.

Categories
Body Image

Dove Wants to Know You See Yourself

Check out the latest ad campaign video from Dove. They’ve always been at the forefront when it comes to raising awareness around body image and helping to change the way advertisers sell their products or at least the way we, as consumers, view ourselves in relation to those products. This video is powerful: an artist shows us how we see ourselves versus how others see us. You may be amazed at the difference, but I doubt it. We tend to be our own worse critics but we are much more beautiful than we think we are. In fact, we are beautiful and diverse from the inside out.

Dove makes an interesting point with this video. As one who is a fierce advocate for body image awareness and acceptance, I have to say, I am pleased to see a company bold enough to show us our vulnerability surrounding our appearance. Those of us with eating disorders, who struggle with that image on a regular basis can really understand that vulnerability. However, we are not our outsides, we are not our clothes, or hair. We are, in fact, wondrous beautiful creatures within. We are magnificent, capable, courageous, and yes, beautiful. Next time you look in the mirror try  saying this: “You are magnificent.” Eventually, you will believe it.

Categories
Body Image Eating Disorders Recovery

Body Image and You: Stand Up to Your Inner Voice

#EDAW13 #LoveMore

In honor of NEDA‘s annual Eating Disorder Awareness Week or EDAW, I had the opportunity to speak about body image and photography at Cal State Northridge. Conversation is a huge part of my photographic process and a key component in working with people.  It’s not uncommon for me to hear self-deprecating commentary from photography clients about their perceived weight issues, body expectations, body shape, size, imperfections, et cetera. We are never exactly where we think we should be, right? In those moments where we are particularly vulnerable (in front of a camera, for example), why wouldn’t we talk about how insecure we might feel? After all, we are inundated with manufactured “perfection” in advertising and media on a daily basis. I find it an honor and privilege to have the opportunity to use these moments to be of service as a body image advocate to honor whomever I’m photographing in order to create a creative partnership. In those moments, we can quiet that angry inner voice of delusion.

 

Recovery asks us to be of service. In my own recovery, I try and bring the energy of service work into everything I do: to love others, even when loving them is difficult. To love myself, regardless of my own perceived imperfections. Eating disorders and disordered eating both have this in common: body image issues. If anything, it is a side effect of being a human being in a visually saturated world, but it doesn’t have to become a necessary evil. There is a way to challenge the negative body image messages we encounter in our everyday lives. Changing your body image means changing the way you think about your body.

 

Start from within:

When you wake up, set an intention to say 3 nice things to yourself throughout the day. Write those things on post-its if you need to and stick them where you won’t miss them.

 

Change negative perceptions to those of acceptance and positivity

Silence your inner critic. Begin to recognize that A: you are not your thoughts,

and B: feelings aren’t facts.

When you hear that negative self-talk revving its engine, try and counteract it with a positive comment.

 

How do we learn to love ourselves when what we see is distorted?

We see reflections of ourselves wherever we go: shop windows, bathroom mirrors, dressing rooms, elevator doors, brass coverings, and random reflective surfaces. Our reflections are everywhere, but are they really a true reflection of us? Most often, they are not.  Many professionals are talking about “Mirror Fasting.” In this practice, you are asked to “fast” from looking at your reflection.

Try this: Make a decision to stop looking at your reflection for a day. See how you feel. Add another day. See how you feel. Women and men who do this tend to have an increase in self-esteem, and a more positive image of their bodies. What we see is not always reality when it comes to mirrors; when we suffer from body dysmorphia, what we see really becomes skewed. Kjerstin Gruys, a 29-year-old sociology graduate student documented her yearlong Mirror Fast in her blog, Mirror Mirror…Off the Wall. In that process, she learned to love her body. I’m not asking you to skip mirrors for a year, but perhaps trying it out for day or a week, noting the emotional effects would be beneficial.

 

Body image issues are something many of us face. Even in recovery, even knowing what we know about the negative factors behind a poor image of self, we struggle. But with what we know, we have to find the temerity to stand up to that inner bully and put a stop to the barrage of self-deprecating chatter. Today, I stood up to that voice and looked in the mirror and said, “You are magnificent.” It felt incredible.

Helpful reads:

How Yoga Changed My Mind (And My Relationship to my Body) by Melanie Klein

Starving for Connection by Chelsea Roff

Voice in Recovery

Categories
Body Image Eating Disorders Mental Health Recovery

Eating Disorders: Recovery and Service

Eating disorders can breed contempt or denial in those that don’t understand them while feeding the silent devastation and fear in those who have them. This is an inherently challenging situation. Types of eating disorders vary but we are most familiar with Anorexia and Bulimia or a variation of the two. Still, there are some who suffer from disordered eating. I’ve heard it said that disordered eating is not an “actual eating disorder,” but rather a “phase” of bad eating behaviors.  However, the DSM and professionals in the field of addiction and mental illness have proven that not to be the case. For example, disordered eating has now earned the diagnostic term Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified or EDNOS.

For real clarification, the DSM descriptions of the various criteria for Anorexia, Bulimia, and EDNOS can be found below:

Eating disorder not otherwise specified includes disorders of eating that do not meet the criteria for any specific eating disorder.

  1. For female patients, all of the criteria for anorexia nervosa are met except that the patient has regular menses.
  2. All of the criteria for anorexia nervosa are met except that, despite significant weight loss, the patient’s current weight is in the normal range.
  3. All of the criteria for bulimia nervosa are met except that the binge eating and inappropriate compensatory mechanisms occur less than twice a week or for less than 3 months.
  4. The patient has normal body weight and regularly uses inappropriate compensatory behavior after eating small amounts of food (e.g., self-induced vomiting after consuming two cookies).
  5. Repeatedly chewing and spitting out, but not swallowing, large amounts of food.

The criteria for Anorexia Nervosa is:

  • Refusal to maintain body weight at or above a minimally normal weight for age and height: Weight loss leading to maintenance of body weight <85% of that expected or failure to make expected weight gain during period of growth, leading to body weight less than 85% of that expected.
  • Intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat, even though under weight.
  • Disturbance in the way one’s body weight or shape are experienced, undue influence of body weight or shape on self-evaluation, or denial of the seriousness of the current low body weight.
  • Amenorrhea (at least three consecutive cycles) in postmenarchal girls and women. Amenorrhea is defined as periods occurring only following hormone (e.g., estrogen) administration.

And the criteria for Bulimia Nervosa:

  • Recurrent episodes of binge eating characterized by both:
  1. Eating, in a discrete period of time (e.g., within any 2-hour period), an amount of food that is definitely larger than most people would eat during a similar period of time and under similar circumstances
  2. A sense of lack of control over eating during the episode, defined by a feeling that one cannot stop eating or control what or how much one is eating
  3. Self-induced vomiting
  4. Misuse of laxatives, diuretics, enemas, or other medications
  5. Fasting
  6. Excessive exercise
  • Recurrent inappropriate compensatory behavior to prevent weight gain
  • The binge eating and inappropriate compensatory behavior both occur, on average, at least twice a week for 3 months.
  • Self-evaluation is unduly influenced by body shape and weight.
  • The disturbance does not occur exclusively during episodes of anorexia nervosa

Recovering from any of these eating disorders is hard work. We have to learn to navigate the food playing field with healthy awareness. One of the interesting things I’ve learned about recovering from my own eating disorder is that food is merely a symptomatic component of the greater problem: low self-esteem, an out of control environment, poor body image, fear, control. Not eating was always a way to control the chaos around me. What I was clueless about was the fact that I was created chaos within. The more out of control the outside environment is, the more control someone struggling with an eating disorder requires to simply survive. Yes, there’s deep irony in the use of “survive” here, because the end result of some severe eating disorders is ultimately death.

Chelsea Roff, a recovering anorexic, yoga teacher, speaker, and author, has come out publically with her story of recovery. Chelsea suffered from a stroke when she was 15 and ended up in a hospital for 18 months under constant care. Her essay, bravely discussing her story first appeared in the book 21st Century Yoga: Culture, Politics, & Practice. From there, she was swept into the fray of instant publicity and exposure, ranging from the Huffington Post to Dr. Sanjay Gupta on CNN. While being in recovery isn’t about celebrity, there’s something to be said for a young girl who is taking this exposure and using it for good. There’s something deeply inspiring about someone who came from near death and is now thriving and being of service. In the end, being of service is what it’s about.

Eating disorders have their way of creeping back in when we least expect it. When we are of service and helping others, our own transparency is paramount to that process. In other words, being of service helps keep us honest. We have to eat. We have to learn to develop healthy relationships with our bodies and with food. Here, instead of vigilantly controlling our intake of calories, we can direct our vigilance to being of service. I look to Voice in Recovery and Chelsea Roff as young women who give back what was so freely given to them. I look to Melanie Klein (also a contributor in 21st Century Yoga) and Claire Mysko to provide the education and passion for body image advocacy in order to help young people gain a better understanding of the deeply rooted, media-infused sources of poor body image and eating disorders.

Kindness starts from within. We can and will recover.

RESOURCES:

NEDA

NIMH

Proud2BMe

Voice in Recovery (ViR)

 

Categories
Body Image Eating Disorders Mental Health Recovery

Recovery: Living With ED

Being in recovery from an eating disorder isn’t a finite thing. There are days when the disordered thoughts may come rushing in, triggered by outside sources . There may be times where our body dysmorphia gets the upper hand and we can’t discern reality from our own delusion.  There also may be times when we find ourselves in a relationship with someone who’s at the tipping point of their own eating disorder. Typically, these types of circumstances are not emotionally safe, but in many ways,  they provide opportunities to engage in the practice of self-care: Ask for help, and whenever possible, walk away.

Eating disorders and disordered eating behaviors are tricky: the risk of sliding is always there, because, well, we HAVE to eat. Our bodies require the fuel, the love, and the dedicated care that feeding ourselves provides. But even in recovery with days, months, or even years of abstinence, there may be some rough days where we may get off track. The trick there is, do you have enough tools in your recovery tool box to ask for help and stop ED in its tracks?

Recovery from an eating disorder or disordered eating is a process. It’s an exercise in letting go of control and learning to trust those in your circle of support instead of the distorted voices of irrationality.  You may find that the practice of self-care will be the pièce de résistance in your recovery. Eventually, we discover that we are eating because we are being kind to ourselves. We are eating because we deserve to be healthy. When we feed ourselves,  we are taking care of this incredible body that we get to hang out in.

Here are some ways to practice healthy self care (adapted from this list from NEDA):

  • Remember that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes. There is not “right” way to look.
  • Celebrate all of the amazing things your body can do, like: breathe, run, jump, laugh, dream!
  • Keep a top 10 list of things you like about yourself that are NOT related to the way you look or how much you weigh.
  • Surround yourself with positive, supportive people. .
  • Use positive affirmations when the negative internal tapes start playing. You can even place post-its with positive affirmations on them in strategic places: like on your mirrors!
  • Wear clothes that are comfortable. In other words, work with your body, not against it.
  • Take care of yourself: get a manicure, go on a hike, take a bubble bath, read a good book.
  • Schedule some “do nothing” time so you can recharge.
  • Be mindful of your media intake and the messages you receive. Pay attention to messages that make you feel bad about yourself. Say something and maybe you can effect some change!
  • Be of service. Helping others gets us out of ourselves and into service. This is another way to make some positive changes.

As we continue down this path of recovery, our care for ourselves will allow us to care for those around us. We are so much more than our outsides.

“The ultimate lesson all of us have to learn is unconditional love, which includes not only others but ourselves as well.” – Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

Resources:

National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA)

National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders

National Association for Males with Eating Disorders

International Association of Eating Disorders Professionals

Eating Disorders Coalition

Families Empowered and Supporting Treatment of Eating Disorders

Eating Disorders Resource Center

Voice in Recovery

 

Categories
Body Image Eating Disorders Mental Health

Eating Disorders: They Happen to Boys Too

He was 12 and his social circle was made up primarily of girls. It always had been. Sports weren’t of interest, and neither was the usual competitive atmosphere of boyhood. Frankly, William was a boy who’d rather draw, or ride his bike, or bake with his mom. When his girl-friends began the fat-talk, he thought it was ridiculous, but in truth, he began to silently take it all in. He started to look at himself and wonder if maybe he, too, was fat. William, being on the outskirts of male culture, found himself being seduced by the culture of thinness. While his male friends (yes, he had those too) began bulking up from sports and the like, he began to get thinner and thinner. All of a sudden, he found himself controlled by the demon we all know as ED.

Jonas was 14, a football hero in the making, but not nearly as “built” as some of his pals. Determined to get the much sought after V shape idealized by fitness magazines and late-night televisions ads, he started an exercise regimen which soon became obsessive and excessive. It wasn’t an issue of not being thin enough for Jonas. Instead, the issue was being fit enough. Before he knew it, his focus was entirely spent on attaining this idealized body type–one that didn’t quite fit into his genes: Jonas was a short, stocky kid with short, stocky parents. Still, ED wormed its way into Jonas’ life as well, albeit in a different form.

In Brave Girl Eating, Harriet Brown talks about the eating disorder as a demon. She describes the personality change that occurs when the Eating Disorder (ED) is speaking with its loud ferocity. The provocative noise is terrifying in the mind of the one suffering, but sadly, it’s often drowned out by the disease itself. In truth, ED nullifies ones real sense of self and replaces it with an unrealistic desire for perfection and control. One thing that shows up repeatedly with an eating disorder is this desire for perfection, which shows up in school as good grades, in sports as high-scorers, in Girl Scouts as top sellers. Eating disorders are often about gaining control when something in one’s life feels definitively out of control.

We are used to talking about girls when we talk about eating disorders, as though we assume boys are unaffected. But they are, and those numbers are increasing. Unfortunately, eating disorders can carry the stigma of being something women suffer from–This invites a higher probability of men and boys not asking for help. Recently, MSNBC highlighted three young men whose lives had been heavily impacted by eating disorders. One of the young men lost his life after an 8-year battle with anorexia. He just wanted a six-pack.

More than a million boys and men battle an eating disorder every day and “approximately 10% of eating disordered individuals coming to the attention of mental health professionals are male.” (National Eating Disorder Association).  The culture of “thin” is not only negatively impacting girls and women, but it’s begun to surreptitiously spin its nasty web in male culture. Advertizing aimed at women and girls suggests dieting and weight loss while ads geared toward men encourage fitness, weight-lifting, and muscle toning, so it makes sense that the female population is starving themselves or fat-talking their way out of life. But men and boys are suffering too, and they need a safe place to ask for help. Eating disorders are frightening, and not just for those watching the demise of someone they love. Being in it and listening to that voice of doom is terrifying. Getting help shouldn’t be another hurdle to climb.

For more information on Eating Disorders:

National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA)

National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders

National Association for Males with Eating Disorders

International Association of Eating Disorders Professionals

Eating Disorders Coalition

Families Empowered and Supporting Treatment of Eating Disorders

Eating Disorders Resource Center

Fact Sheet (NEDA) What’s Going On With Me?

Study: The Prevalence and Correlates of Eating Disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication

 

Categories
Anxiety Body Image Eating Disorders Mental Health

Thanksgiving and Eating Disorders: A Mini Survival Guide

Image via Wikipedia

On the heels of my recent blog about fat talk and its negative ramifications, I am broaching the subject of food, anxiety, and eating disorders once again. It’s almost Thanksgiving, after all, a holiday which not only acts as a huge trigger for many suffering from or recovering from an eating disorder, but is often used as fodder for fat jokes and the subsequent fat talk. As if sitting down to dine with your already dysfunctional family isn’t enough.

As we set our gaze upon Thanksgiving and give thanks for all that we have, those suffering from an eating disorder may be having an entirely different experience. For one thing, the entire day is purportedly built upon the foundation of food; one is expected to eat…a lot.  With an eating disorder, those expectations can bring about a legitimate sense of fear, shame and anxiety. For example, an anorexic may be overly concerned with the appearance that he or she is not only eating, but enjoying a “normal” amount of food, while someone suffering from bulimia or binge-eating disorder may struggle with trying to manage their urges to binge and/or purge.  For both, there are triggers everywhere, from the wide array of food being offered to someone’s not-so-subtle commentary about your, or even their, current weight, shape, size, et cetera.

Eating disorders and disordered eating are complex conditions, emerging from a combination of behavioral, biological, psychological, emotional, interpersonal and social factors. For many, food becomes the one thing that is controllable, giving someone who feels inherent powerlessness some perceived power. My own experience is just that: I grew up in an out-of-control, dysfunctional environment, where food was used as a vehicle for mixed messages; controlling its intake became paramount to my own survival. Or at least I thought it did. What it really ended up doing was leaving an indelible mark of low self-esteem and body dysmorphia. I still occasionally encounter negative behaviors from some family members when I see them, but now I view it as an opportunity to stand up in the face of adversity, plant my feet in my recovery, and dine with dignity. See here for NEDA’s “Factors that may Contribute to Eating Disorders.”

Some things to think about for the holidays:

Get support: either via a therapist, a sponsor, or a good friend. Make sure that you have someone you can lean on during this holiday season. You don’t have to manage Thanksgiving alone.

Make a plan: I always make sure I have what I call an “escape” plan for these sorts of things. In other words, make yourself a schedule so you don’t have to wing it.

Don’t skip meals in “preparation” for the holiday: Maintain your regular eating schedule that’s become a part of your recovery. For example, don’t skip breakfast so you can “have room” for the Thanksgiving meal.

Ignore and don’t engage in the fat talk: It’s neither an act of self-care or helpful. If someone is engaging in this age-old, negative behavior: walk away or disengage. Other people’s issues surrounding food are not yours to manage.

Be kind to yourself: If you fall down and slip into old behavior, don’t use it as a springboard to self-destruction. Allow yourself to enjoy the things you like. I find that knowing my triggers allows me to navigate the stormy sea of family and impulse with better judgment. You can do this!

Breathe: Yes, that’s right. Breathe. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a step back and take 10 deep breaths and find your center. This really does help. (This is also the other reason bathrooms exist!)

Lastly, remember what Thanksgiving is really about: It’s not about the food. Not really. It’s about being grateful for those around you and for the blessings in your life. Bask in the glory of your recovery and sobriety, for without those, the least of your worries would be whether or not you can eat a piece of pumpkin pie!

Resources and articles used as reference:
Categories
Body Image Eating Disorders Mental Health

Adios, Chubby Chatter!

Image by Brent Weichsel via Flickr

“Do I these pants make me look fat?”

“OMG, I feel so fat today!”

“I can’t believe she’s wearing THAT!”

I honestly wish this commentary occurred less than it actually does, but the reality is, it doesn’t. It occurs on a daily basis in the lives of girls (and boys) from elementary school age to women in their older years. It’s the baseline for many conversations and it’s more often than not done without concern for those around them. Think about this: when someone who’s a size 2 says to a friend who’s a size 10 that she feels “fat,” there is an  implication of body-image judgment, regardless of intent or level of self-esteem of the person hearing the comment. As soon as we start adding to the ever-present dialogue that one body type is somehow better than another, we inadvertently fuel the fire of low self-esteem and negative body image. In fact, when asked about the consequences of fat talk, Elizabeth Easton, PsyD and clinical director of child and adolescent services at the Eating Recovery Center says, “Negative body image is an easy hook for individuals who struggle with self-esteem or identity to latch onto as a way to feel more confident and even accepted by others.” Fat talk is damaging, no matter how you look at it.

Parents play a huge part in this as both contributors and as allies in our efforts to combat this type of language. We need to be mindful of what we say about ourselves, letting go of the delusion that we are “just talking about ourselves,” because in the eyes of an impressionable young girl or boy, the negative impact is very real. We are our kids’ first teachers, and if we teach them to hate themselves because of our own perceived weight problem, we potentially create a lifetime of body-image issues that can translate into disordered eating and/or eating disorders. I’ll never forget the kindergartener at my son’s school who burst into tears during a dress rehearsal because her costume made her look fat  (she was playing Toto!); or the 8-year-old who won’t eat because she’s afraid she might get fat. Neither of these kids have a weight problem: rather, they have a perception problem brought on by the fear-inducing commentary from their parents, peers, and media. Fat talk is a real issue and one we need to ardently address. There are some very real consequences to this constant barrage of body bashing, and it shows in these eating-disorder statistics from NEDA:

  • In the US, as many as 10 million females and 1 million males are struggling with an eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia;
  • 80% of American women are dissatisfied with their appearance;
  • The mortality rate for 15- 20-year-old  females who suffer from anorexia is 12 times the death rate of all other causes of death;
  • Anorexia has the highest premature fatality rate of any mental illness;
  • 40% of newly identified cases of anorexia are girls 15-19;
  • 54%  of women would rather be hit by a truck than be fat;
  • 81% of 10 year olds are afraid of being fat (Mellin et al., 1991).
  • 42% of 1st-3rd grade girls want to be thinner (Collins, 1991).
  • 67% of women 15-64 withdraw from life-engaging activities like giving an opinion, going to school, and going to the doctor because they feel badly about their looks;
  • Most fashion models are thinner than 98% of most American women (Smolak, 1996);
  • Over one-half of teenage girls and nearly one-third of teenage boys use unhealthy weight control behaviors such as skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, vomiting, and taking laxatives (Neumark-Sztainer, 2005);
  • 46% of 9-11 year-olds are “sometimes” or “very often” on diets, and 82% of their families are “sometimes” or “very often” on diets (Gustafson-Larson & Terry, 1992);
  • 91% of women recently surveyed on a college campus had attempted to control their weight through dieting, 22% dieted “often” or “always” (Kurth et al., 1995);
  • 35% of “normal dieters” progress to pathological dieting. Of those, 20-25% progress to partial or full syndrome eating disorders (Shisslak & Crago, 1995);
  • 25% of American men and 45% of American women are on a diet on any given day (Smolak, 1996).

Next time you wonder if you look fat in your outfit, or feel compelled to use body bashing as a conversation starter, name 3 things that are positive about yourself. Challenge yourself to be kinder to YOU so you can affect positive change on those around you. You’re worth it.

For more information on eating disorders:

National Eating Disorders Association’s Information and Referral Helpline: 1-800-931-2237  | www.NationalEatingDisorders.org

References for aforementioned Statistics as documented at NEDA:

Collins, M.E. (1991). Body figure perceptions and preferences among pre-adolescent children. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 199-208.

Crowther, J.H., Wolf, E.M., & Sherwood, N. (1992). Epidemiology of bulimia nervosa. In M. Crowther, D.L. Tennenbaum. S.E. Hobfoll, & M.A.P. Stephens (Eds.). The Etiology of Bulimia Nervosa: The Individual and Familial Context (pp. 1-26) Washington, D.C.: Taylor & Francis.

Fairburn, C.G., Hay, P.J., & Welch, S.L. (1993). Binge eating and bulimia nervosa: Distribution and determinants.

In C.G. Fairburn & G.T. Wilson, (Eds.), Binge Eating: Nature, Assessment, and Treatment (pp. 123-143). New York: Guilford.

Gordon, R.A. (1990). Anorexia and Bulimia: Anatomy of a Social Epidemic. New York: Blackwell.

Grodstein, F., Levine, R., Spencer, T., Colditz, G.A., Stampfer, M. J. (1996). Three-year follow-up of participants in a commercial weight loss program: can you keep it off? Archives of Internal Medicine. 156 (12), 1302.

Gustafson-Larson, A.M., & Terry, R.D. (1992). Weight-related behaviors and concerns of fourth-grade children. Journal of American Dietetic Association, 818-822.

Hoek, H.W. (1995). The distribution of eating disorders. In K.D. Brownell & C.G. Fairburn (Eds.) Eating Disorders and Obesity: A Comprehensive Handbook (pp. 207-211). New York: Guilford.

Hoek, H.W., & van Hoeken, D. (2003). Review of the prevalence and incidence of eating  disorders. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 383-396.

Mellin, L., McNutt, S., Hu, Y., Schreiber, G.B., Crawford, P., & Obarzanek, E. (1991). A     longitudinal study of the dietary practices of black and white girls 9 and 10 years old at enrollment: The NHLBI growth and health study. Journal of Adolescent Health, 27-37.

National Institutes of Health. (2005). Retrieved November 7, 2005, from
https://www.nih.gov/news/fundingresearchareas.htm

Neumark-Sztainer, D. (2005). I’m, Like, SO Fat!. New York: The Guilford Press. pp. 5.

Shisslak, C.M., Crago, M., & Estes, L.S. (1995). The spectrum of eating disturbances. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 18 (3), 209-219.

Smolak, L. (1996). National Eating Disorders Association/Next Door Neighbors Puppet Guide Book.

Sullivan, P. (1995). American Journal of Psychiatry, 152 (7), 1073-1074.