Eating Disorder Awareness Week
The week of February 1st to the 7th raises awareness to a serious and sometimes fatal illness: eating disorders. Having an eating disorder is not a choice, but rather an illness causing severe disturbances to eating behaviors and an obsession with food, body weight and shape. These disorders are more common in female teenagers or young adults; however they can affect other genders and age groups as well.
Preventing Disordered Eating
According to the National Eating Disorders Information Center (NEDIC), everyone has the power to make a difference when it comes to preventing people from hating their bodies and fixating on weight. It is helpful to model healthy attitudes toward body image and food when talking to others.
- Don’t diet. Focus on wellness regardless of your weight and remember that all foods can fit.
- Consider nutritious food as “every day food” instead of “good food,” and less nutritious food as “sometimes food” instead of “bad food.” Negative labels encourage us to restrict, make us feel bad about eating “sometimes food” and increase our risk of binging.
- Have a positive attitude about your own body and try not to complain about it.
- Avoid weighing yourself. Numbers can be misleading when it comes to health.
- Compliment people on qualities other than their physique and encourage them to identify with their accomplishments and talents.
While it is not believed that parents cause eating disorders, they should model an acceptance of body size and a healthy relationship to food. Kids’ brains are like sponges; they pick up on beliefs and behaviors of others around them. When people talk about their bodies in negative ways, kids can learn to dislike their own bodies as well. Try some of these ideas at home:
- Help kids see their self-worth through internal qualities like their personality or skills. Don’t focus on their looks.
- Highlight the benefits of healthy eating and involve them in meal planning and cooking.
- Don’t use food as a reward or punishment.
- Teach children to eat when they are hungry and stop when they are satisfied. This means letting them have more food if they are still hungry and respecting their choice if they are too full to finish their plate. Remember that the amount they need changes as they grow and depends on how active they were recently.
- Encourage the whole family to participate often in physical activities they enjoy. Limit screen time to help with this.
- Teach self-awareness and critical thinking; especially around advertising and how it can promote body dissatisfaction.
For someone suffering from an eating disorder, the first step toward recovery is realizing their thoughts and behaviors about food and weight are hurtful, not helpful. It is important for the individual and their supports to get help. Resistance to treatment is normal and often related to brain changes associated with the disorder and malnutrition. Getting better will be frustrating, long and include setbacks. However, a warm, supportive environment is helpful, as well as loved-ones being patient and focusing eating disorder conversations on emotions rather than behaviors. Someone with an eating disorder is usually already self-critical, therefore needs non-judgmental supports who believe he/she is capable of recovery. Reinforce accomplishments often and remind them of their non-physical qualities. A consensual hug can be helpful to show feelings when you don’t know what to say. Self-care is important for all parties involved and loved-ones need some time to themselves to help keep perspective as well.
Come As You Are
This week’s slogan is “come as you are,” with the idea that everyone’s experiences and stories with disordered eating, however big or small, are valid. For anyone struggling with body acceptance, come as you are, not as you think you should be.
Michelle Stevens, RD