Our current culture presents a confusing array of messages about eating and body image. We see media images which promote unrealistic (and generally unreal) bodies paired with headlines about obesity prevention programs; news stories about eating disorders alongside multiple supersize food options; push for perfection alongside marketing for indulgence.
It’s no wonder we have both increasing incidents of eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia, as well as increasing prevalence of binge eating disorder and rates of obesity.
Navigating this confusing world without falling into an eating- or weight-related disorder does require a return to some basic facts.
There are truths about eating and bodies which seem to get lost somewhere between childhood and teenage years. Young babies and toddlers generally find joy in their bodies, no matter what their size or shape, and they listen to their bodily cues such as eating when they are hungry and stopping when they are full.
But somewhere in the preteen years, these certainties shift and doubt takes over. A negative body image can, and often does, lead to serious, life-altering illnesses in millions of Americans.
The National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) is an organization that supports families and individuals who are battling eating disorders. NEDA offers information, resources, action-oriented advocacy and media campaigns to educate the public and policymakers about eating disorders. Another critical and vibrant part of NEDA relates to prevention of eating disorders, highlighted specifically during the Eating Disorder Awareness Week each February.
7 Steps for Success
Based on facts which have been promoted by NEDA, there are seven steps for success when it comes to preventing an eating disorder.
- Everybody is different. We all have a different set of genes which determine much of our size, weight and shape. Even if everyone started eating the same things and did the same amount of exercise for a whole year, we wouldn’t look the same at the end of the year. Your “ideal” body weight is the weight that allows you to feel strong and energetic and lets you lead a healthy, normal life. Be comfortable in your genes and jeans.
- Listen to your body. Eat what you want, when you are truly hungry. Enjoy wholesome, nutrient-rich foods. Know that there are no good and bad foods, but rather those which have more or less nutrient qualities. Stop when you’re full. Eat exactly what appeals to you in a moderate, balanced fashion.
- No dieting. Dieting doesn’t work. Many individuals were dieting at the time they developed their eating disorder.
- Move often. Enjoy regular, moderate exercise. Do things you enjoy. Exercise for fun, fitness and function, not for exhaustion, deprivation or punishment. This will help you be strong, fit and relaxed.
- Reject weight bias. We aim not to judge others by the color of their eyes or skin; can you avoid judging others or yourself on the basis of body weight or shape? Respect someone’s character traits and accomplishments rather than their body shape.
- Avoid comparing your body with your friends’ bodies or with the people you see in the media. Choose role models who reflect a realistic standard and who stand for values of importance. Become a critical consumer of media and recognize its influential power on you.
- Handle life difficulties with healthy coping techniques, not through over- or undereating. Problem-solve, rather than create problems to avoid dealing with the true source of stress. Seek true forms of happiness and fulfillment.
If men, women, parents, teachers, coaches, children, teens, doctors, movie producers, advertising agencies and everybody started absorbing and practicing these invaluable truths, we might begin the journey of ending the existence of eating- and weight-related disorders.
For more information about NEDA and related resources, visit this site.