The social work profession is often vaguely understood...or not understood at all. Each month, I…
Disordered Eating: Changing the Conversation
Eating Disorders vs. Disordered Eating
We all learned about eating disorders in school. That some struggle immensely with how they view and interact with food. You might even know someone diagnosed with an eating disorder, such as anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating.
But have you heard of disordered eating?
According to researchers Lauren Reba-Harreleson, M.A., Ann Von Holle, M.S., and Cynthia M. Bulik, Ph.D. et. al (2009), disordered eating is defined as:
“endorsing unhealthy or maladaptive eating behaviors, such as restricting, binging, purging, or use of other compensatory behaviors, without meeting criteria for an eating disorder.”
Basically, disordered eating is having an unhealthy relationship with food.
Why should you care?
The same researchers found that nearly 75% of women struggle with their weight and body type interfering with their happiness (find their full research here).
That friends, is three out of four people.
Pick four of your female friends. Statistically, only one of them is experiencing happiness unencumbered by what they look like. Why is this happening?
There’s a number of factors at play, including:
- what is represented as a “normal” and therefore “acceptable” body
- a long history of society endorsing a certain body type (i.e. corsets, bustles, Twiggy, Marilyn Monroe, Kim Kardashian)
- medical professionals endorsing a certain “healthy weight”
- trauma experienced by an individual
- genetic predisposition
- expectations placed on women by family and friends
- expectations placed on women by themselves.
Like other social issues, the causes can be complex, which means finding solutions can seem overwhelming.
While individual cases of disordered eating/an eating disorder can actually be complex, there are easily identifiable ways the global community can move towards a promoting healthy relationships with food.
Promoting a Healthy Relationship with Food
1. Stop talking about dieting
I like to use the word “diet” as the way I eat on a consistent basis.
But dieting? To me, that means someone is intentionally eating in a certain way in order to influence the shape of their body.
Oftentimes, this is meant to be “short term” and involves an incredible amount of restriction. When we talk about dieting as a normal or acceptable part of life, we are promoting a culture of body dissatisfaction.
We are normalizing the idea that people are uncomfortable in their own skin.
I hear individuals make comments like this all the time:
“Sorry, I can’t have that…my stomach needs to be ready for summer.”
“I shouldn’t have [insert food item]. It’s fattening.”
“If I’d stop eating [insert food item], then maybe my arms would look better.””Fat is soooo bad for you! It goes right to your hips.”The perfect appearance becomes the goal. And food becomes the enemy. An easy first step to changing culture around food and body image is simply to change the way you think and speak. And then call out others when they start talking about dieting. Gently educate, open up a space for conversation, or encourage others to use a different framework for their speech. This is a community concern, after all.
2. Increase Your Awareness
Learn more about disordered eating and eating disorders.
Discover the symptoms, different triggers, and what to look out for in friends and family. And yourself.
Where to start?
The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) is a great place to start.
Click here to learn more about different eating disorders, body image, symptoms, prevention, and recent research on this topic.
Are you concerned about your relationship with food? NEDA also has an anonymous screening tool to help. Click here to be directed straight to the tool.
3. Consider Intuitive Eating
What’s intuitive eating??
It’s like a combination of mindfulness mashed together with food. It’s paying attention to your body and it’s cues. It means eating according to what your body says it needs.
Not what society says you *should* be eating.
It’s a reminder that food is not the enemy. Food is fuel. It also comforts and soothes. Food nourishes…more than just our bodies.
Intuitive eating also means that no food group should be left out of consideration. Don’t avoid all fat because culture tells you it’ll go right to your hips. Don’t try a Keto diet because “carbs are bad” and aren’t a “sustainable” source of energy.
The main idea behind intuitive eating is that you form a better connection with your body. You are more in tune to its needs and how to fulfill them.
*Of course, you should ultimately consult your physician, nutritionist, or dietician for what works best for you. I’m not a doctor, nutritionist, or any type of certified medical professional.*
Organization Spotlight: Ophelia’s Place
Ophelia’s Place, located in Liverpool, NY and Gilbert, AZ, is an organization focused on providing services, such as support groups for individuals in need (online and in person), support/education groups for family and friends, and educational workshops. Interested? Do you know someone who might benefit from these services? Check out Ophelia’s Place here.
Connected with Ophelia’s Place is Cafe at 407, a cafe located in Liverpool, NY that serves as the physical headquarters for Ophelia’s Place. A portion of the profits (and all of the tips) go to find Ophelia’s Place. There’s even a pop up shop filled with body (and life) positive merchandise.
Plus, the cafe is incredibly adorable and is filled with delightful food. Check it out here.
There’s even a third (!!) aspect to this lovely organization. Circles of Change focuses on educating the community, and promoting a positive body image and relationship with food. Circles of Change is all about outreach and is also the “section” in which the pop up shop originates. Check out ways to get involved here.
Ophelia’s Place, Cafe at 407, and Circles of Change are here to change the conversation. To be integrated into the local community. And to change it for the better.
All three “sections” of this organization actively promote conversations about positive body image, normalizing healthy relationships with food, and promoting the idea that “Every Body is Beautiful.”
Not in the Upstate, NY or Gilbert, AZ area??
You can still become a Circles of Change Warrior and/or buy Circles of Change merchandise! The mission of Circles of Change is global- no close proximity to NY or AZ necessary.
I also highly recommend keeping your eyes peeled for a similar organization to support!
And make those small changes I mentioned above in your own life (hint: this is part of being a Circles of Change Warrior)! Those small changes make a world of difference. 💕