Did you know that the most fatal mental health disorder is an Eating Disorder? According to the NIMH Anorexia Nervosa has an estimated fatality rate of 10%.
Last week I heard a presentation by Keri Clifton, from The Emily Program. She spoke about Eating Disorders and the approximately 200,000 people with disordered eating in Minnesota, and some treatment options available. I went to the workshop hoping to learn more about updated treatment models and to learn about new research in the field. I left with a renewed commitment to helping families navigate disordered eating and receiving a much needed awakening about the relationship between food, negative body image and eating disorders. We were given an excerpt from the book by Neumark-Sztainer “I’m like SO Fat! Helping your Teen Make Healthy Choices About Eating and Exercise in a Weight Obsessed World”. I would like to share some of the most meaningful pieces of the excerpt. They offer concrete advice for change. It is my hope to follow these suggestions and encourage you to consider following them as well.
1) Talk less about food and weight. Avoid making comments about dietary habits and intake, including weight and physical appearance. Imagine a world where nothing was said about physical appearance for an entire month and how different that would be – especially for girls and women.
2)Remember that losing weight does not necessarily mean improving health. Focus on giving positive feedback for improvements in self esteem and self image. Avoid feedback on weight changes.
3) Encourage language change about other’s weight and your own. Commenting negatively or positively about weight can set people up for eating disorders and obesity in the future.
4) Keep the focus on overall health, especially with children. Share about the benefits of healthy behaviors as opposed to weight loss. Focus on the amazing things our bodies can do, not appearance.
Let’s be honest, I am not a Plastic Surgeon, nor a Fashion designer; I am a Family Therapist. As such, I can’t help but wonder what we lose by a constant focus on physical appearance and weight. What do we lose in the time spent praising or berating our own or others bodies? What could we be thinking or talking about instead? Ideally we might focus more attention on building connections with each other, increasing empathy for one another, being aware of and expressing our feelings and having FUN! In addition to missed opportunities, our talk of weight may inadvertently be increasing the chances of our children, loved ones, or even ourselves developing disordered eating. It is just not worth it. Next time you are tempted to belittle your own or another’s body see if you can wait and give yourself time to come up with something more life sustaining and meaningful to share. This change will do every BODY good!
If you or someone you love is experiencing disordered eating there is help and support available through The Emily Program or Park Nicollet Melrose Center.
Such an important message, especially for parents. Love the notion of ‘what could we be talking about instead?’
What I would also suggest to the family therapist (who wrote something that I agree with 100%) is this: If parents create healthy rituals around family meals for their children, and they build a home based on taking the time to speak with each other, to not have screen time and meal time at the same time, and to take the time to prepare and serve REAL food, that would help too. And think about how much more close knit that family will be.
Coda to my other comment: What I said isn’t exactly directed to eating disorders, it’s more tangential, I guess, but I still believe it strongly.