With the start of a new year, many individuals find themselves making resolutions to lose weight. But what if, instead of focusing solely on weight, we make a resolution to try to become at peace with our bodies and treat ourselves with the love and respect we deserve?
Ironically, this approach may seem even harder than dieting, as we have been conditioned all our lives to categorize foods as “good/clean” versus “bad,” and likely all of us have heard weight-related comments by our friends, family members, and coworkers for the majority of our lives. From the time we are small children, we are told that some food is “junk food,” and we may have heard our family members talking badly about their own bodies. For example, how many times have we heard someone say, “I know I`m being bad by eating this” or “I better take the stairs to work off that dessert I ate!” Even saying, “Have you lost weight? You look great!” can backfire on the recipient of this message.
Though we mean well, comments like these tend to make people hyperaware of their bodies. By telling someone how “lucky” they are for being thin, we may unintentionally be contributing to his or her developing fear of gaining weight, which, in turn, can result in full-blown anorexia nervosa. When we comment on people’s bodies, this can make individuals view their weight—for example, the self-concept of being “small”—as their primary identity, and they may begin to take extreme measures to either maintain their weight or lose weight. The same can be said for weight-related bullying. When children are made fun of for their weight, they can develop negative self-esteem, which can blossom into anorexia, bulimia, binge eating, or another form of disordered eating. As a society, we need to consider changing the way we think and talk about food and our own bodies.
According to the National Eating Disorders Association, eating disorders have the second highest mortality rate of any mental illness, surpassed only by opioid addiction. Furthermore, these disorders are not gender-specific. Eating disorders are indiscriminate and can affect any individual, from all walks of life.
Oftentimes in boys and men, eating disorders may arise when these individuals become hyper-fixated on losing fat and gaining muscle mass. This is especially prevalent when males are involved in sports that emphasize muscle mass and dieting, such as wrestling. According to a 1999 study by Johnson, Powers, and Dick, 33% of male athletes in these sports are at risk for developing an eating disorder.
If we come together as a society to the reduce the number of body-related comments we make to others; begin to view all food as not the enemy, but a source of fuel for our bodies; and become more aware of our children’s relationship with food and their bodies, the world will likely see a decrease in disordered eating.
Nevertheless, much of the reframing of our thoughts about food and weight must start from within ourselves. After all, we do not talk to anyone more than we talk to ourselves. Whether consciously or unconsciously, we are constantly giving ourselves messages about how we look and feel about ourselves, and this impacts our self-esteem far more than we realize.
Let us all resolve to think back to when we were children and the world did not yet have such an influence over how we think and feel about ourselves. What would you say to that child? Would you call this child bad, ugly, wrong, or disgusting? That child-like part of ourselves still exists within us; let us not forget that.
Chantal Crane, MSW, LSW, is a clinical therapist at The Willow Center and can be reached at 419-720-5800. ❦