Blog

Sifting Through Stereotypes for Better Recognition of Eating Disorders

Eating disorders impact diverse people – but if you were to rely on the representations we have available to us around eating disorders, you might assume that they only happen to young, white, cisgender, heterosexual, thin women. While those of us in the eating disorders field in a research and/or clinical capacity are often aware that people who are marginalized along any number of lines, including race, sexual orientation, gender, and more, get eating disorders, the dominant representation of eating disorders remains this very narrow portrait of a person. The problem with this portrait is not that it is not true – people who fit this image do get eating disorders. However, this portrait creates what Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche refers to as a “single story.” It does not leave room for recognition for those whose disorders look different, which can lead to under recognition, misdiagnosis, and a lack of appropriate care for diverse people experiencing eating disorders. 

One of the most serious issues facing us as a field is the lack of training for primary care physicians and others at the front line of recognition for eating disorders. These individuals may only have dominant representations of eating disorders available to them. Resultantly, they might assume that people in larger bodies, men, racialized people, LGBTQ+ people, and otherwise marginalized folks are somehow “immune” to this kind of distress. The implications of this are twofold:

  • We need to improve training for “first responders” for eating disorders, including general practitioners, nurse practitioners, teachers, coaches, and more
  • We need to broaden our lens on eating disorders to incorporate and represent a wider array of experiences. This means being more proactive in conducting research that is sensitive to and designed with marginalized folks, and making space for stories to accompany the numbers used to inform eating disorder diagnoses and treatments.

Beyond these points, we also need to be working at a societal level for change in which bodies are welcome not only within eating disorder research and treatment settings, but also in society in general. Many of those who don’t fit the stereotype of eating disorders are also facing countless other obstacles in their lives that can make recovery challenging and that can make talking about their experiences of an eating disorder – and recovery – unsafe. Eating disorders are treatable and recovery is possible, but we can do better to build a world where diverse bodies are honoured and welcomed in; this is the kind of world that might make recovery less of an uphill battle against an oppressive cultural current.

The Waterloo Wellington Eating Disorders Coalition is proud to support the 1st World Eating Disorders Action Day. #WeDoAct for systems-level change for eating disorders, today and every day.

-Andrea Lamarre

International No Diet Day - May 6th

Hey downtown Guelph and Kitchener-Waterloo, check it out!

Friday May 6th, 2016 is International No Diet Day, and when you stroll on the downtown streets of the above cities, you will see signs in some of the storefront windows that promote positive body-image or anti-dieting messages.  Make sure to take some time and look for the signs! You may even find a decal or two in a change room. Let's change the message in our culture, conversations and minds!

Here are 10 suggestions of ways to participate in International No Diet Day:

- Take a break from dieting. Try eating when you are hungry and stopping when you are full.    Listen to your body’s signals.

- Stop thinking about foods as “good,” “bad” or “junk food.” Taste, savour and enjoy allfoods to the fullest!

- Make health, not weight loss, your lifestyle goal.

- Give up, or better still, smash the scale

- Clean out your closet and get rid of all your “thin clothes” - donate these items to charity

- Ask local bookstores to display anti-diet and “Health At Every Size” books this month

- Stop focusing on appearance. Don’t make comments like “You look great! Have you lost weight?” Look for other praise-worthy comments to highlight other than personal appearance.

- Engage in physical activities for pleasure and health benefits, rather than regimented exercise for the primary purpose of weight loss

- End weight discrimination by celebrating size diversity. Beauty, health and fitness come in all sizes

- Check out downtown store windows hosting slogans promoting positive body image and size acceptance. Don’t let the fact that International No Diet Day is only one day of the year stop you from practicing the above on a daily basis.

For more background on eating disorders, size acceptance and the Health At Every Size movement, please visit the following websites: www.eatingdisorderscoalition.ca; http://www.haescommunity.org or www.nedic.ca

Bring mindfulness to your table

In a hectic world where many of us rush from one task to another, fitting in a quick meal while we think of what we have to do next has become the norm. When we’re not consciously focused on the food we are eating, we’re less likely to recognize the signals that tell us we are hungry or full or to experience the sensory satisfaction food brings. In fact, if we’re stressed, distracted or in a hurry, it’s easy to finish a meal and realize we haven’t even tasted a bite. Mindless eating is like eating on autopilot; it encourages overeating, undereating and guilt. Learning how to eat mindfully can help us have a better relationship with food and ultimately enjoy better physical and emotional health. 

Mindful eating is the practice of paying attention to the food we eat so that we consume the amount our body needs to be nourished and satisfied. It helps us to explore our internal and external eating cues. Mindful eating is more about how rather than what we eat. 

Here are some strategies to help you practice mindful eating: 

        - Eat at consistent and regular times, which helps you to listen to your body and recognize  

          hunger signals. 

      - Be aware of your meal choices but avoid judgement or “good food/bad food” thoughts. 

      - Eat your meal in the kitchen or dining room rather than in front of your TV or computer. 

      - Slow down and pay attention to what you are eating by using all of your senses- sight, smell,

        taste, touch and hearing. 

      - If you are a fast eater, aim for making a meal last 20 minutes. Put your fork or spoon down

          between bites and chew slowly. 

      - Be in the present moment– focus on the act of eating rather than what you should have

          done or what you plan to do next. 

      - Recognize and observe your thoughts during your meal or snack. 

      - Return your attention to the act of eating if your mind wanders.

      - Learning how to eat mindfully takes practice but can help you learn to savour every bite. 

       - Pay Attention to how your body feels before, during and after your meal. 

Here are some additional resources you may find helpful:

Books: 

  • Eating What you Love, Love What you Eat by Michelle May, MD
  • Eating Mindfully: How to End Mindless Eating and Enjoy a Balanced Relationship with Food by Susan Albers, PsyD, and Lilian Cheung, DSc, RD
  • Every Bit is Divine by Annie Kay, MS, RD, RYT
  • Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works by Evely Tribole, MS, RD, and Elyse Resch, MS, RD, FADA
  • Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food by Jan Chozen Bays, MD
  • Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think by Brian Wanksink, PhD
  • Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life by Thich Nhat Hanh and Lilian Cheung, DSc, RD                      
  • Website: The Centre for MindfulEating