Common assumptions around eating disorders often narrowly focus on an individual’s food intake and exercise. It’s time to examine how cultural norms directly impact all of us. A leading factor in the development of disordered eating is a cultural emphasis on being thin (Culbert, Racine, & Klump, 2015). When thinness is celebrated and equated with health, anyone outside of thinness is subjected to weight stigma and bias. One’s “discipline” and even morality is questioned. Weight stigma is a subsequent threat in and of itself as a risk factor for depression and anxiety (Andreyeva, Puhl, & Brownell, 2008). Rather than investing our time, money, and energy into a narrow and often impossible standard, what if our focus is to work against weight stigma and the idealization of thinness?
This work begins with ourselves, in identifying the ways we have internalized messages of shame for our bodies, or perhaps in how we have pursued and been devoted to this standard of thinness. For parents and caregivers there is a compelling obligation to consider one’s own beliefs and actions around health, wellness, and eating patterns for the sake of their children. All children are currently composing their own narrative of what it means to “be healthy” and are modeling behaviors from those around them, for better or for worse. (Andreyeva, Puhl, & Brownell, 2008).
This work is individual and collective. National Eating Disorders Awareness Week is from February 24th-March 1st. The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) theme for this year is “Come As You Are, Hindsight is 2020.” Let us take time, be it in conversations, prayer, or in counseling to reflect about our own narratives around food, health, and body image. Let us work toward a culture in our families and communities that speaks to each and every one: “Come as you are.”
Andreyeva, T., Puhl, R. M. and Brownell, K. D. (2008), Changes in Perceived Weight Discrimination Among Americans, 1995–1996 Through 2004–2006. Obesity, 16: 1129–1134. doi:10.1038/oby.2008.35
Culbert, K. M., Racine, S. E., & Klump, K. L. (2015). Research Review: What we have learned about the causes of eating disorders – a synthesis of sociocultural, psychological, and biological research. J Child Psychol Psychiatry, 56(11), 1141-1164.