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Preventing childhood eating disorders – a societal approach, by Dr. Lindo Bacon

There are several ways we can help kids avoid eating disorders.

1. Address Body Dissatisfaction: A large part of the reason young people become dissatisfied with their bodies is because they believe they aren’t measuring up – they are not performing their lives the way the culture is telling them is adequate. They believe they can’t control the narrative of the culture, so they try to control their bodies instead. We need to have these conversations with kids, help them recognize that the problem is in the culture – not them – and support them in managing the difficult feelings entailed.

2. Examine Weight Biases: Examine our own biases about body size, weight, and health and start to shift our own attitudes. That will allow us to provide our kids with more than one story to tell themselves about what an acceptable body looks like and what their value is based on.

3. Inclusive Media: We need to push for more inclusive images in the media and to expose young people to those images. This includes social media – there are so many incredible communities online celebrating bodies of all shapes, sizes, colors, genders and abilities. The more we surround ourselves with these communities, the more possibilities expand for us.

4. Media Literacy: We can also help kids develop their media literacy skills so they can identify the misinformation and lessen their vulnerability.

5. Institutional Change: We also need to advocate for institutional change so bodies of all sizes and kinds are valued and treated fairly and respectfully. That includes correcting size bias and discrimination in places like the legal system, workplaces, and medical practices.

6. Intersectional Lens: Our efforts for change need to happen through an intersectional lens, meaning that we recognize that we can’t tease weightism out of the context of other oppressions. Weightism for women of color, for example, cannot be separated from racism or gendered oppression, and is experienced very differently than the weightism experienced by white men. If we don’t simultaneously address other oppressions we’ll make little headway in the individual arenas.


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Dr. Lindo Bacon is a professor, researcher, co-author of Body Respect: What Conventional Health Books Get Wrong, Leave Out, and Just Plain Fail to Understand about Weight, author of Health At Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight, and international speaker. Dr. Bacon is changing lives through her teaching, research, writing, and transformative workshops and seminars. Website

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Worried about the kids? Fear of obesity is much more health-damaging than high weight itself

An interview with Dr. Lindo Bacon

We have the highest respect for Lindo Bacon, PhD, who is a leader and an inspiration in the body diversity and acceptance movement. In this interview, she addressed a question parents can’t avoid in today’s society: am I doing my child a disservice if I don’t worry about his or her weight?

Question from More-Love.org

Everywhere we go, we see and hear messages about the dangers of obesity and the idea that each individual must take action against (and has control over) it. How do you think that impacts our children? Do you have any advice for parents regarding how they should talk to their children about the “war on obesity?”

Response from Dr. Lindo Bacon

What we’ve really done is create a war against larger people, and our kids pick up on that messaging. It creates a harmful bias against larger people and causes people to feel bad about their own bodies, whether they are fat or fear becoming fat.

This anti-obesity culture also feeds us damaging misinformation about weight and health, and best practices around eating. Buy-in to conventional messaging causes us to disconnect from internal hunger cues that are perfectly attuned to what and how much our bodies need as well as the ways our bodies want to move naturally and joyfully in daily life. This makes us less able to care for their bodies.

I encourage parents to address this head on. Talk about the messages the kids hear. Help your kids critically deconstruct those messages. Help them navigate the misinformation they encounter, and to build their defenses. Help them see that their body is amazing because it houses them. Support them in learning to read their bodies, to trust themselves, to nourish themselves, body and soul.

I do realize that’s a big ask, and that I haven’t provided the usual short simple steps that people often look for in blog posts. My message can be distilled into very simple guidance: Recognize that you and your kids came pre-packaged with an inner guide that can help you to eat well and live well. You – and your kids – can exorcise those cultural messages and trust yourselves. This inner knowing can help you manage your weight much better than diet rules.

And, please, do show compassion for yourself and your kids along the journey. This isn’t a simple switch activated by intellectual awareness and you can’t just talk your kid into this awareness. Cultural messaging gets internalized and is powerful!

Rest assured, however, that extensive research – and many, many personal stories – confirm: regardless of whether this journey helps you or your kid to lose weight, it can definitely help you both to lose the burden of weight.


This video from Dr. Bacon’s Body Manifesto series delivers the science behind her plea for an end to the “War on Obesity”


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Dr. Lindo Bacon is a professor, researcher, co-author of Body Respect: What Conventional Health Books Get Wrong, Leave Out, and Just Plain Fail to Understand about Weight, author of Health At Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight, and international speaker. Dr. Bacon is changing lives through her teaching, research, writing, and transformative workshops and seminars. Website

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The cause of eating disorders, and when a diet is an eating disorder – an interview with Lindo Bacon, PhD

In your understanding, what causes an eating disorder?

Lindo Bacon, PhD: Eating disorders are a complex interplay of genetic inheritance, environmental exposures, and other personal experiences, and the degree to which different contributors play a role varies tremendously between individuals.

For some, the genetic contribution may be so powerful that it can override the effects of positive things like excellent parenting, social support, and media literacy skills. For others, hard lives, including challenges like childhood trauma or neglect, can lead people to absorb the idea that their only value can come from controlling their body, which leads to their eating disorder.

Understanding the cause may be helpful for some individuals. For example, if you learn that your body is less sensitive to the hormone serotonin, you may have trouble with self-soothing, which makes you vulnerable to using food to soothe yourself. In that case, it is helpful to focus on acknowledging these challenges (and lightening up on the self-blame that often accompanies!), better developing your skills to sit with emotions and to soothe yourself; some people may also find that medications that help regulate serotonin are helpful.

Regardless of the cause, most of us can benefit from improving skills to identify what we need and how best to nourish ourselves. Sometimes the drive to eat may really be a drive to distract yourself from difficult feelings, and talking to a friend is much more effective nourishment than ice cream; other times, the ice cream will do a better job of giving you what you need.

When does dieting turn into an eating disorder?

Lindo Bacon, PhD: Dieting, which I’ll define here as restrictive eating with the goal of managing weight, is always a manifestation of disordered eating. I’m less interested in defining that turning point between disordered eating and a clinical eating disorder, as dieting is always unhelpful, regardless of whether it develops into a full-blown eating disorder.

A diet provides you with rules about what you’re supposed to eat or not eat. Attempts to control your food intake through willpower and control require that you drown out the internal signals. Yet, those are the very signals that can guide you to good health and satisfaction. No doctor, dietitian, or diet guru knows what you need better than that inner knowing.

That’s a scary concept for many people; they believe that they can’t be trusted. That’s why I tested in a research study whether people can reclaim the innate knowing we’re all born with. And what I found – which supports what many other researchers have found – is that even people with a long history of dieting can effectively dump dieting and reconnect with body trust and that it’s way more fun and successful at helping people achieve what they are looking for.

Incidentally, my research also found that people were able to enjoy chocolate much more after participating in the research study than ever before. Apparently, the pre-study guilt associated with eating “bad foods” contributes to an allure, a difficulty in appreciating it, and binge eating, not better self-control or eating habits.

chocolate

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A professor, researcher, co-author of Body Respect: What Conventional Health Books Get Wrong, Leave Out, and Just Plain Fail to Understand about Weight, author of Health At Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight, and international speaker, Dr. Lindo Bacon is changing lives through her teaching, research, writing, and transformative workshops and seminars. She holds graduate degrees in physiology, psychology, and exercise science with a specialty in nutrition, and for almost two decades taught courses in social justice, health, weight, and nutrition. She has also conducted federally funded studies on health and weight and published in top scientific journals. Her years of experience as a psychotherapist specializing in eating disorders and body image add important depth to her work. Visit www.lindobacon.org for links to writings, videos, a newsletter, social media, her inspiring Body Manifesto, and more.