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Does society cause eating disorders?

Does society cause eating disorders?

In our series to help parents understand eating disorders, we take a look at how society can contribute to, and even cause, eating disorder development. This article is a great companion to the free eBook, What Kids Want Parents to Know About Eating Disorders. Please feel free to get a copy.

If you have a child who has an eating disorder, then you have probably been told that eating disorders are “complicated.” So what does that mean, and why are eating disorders considered so complicated? More importantly, how can parents help? In this four-part series (this is Part 3 – check back for more later) we review the four elements that are linked to eating disorder development. These elements combine to create the complexity of eating disorders. They are:

  1. Genes, Personality & Experiences
  2. Family Dynamics
  3. Societal Norms & Beliefs
  4. Eating Disorder Diagnosis

In this article, we’ll untangle the third element, societal norms and beliefs. And we’ll take a look at how society can impact, shape, and even cause eating disorders. We’ll also provide some tips for parents who want to help their child recover.

The societal norms and beliefs linked to eating disorder development

The five major societal norms and beliefs that are associated with eating disorder development are:

  1. Sexism: women are expected to be small, and men are expected to be strong
  2. Beauty standards: <5% of the population meets current beauty standards
  3. Thin ideal: thin bodies are considered “healthier” and “better” than larger bodies
  4. Diet culture: believing that all bodies can be thin and those that aren’t are doing something wrong

Our society drives unhealthy body norms and beliefs. These norms and beliefs have a significant impact on eating disorders. Think about it this way: if I’m feeling bad about my life in general, that is overwhelming and I don’t know how to solve the problem. But if I feel bad about my body, I feel as if I have control over that. I’ve been taught that if I eat right and exercise enough I can limit my risk of disease, ridicule, and unhappiness. I can increase my chances of success in this society. So of course it makes perfect sense for me to put my negative feelings and thoughts into my body, which I think I can control, rather than elsewhere.

1. Sexism: women are expected to be small, and men are expected to be strong

Eating disorders are intertwined with sexism. First, they primarily affect women, although eating disorders in men are steeply rising. And all genders suffer from the stereotypes that drive sexism. The belief that women must be small and men must be big set us up for the belief that our appearance is vital to who we are.

Tips for Parents: Take a look at your assumptions about gender. All of us make assumptions, and they were taught to us by our families, peers, and the media. But luckily we can overturn generational sexism and improve our child’s ability to live confidently.

Talk to your child about society’s beliefs and expectations of girls and women. It’s OK if you learn about this together. Start investigating whether you assume women should be small and delicate. Explore whether you prefer women to keep their voice soft, avoid being angry, and jump to take care of other people before themselves. These are deep and powerful social norms, so give yourself time to learn new beliefs and behaviors about a “woman’s place” in our society.

Also, explore society’s assumptions about boys and men. How do you feel about men being vulnerable, afraid, and sad? Talk about how we pressure girls to stay small while we praise boys to grow “big and strong.” Masculinity can trap boys and men as much as it puts women and girls in rigid gender roles.

2. Beauty standards: <5% of the population meets the current beauty standard

Our culture’s beauty standards are so rigid that fewer than 5% of people meet them naturally. Social media has embedded these standards deep into our kids’ brains. Beauty standards can drive a person to believe that if they meet the standards they will be successful, happy, and loved.

Tips for Parents: Beauty standards are perpetuated by advertising and media in order to sell products. Most of us learned what it means to be beautiful and accepted at home, school, and even the grocery store where we see magazine covers featuring striking cover models.

Consider how you have interpreted beauty standards. What standards are you holding yourself to, and why? Many beauty standards keep us pursuing goals and ideals that are simply out of reach. How do your beliefs about what is beautiful impact your daily life?

Talk to your child about beauty standards. A great vehicle for this is social media. Look at social media and consider that the algorithm prefers slender, conventionally attractive bodies. We know that social media contributes to body shame. So talk about how social media makes your child feel. Don’t threaten to take it away (which could cause serious panic!) instead use it as a vehicle for having conversations about cultural beauty standards.

3. Thin ideal: thin bodies are considered “healthier” and “better” than larger bodies

The thin ideal is the belief that thin bodies are healthier and better than larger bodies. This ideal is perpetuated in almost every arena of life, from homes to schools and doctor’s offices. It impacts all of us by making us believe that being thin is a sign of health. But health is not based on BMI, and the pursuit of thin can lead to eating disorders.

Tips for Parents: There’s a really good chance that you grew up in a household that perpetuated the thin ideal – most of us do! The thin ideal is rooted so deeply in our culture that most people don’t recognize it.

One of the best things you can do is learn about the science of Health at Every Size®. This approaches health from a weight-neutral perspective. In fact, it demonstrates that the thin ideal is a greater risk to our health than high weight.

Your child’s recovery may mean they gain weight, and it almost always means they need to let go of their belief that thinner is better. So if you learn that thin is not a requirement for health, it will help set the foundation for their recovery.

4. Diet culture: believing that all bodies can be thin and those that aren’t are doing something wrong.

Diet culture perpetuates the idea that all bodies can and should lose weight, and that it is healthy to intentionally lose weight. However, 95% of people who intentionally lose weight regain the weight, and 65% of them gain more. And unfortunately, people who diet are 15x more likely to develop an eating disorder.

Tips for Parents: The diet industry has been exploding for the past 30 years and is currently at $72 billion. It has driven the belief that all of us can and should lose weight to be healthier, happier, and more attractive. But it can really help to educate yourself about the diet industry and the culture it has created.

The fact is that 95% of diets fail. And dieting itself is unhealthy and sets us up for weight gain. Are you a lifetime dieter? It’s OK if you have dieted or tried to control your weight in the past. Most of us do! But it will really help your child recover if you can let go of diet culture and learn to accept your body. I’m not saying this is easy – it’s not! But it will definitely help.

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Getting help

Society is a contributor, even a cause of eating disorders. The more you can identify and understand areas where you can counterbalance social messages, the better your chances of helping your child recover. This is hard because so much of society’s messages are hidden and hard to find within ourselves. but learning about societal untruths can help you create an environment that fosters recovery.

If your child has an eating disorder, you can help them recover. Parents can make a tremendous impact on recovery. So please get support to help you navigate this process. If at all possible, see a therapist or coach to help.

Books to help

These books can help you understand society’s messages about food and body and challenge some of the assumptions we make about health.

Intuitive Eating, 4th Edition: A Revolutionary Anti-Diet Approach, by Evelyn Tribole, M.S., R.D. and Elyse Resch, M.S., R.D., F.A.D.A.

An extremely popular method used to treat and prevent eating disorders.

The body is not an apology

The Body Is Not an Apology, Second Edition: The Power of Radical Self-Love by Sonya Renee Taylor

A radical and loving approach to having a body.

Free eBook: What Kids Want Parents to Know About Eating Disorders


Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating disorders and body hate.

She’s the founder of More-Love.org and a Parent Coach who helps parents who have kids with eating disorders and other struggles.

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32 worst things to say to someone with an eating disorder

worst things to say eating disorder

Most of us don’t know what to say to someone who has an eating disorder. Eating disorders are poorly understood, and most of us have never had a meaningful conversation about eating disorders.

The result is that people often say the wrong thing to people who have eating disorders. It’s not because they are trying to be hurtful, but it hurts nonetheless. I interviewed thousands of people who have/had eating disorders to find out the phrases that hurt the most.

The three most damaging eating disorder comments are:

  1. Just stop doing it: the idea that recovery is simple misses the depth and complexity of eating disorders. They are intensely personal and deeply challenging disorders that impact the mind and body. Recovery is rarely simple and requires comprehensive treatment.
  2. But you look great: while it’s true that an obsession with appearance is a symptom of an eating disorder, that is not all that an eating disorder is about. And no amount of reassurance will ever budge an eating disorder. They require specialized treatment and care.
  3. I wish I had an eating disorder: an eating disorder is a life-threatening disorder that can impact a person’s body and mind for life. Usually what people mean when they say this is that they wish they could lose weight. This is deeply damaging and hurtful for someone in the depths of a mental disorder.

If you’re not sure what to say to someone who has an eating disorder, then stick with compassion and support. Avoid making suggestions or comments that expose your own fear of fat or belief that an eating disorder is a choice.

Here are 32 of the worst things people say to people who have eating disorders:

Just …

  • stop throwing up
  • eat
  • put the fork down
  • start eating regularly, it’ll fix itself
  • let yourself become one with God. And when you realize that you are in God’s love, your anxieties will go away

Statements that begin with the word “just” suggest that eating disorders are simple. Eating disorders are absolutely not simple. They are complex biopsychosocial mental health conditions. That means they stem from a combination of biological, psychological, and social conditions. All of these conditions combine to create a situation in which eating disorders thrive.

When people start a statement about eating disorders with the word “just” It shows a lack of understanding of the complexity of the situation. This suggests they don’t understand how serious and challenging it is to recover from an eating disorder.

But you …

  • are skinny, so you can’t be anorexic
  • aren’t skinny, so you can’t be anorexic
  • look fine
  • don’t look like you have an eating disorder
  • are so smart, why can’t you see that this is ridiculous?
  • aren’t really bulimic. You don’t throw up, do you?
  • can recover if you want it badly enough

When a comment begins with “But you” the next thing that comes out is going to hurt. This is because it suggests that a person shouldn’t have an eating disorder. The word “but” means “you shouldn’t.” Phrases that begin this way suggest that a person with an eating disorder is making an active choice to have an eating disorder rather than struggling with a mental health condition. A simplification of the problem will not make the eating disorder go away because it misses the point.

Also, the idea that eating disorders have a certain look is deeply damaging. The vast majority of eating disorders are invisible.

I wish …

  • I had anorexia! My body could lose a few pounds!
  • I had the strength to not eat! My problem is that I eat too much!
  • you would just stop doing this!
  • you could hear how ridiculous you sound

“I wish” statements are often followed by the idea that you wish you had some eating disorder symptoms. In doing this, you’re perpetuating diet culture, which is one of the contributing factors in eating disorders. These statements suggest that an eating disorder is a healthy diet with a positive outcome rather than a deadly condition. There is no upside to an eating disorder.

Another option is “I wish you would just stop!” This suggests that you think recovery is easy. As you’ve probably picked up by now, eating disorder recovery is not easy.

Making a wish will never make an eating disorder go away.

It’s not that hard …

  • focus on eating healthy and get some light exercise!
  • stop caring what people think!
  • run. If you run, you’ll be hungry. AND it cured my depression
  • it’s just about willpower!
  • just eat normally and then lightly exercise
  • if you’re unhappy with your weight just diet and lose it!
  • if you’re unhappy with how you look then eat better and workout more

It’s dismissive and hurtful to suggest that “it’s not that hard” to recover from an eating disorder. Of course it’s hard! If it weren’t, then nobody would have an eating disorder.

We live in a culture that has a poor understanding of mental health, but here’s a really simple rule of thumb. Any time you want to say it’s not hard to be mentally healthy, consider whether you would say the same thing to someone who broke a leg. Would you suggest that they could heal by simply “getting over it?” Or adding some light exercise? No!

And you definitely wouldn’t suggest that the way to heal a broken leg is to heal it by themselves. That’s essentially what happens when someone suggests that a person who has an eating disorder should eat, not eat, or exercise their way out of their eating disorder. That’s just not how it works.

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But …

  • you look perfectly fine to me
  • can’t you see how bad you look right now?
  • there is nothing bad happening in your life for that you act like that
  • doesn’t everyone have an eating disorder?
  • you’d look better if you gained weight

When a response begins with “but,” this suggests that eating disorders are simple and/or ridiculous. We’ve covered the fact that eating disorders are not simple. Eating disorders are also not ridiculous. They are coping behaviors that are rooted in a web of biology, psychology, and societal forces.

You need to …

  • stop being so selfish and take care of yourself so you don’t make your mother worry. Why do you keep making things so difficult for her?
  • eat normally. You don’t have to eat pizza everyday but just eat something
  • go eat a hamburger
  • pray and Jesus will make it go away

It’s almost never helpful to tell someone who has an eating disorder what they need to do. Leave that up to the professionals who are working with the person who has the eating disorder. They alone are qualified to provide any guidance on this topic.

What to say instead

This doesn’t mean you can’t say anything! Just say words of compassion rather than advice. Compassionate statements recognize that the person is doing their very best. They also demonstrate that you trust the person to make the right choices for their recovery. Here are some ideas:

  • I’m so sorry that you’re hurting right now
  • It sounds as if you’re working really hard
  • I’m here to support you
  • It sounds like this is really challenging
  • I love you

I know it’s hard to learn these guidelines. Most people genuinely want to be helpful, they just don’t know enough to avoid causing harm. Hopefully, this has given you some ideas about why these statements can be hurtful and what to say instead.


Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating disorders and body hate.

She’s the founder of More-Love.org and a Parent Coach who helps parents who have kids with eating disorders and other struggles.

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Why Tom Brady’s diet book is dangerous for boys and young men

Tom Brady, famous and talented quarterback for the New England Patriots and winner of five Super Bowls, is an undeniably gifted athlete. Unfortunately, like many gifted people, he is choosing to spread unfounded and dangerous diet claims that can harm our children.

Brady released a book called “The TB12 Method: How to Achieve a Lifetime of Sustained Peak Performance” that is filled with pseudoscience and claims that cannot be validated by stretching any existing scientific studies.

His claims about his diet may not look like disordered eating at first glance since they do not directly promote weight loss or caloric restriction, however, they are definitely part of the wellness movement in which people promote restrictive and obsessive diets that are neither scientifically valid or emotionally and socially healthy.

While Brady’s food recommendations may appear to be ridiculous but harmless, the food obsession and foodphobia underlying his recommendations are part of a disordered eating culture that is growing in strength and putting our children at increased risk for eating disorders.

The TB12 Method is a recipe for eating disorders

Brady’s TB12 Method is filled with foodphobia – the fear and demonization of certain types of food. In his case, he promotes a diet of “alkanizing” and “anti-inflammatory” foods with the goal of lowering his body’s pH level. He says that lowering his pH level increases his energy levels and prevents colds, flu, muscle fatigue, joint pain, bone spurs, poor concentration, mood swings, and bone fractures.

He is completely wrong, mainly because it is scientifically impossible to change the body’s pH level, which is balanced by the lungs and kidneys, and is virtually impossible to change with food.

Brady promotes alkaline foods as a path to being a stronger, healthier person (who can become an amazing athlete and win Super Bowls), but what he’s really exposing is a deep and unfounded obsession with and fear of food. The vilification of non-alkaline foods and the halo he puts on alkaline foods follows in the footsteps of so many other famous but non-scientific athletes, actors, and celebrities who believe that their natural genetic predisposition and talent are something that they have built themselves.

Yes, Brady is an amazing athlete. He was genetically gifted at birth and has worked hard to develop his skills on the football field. Congratulations, Tom Brady. Now, please stop promoting dangerous and disordered eating advice.

What Tom Brady does not eat

Eating disorders typically involve the following key behaviors:

  • Avoiding foods based on the fear that they are fattening, unhealthy, dangerous, and otherwise “bad.”
  • Maintaining a very limited diet of foods considered to be “good,” “healthy,” and “safe.”
  • Being obsessed with food, as evidenced by constantly talking about food, what will be eaten, what will not be eaten, etc.
  • Believing that food is directly linked to body appearance and performance and status as a human being.
  • Believing that body appearance and performance is directly linked to status as a human being.

Brady avoids a lot of foods. Here is a partial list of what he does not eat:

  • Red meat
  • Dairy
  • Corn
  • Fungus
  • Nightshade vegetables (tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, etc.)
  • Soy
  • White potatoes
  • White sugar
  • White flour
  • MSG
  • Iodized salt
  • Caffeine
  • Gluten-containing bread and pasta
  • Breakfast cereal
  • Foods that contain GMOs
  • High fructose corn syrup
  • Trans fats
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Fruit juice
  • Grain-based foods
  • Jams and jellies
  • Most cooking oils
  • Condiments like ketchup and soy sauce

Here is a partial list of what Brady does eat:

  • Fish
  • Vegetables
  • Fruit
  • Protein bars (which he sells/profits from)
  • Protein shakes (which he sells/profits from)
  • Soup broth

Brady can eat whatever he wants. Personal diet plans are personal, and he can do whatever he wants with his plate. But promoting his personal diet as a prescription for achieving “a lifetime of sustained peak performance” is false and reckless. The diet program he prescribes is incredibly restrictive, and cannot be considered healthy or reasonable for the vast majority of people.

Boys and men get eating disorders

Most people believe that eating disorders afflict primarily young, white, wealthy women who follow calorically-restrictive diets and become very, very thin. This stigma is not accurate, and it can make it challenging for women who do not fit that profile to get treatment for their eating disorders.

This eating disorder stigma also completely ignores the symptoms of eating disorders in boys and men. Because eating disorder behaviors reflect societal pressures to behave and look a certain way, and because we live in a society in which the expectations we have for women are different from those for men, eating disorders look very different when expressed in males.

For example, most males who have eating disorders are seeking a lean, muscular physique. They will restrict their diet with the goal of gaining muscle and reducing fat and will exercise in pursuit of increasing muscle appearance in certain areas of the body. Male eating disorders often involve compulsive exercise and dietary supplements, especially protein supplements.

With this in mind, Brady’s book is a dangerous guidebook for male eating disorders in the same way that all diet books guide people into eating disorder behaviors (AKA dieting). Brady’s book joins a long line of pseudoscience (e.g. ketogenic, intermittent fasting, zero grain, Whole 30, etc.) that encourages the disordered idea that our eating directly results in a particular body type and performance. All of these programs have built a plethora of money-making businesses based on the food programs they prescribe.

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No need to biohack

A deeply troubling trend in our society is the pervasive idea that we should eat and behave in certain ways to make us better than we were naturally.

It has been soundly proven that there is no need to try and “hack” our bodies and, in fact, it is impossible to alter core functions such as body detoxification and alkalinity. The term “biohack” came out of Silicon Valley based on the concept that, just like software, the body can be programmed to look and behave a certain way with diet adjustments. But the body is not a software program, and it simply refuses to be hacked.

It is true that eating a diet that has a variety of fruits, vegetables, and grains, is good for the body. But what biohackers, gurus and eating disorders do is take the concept to the extreme. Just because eating fruits, vegetables, and grains is good for us that doesn’t mean we should NEVER EAT ANYTHING ELSE. That is eating disorder thinking, and while it is wildly popular and heavily promoted by companies that make money off our beliefs (e.g. Brady’s line of protein supplements), it is not healthy.

If you have a son …

If you have a son, please watch carefully for diet changes that reflect popular culture such as Brady’s TB12 method. Avoid supplements, including protein shakes and protein bars.

Even if your son’s coaches and friends are pushing protein on him, remember that protein supplementation is unnecessary pseudoscience. If you need justification: the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, released in January 2016, cautioned that people, especially teenage boys and adult men are getting too much protein.

Nightshade vegetables are not unhealthy, iodized salt is fine, and your child can eat sugar, dairy, grains, hamburgers, pizza, cookies, cheese, and other foods they enjoy without committing a health crime.

Eating disorders look very different in our sons and are typically best recognized by paying attention to our boys’ feelings about food and exercise more than how their bodies change in relation to their eating disorder. If your son cuts out entire food groups, uses supplements to “hack” his body, or follows any other current food trends, pay attention.

If you believe your son is obsessed with food and body issues, please don’t hesitate to seek help. It’s true that most parents don’t think about their sons getting eating disorders, but unfortunately, we must do so given that we live in a disordered eating culture.


Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating disorders and body hate.

She’s the founder of More-Love.org and a Parent Coach who helps parents who have kids with eating disorders and other struggles.

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The link between depression, eating disorders, and being female in western industrialized cultures

There is a strong link between being depressed, having an eating disorder, and being female in a western industrialized country. Here are some facts about these conditions:

1. Females are twice as likely as males to be depressed, and the vast majority of eating disorder patients are female.

2. The depression sex difference emerges at puberty, and eating disorders emerge at puberty.

3. The depression sex difference is only found in western countries, and eating disorders are present in western countries and far less common/virtually absent in non-western countries.

4. There is more depression today, and there are more eating disorders today.

5. The average age of onset for depression is younger now than in the past, and the average age of onset for eating disorders is younger now than in the past.

Because of these correlations, it has been proposed that there is a relationship between the thin ideal that permeates western cultures, eating disorders and depression. Some studies report that episodes of depression precede the onset of the eating disorder and even that eating disorder behaviors are an attempt to combat depression.

In such a case, a person who is depressed subconsciously attempts to modify their mood state by utilizing eating disorder behaviors such as restriction, binge eating, purging, and over-exercising. By engaging in these behaviors, a person may feel a sense of taking corrective action to improve their life circumstances.

The thin ideal

The cultural ideal of hard-to-achieve thinness (the “thin ideal”) for women could be a driver of both depression and eating disorders. There are two ways this can happen.

First, if a girl perceives her body as not meeting the thin ideal, body dissatisfaction can arise. Since a very small proportion(~5%) of female bodies can meet the thin ideal without extreme control and modification, body dissatisfaction can occur at any body size, shape, and weight.

Second, there is a powerful belief that a thin body is the only way a woman can be attractive to others. The need to be seen as attractive to others is an element of self-esteem, and thus a pervasive sense of being unattractive (due to higher weight than is deemed “attractive”) may lead to eating disorder behaviors. This may also explain the observed trend of depression and eating disorder onset during puberty, a time when the body is changing at the exact same time as a desire to be attractive to others increases.

It has been shown that people who have eating disorders have high levels of body dissatisfaction coupled with low self-esteem and feelings of ineffectiveness and inadequacy. It has also been shown that people who are depressed tend to have higher levels of body dissatisfaction and feelings of ineffectiveness and inadequacy.

Diet culture

This is where diet culture comes into the picture since dieting is strongly associated with body dissatisfaction and feelings of ineffectiveness and inadequacy. First, dieting causes extreme psychic and physical stress, which can drastically impact mood states, leading to depression.

Second, dieting fails 95% of the time. A person may lose weight but will regain it all plus more almost every time. This failure is almost always attributed to personal behaviors rather than the fact that diets are proven to lead to weight gain. Feelings of ineffectiveness and inadequacy based on weight regain after weight loss almost always occur.

It has also been observed that one in four people who diet will develop an eating disorder. This may be a natural response to the proven weight cycling inherent in dieting. A person can quickly notice that unless they take extreme measures, they cannot control their weight. Those extreme measures are the primary eating disorder behaviors of restriction, purging, and over-exercising. Binge eating is a natural and primal response to all of these behaviors.

Lack of control

Western cultures believe that weight is something that can be controlled, and yet the evidence points in the exact opposite direction. Research has shown for more than 50 years that intentional weight loss almost always leads to weight gain. This disconnect between a cultural belief and the reality of weight control leads to feelings of failure.

Attempting to control weight, which is a fruitless effort, leads women to feel more dissatisfied with their bodies. Repeat dieters report lower self-esteem than do non-dieters, which can lead to both depression and eating disorders. In a cruel twist of fate, the more a person diets, the higher their weight climbs. Additionally, many people who are depressed turn to food to soothe their depression. This can create an endless and lifelong cycle of body dissatisfaction, dieting, and depression.

Puberty changes everything

Body dissatisfaction is a symptom of both depression and eating disorders, and both are more common in females and typically arise during puberty.

During puberty, the female body changes, often dramatically. The thin ideal resembles a pre-pubescent girl (flat stomach, long legs, slender hips, flat chest). The process of puberty includes weight gain and the addition of new curves and rolls, which can be destabilizing for many females. Puberty takes girls further from the thin ideal while it typically brings boys closer to the masculine ideal.

Several studies have noted that girls become increasingly less satisfied with their bodies as they progress through puberty. At every age, girls are less satisfied with their bodies than boys. Girls also have higher rates of body dysmorphia and the belief that their bodies are larger than they actually are.

Protecting females

The trends linking our societal beliefs, being female, depression and eating disorders need to be openly addressed in order to reverse worrying trends of increasing rates of both depression and eating disorders. Both depression and eating disorders are increasing, and beginning at younger ages. There are many societal factors to be considered in these conditions in western females, but one known factor is the thin ideal.

Some actions we should take to protect females from higher risk of depression and eating disorders include:

1. Talk to girls about the thin ideal and its dangers.

2. Talk about the devastating impact of dieting on the body and mental health.

3. Seek ways to show girls the diversity of body size, shape and weight in the real world compared to what we see on television, social media, advertising, etc.

4. Don’t ever diet, or allow dieting in your home.

5. Speak up against companies that use Photoshopping, editing, and other techniques to take an already unrealistic body ideal to new extremes.

6. Demand that companies feature diverse body types in advertising and in entertainment programs.

7. Support companies that promote body size diversity in their advertising, social media, etc.

8. Learn about Health at Every Size

Also, monitor for signs of depression and eating disorders, especially during puberty. We have two quizzes available. The first is Does My Child Have an Eating Disorder? and can be taken by a parent. The second is an adaptation of Burn’s Depression Checklist, which should be taken by the person who is being evaluated for depression.


Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating disorders and body hate.

She’s the founder of More-Love.org and a Parent Coach who helps parents who have kids with eating disorders and other struggles.


Reference: McCarthy, M., The Thin Ideal, Depression and Eating Disorders in Women, Journal of Behavior Research and Therapy, 1990

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Social Justice, Fatphobia, and Eating Disorders, by Meghan Cichy, RDN

Dismantling fatphobia and weight stigma, as well as other systems of body oppression at a systemic and institutional level, will be necessary if we are to put an end to eating disorders.

The discrimination facing larger bodies is serious: weight stigma has been shown to impact mental and physical health by increasing risk for elevated blood pressure, unhealthy weight control and binge eating behaviors, bulimic symptoms, negative body image, low self-esteem, and depression among children, adolescents, and adults (Tylka et al., 2014). Rebecca Puhl’s research indicates a 66% rise in weight-based discrimination over the past 10 years.

Our society reinforces and maintains the toxic hierarchy of acceptable bodies, while openly and aggressively criticizing the vast majority of people who fall outside the confines of socially acceptable body size. Meanwhile, bodies that meet or conform to the cultural beauty and health ideals enjoy increased power, privilege, status, and access.

It is simply impossible for every body to meet the socially constructed ideals of beauty or health in regards to body size, skin color, physical ability, neurological presentation, gender identity, etc. This leads to the oppression and discrimination of those who do not conform and increases the risk of mental and physical health consequences. In attempts to free themselves of these cultural aggressions people experiencing weight stigma may engage in dangerous, harmful behaviors in order to change their body’s weight or shape.

Parenting for positive food and body

Social Determinants of Health

Social Determinants of Health take into consideration the broader factors in the context in which we live and the way those factors impact population health. These factors include things like income and wealth distribution, education opportunities, unemployment and job security, food insecurity (regular and reliable access to food), housing, social exclusion and inclusion, social safety, health services (access to quality, unbiased, safe care), race, gender, disability, and indigenous status.

There are many factors that impact our health and not all of them are within our individual control. Actually, the factors that are within our control, or our individual responsibility, represent only a small proportion of the total factors that impact our health.

Yet public health campaigns, individual healthcare providers, and wellness gurus reliably target individual behavior as the pathway to help. This not only limits the impact that these interventions can have on health, but also increases the risk of shame and stigma being experienced by people who do not align with culturally defined acceptable behaviors or physical presentation of “health.”

This brings us back to the importance of applying a social justice lens to health. Our current systems and institutions perpetuate a structure of privilege, status, and access to some bodies while restricting it from others. This is not health promoting. It is actually causing mental and physical harm and worsening the health of our society and its individuals. It narrows our view of what impacts our health and erases our lived experiences. Shifting to a social justice framework and considering social determinants of health helps us to tailor our care to be more equitable and makes space for all bodies to exist with respect and free from prejudice and discrimination.

Health at Every Size®(HAES®) is an approach to both policy and individual decision making that is grounded in a social justice framework and considers social determinants of health.

Focusing on well-being by broadening perspective on health

It has been my experience that the more fraught a person’s relationship with food and body is, the more time, energy, and focus they spend on food and body. These efforts can result in negative impacts on health (i.e. greater body dissatisfaction, obsessive thoughts about food, weight cycling). In contrast, the more at peace a person is with food and their body, the more time, energy, and space they have for other, often more fulfilling thoughts and activities that positively impact health and well-being.

First, as a woman with many privileges (thin, white, without illness or disability, etc.) my actions of being radically counterculture around food and body are met with little resistance in the world as compared to those who do not possess these privileges.

By giving myself permission to eat with pleasure and in attunement to what feels good and supportive of my overall wellbeing I am able to remove the restrictive, external rules of diet culture. I am also able to rid my food choices of morality thereby creating freedom from the cycle of shame that so often drives disordered eating behaviors.

I talk about food and my experience of it with curiosity and without judgment. Food is never tied to earning or deserving, to compensation or punishment, nor to moral superiority or failing. Our bodies are born with an innate need for nourishment and our food provides us with pleasure in order to ensure this nourishment is consistent. Enjoying food is not a flaw nor something to be fixed or controlled. In fact, in honoring our appetite and learning to listen to and honor our body’s needs we are best positioned to take care of it.

Taking this radical approach to food provides us with an alternative to the sea of diet culture in which we swim. Some people have been swimming in the sea of diet culture for so long they don’t even realize it’s there. However, if we can provide a contrast to what they are used to, a safe harbor of body liberation and intuitive connection, they can start to do the work of sorting out what is actually most healthful for them.

parent coach

Preventing eating disorders

To prevent eating disorders, we must dismantle fatphobia and diet culture and bring awareness to social justice and social determinants of health. We must recognize and celebrate body diversity and dismantle the hierarchy of acceptable and respectable bodies.

We must provide better training to our healthcare professionals, educators, coaches, caregivers, and parents around the factors that increase the risk for developing an eating disorder (genes, trauma, illness, culture and environment, weight stigma and bias).

We must move away from a binary system and towards a space of plurality along the continuum of human experience. Humans are not just fat or thin, black or white, gay or straight, feminine or masculine. We exist at the intersection of multiple identities. Bringing awareness allows us to engage in helpful vs harmful ways and set us up for the best chance of eating disorder prevention.

Cultivating an environment of peace with food and body at home can look like:

1. Nurturing body trust through curiosity and connection.

2. Supporting autonomy and independence in eating by providing regular and reliable meals and snacks which contain a variety of nourishing and pleasurable food, and then, without pressure, allowing the child to be in charge of whether and how much they eat.

3. Exploring and celebrating human body diversity with intention and making space for curious questions and observations without shaming.

4. Avoiding judgments and morality when discussing food and body whether you are with your kids or not.

Important leaders in this space

Desiree Adaway describes a social justice approach as “focusing on the unequal social power between groups that leads to some groups having privilege, status, and access while other groups are denied these things.”

Carmel Cool describes body liberation in a social justice context as “honoring the fundamental rights of fat people to exist without prejudice and discrimination and believing that people’s bodies are not problems to be solved.”

Jes Baker describes body liberation as “freedom from expectations. As recognizing the systemic issues that surround us and acknowledging that perhaps we’re not able to fix them all on our own.”


Meghan Cichy

Meghan Cichy, RDN, CEDRD, CSP, CD, Creating Peace with Food, LLC

I work with clients of all ages who are on the spectrum of disordered eating from weight control dieting to eating disorders. I work to meet them where they are while supporting them in identifying and moving towards their value-driven life. Meeting clients where they are means making space for, trusting, and validating their lived experiences, acknowledging their fears and anxieties, and recognizing their tools for protection and self-preservation. It means giving them a place to explore their body story and how it relates to the way they nourish themselves with food, movement, and self-care. My clients’ body stories are all unique. Some contain a few pivotal moments that have shaped the way they move through the world. Others express more subtle but deeply ingrained threads of overt or covert expectation. Either way, when these experiences occur in childhood they set off a cascade of learning and adapting that lead to a lifetime of practiced survival behaviors. Getting to a place of safety where one can start to let go of the behaviors that are no longer serving them and begin to practice other life-enhancing and value-driven behaviors can take years. I am dedicated to coming alongside my clients as a resource as they do this challenging and valuable work.

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Weight stigma and your child: what parents need to know

Weight stigma and your child: what parents need to know

Parents need to know the dangers of weight stigma because it impacts everyone. And whether your child is thin, fat*, or in between, their health is impacted by weight stigma.

*Throughout this article I use the word “fat” as a descriptor. It is important to note that this is different than using “fat” as a slur. Many fat justice advocates say that we need to de-stigmatize the word fat. Instead, we should use it appropriately as a neutral descriptor to normalize fat bodies.

Popular media and healthcare providers scream about the dangers of fat cells. But the real danger is weight stigma and weight discrimination. Weight stigma contributes to physical and mental health complications. These include weight cycling (a natural and expected physiological response to dieting) and eating disorders. Therefore we need to tackle weight stigma in order to reduce these risks to our kids’ health.

body image for girls ebook

What is weight stigma?

Weight stigma is discrimination or stereotyping based on a person’s weight. It reflects internalized societal attitudes towards body size and impacts how we treat each other. Therefore understanding and counteracting weight stigma will help your child avoid body hate, disordered eating, and eating disorders.

Weight stigma is damaging for people who are larger. But it’s also bigotry that impacts people of all body sizes. Ask just about anyone walking down the street today and they are likely carrying internalized weight stigma and body loathing. This impacts their feelings about their body and themselves. There is no benefit to weight stigma, and there are many downsides.

The media and weight stigma

Media and entertainment outlets frequently portray strongly biased views of people who live in larger bodies. They promote weight stigma constantly by depicting fat people in dehumanizing and stigmatizing images. These include newspapers, magazines, books, movies, documentaries, videos, photographs, social media accounts, and more.

The media shows fat people eating fattening foods, sitting, and wearing tight, ill-fitting clothing. But it shows thin people eating colorful salads, exercising, and looking stylish.

The media portrays fat people as lazy, weak-willed, self-indulgent, and a drain on the nation’s resources. This is an ignorant an bigoted presentation. It has solidified the strong belief that fat is bad and thin is good. It’s important to note that the media’s revenue comes from advertising. It’s undeniable that the +$70 billion weight loss industry supports the very existence of our media outlets.

Healthcare and weight stigma

The second leading source of weight stigma are people in the medical and healthcare professions. This creates a significant barrier to healthcare for anyone who lives in a larger body. No visit to the doctor, regardless of the purpose, begins without an attempt to weigh the body.

Anyone in the “overweight” and above categories is lectured about their weight. This is regardless of why they came for a visit. It is also based only on weight, not health behaviors. Many receive lectures about weight reduction. This is despite the fact that there is no proven, safe, and effective method for reducing weight.

Weight stigma in healthcare often results in delayed diagnosis and treatment for many people who have serious medical conditions. Doctors are notoriously fat-phobic. Surveys show the majority of doctors actively dislike larger patients. And this is a major problem considering that more than 60% of their patient population is plus-size.

The playground and weight stigma

Our kids grow up in an ecosystem that is full of weight stigma. As early as preschool, children prefer thin figures in drawings and stories [1]. By elementary school, larger children report unsatisfactory peer relations, including social rejection [2].

Children who are larger are at increased risk for being targets of weight-related teasing [3]. And they also experience more non-weight-related teasing and bullying [4], and other forms of victimization such as physical aggression [5].

As early as the first grade, fat kids are treated differently by their peers. They are more likely to be treated poorly and be disliked. They often struggle with loneliness and friendships. Larger children are more likely to be rejected, made fun of, teased, picked on, and disliked [6].

This is the trickle-down effect of parents, teachers, doctors, and the media actively promoting weight stigma. Children are ostracized, bullied, and discriminated against. And this trauma has lifelong consequences that are much more serious than adipose tissue.

Weight stigma leads to poor health and eating disorders

The “War on Obesity” has failed to reduce the national weight. It has, however, succeeded in increasing weight stigma, which many researchers say is deeply health-damaging. Some people suggest that weight-shaming is good because it encourages kids to lose weight. But weight teasing and bullying in adolescence leads to higher (not lower) weight 15 years later.

This means that the “War on Obesity” is actually causing people to gain weight. People who are exposed to weight stigma are also more likely to exhibit eating disorder behaviors including extreme dieting and self-induced vomiting [7].

In cultures with fat stigma, we see more young women who express dissatisfaction or disgust with their bodies, which is an essential precursor (and continuing accompaniment) of eating disorders. [8]. 

There is a strong relationship between the “obesity epidemic” and the proliferation of eating disorders. “If fat bodies were accepted and not hated in our culture, fat people would not embark on restrictive eating or disordered eating in order to lose weight, and the majority would not develop eating disorders.” [9]

You may think it’s healthy to put your child on a diet. But diets have serious consequences. Instead, parents should help them manage the impact and reduce kids’ exposure to weight stigma.

What you can do at home

How you treat your child at home can be an important way to reduce their risk of eating disorders. A home that rejects weight stigma and dieting is safer for your child’s body and mind. And it’s also the right thing to do. No other marginalized community is as openly ridiculed and hated as fat people, and that’s simply unacceptable.

Here are a few basic rules to implement at home. Enforce these rules across all family members and anyone who enters your home without exception. Your child needs to know that bigotry and discrimination are not allowed or acceptable, no matter what.

1. No diets

Nobody in the home should even go on a restrictive diet with the purpose of losing weight. Read why

2. Stop food policing

A wide variety of food should be available to everyone in the home without restriction or monitoring. Read why

3. Don’t fat shame

Don’t allow anyone to tease or criticize another person’s body. This applies to anyone in the family, outside of the family, a celebrity, a stranger, etc. Read why

4. Avoid glorifying body-types

Everyone should learn to avoid making comments about “perfect bodies” and glorifying any particular body type. Don’t praise people for weight loss, discuss methods to achieve weight loss or a “perfect butt,” “washboard abs,” etc.

5. No scales

There is no reason to keep a scale in the home. Throw it away.

6. Health at Every SizeⓇ philosophy

Learn about and embrace the HAES approach to health. Read why

What you can do at school

School is the place in which your child is most at risk of fat stigma. Approximately 43% of larger adolescents reported being teased by peers [10]. Therefore to help your child avoid weight stigma, you must advocate for unbiased schools and classrooms. Here are a few goals for your child’s school environment:

1. Language

Health should not be linked to body weight. Dieting of any kind should never be promoted.

2. Dress codes

Dress codes disproportionately impact people who are larger. Make sure your school is fighting weight stigma by eliminating dress codes. Or at least be sure to enforce them consistently across all body sizes.

3. Weighing

Children should not be weighed at school. There is no educational justification for weighing children at school. School weigh-ins perpetuate weight stigma and have no value. Read why

It may be tricky to advocate for your child’s safety at school, but it is essential. Want ideas? Read Lindo Bacon’s guide for teachers and administrators. 

What you can do at the doctor’s office

Weight stigma in the healthcare setting is pervasive and leads to lifetime health impacts. People who experience weight stigma attend fewer doctors’ visits, screenings, immunizations, and more. Help your child learn to navigate the health system by doing the following:

1. Don’t talk about weight

Doctors have been advised by their pediatric association not to discuss weight with children. There are many good reasons for this. The pediatric association knows that weight stigma is a problem. And although many doctors still bring up weight in front of children, parents can confidently interrupt and stop such conversations.

don't talk about my child's weight cards

2. Don’t tell my child to “watch” their weight

Tell your doctor not to suggest weight loss – even the seemingly benign “move more/eat less,” which is entirely unhelpful. Additionally, the term “watch your weight” was coined by Weight Watchers, a multi-billion dollar company that profits off weight stigma. There is no medical evidence that “watching” weight is health-promoting. And it can lead to dangerous preoccupation and obsession with weight.

3. Treat my child without bias

Weight bias is unconscious, which is why it’s so damaging in the healthcare setting. Bring it to the forefront by stating openly that you are dedicated to fighting weight bias. By making it open and conscious, you reduce your child’s exposure through thoughtless comments.

You may feel intimidated and uncomfortable advocating for your child in this way, but you simply must. If your child’s doctor is not open to having these discussions with you, then you must find a different doctor. Period.

Fight the good fight

Our children need to learn anti-discrimination practices. These include fighting for the unbiased treatment of people who have marginalized race, sexuality, gender and gender identity, and weight. Since weight stigma is openly promoted in our culture, this is a revolutionary but much-needed act.


Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating disorders and body hate.

She’s the founder of More-Love.org and a Parent Coach who helps parents who have kids with eating disorders and other struggles.


References

[1] Su & Aurelia, Preschool children’s perceptions of overweight peers, Journal of Early Childhood Research, 2011

[2] Gable, Krull, & Chang, Implications of Overweight Onset and Persistence for Social and Behavioral Development Between Kindergarten Entry and Third Grade, Applied Developmental Science, 2009

[3] Gray, Kahhan, & Janicke, Implications of Overweight Onset and Persistence for Social and Behavioral Development Between Kindergarten Entry and Third Grade, 2009

[4] Gunnarsdottir, Njardvik, et al., Teasing and social rejection among obese children enrolling in family-based behavioural treatment: Effects on psychological adjustment and academic competencies, International Journal of Obesity 2012

[5] Hayden-Wade et al., Prevalence, characteristics, and correlates of teasing experiences among overweight children vs. non-overweight peers, Obesity Research, 2005

[6] AW Harrist, TM Swindle, et al, The Social and Emotional Lives of Overweight, Obese, and Severely Obese Children, Child Development, 2016

[7] Puhl, et al., The Role of Stigma in Weight Loss Maintenance Among U.S. Adults, Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 2017

[8] Polivy and Herman, Causes of Eating Disorders, Annual Review of Psychology, 2002

[9] Watkins P., Hugmever A. D., Teaching about eating disorders from a Fat Studies perspective, Transformations, 2012

[10] Van den Berg, Neumark-Sztainer, et al, Racial/ethnic differences in weight-related teasing in adolescents, Obesity, 2008

[11] Reiter-Purtill, Ridel, et al, The benefits of reciprocated friendships for treatment-seeking obese youth, Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 2010

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How to improve teen body image

how to improve teen body image

Do you want to improve teen body image? It’s possible, and every parent can make an impact on their teen’s body image. First, you need to understand that having bad body image is completely understandable given our society. But parents can help!

Here are six things you can do to improve teen body image:

  1. Understand diet culture. This will help you see that dieting and intentional weight loss are products with a 95% failure rate.
  2. Adopt a Health at Every Size philosophy. This states that we should pursue health behaviors without weight loss as a goal.
  3. Stop dieting and controlling your weight. Parents who diet are more likely to have kids who are dissatisfied with their bodies.
  4. Stop speaking badly about your body. Kids pick up on how parents feel about their bodies, and will develop negative body image as a result.
  5. Talk about media literacy. Observe and discuss the impact of traditional and social media on our society.
  6. Monitor social media. Don’t put your head in the sand when it comes to social media. Maintain some oversight into and maintain time limits on social media activity.
body image for girls ebook

There is no way to be “perfect” when attempting to improve teen body image. This is as much an art as a science. But parents can definitely help just by showing up and learning a little bit.

Body hate and an obsession with appearance are not “normal” teenage behaviors

First, we need to address the fact that most people think it is “normal” for teens to feel bad about their bodies. This is especially true for our teenage girls.

We have normalized body hatred and an obsession with appearance in teens. But we must never mistake body hate as “normal,” because such normalization is how eating disorders hide in plain sight.

Normalization is the process through which ideas and actions are made to appear culturally “normal.” The fact that something has been normalized is an entirely different thing than being normal as in “healthy.”

We live in a culture that has normalized body hatred, and poor body image. This includes feelings of despair and anguish over the appearance of one’s body. When we hate our bodies, we believe they are flawed. Believing that the body is flawed, especially when one is physically healthy and able-bodied, makes us vulnerable to body hate, disordered eating, and eating disorders.

What is actually “normal” from a health standpoint is body acceptance. True health occurs not based on a number on the scale. Health is only possible when we believe our body is fundamentally good. We take better care of our bodies when we accept them.

Advertising body hate

Normalization in our culture is driven and controlled by advertisers who are trying to sell products. Rule No. 1 when marketing a product is that we must first create a market. The way we create a market is to create a problem that must be solved.

Advertisers know that marketing a diet that will cause extreme hunger and discomfort is not effective. But marketing a diet that says it will make you more attractive, and then saying that being more attractive is the key to happiness and success, is very effective.

Advertising a skin cream that looks and feels like every other cream on the market is not effective. But advertising a skin cream that says it will make you more attractive, and then saying that being more attractive is the key to happiness and success, is very effective.

This is the formula for all beauty and diet advertisements.

You are not good enough as you are (2)

Marketing messages impact body image

Our children are exposed to powerful marketing messages from childhood. These messages serve to build the market for beauty and diet products. They also pave the way for body hate.

These messages serve to convince our children that their bodies are flawed, and that a person cannot be happy and successful unless they are perfect. This perfection is promised as a result of buying beauty and diet products.

You have flaws.

Marketing is sneaky

Luckily for marketers, none of us thinks that we are easily manipulated. This is especially true of teenagers. We believe that we are pursuing beauty and weight loss for our own reasons.

But it’s not true. We are incredibly susceptible to beauty and diet marketing. Our assertion that we can’t be manipulated by marketing means, ironically, that we are more easily manipulated. We are exposed to these messages and they most definitely influence us. But we assertively deny that they have any influence over our behavior.

Parenting for positive food and body

Social media is bad for body image

Social media is fun. Our teens spend a lot of time on social media. Most parents don’t really know what their kids are doing on social media. We didn’t grow up with social media. A lot of us don’t use social media the way our kids do. Unlike TV, which is easily observed by parents, social media can be hard to monitor and control. This creates a perfect storm for our kids.

Several studies have found that social media has a severe and negative impact on body image. One study found that the more time girls spent on social media, the more likely they were to suffer from body hate, disordered eating, and eating disorders. [1]

Social media feels “real”

One problem with social media is that it feels “real” in a way that traditional media does not. Most of us can dismiss Seventeen magazine models as “fake.” But when we see “real” Instagram influencers our brains believe that we can and should look like them. Since it’s part of our society, social media promotes diet culture and a thin beauty ideal. But it doesn’t feel as toxic as traditional media.

Social media promotes disordered eating

The other problem is that many people use social media to encourage and reinforce disordered eating and eating disorders. Major influencers promote “Skinny” laxative teas, restrictive eating, and over-exercising. Residential eating disorder treatment centers have reported that at least 50% of their patients are using social media to support their eating disorders.

Body image, disordered eating, and eating disorders

Body hatred and an obsession with appearance are both part of the eating disorder behavior spectrum. Those of us who have eating disorders believe that we are flawed and must correct our flaws by restricting food. Once we start restricting food and send our body into starvation mode, we may develop symptoms of restriction including binge eating and purging.

Eating disorders are not always as easy to spot as we think they are. Here are 3 signs of an eating disorder that you may not know.

Parents can improve teen body image

Parents can improve teen body image. We can open our eyes to the powerful forces of advertising and social media, and learn to talk to our kids about body image.

Parents can help our children open their eyes to the idea that their bodies are perfectly fine as-is. We can help them understand that they do not need to shrink, control, alter, or otherwise mess with a body that is already perfect.


Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating disorders and body hate.

She’s the founder of More-Love.org and a Parent Coach who helps parents who have kids with eating disorders and other struggles.


References

[1] Facebook Photo Activity Associated with Body Image Disturbance in Adolescent Girls

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Stop hating fat people, being afraid of getting fat, talking about people being “too fat” and all forms of fatphobia

beautiful woman living in a larger body

We must look carefully at our society’s deep hatred of fat on a personal, societal and political level. We must question ourselves as a society when we openly and loudly criticize 70% of our population. In a society in which it is socially acceptable to ridicule and complain about people who live in larger bodies, our children are suffering from eating disorders at higher rates every year.

Eating disorders are more than fear of fat

Eating disorders have their roots deep in the psyche. They are typically built upon genetic, temperamental, experiential, societal and other factors. Often we see them in conjunction with Anxiety Disorder, Depression, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

But before therapists can work on the deep underlying factors of an eating disorder, they often have to address fatphobia, the fear of getting and/or being fat and the belief that being fat is both a choice and a moral failing.

Most people who have eating disorders are afraid of fat

Many eating disorders begin in a casual pursuit of the “perfect body.” With the media focus in the last decade on the “obesity epidemic,” fatphobia has become an acceptable form of discrimination against a significant portion of our population. Almost everyone feels they are justified in shaming people who live in larger bodies.

Headlines scream at us constantly:

  • The Growing Toll of our ever-expanding waistlines (New York Times)
  • Obesity epidemic at new high, costs $150B a year, hurts military recruiting (Washington Examiner)
  • As America’s waistline expands, costs soar (Reuters)
  • Nearly half of America’s overweight people don’t realize they’re overweight (Washington Post)

People think obesity is a personal failure

Obesity is frequently perceived as a preventable disease brought on by people who gorge themselves on fast food and candy and never exercise. Obesity is seen as something we must “eradicate” and “end forever,” even though, throughout history, and throughout the world, there have always been people who are in larger bodies.

Science has different things to say about obesity than the headlines suggest

Despite all the headlines and everything we believe we “know” about obesity as an “epidemic,” the scientific research suggests that we know very little about the cause of rising human weight, or its direct link to disease and death.

  • People who are overweight or moderately obese live at least as long as normal weight people, and often longer [1, 2, 3, 4].
  • Pooled data for over 350,000 subjects from 26 studies and found overweight to be associated with greater longevity than normal weight [5].
  • Data in the elderly (among whom more than 70 percent of all deaths occur) found no evidence of excess mortality associated with overweight [6].
  • When socioeconomic and other risk factors are controlled for, obesity is not a significant risk factor for mortality; and… for those 55 or older, both overweight and obesity confer a significant decreased risk of mortality.” [7]

Fatphobic headlines get more clicks

The media gains more click-throughs (which is directly linked to revenue income) when they publish articles with a fat bias. Moderate headlines and articles that present a nuanced look at fat do not garner as many clicks/revenue.

The media flagrantly appeals to our fear of fat, and makes gross assumptions, extrapolations and correlations about weight. Headlines are built to draw eyeballs, and rarely reflect the scientific data accurately.

swimsuit models over the years (1)
Even as our waistlines have expanded, the media’s presentation of what is “beautiful” has changed dramatically.

Images of thin, emaciated women and bulked-up, lean men get more clicks than those of people living in average or larger bodies.

When the media drives our perception, and the media is driven by clicks, we must acknowledge irresponsible behavior in relation to fat bias.

Obesity can be linked to the diet industry

The diet industry tells us that each individual is personally responsible for their body weight and has the ability to change it. But remember that the diet industry is a money-making machine that only survives if people continue to gain weight and repeatedly pursue weight loss.

“The first thing is that you can’t believe anything that [the diet industry says]. And that’s by definition, because their job isn’t to tell you the truth — it’s to make money. And they’re allowed to lie,” says Traci Mann, Ph.D., author of Secrets from the Eating Lab, in an interview with the Washington Post.

In fact, for all of the yelling about sedentary lifestyles and fast food consumption, the greatest correlative factor for increased weight may be the size of the diet industry, which has ballooned from $10 billion in 1985 to almost $70 billion in 2012.

The diet industry growth

While the diet industry is seven times larger than it was in 1985, our BMI has increased from 129.9 in 1960 to 152.1 in 2010 (17%). And eating disorders have steadily increased – in both women and men – at the same time.

Hmmm … let’s think about that.

There is no proven cause for obesity

It may surprise you to know this, but even though we all assume that obesity is driven by eating too much and exercising too little, there is no evidence for those factors as being the cause of weight gain.

  • People who have higher BMIs do not eat more calories than people who have average* BMIs.
  • People who have higher BMIs do not exercise less than people who have average* BMIs.

*Given that 70% of the population is “above average” BMI, the word “average” is not actually accurate.

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There is no proven cure for obesity

Even if we did agree with the idea that obesity is the worst thing ever, we do not have a cure for obesity. In 95% of cases, people who have lost weight on a diet have regained the weight plus more within two years (UCLA).

Diets are not a cure for obesity, and they have tremendous potential to cause harm. With no proven “cause” or “cure” for obesity, the vitriol our society places on people who are living in larger bodies is irresponsible and cruel. 

This is known as discrimination

The most common openly-acknowledged and casually repeated discrimination most people engage in is fatphobia. People who live in larger bodies are openly accused of overeating, not exercising, being morally suspect, intellectually inferior, physically disgusting and taking money out of our pockets.

But it goes beyond casual ridicule. Weight bias, stigma, and discrimination is correlated with poor medical care and lower income.

There is a word for this: discrimination.

How fatphobia leads to eating disorders

This agreement to vilify the majority of citizens in our society leads parents to inadvertently hurt their children in a desperate attempt to save them from being “overweight.”

Parents put their children on diets, both openly and surreptitiously. If they accept their child’s “high” body weight, they are attacked in articles like this one: Parents’ Denial Fuels Childhood Obesity Epidemic (New York Times).

The pressure for parents to control their children’s weight is high, and it negatively impacts a child’s self-perception.

And this is how fatphobia feeds the development of eating disorders. The hatred of one’s body is virtually unrecognizable from the hatred of one’s self. And when we hate ourselves, we turn our hatred on our bodies and starve them. Food restriction is the core behavior at the heart of anorexia, binge eating disorder, and bulimia.

Eating disorders are about much more than weight, but we cannot ignore fatphobia as a significant contributing factor in their development. It is at our peril that parents ignore society’s hatred of fat, and we must curb our instinct to judge and ridicule people who live in larger bodies.


Two_Whole_Cakes_C

We recommend the book Two Whole Cakes, by Lesley Kinzel. It is a short and easy read that quickly and without apology explains what it’s like to live in a larger body in our society. The best part is that it’s written from a place of power, not victimhood. Lesley writes about the political, financial, emotional, and spiritual struggles resulting from America’s obsession with weight.

Also consider reviewing: Weight Science: Evaluating the Evidence for a Paradigm Shift, by Linda Bacon and Lucy Aphramor, Nutrition Journal, 2011

And read: Why diets don’t actually work, according to a researcher who has studied them for decades


Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating disorders and body hate.

She’s the founder of More-Love.org and a Parent Coach who helps parents who have kids with eating disorders and other struggles.


[1] Flegal KM, Graubard BI, Williamson DF, Gail MH: Excess deaths associated with underweight, overweight, and obesity. JAMA. 2005, 293: 1861-1867. 10.1001/jama.293.15.1861.

[2] Durazo-Arvizu R, McGee D, Cooper R, Liao Y, Luke A: Mortality and optimal body mass index in a sample of the US population. Am J Epidemiol. 1998, 147: 739-749.

[3] Troiano R, Frongillo E, Sobal J, Levitsky D: The relationship between body weight and mortality: A quantitative analysis of combined information from existing studies. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 1996, 20: 63-75.

[4] Flegal K, Graubard B, Williamson D, Gail M: Supplement: Response to “Can Fat Be Fit”. Sci Am. 2008, 297: 5-6.

[5] McGee DL: Body mass index and mortality: a meta-analysis based on person-level data from twenty-six observational studies. Ann Epidemiol. 2005, 15: 87-97. 10.1016/j.annepidem.2004.05.012.

[6] Janssen I, Mark AE: Elevated body mass index and mortality risk in the elderly. Obes Rev. 2007, 8: 41-59. 10.1111/j.1467-789X.2006.00248.x.

[7] Lantz PM, Golberstein E, House JS, Morenoff J: Socioeconomic and behavioral risk factors for mortality in a national 19-year prospective study of U.S. adults. Soc Sci Med. 2010, 70: 1558-1566. 10.1016/j.socscimed.2010.02.003.

[8] Berrington de Gonzalez A, Hartge P, Cerhan JR, Flint AJ, Hannan L, MacInnis RJ, Moore SC, Tobias GS, Anton-Culver H, Freeman LB, et al: Body-mass index and mortality among 1.46 million white adults. N Engl J Med. 2010, 363: 2211-2219. 10.1056/NEJMoa1000367.

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Preventing eating disorders at school – a printable for parents to share with teachers

Preventing childhood eating disorders is a culture-wide effort, not limited to parents alone. Even if we follow evidence-based eating guidelines in our own homes, our children are still exposed to diet culture and fatphobia when at school, on sports teams, places of worship and at friends’ homes. That’s why it’s so important that as a society we build toolkits to support teachers, religious leaders, physicians, coaches and other parents so they understand what is acceptable food behavior when they are involved in our child’s eating experience.

When it comes to our children’s body acceptance and full health (mental and physical), society can be extremely toxic. Let’s all rise up and start educating people about the dangers of diet culture and fatphobia!

We found this excellent printable that can be given to teachers to help them remember what is (and what is not) their responsibility when it comes to our children’s nutrition. We’ve heard horror stories of well-intentioned teachers telling children to cut back on certain foods, espousing certain diet plans, and even shaming children who bring desserts to school. Such behavior is never OK. We hope that all of us can make an impact on our children’s lives with critical education about boundaries when it comes to diet talk in public spaces.

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Thank you to Elisheva Dorfman, MS, LMFT (email: elimft@gmail.com) and Dina Cohen, MS, RDN, CERD (email: eatwellsoon@gmail.com)

Sources: ellynsatterinstitute.org and thefeedingdoctor.com


Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating disorders and body hate.

She’s the founder of More-Love.org and a Parent Coach who helps parents who have kids with eating disorders and other struggles.

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An eating disorder is not your kid’s fault, and it’s not your fault. More people are getting eating disorders than ever. This is bigger than you, your child, and your family.

Cancer research struggled when it only focused on genetic OR environmental factors. It was reinvigorated with the discovery of epigenetics. This is the understanding that complex external factors can trigger specific gene activation. “Epi” means “on top of.” We may be born with a gene that can cause cancer, but epigenetic research has revealed that it is only when that gene is triggered (and it may never be triggered) that we develop cancer.

The reasons for the gene triggering are many, and can rarely be dissected to a single cause. In this way, you may be born with a gene for breast cancer, but it may be a combination of exposure to certain toxins, the number of pregnancies you have, and your stress levels that actually trigger the expression of breast cancer in your body.

What is epigenetics? “What you eat, where you live, who you interact with, when you sleep, how you exercise, even aging – all of these can eventually cause chemical modifications around the genes that will turn those genes on or off over time. Additionally, in certain diseases such as cancer or Alzheimer’s, various genes will be switched into the opposite state, away from the normal/healthy state.” From WhatisEpigenetics.com

Eating disorders have an “epi” pattern

A child born with a temperament that is highly sensitive, more anxiety- and depression-prone, more perfectionistic, etc. has an inborn predisposition to an eating disorder. But it is the exposure to environmental factors, including trauma, parenting, emotional processing training, bullying, diet messages, fatphobia, and more, that trigger a full-blown eating disorder.

Your child is not the cause of their eating disorder

Your child who has an eating disorder is not making a choice to have an eating disorder. Your child was not born with an eating disorder. Your child was not pre-destined to have an eating disorder. Eating disorders are both preventable and treatable – with full recovery. Your child who has an eating disorder is not responsible for the eating disorder. Your child can fully recover from the eating disorder.

Human genetics have not changed in the past one hundred years, but the incidence of eating disorders has increased dramatically.

You are not the cause of your child’s eating disorder

Parents do not cause eating disorders. Even a parent who put their child on a diet from a young age. Even a parent who talked to their child about losing weight. Even a parent who has an eating disorder. Even a parent who diets constantly. No parent can cause an eating disorder all by themselves. There has to be an underlying genetic component. And then, there is the rest of the environment – the rest of the epigenetic factors – that lead to the development of an eating disorder.

Parenting practices and our understanding of parental influence has improved in the past one hundred years, but the incidence of eating disorders has increased dramatically.

Increasing rates of social pressure to be thin is a significant trigger for eating disorders

We live in a society that is increasingly fatphobic. We cannot go for a walk without seeing a billboard, a bus, a magazine, or a poster promoting the thin ideal. Before we see a doctor, we are weighed. If we are overweight, strangers will stop us on the street to “help” us with our “problem.” Society has decided that individuals who have a higher weight are personally responsible and liable for the choices that led them there. Even though this is factually false. Even though we know that diets fail. Even though we know that 95% of people have no long-term control over their body weight. Our society honors, pushes and promotes eating disorder behavior everywhere.

The messages about losing weight have become dramatically more persistent over the past one hundred years, in strong correlation with the increase in eating disorders.

What is the most likely reason for increasing rates of eating disorders?

Eating disorders of all types are on the rise, and we are seeing eating disorders at much younger, and much older rates than ever before. We are also seeing eating disorders spread from primarily affecting females to also affecting males. Our genetic blueprint has not changed. Our parenting has improved. But our society has changed, and it is only getting worse. The pervasive messages about fearing fat and eliminating fat get worse every year as the diet industry continues to balloon out of control.

The diet industry growth

As an individualistic society, we focus on our ability to control our bodies at our peril. If we don’t have the genetic makeup for a full-blown eating disorder, we simply develop disordered eating – also called chronic dieting. But if we, or our children, have the right genetic makeup, we will develop an eating disorder.

This is why it’s important, as parents navigate eating disorder treatment for their children, to avoid personal blame and shame around eating disorders and instead work to address the toxic fatphobic environment in which we live as a society.


Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating disorders and body hate.

She’s the founder of More-Love.org and a Parent Coach who helps parents who have kids with eating disorders and other struggles.


The rate of development of new cases of eating disorders has been increasing since 1950 (Hudson et al., 2007; Streigel-Moore &Franko, 2003; Wade et al., 2011).

There has been a rise in the incidence of anorexia in young women 15-19 in each decade since 1930 (Hoek& van Hoeken, 2003).

The incidence of bulimia in 10-39-year-old women tripled between 1988 and 1993 (Hoek& van Hoeken, 2003).

More information about increasing rates of eating disorders can be found on the NEDA Website.

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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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Speak up about fat shaming when you’re with your kids

stop fat shaming when you are with your child

Eating disorders are complex illnesses, layered with elements of genetics, society, emotional resilience, environment, and more. We can’t prevent all of the layers, but as parents, we have a powerful opportunity to address as many as we possibly can.

Almost all children who develop eating disorders report a sense of needing to be thinner. Their disorder tells them that weight loss will result in them being a better, more attractive, and more lovable person.

Even if in your own home you have been able to maintain a body-neutral environment that honors body diversity and avoids tying morality to body shape, every time you leave the house, your child is bombarded by fat-shaming messages. From billboards to bus stops and next to the candy in the supermarket checkout aisle, your child is constantly getting overt messages that only one body type (thin) is acceptable.

We can’t control the advertising messages our children are exposed to, but we can control the conversation we have with them about what is appropriate messaging around body diversity.

Lecturing to kids about fat shaming might not be very helpful, but there are many ways that you can insert ideas into their heads without lecturing. We like to just make a comment every time we see fat shaming messages. Our kids groan, but they still hear us. We don’t need to force them to discuss this topic with us, but just the act of speaking up, and actively disagreeing with all of the public messages about weight loss can make a big impact on our kids. Here are some examples:

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“How annoying – four white women, of which three are blonde, and all are skinny. Way to go, diversity! It really bothers me that they put this stuff right next the the candy. It’s like: feel bad about yourself, now eat a bunch of sugar. WTF?”

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“Ummmm … lady, you should breathe. For goodness sake! You look practically dead!”

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“Why do those people look like robots? And who forced the robots to wear bikinis? For goodness sake, it’s disturbing!”

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“That doesn’t even make sense! We don’t eat whales, so why would going vegetarian save whales? Also, I know a lot of vegetarians who have all sorts of body types. Vegetarianism is not about weight loss, people!”

The most important part is not actually what you say, but the fact that you present an active voice against fat shaming in our society.


Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating disorders and body hate.

She’s the founder of More-Love.org and a Parent Coach who helps parents who have kids with eating disorders and other struggles.