Weight and Eating Disorders, Plus Food, Diets, Body Image & Exercise

Weight and eating disorders are often directly linked, in that we assume that someone who has an eating disorder has the profile that we most frequently see in the media: a very thin, fragile white woman. It’s important to know that weight is a deeply flawed indicator of eating disorders, as are race and gender. Eating disorders are much more than Anorexia.

body weight eating disordersMost people who have eating disorders do not “look” like they have an eating disorder. For most of us, weight and eating disorders are not clearly related, though many of us will fluctuate both up and down in weight when we have an eating disorder. Additionally, while “weight restoration” is a critical first step of treatment for anorexia nervosa in which the person is medically underweight, a particular weight will never indicate full recovery from an eating disorder, since eating disorders go far beyond weight-based measurements. If weight and eating disorders are firmly linked in your mind, then you are looking at an incomplete picture.

Eating disorders are complex mental disorders that involve behavioral symptoms of starving, binge eating, and purging. Psychological symptoms of eating disorders include an obsession with body size, shape, and weight, and an obsession with food. Once the body-based symptoms are relieved and in remission, most people continue recovery in an effort to internalize the following concepts:

Weight and Eating Disorders

To recover from an eating disorder, we must learn that our weight is not a reflection of who we are as a person. Weight and eating disorders are tied because we misunderstand the psychological nature of eating disorders. We must understand that trying to control our weight results in serious negative health complications. We must learn to accept and love ourselves regardless of our body weight.

Diets and Eating Disorders

To recover from an eating disorder, we must learn that diets 1) result in higher weight long-term; 2) trigger high levels of stress hormones, which damage our health; 3) lead directly to eating disorders. Since dieting is culturally accepted, and everything you just read flies in the face of what we “know,” it’s very important to become educated about diet culture and its attendant dangers while in eating disorder recovery.

Food and Eating Disorders

It seems like every week brings with it a new “superfood” or other messages that directly ties the specific food we put in our bodies with our “goodness.” A new wave of “non-diet dieticians” are gaining traction with the counter-message that all food is good food. To recover from an eating disorder, we must take the power away from food. Food is not good or bad. We are not better people when we eat certain foods vs. other foods.

Body Image and Eating Disorders

We are in a dangerous time in history in which the body’s appearance is directly linked to a person’s perceived health and wellness, both of which are linked to a person’s innate goodness. The false image of a perfect body achieved through perfect living is a lie that leads directly to eating disorders. To recover from an eating disorder, we must learn to recognize the dangerous body image standards that are pushed on us by friends, family, and the media.

Exercise and Eating Disorders

For many years, the fitness industry has told us that if we exercise, we will lose weight. Since we have a cultural obsession with weight loss, many people learned to exercise to extreme measures with the goal of losing weight. Aside from the fact that we should not try to lose weight, there is no scientific evidence showing that exercise leads to weight loss. It is definitely good and healthy for many reasons to exercise, but to recover from an eating disorder, we must actively reject the idea that exercise will help us shape or control our bodies. Instead, we must pursue joyful movement that makes us feel good both in the short- and long-term.

Weight and Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are complex and involve all sorts of ingredients, including genetics, environment, society, personality and more. But almost all people who have an eating disorder also struggle with their weight.

This is why it’s so important for us to learn the true facts about weight and obesity, and understand that the fear of weight and obesity should not be a concern for parents, children, healthcare providers, teachers, or anyone who thinks they “know” that excess weight must be avoided at all costs.

FACT SHEET: Weight & Obesity

Diets and Eating Disorders

Most eating disorders begin with a diet. That doesn’t mean that eating disorders are just diets – they are much, much more. But at the same time, as parents, we must carefully look at the culture in which we live, which is decidedly diet-oriented and fatphobic, and determine ways in which we can avoid having our children go on a diet – ever. Learn the true facts about diets and weight loss, and why you and the people you love should never, ever diet.

FACT SHEET: Diets & Weight Loss

Food and Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are about much more than food, and yet food and eating are at the center of our eating disorders. Food and eating – how much we eat, when we eat, how we eat, and more, is at the heart of our disorder.

It may surprise you to know that the best thing parents can do about food during eating disorder treatment is to reduce their focus on food. Except in specific cases (typically anorexia nervosa, the least-common but most-deadly eating disorder), often the parents should focus on building connection and belonging with their children and let eating-disorder-trained nutritionists and therapists focus on the food part of the disorder.

At the same time, parents need to be aware that there are some troubling diets cloaked in a shroud of “healthy living” and morality that can be hijacked by a person who has an eating disorder and used to restrict entire categories of food. These include “clean eating,” vegetarianism, sugar-free, vegan, gluten-free and other highly-restrictive diets. Parents should work with their child’s treatment team to help a child who has an eating disorder process the driving factors behind these diets.

Body Image and Eating Disorders

Exercise and Eating Disorders