According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, approximately 1 million Canadians meet the criteria of a diagnosable eating disorder (like Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, and Binge Eating Disorder). However, disordered eating affects many more Canadians. For example, approximately one in five teenagers are “on a diet” at any given time. Research is showing that children under 10 can have body image issues that impact their confidence and self-esteem.
What is Disordered Eating
Disordered eating is a spectrum of behaviours, often defined as involving a preoccupation with food, calories, exercise, and weight. It usually means restricting calories, carbohydrates, or other food groups in hopes of changing our body size. Disordered eating also typically involves immense feelings of guilt or shame about things like eating “off plan” or experiencing weight gain.
Disordered eating can be pretty dangerous. Depending on the duration and intensity of the behaviours, it can cause enormous damage to our physical and mental health.
Disordered eating is a complex issue, but there are some things we can do to support someone who may
1. Learn about diet culture
Disordered eating is rooted in diet culture and fatphobia, meaning the belief that “fat is bad” and “thinner is better” no matter what the cost. And the cost is high – folks will sacrifice nutrition, mental and emotional well-being, social activities, fun and pleasurable eating experiences, and sometimes even organ function in pursuit of thinness. The reality is that we are all built differently and are not all meant to be a certain size. There are many factors at play in why our bodies are the sizes and shapes that they are, and many studies are finding that controlling our weight and size through our food intake and exercise is not really possible.
If you’d like to learn more, the Association for Size Diversity has a great video called Poodle Science that you can access here: https://youtu.be/H89QQfXtc-k
2. If we have a friend or loved one who is struggling with disordered eating, it is important for us to focus on things about them that aren’t their weight or appearance
Even reassuring someone that they aren’t fat reinforces those diet culture messages that it’s “bad” to be fat. Non-appearance based compliments are a good place to start. What do you value about your friend as a person? What are some of the things you like to do with them? Maybe they are funny or creative. Maybe they are very thoughtful and caring. Consider ways of helping to build them up and celebrate themselves apart from their weight or appearance.
3. Reach out for support if needed
Check out the list of resources at oaksmentalhealth.ca/free-resources, or attend our presentation on Supporting People with Disordered Eating.