I am sure that most of us know someone who is so dissatisfied with their body shape, weight and/or size that they have – at one point or another – struggled in the conflicting ideals of pathological dieting and nourishing themselves enough to sustain daily activities. Many people even begin to engage in disordered eating behaviors such as abusing diet pills, powders, and other supplements or using unhealthy purging behaviors all in pursuit of the “perfect” body..
While we know that eating disorders can develop from interplay of biological, psychological and environmental factors that are often beyond our control, there are many risk factors that we can actively work to minimize – and even prevent – including body dissatisfaction. We can embody prevention by practicing strategies -not just with children and adolescents in mind -but in our daily encounters with people of all ages.
Here are three ways to embody prevention:
1. Become media literate, and help others to do so, too. We all need to practice thinking critically about the messages advertisers are pressing upon us. Remember these things: a. The images we see are often manipulated and manufactured for maximum appeal -they are designed to make us feel that we need to improve ourselves. After all, their aim is to sell us the remedy! b. We need to be skeptical about the claims they make about their product. Ads are founded on false claims (read the fine print!), but packaged to us in a way that capitalizes on our insecurities. c. It is acceptable, and sometimes necessary, to turn away from the screen and make your own decisions about what you need to be happy and “enough.”
2. Become aware of weight and size prejudice, and work to decrease and eliminate it. a. Intervene on bullying and teasing. Resist engaging in weight-based jokes. b. Take steps to insure individuals of all sizes and shapes are accommodated in the spaces you inhabit (i.e. chairs appropriate for larger bodies and exercise classes for all abilities. (For more information and ideas, visit their website) c. Know that health and illness occur at every size. Try not to make assumptions about wellness based on size and shape (for more information, click here)
3. Honor yourself and others. a. Try not to complain about your body or its parts (or the body or parts of others). It’s hard to feel good when surrounded by negativity and judgement. b. Dress your body in clothing that fits your body, your style and makes you feel good. Resist the urge to fit yourself into trends. Celebrating yourself paves the way for others to do so, too. c. Avoid talking about diets and categorizing foods or behavior related to food as being “good” or “bad.” Food being granted moral qualities and discussions about restrictive diets can increase physical and emotional struggles for yourself and others. Be very aware of what you say – even to yourself.
By embodying prevention, we take steps to decrease body dissatisfaction in ourselves and in others. Thank you in advance for the part you play in making the world a more welcoming place for all of us!
For more information on how you can get involved in preventing eating disorders, check out our non-profit affiliate Foundation for Research and Education in Eating Disorders (FREED) here!
Stephanie Haines, M.Ed., CHES, is the prevention education specialist at FREED. Her role is to provide prevention education to school communities including students, teachers and administrators regarding eating disorders, body image and related topics. Before joining FREED, Stephanie was a Senior Prevention Specialist at FCD: Prevention Works!, part of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation located in Newton, MA. Here, she provided substance abuse prevention education to students on 5 continents. She continues her work with FCD by training school personnel in prevention strategies. Earlier in her career she was a licensed certified occupational therapy assistant in New Hampshire. Stephanie is a member of the National Wellness Institute and is a member of a number of training and prevention-focused committees.
Stephanie earned her master’s degree from Plymouth State University in New Hampshire, where she served as a graduate assistant to Margaret Burckes-Miller, founder and director of the university’s Eating Disorders Institute. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Granite State College and an associate’s degree from New Hampshire Technical College.