Charles Benayon

Founder & CEO of Aspiria


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Eating Disorders: What You Need To Know

As someobelly-2354_960_720ne who has worked in the mental health field for 30 years, I’m no stranger to working with clients who have suffered from eating disorders. This past week was Eating Disorder Awareness Week, a time dedicated to reducing the stigma associated with eating disorders and creating awareness about the mental health issue that affects approximately 1 million Canadians every year.

So what exactly is an eating disorder? In simple terms, an eating disorder is a mental health issue that leaves individuals completely pre-occupied with their weight. However, according to The Canadian Mental Health Association, eating disorders are not just about food. They are often a way to cope with difficult problems or regain a sense of control. They are complicated disorders that affect a person’s sense of identity, worth and self-esteem.

Unsurprisingly, eating disorders are most common in females. A recent report found that 3% of Canadian women will suffer from an eating disorder in their lifetime. This can happen for a number of reasons. Female body image is constantly critiqued in popular culture, and as a result, women are more likely to develop disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia in an effort to control their weight.

While eating disorders are more common in females, body image issues impact males as well. Men are exposed to a similar level of body critique, mainly that they need to be muscular and strong. This kind of societal pressure can result in men developing eating disorders or taking hormones like steroids to increase their muscle mass. Steroid use, like an eating disorder, also has a long-term negative impact on a person’s health.

Effects of eating disorders may not always be apparent. For example, anorexia sufferers generally have a very low body mass index (BMI), but people suffering from bulimia often maintain a relatively stable body weight. Here are some tips on how you can identify if a friend or employee is suffering from an eating-related mental health issue.

  • Food obsession
    It’s important to note when someone begins to obsess about food, for example, constantly counting calories or eliminating large groups of “bad” foods from their diet, especially if this was never a topic of conversation before.
  • Excessive exercise
    Physical activity is part of a healthy lifestyle, but when you begin to notice someone is taking his or her gym routine to the next level it can be cause for concern. People with eating disorders often attempt to “work-off” the bad calories they have consumed after a binge, to the point where they are putting their bodies through physical discomfort.
  • Body image issues.
    While losing weight can be a side effect of an eating disorder, it can also increase the level of anxiety a person may have towards their body. Even though they may be losing weight, someone suffering from an eating disorder might wear baggy clothes to cover up their body. Take notice if someone in your life begins expressing dissatisfaction with his or her body more frequently.
  • Depression.
    Symptoms of eating disorders often mimic the symptoms of depression due to the lack of energy, low morale and lack of sufficient sleep the disease causes. People suffering from eating disorders tend to isolate themselves from groups, especially if food is involved. If you notice someone exhibiting symptoms of depression while showing signs of negative body image or food obsession, it could be cause for concern.

The impact of any eating disorder can be devastating. From restricting the body of food to choosing to binge eat and then purge, eating disorders can wreak havoc on a person’s physical and mental health. Short-term effects include poor digestion, kidney issues, anxiety and depression while long-term issues include infertility in women or death as a result of malnutrition.

Whether you’re a parent, a teacher, employer or friend, it’s important to know how to spot the signs of an eating disorder so if someone you know is impacted, you can help. Confronting someone about an eating-related mental health issue is difficult, but it’s important to get your loved one the help they need before they cause irreparable damage.

If you or someone you know is suffering from an eating disorder, it’s important to get help. Contact your EAP or SAP provider for assistance, or speak to a medical professional.

For more advice on this issue, visit The National Eating Disorder Information Centre or CAMH.

 

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Spring: The Season to Discuss Healthy Body Image

stock-footage-woman-running-and-jumping-on-the-beach-slow-motionIt seems as though the warmer weather is finally here to stay, and as the temperature rises, the winter clothing layers are coming off to make way for summer clothes. As the layers come off, however, there is perhaps a slightly uncomfortable yet familiar self-consciousness that comes along with showing more skin in the summer months. Body image issues are prevalent among all demographics and genders, and summer weather is often when advertisements and other images in the media bring to light our body insecurities.

We know that media and print advertising does not leave very much room for imperfection, with photoshop and body enhancement surgeries widely available. We are being sold an idea of beauty and handsomeness based on impossible standards that we compare our own bodies to. Many of us, perhaps unconsciously, spend money in an attempt to meet these unrealistic and unnatural standards – why else would we spend millions of dollars on things like teeth whitening products, hair dye, diet foods, body-building supplements, plastic surgery, and gym memberships?

So, what is a healthy body image? The topic was trending in social media recently when young video blogger and musician, Meghan Tonjes, posted a photo to Instagram that aimed to celebrate her weight loss journey and the photo-sharing app removed the photo, claiming it violated its community standards surrounding nudity. Disappointed and confused, Tonjes believed her photo and account  were targeted because her plus-sized figure did not fall into the very narrow standards of beauty set by society.  Tonjes’ eloquently argued video response garnered praise from folks all over North America, where she said she would not be apologizing for her body and if her photo violated Instagram’s community guidelines, then so did many others, regardless of their body size.

Instead of focusing on what we need to do or buy to make our bodies more perfect, how can we improve our body image?

  1. Separating body image from self-esteem: Body image is the mental picture you have of your body and how you see your body, while self-esteem is how you value and respect yourself as a person. Regardless of your body size or how you perceive your body, people with high self-esteem understand that they are good and valuable people regardless of their body size.
  1. Appreciating your body for what  it  can do: We are often so focused on what our body cannot do – lose weight, gain muscle, firm up – that we forget all the glorious things it can do: walk, run, jump, lift things, dance, hug our loved ones etc. Remembering all that our body allows us to do will help us on the road to being more appreciative and less critical of it.
  1. Treat our body to healthy foods: No – I’m not necessarily talking about a diet, because we will always turn to the  negative when we feel deprived of something, like our favourite foods. Try instead, to look at food as fuel and that you are doing your body a service by eating healthy and nutrient-rich foods.
  1. Avoid body shaming: Because the media tells us to strive towards an ideal of attractiveness that is nearly impossible to attain, we are prone to speak to our bodies negatively and be critical of other people’s bodies too. Try to stop yourself from this train of thought and instead of looking for imperfections in bodies, search for things you appreciate, like a beautiful smile.

 

The human body is a miracle:  it is created in a way that allows us to carry out all of life’s activities.  Of course we want our bodies to look their best, but ultimately, what matters is how you feel about your body outside of the unrealistic standards that have been set for us by the beauty industry, Hollywood, and, the media.

How have you seen unrealistic expectations of body image portrayed in the media? How else can you appreciate your body and work towards a healthy body image? I look forward to your thoughts below.