I was once anorexic. My eating disorder was prompted by various situations I encountered as a collegiate student-athlete. First, my peers around me gained weight from college life, and then became determined to lose the excess fat. After observing my teammates exercise excessively, I, with a competitive nature, followed their lead. When my friend began eliminating meals from her daily diet, I joined in. Following practice, I noticed a teammate studying her body in the mirror; so I looked at mine.
At that time, the popular diet fad was to only consume fat free foods. I had never been exposed to diets, weight loss pills, or even scales. I was an innocent, college freshman, being exposed to a prevalent, negative life issue. Unfortunately, this issue is being absorbed by girls at a much younger age. 9 Common Mistakes Parents Make About Their Kid’s Weight is an excellent article about how society perpetuates a negative message to our children about body weight, image, and the thin ideal. In fact, it states that a recent study of 111 girls was conducted, and revealed that by age 5, 50% of these kids had internalized the thin ideal.
Eating disorders are caused by a combination of many factors, including behavioral, social, psychological, biological, and genetic components. Between observing our peers, reading the media, and browsing magazines, we all eventually develop a complex about our body type. Therefore, as adults, teachers, and parents, it is our obligation to model positive self-esteem and body image, verbally and non verbally.
My eating disorder started naively, by reducing my portion sizes, eating “healthier,” and training often. As I noticed what I considered to be positive results, I further eliminated more and more foods from my diet. It became a game; how little could I eat and how much could I exercise. My beginning goal of just being “healthier and more fit” progressed to an unhealthy, suffering anorexic girl.
As I click on my Facebook app multiple times a day, and refresh my newsfeed, one image continuously recurs: the 21-day fix diet and Beachbody messages. Though I understand the positive effects it is having on many lives, it is extremely paralyzingly to that of a recovered anorexic, and to that of a fellow mom, friend, and blog follower. When I received this message from her, I couldn’t help but sympathize with her, others, and particularly our youth.
This young mom of two children stated, “I had always hoped that by the time I was an adult and a mom, I wouldn’t have to be bombarded by more diet fads and competition among women and their bodies. It makes me sad and angry that we are still contributing to and, ultimately, perpetuating the ongoing struggle women have with positive and healthy body image. Social media and the selfie culture has just exacerbated this. Here we are claiming to be teaching our children to have unconditional love and respect for their bodies, yet at the same time, we are taking half-naked pictures of ourselves, drinking shakes, measuring our food in containers, and trying to achieve the “fix.”
The constant image of a topless dieter taking a selfie in front of a bathroom mirror conveys a powerful, yet negative message about body image and weight; that we must attain a certain waist size in order to be considered attractive. Under the images, I always notice the same comment: “You look great! Keep it up.” Are we saying that he or she didn’t look great before they began their strict diet and regimen? And to keep on losing more, because the more you lose, the better you will look?
Health should be a way of life, including diet and exercise. The unattainable attempt of becoming skinny and tall, the body type we declare as “ideal,” naturally sets many up for failure. With failure comes low self-esteem, which then results in negative body image.
For me, personally, I struggle with Beachbody and the 21-day fix because of my experience with anorexia. What happens if a person goes on a diet AND has a genetic predisposition that if triggered, can lead to a full-blown eating disorder? Or, because you are driven, competitive, and high achieving, you are susceptible to developing anorexia? Unfortunately, these fad diets are not marked with an asterisk and footnote that says, “keep away if…”
It took me years of psychotherapy to overcome such a disorder; to eat in a healthy manner, exercise adequately, and accept my body. Unfortunately, I was affected by outside influences; diet fads, insecurities, body image issues, and weight stigma. Therefore, I am here reaching out to you, to eliminate this component as a potential contributor to the development of an eating disorder in another young, innocent girl. We must love and accept our bodies, embrace different shapes and sizes, and model a healthy, balanced lifestyle.