Disordered Eating

Eating disorders and body image are tough subjects to broach. How you feel about your body is extremely personal and can cause a lot of negative emotions for some people. In fact, according to National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD), 9% of people in the U.S. will have an eating disorder in their lifetime. This statistic does not include undiagnosed individuals, or individuals who only exhibit select symptoms.

Some symptoms to look out for are as follows:

  • Obsessing over controlling food intake, weight, calories, etc.
  • Restrictions against whole categories of food
  • Uncomfortable eating around others
  • Food rituals
  • Skipping meals or taking small portions of food
  • Withdrawal from usual friends and activities
  • Extreme concern with body size and shape
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Frequent checking in the mirror for perceived flaws in appearance

If you recognize any of these symptoms in yourself or others, it is important to assess whether professional help is needed and what coping skills can be implemented into daily life to curb some of the intrusive thoughts

You can use creative activities or simply talk through some topics such as:

  • How do I feel about my body
  • What my body does for me
  • What can I do for my body
  • Positive words to say about my body
  • How to keep my body strong
  • Create a positive affirmation/mantra to repeat
  • Things that hurt my body

There’s a lot of stigma surrounding disordered eating behaviors as well. To combat this, the recommended approaches are body positivity or body neutrality. There are benefits to both approaches as well as drawbacks. Commonly, especially in clinical settings, body neutrality is encouraged. This means seeing the body as an aspect of you as a person but not one with a good or bad connotation.

Throughout these activities and conversations, it is also important to be careful of what language is used. Eating disorders are heavily related to control. Those exhibiting symptoms are likely trying to feel like they have the reigns over something, in this case, their body and food intake.

Words that take away this autonomy are generally subjective and absolute, such as “good” or “bad.” If a food someone is consuming is labeled as “bad,” that may lead to feelings of insecurity about loosing control over their health. On the opposite end, if it is labeled as “good,” then their need to restrict themselves to things that fall under that label enables the toxic cycle of thinking. Other terms to avoid are fat/skinny, healthy/unhealthy, normal/abnormal, etc.

Overall, even without someone showing symptoms, it is important to never comment on their body or food. Commentary, even if well-intentioned, can have a negative impact. Hopefully, with enough intervention and awareness, the prominence of eating disorders can be diminished over time. For now, we as individuals can do our part by not passing judgement and extending empathy to those around us.

If you feel you may exhibit symptoms of an eating disorder, you can reach out to NEDA at 800-931-2237 via call or text.

Karina-MarquezWritten by Karina Marquez on April 12, 2023.

Karina is a recent psychology graduate at St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa. She has experience in various research fields, having worked with St. Ambrose’s School of Social Work and some of SAU’s great professors. She also has experience volunteering at Fairmount Pines and Edison Academy, two Quad City-based locations dedicated to helping at-risk children and teenagers. Additionally, she’s worked closely with college-age populations on mediation and problem-solving techniques through Residence Life. Some of her hobbies include painting, reviewing movies, and reading poetry. Karina is excited to learn from Heart & Solutions now that she’s joined the team and extremely grateful for the opportunity to benefit the area surrounding her alma mater.