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Befriending Your Body

Updated: Jun 2, 2021

Today marks World Eating Disorders Action Day, an independent, grassroots effort that started in 2015 to "link affected people and countries together in a united effort to improve the understanding about eating disorders and offer hope, solutions, and change."

This year's theme is Equity for Eating Disorders, which focuses on recognizing all forms of eating disorders equally and striving for equity among underrepresented groups.

As a clinician, I've learned that so many people have distorted, unkind views and opinions about their bodies—and its reach is far and wide. Women of all ages and social locations have admitted to experiencing horrific, nasty thoughts about their bodies, and heterosexual, cisgender men have shared similar experiences—something I was surprised to learn given that this population is seldom associated with this presenting concern.

There aren't only one million Canadians who have a diagnosis for an eating disorder according to the National Initiative for Eating Disorders, but eating disorders have the highest overall mortality rate of any mental illness with estimates between 10 - 15%. (Suicide is the second leading cause of death.) In other words, if left untreated, its consequences can be fatal.

So without further ado, today's post is about how to befriend your body in small yet impactful ways so that a healthier relationship can develop between your mental and physical health.

  1. Educate yourself.

So much of crap out there about nutrition, fitness, and weight loss is just that—crap. Here's what we do know:

  • Dieting doesn't work. In fact, research suggests that 80% of people who lose a significant amount of weight do not maintain their weight loss for 12 months. They're also more likely to gain more than half of what they lost within two years. Dieting doesn't work for a number of reasons:

  • Dieting has been shown to significantly reduce one's leptin levels, our body's satiety-inducing hormone, which means that we feel hungrier more often, increasing our likelihood to eat more and eventually gain weight.

  • When we diet, our body's basal metabolic rate—or the amount of energy we use when we're simply resting—slows, decreasing the amount of calories we burn in a day.

  • When we're dieting, there are actually neurological changes that cause us to become more obsessed and fixated on food. This is precisely why people with eating disorders find themselves in a vicious cycle of obsessing about calories/food, which causes them to restrict themselves, which makes them become even more fixated on calories and food.

2. Be mindful of how your social circle and/or social media pages are affecting your relationship with your body.

The fact that someone's body is used as conversation piece in today's world astounds me. Young teenage girls have told me about their parents encouraging them to go on a diet even though they're completely healthy. Others will share stories of getting together with friends and having entire conversations about what's wrong with their bodies for hours. In what world do we think these are the ingredients for helping each other develop healthy, kind, good-willed relationships with our physical bodies?

And don't even get me started on social media. If I had a nickel for every time someone told me about how bad they felt about themselves after seeing some Instagram influencer posing in a bikini, I'd be a millionaire. We forget to take so many things into account when comparing ourselves to influencers though, including (but not limited to) the following facts:

  • Influencers very frequently edit the living hell out of their photos, similarly to how magazine pictures are overzealously photoshopped

  • Influencers, personal trainers, nutritionists, and the like literally make a living off of how they look a lot of the time, making it much easier, convenient, and understandable that they are prioritizing eating clean and working out in ways that the general public cannot

  • You have no idea if someone is achieving their physique in healthy ways. For all you know, they could be starving themselves, binging and purging, or engaging in very restrictive and disordered eating patterns

The point is this: take some time to consider how your social circles and/or social media accounts are affecting your relationship with your body. If you discover that there are particular people, places, or circumstances that regularly trigger disordered thoughts or habits, it might be time to set some boundaries or find some new friends. As I tell a lot of my patients: nothing is worth your mental health.

3. Learn about intuitive eating.