Taking A Look At Disordered Eating In Our Youth
It is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, which is a time to focus on helping families and communities gain knowledge about the risk factors that impact the people they love. Why is disordered eating on the rise among our youth and how can we work to shift these young peoples perceptions so to prevent a full blown eating disorder? This is truly possible and begins with understanding how our language and thinking can negatively impact our relationship with food and our bodies.
I could discuss many risk factors, but one of the first things I tackle with my clients who are struggling with disordered eating is helping them discover and become more aware of the everyday language they use to talk about / describe food and the eating process. The following language is very powerful, so please take time to pause and reflect before moving on:
How often do find yourself saying (thinking) the following: “I was doing so ‘good’ with my food until I ate this ‘bad’ thing,” or “Let’s be ‘bad’ and eat this brownie,” or make the comment to someone, “You’re being so ‘healthy’ for eating that salad.” Although the word “good,” “bad,” and “healthy” are not necessarily meant to be judgmental or critical towards oneself or the person eating a salad for dinner, they are a deceptive way your language and how you think about food sets up a rigid and anxiety-filled relationship with it. Even more, the wording suggests that you should be more restrictive and feel guilt and shame if you eat outside the boundaries of what’s considered “healthy.”
I truly believe the word “healthy” has created a monster in our culture. It is such a loaded word and it forces people to think in such extremes ways. What do I mean? Well, if you are not eating “healthy” then it means you are eating “unhealthy,” or it divides food into “good” and “bad” categories. This is how my clients initially speak to me and how they relate to food…and their bodies. I also hear it in how my younger clients talk about going to the gym. They say things like, “I worked out every day this week for two hours, which made me feel really good about myself because last week I was bad and worked out only 3 days!” Whatever happened to teaching our kids about moderation? The grays of life exist in moderation.
My mission in my San Diego eating disorder practice is to begin to help you LIVE in the grays, offering you specific strategies to do so. The more that you begin to practice doing things differently (no matter how small the step), you begin changing how you truly think about your relationship with food and your body, later leading to how you perceive food. Once you have a true perceptual shift it means you change how you see things, and how you see things determines what you will do ultimately. With each new experience or discovery you make, you are on your way to increasing the probability of approaching food in the grays.
This is such a critical point, because no one can live in extremes for very long and it usually ends up making you feel really bad about yourself. Think about it, if you describe something as “good” then you are saying that if you don’t follow it through, you are “bad.” How often do you feel bad and guilty after trying to be so good with food? A wise woman once said, “There are no unhealthy foods, but unhealthy ways of relating to food and the eating process.”
Let’s try to change this mentality / pattern of thinking and set a goal to begin to help our youth live more in the grays.