The Center for Eating Disorders Blog

A Focus on Body Image & Eating Disorders in Boys & Men for #menshealthmonth

“Get Lean in 2017”
“Shrink Your Gut,”
“Add Bulk To Your Arms”
“Get Rock Hard Abs,”

These are just a few of the typical headlines that can be seen on fitness and “health” magazines geared towards men. While there has been fairly widespread awareness cultivated around the media’s negative impact on women’s body image, not as much attention has been paid to how the media targets men and boys with similar body shaming tactics.

Our culture in general, and the media specifically, often pushes women to lose, lose, lose so they can be smaller, thinner and closer to an elusive definition of “perfect” but the opposite message is often being pushed towards men; most advertising and traditional media suggests the male quest for perfection requires they be bigger, stronger and more muscular.  Products previously peddled exclusively towards women – hair removal items, weight loss diets, tanning products, and plastic surgery – are expanding their markets by making men take a harder, longer and much more critical look at their own appearance.

A 2016 review of five national studies found that 20 to 40 percent of men were unhappy with some aspect of their looks, including physical appearance, weight, and muscle size and tone. An earlier study found that college aged men who viewed media images of muscular men showed a significantly greater discrepancy between their own perceived muscularity (what they think they look like) and their ideal body (what they feel they should look like). The researchers suggested their results could show that even brief exposure to such idealized images can increase body dissatisfaction in men.

Despite this ongoing push for men to get bigger and stronger, over the last decade we’ve also seen the juxtaposition of thinner versions of masculinity.  You can see it when looking at modern male mannequins with impossibly small waists and very slim – yet sculpted – abdomens and legs.  Conflicting body ideals abound. So what is the message after all…get bigger, but stay lean? Be muscular, but still fit in those trendy skinny jeans? It’s mind numbing to try and understand, and even more impossible to attain, yet these are the messages that boys are forced to decipher from a very young age and often continue to wrestle with into adulthood and middle age.

Given all of this, it isn’t that surprising a 2014 study of more than five thousand males aged 12 to 18 years found nearly 18 percent of boys are highly concerned about their weight and physique. Of the boys who were highly concerned with their weight, about half were worried only about gaining more muscle, and approximately a third were concerned with both thinness and muscularity simultaneously.

It’s important to note that, as is also the case with females, photoshopped advertisements and a general lack of diversity in the media’s representation of bodies does not in and of itself cause eating disorders. Eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder are complex illnesses with genetic and biologic underpinnings. However, environmental triggers such as narrow or unrealistic body ideals in the media can contribute to increased levels of body dissatisfaction which has been identified as a risk factor for eating disorders.

Dealing with unhealthy media messages is something that almost every man will have to deal with. As is also the case with girls and women, the dangers lie in the drastic steps some boys and men may take to try to manage increasing body image anxiety. Guys who are more dissatisfied with their bodies may be more likely to engage in risky weight loss, bulking or sculpting behaviors such as extremely restrictive diets, cleanses, steroids, supplements or excessive exercise. These are unhealthy and potentially dangerous behaviors for anyone.  However, in boys and men who are genetically at risk for eating disorders, these types of behaviors can set the stage for an eating disorder, triggering changes in the brain, disrupting metabolic functioning, dysregulating hunger/fullness cues and often worsening body image, mood and anxiety symptoms. Boys and men who have a history of trauma, are involved in sports or careers that promote weight loss and perfection, and those with close family members with a history of an eating disorder are also at higher risk for developing one themselves.

Eating disorders have long been miscategorized as purely a women’s issue, even by some healthcare professionals. As a result it’s quite common for major warning signs like excessive exercise or drastic changes to diet to be overlooked or even congratulated in men. Stigma and stereotypes in the eating disorders combine to make it difficult for men who are stuck in the cycle of disordered eating to break out of it and get help. It is suggested that 25-40% of people with eating disorders are men, yet they only make up about 10% of people seeking treatment.

Talking openly about eating disorders can help minimize shame and embarrassment for males struggling with these issues. At The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt, we’ve been treating men with eating disorders for more than twenty-five years and we’re encouraged by the changes we hear in the conversations more recently. More men have been speaking out locally and using national platforms to raise awareness. In just the last year, Zayn Malik of the band One Direction discussed his struggle with an eating disorder and anxiety, performer/songwriter Matthew Koma wrote a poignant blog about his recovery from anorexia, and Joey Julius, a football player at Penn State, made a series of public statements regarding his decision to seek treatment for binge eating disorder. Their messages all point to a resounding hopefulness stemming from the reality that treatment is available and men can heal from their eating disorders and body dissatisfaction.

So what can you do to help the men in your life?

Start by checking in with them. The Let’s Check In campaign is all about empowering individuals, families and communities to talk openly about eating disorders and to strengthen support for individuals of all genders who might feel alone. When it comes to eating disorders, early identification and prompt help-seeking can make a big difference. You can play a role in supporting prevention and recovery from eating disorders simply by educating and preparing yourself.

Know the risk factors and pay attention to any sudden shifts in diet, exercise routine or increased negative comments about themselves or their body. If you’re unsure, the confidential online assessment is a quick tool that can help you gauge whether someone you love might be at risk.  Second, if you are seeing increasing warning signs plan to check in with your friend or loved about your concerns and provide them with compassion and resources.  A fact sheet, conversation guide and additional resources are available at www.letscheckin.com/.


Regis Aguglia, LCSW-C

Written by:
Regis Aguglia, LCSW-C,
Family Therapist at The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt
Regis Aguglia earned his Masters in Social Work from the University of Maryland in 2010. Prior to joining The Center for Eating Disorders in 2014, Regis provided individual, family and group therapy in outpatient and school-based settings and gained experience treating individuals struggling with substance abuse. As a Family Therapist in The Center’s inpatient and partial hospital programs, Regis works with families to understand the impact of an eating disorder on the family system and helps to strengthen communication, coping skills, nutritional stability and recovery-focused support. Regis also facilitates a number of inpatient therapy groups including dual diagnosis groups for patients with co-occurring substance abuse and a specialty group for boys and men with eating disorders.

Spring Blog Round-Up


“Where flowers bloom, so does hope.”
~Lady Bird Johnson
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Our CED Staff has been busy guest blogging for Eating Disorder Hope on a variety of topics from nutrition and meal plans to body image and relapse prevention. We hope you’ll take a look and share with friends, colleagues or clients who might benefit from the following information.

If you have questions about eating disorder treatment or a topic you’d like to see us write more about, please send your suggestions and requests to our Community Outreach Coordinator, Kate Clemmer at  kclemmer@sheppardpratt.org


The Importance of Incorporating Fear & Challenge Foods in Recovery

Written by Caitlyn Royster, R.D. & Rebecca Hart, R.D., Registered Dietitians

While you may technically be following your meal plan, without incorporating fear foods you are still giving the eating disorder a major foothold by preserving fear and anxiety. It might seem like choosing safe foods is better than acting on symptoms. However, over time this restriction can snowball and lead to relapse. READ MORE…


Mother’s Day Makeover: Boosting Body Image for Ourselves and Future Generations

Written by Irene Rovira, Ph.D.
Psychology Coordinator

Most of us appreciate all the mother figures and mom-types in our lives – including aunts, sisters, mentors and best friends – for the love they give or how they make us feel. We do not value them based on their weight or size. Yet we often hold a double standard when it comes to how we view ourselves…READ MORE to find 7 Tips to help boost body image for yourself and future generations



4 Changes You Can Make in Your Home to Support Eating Disorder Recovery & Reduce Relapse

Written by Kate Clemmer, LCSW-C
Community Outreach & Education Coordinator

It’s safe to say no one who has been through recovery from an eating disorder would downplay the difficulty or complexity of it. And while recovery is never simple or easy, there are some simple and straightforward changes you can make to reinforce recovery efforts and help prevent relapse. These specific modifications are not changes in thinking (cognition) or even changes in behavior but rather, changes to your physical living space – your home environment.  READ MORE…


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A Conversation with Bailey Webber, Co-Director of THE STUDENT BODY Film – Part 2

In addition to her debut as a filmmaker with The Student Body, Bailey Webber is an up-and-coming public speaker and has appeared as a guest on several television and radio shows. If you missed Part 1 of our conversation with Bailey, you can find it here and you can meet Bailey, along with her father and Co-Director of the film, Michael Webber, on February 26 at The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt


Q&A with Bailey Webber – Part 2

What have been the most common responses or reactions from people who’ve seen The Student Body? Have they all been positive?

BW: For about a year the film has played at film festivals and special premieres and screenings around the country and my dad and I have been fortunate enough to attend many of them and engage with the audiences. This gives us a great idea of how people are responding to the story and information and I’m so happy to say that the reaction has been incredible!

We have had adults stand up and explain that the story has completely changed their perspective on themselves, their kids, and others.  Students have felt empowered to speak up for the first time and share their own experiences, when before they were too ashamed to say anything.  Teachers, doctors and school nurses have thanked us for making the film, have shared their own emotional stories.  We receive emails and phone calls from people around the country, encouraging us to keep getting the message out.  We even have clinics that want to incorporate the film into their patient programs. 

Just this week we spoke with a clinician who has been battling this issue in her own school district for years, but with no success.  Months ago she arranged to bring the film to her city and worked to encourage the community to join her in seeing it.  The screening was last night and she called us immediately after.  She was so excited and explained that the school officials have finally agreed to stop sending out the letters and will be looking for help to approach the issue in a more productive way!  We were all so excited!  It’s such a game changer and it makes me feel so humbled and overwhelmed to see the film is being used as a tool to help bring about change with these issues. 

Do you have any personal advice or a message of hope for kids and teens who’ve been impacted negatively by bullying, BMI report cards or weight teasing?

BW: The biggest thing to know is that you are not alone and your voice does matter.  I also want them to know that things can change, but only if we are willing to speak up and engage.  Along those lines, there are a few things that I suggest to young people:

  1. Always be respectful. Taking a stand, speaking your mind and challenging authority doesn’t mean you have the right to disrespect another person in the process. Otherwise, you’ve just done something wrong yourself!
  2. Find an adult to learn from and help support you. My friend, Maddie, had a strong, smart, loving mother who was willing to stand behind her when she protested. For me, my dad had my back all along the way as I challenged authority at every corner. This can help give you the courage you need when taking on big challenges and getting outside of your comfort zone.
  3. Know your rights. My dad taught me that 90% of having rights is knowing my rights! Learn from an adult what is possible, what actions you can actually take, and what your rights are. Then bravely exercise those rights! Trust me, it feels great!
  4. Use your powerful voice! It’s surprising to learn that many people might feel the same way you do, but everyone is just waiting for someone else to speak up. Well, maybe you should be that “someone”! Start the conversation with your peers, your teachers, your parents and your school board. You’ll be amazed at the change that can happen when you finally choose to use your voice. I’ve experienced this twice in high school and you see it in the film. It’s amazing, it’s simple, and it can really change things for the better. You can do it, too!

What was it like to embark on a project this big with your dad as your partner? Did the two of you learn anything new about each other in the process?

BW: Working alongside my dad was amazing!   Growing up he always taught my sister and me to tackle big and difficult things, to face our fears, and to overcome any disadvantages that we might have rather than use them as excuses.  For me, making this film was an example of all of these things and having my dad mentor and encourage me through the process was everything.

Father/Daughter Filmmaking Duo, Michael Webber & Bailey Webber

In the beginning, he also explained that this was my project and he will be there to equal my effort, but no more.  In other words, if I don’t put in the time, if I don’t do the research, if I don’t do the work, neither will he.  But if I give it everything I have no matter how difficult the obstacles, then he will give his everything too.  We joke about it now because the film became an obsession for me and I would drag him all over the country and spend the next three years helping me make this film.  He even set aside other films he was working on just to help me see this through!

My dad would also assign books for me to read on filmmaking, journalism, writing – and I would read them all!  He would give me lists of films to watch and study and take notes on, and then he would discuss them with me.  He taught me how to edit, how to write for film, how story works and how to build these big story boards to work from as the production evolved.  It was the greatest filmmaking course ever! We had so much fun together and I hope that comes out in the film, especially with the humor that we brought to it.   So for me, the experience has changed me forever.

Who do you think could benefit from attending the screening of The Student Body here in Baltimore on February 26th? What overarching message do you hope they will take away from the event?

BW: Public screenings like this are great for parents, students, teachers, lawmakers, and anyone in the healthcare field.   All of these groups are represented in the film and will benefit from experiencing the other perspectives in the story.  My hope is that people will come away from the film with a greater understanding of the complexity behind obesity and eating disorders and with a new appreciation for the struggles that people have with their weight and body image.


Many thanks to Bailey Webber for taking the time to share about her experience filming The Student Body.  If you’d like to see the film and have a chance to ask Bailey and her dad, Michael Webber, more about their experience, join us in Baltimore on February 26 for a FREE SCREENING in recognition of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. Attendance is free but space is limited – RSVP Today!

The Student Body

Read More: A Conversation with Bailey Webber, Co-Director of THE STUDENT BODY – Part 1

A Conversation with Bailey Webber, Co-Director of THE STUDENT BODY Film – Part 1


Bailey Webber is a student investigative journalist, writer, and co-director of The Student Body. Her story of courage and activism has been featured in numerous newspaper and online articles.  She has been honored by the National Association of University Women for her advocacy work, is an ambassador for the National Eating Disorders Association as well as Proud to Be Me with which she has written several articles, blogs, and has participated in panel discussions. Bailey is the daughter of Michael Webber, a motion picture producer and renowned documentary filmmaker.  As such, she has grown up around movie making and has storytelling in her blood. The Student Body is her directorial debut.

 

In advance of the upcoming Baltimore Premiere of her film, we had the pleasure of asking Bailey about the film and her experience co-directing it alongside her father. Part 1 of here responses are shared here.


Q&A with Bailey Webber – Part 1

 

In your own words, can you tell us what The Student Body is about and why you feel people should see the film?

BW: For me, The Student Body is a story of empowerment and finding your voice.  Learning to stand against something that you feel is wrong, even when nobody else seems to be standing with you.  That’s the example we see in the beginning of the film with my friend, Maddy, which then empowered me to find my own voice, to step outside of my comfort zone, and to combat something that I felt was unjust.  Little did I know the giants I would face along the journey!

I hope people will watch the film for a couple reasons.  For one, I want young people to realize that their opinion does matter, their voice can be powerful, and they can help to bring about change in their world.  But it starts with being willing to learn, to work hard, and to be persistent.  And for adults, I hope they will see the film and learn as I did, that obesity is so much more complicated than we are led to believe, and shaming and blaming kids for this epidemic of obesity is wrong on so many levels. 

I also want people to know that this is a very positive film and it’s even filled with a lot of humor!  People are surprised at how funny and entertaining the film is and they come away from with a sense of hope and encouragement, as well as being better informed and energized about the progress that can be made.  I’ve had both students and adults tell me seeing the film has changed their life!

 

Can you share a little bit about the evolution of The Student Body? What drew you to the topic of BMI report cards and body shaming in the schools?

BW: Believe it or not, this film actually started off as a small, summer project when I was a sophomore in high school.  I wanted to make a documentary about the “fat letters” that were being handed out to students at my school and my dad, who is a filmmaker, agreed to mentor me through the process. 

Early on in my investigation, it became clear that this was more than just a local story, this was happening all over our state.  And by the end of the summer, I found myself in the middle of a heated national debate!  This was much bigger than I could have imagined and I wanted to take my investigation all the way.  So, my dad agreed to drop his other films and help me see this through to the end.  The father/daughter filmmaking duo was born!  I then spent the next two years in production, traveling the country and taking my story to its conclusion. 

I am so thankful to have been able to learn and work alongside my dad.  I had my own obstacles to overcome and I really needed someone like him to give me the confidence and encouragement to keep going all the way.  It was an amazing journey and I learned so much about myself through the experience.   

 

Was there one interview you did for the film that really moved you or was particularly powerful? If so, with whom was it and what made it stand out to you?

BW: As I began investigating this issue I read that these “fat letters” are being sent to students of all ages, even as young as kindergartners. I didn’t know how awful and detrimental this really was to young kids until I talked to them myself.  One of the most powerful interviews I did was with a group of 4th graders in New York who were brave enough to speak on camera.  These sweet little kids each received “fitness grams” from their school, telling them that they were overweight and were devastated by it.  They cried when they got home.  They saw themselves differently than before.  And they were not alone; kids and parents all over the country have had similar experiences but just would not agree to talk about it on camera because it was humiliating.

The short time I spent with these kids changed me forever.  It gave me the energy I needed to keep pressing forward and to be a voice for them and also caused me want to focus my future on working more with youth.

 

What was your personal knowledge/perception of BMI testing in schools before the film and how did it evolve throughout your filming of The Student Body?

BW: One of my favorite things about documentary filmmaking is how much I learn through the journey.  When I started this film I didn’t know much about BMI or obesity.  I simply wanted to tell a personal story about a girl at my school and shed light on what seemed like government profiling and bullying.  But this led me to connect with top experts around the country who were willing to talk to me about BMI and obesity.  I learned so much through this process and the neat thing is the audience gets to come along with me as we take this journey together.

 

Can you share the most surprising thing you learned in the process of creating this film?

BW: The most surprising, and maybe most controversial thing I learned, is that all of the experts that I spoke to said pretty much the same thing – obesity is a disease and the cause in many people may not be as simple as we once believed.  Research is showing that it’s not as simple as calories in versus calories burned and that obesity is not only caused by poor diet and exercise.  The research is finding all of these other factors that play a big role in the obesity epidemic and yet we still are pointing our finger at kids and telling them they have done something wrong.  The experts talked with me about the disconnect between what their research is showing and what the general public believes.


Read Part 2 of our interview with Bailey Webber HERE.

Watch the trailer and reserve a seat at The Baltimore Screening of The Student Body on February 26, 2017 in Towson, MD.

 

 

What is a “Fear Food”?

 


At some point during treatment for foods_fearan eating disorder, most individuals will meet with a Registered Dietitian. One of the many important things you’ll do during those sessions is identify and discuss your personal list of fear foods. This is an important step that allows the dietitian to individualize treatment, help you plan for and overcome obstacles, and work alongside the rest of the treatment team to empower you in your recovery.

What are fear foods?
A fear food, or challenge food, is a term for foods that one finds difficult to incorporate into everyday eating. This term is used for foods that feel scary to eat, often because of negative thoughts or feelings related to the food’s nutrient content. Fear foods can be items or categories of food that one perceives to be “bad” and which, when consumed, might trigger feelings of intense guilt or shame. As a result, people with eating disorders often completely avoid or restrict their fear foods. Sometimes, just being around a particular food or being faced with the possibility of eating it can result in increased anxiety.

For people with anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorder, these fears and the perception of certain foods as “bad” are often related to anxiety about anticipated weight gain and/or an inability to stop eating the food once they begin. In other words, there tends to be a strong belief that eating a fear food will instantly make you fat or that eating a certain food will make you lose control and overeat.

A person’s list of fear foods might be specific, like ice cream or peanut butter.  For others, their fear foods might encompass a whole category like all desserts or fried foods. Someone else’s fear food list might include an entire nutrient group such as carbohydrates. Common fear foods are also items considered by many to be tasty, but may also be labeled as “junk food” in our current culture.

Where do fear foods come from?
Fear foods develop from personal values, attitudes, feelings and even memories associated with a certain food. Messages from the people close to you – family, friends, coaches, teachers, healthcare providers – all play a significant role in determining your thoughts about food and can ultimately influence your (dis)comfort with particular food items.

Fear foods may also stem from a variety of impersonal sources including trending cultural ideas about food, media messages, advertisements or even nutrition information intended to be educational and beneficial. For example, there are multitudes of articles and news stories that include lists of supposedly good vs. bad foods, or foods that are better/worse for health.

Another frequent source of fear or shame related to food is dieting. Given that most diets limit or cut out certain foods, dieters start to believe that the eliminated food is bad. The more diets a person goes on, the more fear foods they are likely to have.

What are some consequences of avoiding fear foods?

  • Limited variety and lack of enjoyment in meals
  • Social isolation
  • Obsessive thoughts about the feared food
  • Worsening anxiety
  • Increased eating disorder symptoms and heightened risk of relapse
  • Prolonged negative relationship with food

People without eating disorders may have fear foods too but the consequences for those with eating disorders are much steeper since we know that limiting variety and continuing to avoid specific foods during recovery raises one’s chances for relapse. Two of our CED dietitians recently wrote in more detail about this topic for our friends at Eating Disorder Hope in a post entitled, The Importance of Incorporating Fear Foods and Challenge Foods in Recovery.

Remember, no single food has the power to make you thin or fat. And, ironically, the avoidance of a food is typically what leads a person to overeat it.

If you think you might need assistance reintegrating fear foods or overcoming negative thoughts about food and eating in general, please call The Center for Eating Disorders at (410) 938-5252 for a free phone consultation. 


In individuals with different eating disorder diagnoses, or those with co-occurring disorders, fear foods might manifest differently. For example, in individuals with ARFID, anxiety may be related to a fear of choking or to a perceived health consequence of eating the food item. In individuals with PTSD, fear foods may stem from associations with the traumatic experience.  In both cases, treatment methods may differ, and the treatment team should take into account the origin and underpinnings of each fear food when providing education and support.


Blog Contributors:
Hannah Huguenin, MS, RD, LDN
Samantha Lewandowski, MS, RD, LDN
Kate Clemmer, LCSW-C

Turning a Body Positive Summer into a Body Positive Year

 

Turning a Body Positive Summer into a Body Positive Year(2)


We spent the summer talking about several steps you can take to turn body dissatisfaction into body acceptance. We also presented some of the very important reasons why someone might be motivated to embark on such a task. The bottom line: negative body image can negatively impact all other areas of life – career, academics, physical health, social interaction and intimate relationships. As many as 67% of women ages 15-64 withdraw from life-engaging activities because they feel badly about their bodies. And women are not alone in the struggle; Thirteen percent of college-aged men say their appearance is traumatic or difficult to handle as well.As we head into the fall, its important to remember that negative body image doesn’t just go away for most people simply because the beach vacations and relentless bikini body advertisements subside. As much as we wish that was the case, we know body image is much more than a seasonal hazard.

Body insecurity will follow young boys and girls into middle school classrooms where they may stop raising their hands or engaging in class discussion to avoid drawing attention to their appearance.

Body insecurity will follow young adults onto college campuses around the country where it, paired with genetic risk factors like perfectionism and anxiety, plus fear of the Freshman 15, may provide fuel for the development of an eating disorder.

Body insecurity will follow the new mom to the play date where she will silently compare and scrutinize her body. She’ll be sold a thousand different ways to get her pre-baby body back.


Body insecurity will follow the quiet colleague home from work each night.  He refuses to hang out with friends or start dating until he finally “bulks up” again.

These may be the realities of day-to-day life with body dissatisfaction but they don’t have to be the end of the story. In addition to the 3 Steps we laid out during the #bodypositivesummer campaign, here are a few guidelines to help boost body image in any season.

1. Don’t postpone important events or fun life goals for appearance or weight-related reasons. Putting off a special vacation, not applying for your dream job or not going on a date until you lose XX lbs. is a recipe for missed opportunities and delayed happiness. Saying you’ll get around to something in few months can quickly turn into a few years, or even decades. If you’ve been waiting to live life fully because you’re unhappy with your body, consider taking one small step today towards whatever it is you’ve been putting off. Research flights, update your resume or call an old friend.

2. Stop Fat Chat.  When among friends or in social settings commit to steering the conversation away from appearance-based judgments and into more positive territory.  The American Academy of Pediatrics recently released a report urging pediatricians and parents to stop focusing on weight, or even mentioning weight, during discussions with children and teens. The reason?  Focusing on weight backfires, often leading to unhealthy behaviors that are associated with both obesity and eating disorders. The same is true for adults. Stop focusing on your weight as the golden marker of health and you may actually find it’s easier and/or more fulfilling to engage in healthful behaviors.

3. Cleanse your social media feed. Disconnect from the negativity, surround yourself with positive, healthy, and uplifting social media accounts.  If you’re online quite a bit, there is no reason to allow Instagram followers who consistently engage in fat talk or body criticism to cloud your view of yourself. You have every right to unfollow Twitter users that promote weight loss or diet products, even if they are close friends or family members. Remember, you are the curator of your accounts; use that power to cultivate a body positive presence for yourself online.

4. Last but definitely not least…ASK FOR HELP.  Negative body image can be a risk factor in the development of eating disorders or may trigger relapse while in recovery from one. If you’re having a lot of negative body image thoughts throughout the day or they’re impacting your behaviors around food and weight it might be time to seek support. Specific evidence-based therapies like Cognitive Behavior Therapy can be effective in addressing body dissatisfaction. It can help to tell a trusted friend, spouse, or parent that you’re struggling and ask them to support you in getting connected to a counselor or therapist who is trained in these specific techniques.

Not sure where to turn?  You can complete a confidential online self-assessment here or call (410) 938-5252 for more information.

Visit eatingdisorder.org for additional resources.   

 

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Body Comparison: An Olympic Sport?


When cheering on the elite athletes at the Rio Olympics and in other high-profile sporting events, it can be easy to lose perspective and you may find yourself comparing your physical body to those at the peak of their sport careers. Lost in these comparisons, we too often become self-critical and forget the long journeys, support communities, financial resources, sacrifices and sheer hard work that comes with being an Olympic athlete.

Olympic bodiesEngaging in body comparison not only hurts you but serves to fuel the overall toxic culture of body shaming. After all, even Olympic athletes are subject to mean-spirited remarks about their appearance. In the most recent summer games, Ethiopian swimmer Nobel Kiros Habte faced some harsh comments for not matching the “look” of his peers, as did Mexican gymnast Alexa Moreno. Many others have faced similar backlash through the years.
Just as athletes are not immune from body shaming, it’s important to remember the “perfect” athletic body does not equate to perfect health. Making snap judgments about someone’s fitness or health based on their appearance is misleading – it’s rarely possible to tell, for example, if someone has an eating disorder just by looking at them. Athletes are not immune to eating disorders or struggles with body image. American cyclist and two-time national champion Mara Abbott has been open about her experience with anorexia. In a candid column for a cycling blog, she reflected on how it affected her performance: “Personally, having taking a hiatus from sport in 2012 due to an eating disorder, I can attest that my thinnest was definitely not my strongest. I really mean that. Please read that sentence more than once.”

As we gather around the television with our friends and families to celebrate athletic achievement, we can support the competitors, ourselves and each other by focusing less on physical appearance and more on the hard work and powerful accomplishments of these world-class athletes.  After all, Olympic bodies can be powerful, graceful, tough and resilient but they are also diverse.  From gymnastics to archery, swimming to shot put, let’s allow our athletes to be inspirations, not because of or in spite of their looks but for the attitude and spirit they project in aiming for their goals.  Let’s enjoy watching all sporting events – whether it’s a World Cup game or a pee wee soccer league – from a place of body appreciation and as part of a body positive summer.

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Faking It: Sunless Tanning and the Risks You May Not Have Considered

Faking It_ SunlessTanning_SORENSENSkin cancer is among the most common forms of cancer in the United States. In fact, over the past three decades, there have been more cases of skin cancer than all other forms of cancers combined.1  Furthermore, a 2014 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association-Dermatology estimated that more than 400,000 cases of skin cancer each year in the United States may be the result of indoor tanning, with approximately 6,000 of these cases being melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer.2

Most people are aware of these risks. Warnings of cancer and other related health problems are broadcast widely, and reminders to slather on sunscreen can be heard from all corners of our pools and beaches. At the same time though, the pressure to acquire the media’s ideal body is strong, and this culturally defined ideal frequently includes obtaining a “luxurious summer glow” or becoming a “bronzed beauty”. For some, the perceived benefits of tanning via sun exposure, or tanning bed, seemingly outweigh those severe health risks and they continue tanning despite the danger. In research on UV exposure, some excessive tanning behavior has even been described as an addiction. Many other people, including 1 in 10 adolescents, opt for what is promoted as the safer option – sunless tanning.

Body image avoidanceSunless tanning products (creams, foams, sprays, stains, etc.) are heavily promoted as a viable option for someone looking to achieve a summer glow without assuming the health risks of tanning beds or sun exposure. But is it completely without risk? If we know UV exposure is unhealthy, then why are we spending time and money trying to fake it? It’s a million dollar question with a million dollar answer, or more accurately, a $763 million answer; that’s how much the fast-growing sunless tanning industry was worth in 2014.

Like the bikini body, the elusive summer glow represents an unfair and unrealistic expectation that can contribute to an individuals’ experience of body dissatisfaction. Additionally, trying to change skin color with the use of sunless tanning products can be viewed as a form of body image avoidance. An inability to achieve the tan ideal, or the time and mental resources spent focused on one’s perceived inadequacies, simply magnify negative feelings towards the body.  Thus, sunless tanner may help dodge the bullet, so to speak, by avoiding UV rays, but it is not completely harmless. Body dissatisfaction, body image avoidance, and low self-esteem are some of the most well documented risk factors in the development and presentation of eating disorders.  Furthermore, studies have found links between general tanning behaviors and unhealthy weight control practices. Consider the following associations:

  • Steroid use and unhealthy weight loss strategies were 4x and 2.5x more likely, respectively, among high school males who used indoor tanning, compared to their non-tanning counterparts.3
  • Boys who tan were more likely to be trying to lose or gain weight than non-tanners.4
  • Female students who engaged in indoor tanning were also more likely to engage in unhealthy weight control practices.5
  • A belief that a tan improves appearance is one of the strongest predictors of UV exposure behaviors.6

We know that body dissatisfaction can drive both tanning and unhealthy weight control behaviors. These correlations underscore the point that, despite a lower skin cancer risk, promoting sunless tanning may still be problematic, especially in individuals who struggle or have struggled with body image. Promoting or validating the quest for a tan body has the potential to reinforce negative body image thoughts and perpetuate appearance related obsessions.

It is important to keep in mind that any beauty ideal is carefully crafted and enforced by #bodypositivesummer_TANNINGan industry that profits from the body dissatisfaction it’s “standards” create. Tanning is no different. In fact, it’s important to point out that the tan ideal is just one way that westernized beauty ideals promote insecurity or dissatisfaction across the spectrum of skin colors. The media’s pressure on Caucasian women to be tan occurs concurrently with tactics like whitewashing and digitally lightening the skin (and hair) of women of color in prominent advertisements. Writers at Beauty Redefined unpack the cultural implications of those practices in the post: Beauty Whitewashed: How white ideals exclude women of color.

By creating the narrowest possible margin for beauty, the media essentially convinces everyone their skin is either too light, too dark or some other shade of inadequate. As a result, people who internalize the cultural definitions of beauty feel ‘required’ to purchase some sort of product or service to achieve the ideal, or risk being invisible. As Director Elena Rossini reveals in her masterful documentary The Illusionists, the very same company that promotes tanning products in the U.S., profits off of skin-whitening creams in India.

Media influencing what we perceive as beauty is not exactly a new conversation, but sometimes these ideals become so much a cultural norm that we cease to question them. Just think how often the phrase “you look so tan!” is thrown around as a compliment or “I’m so pale” is delivered as a self-criticism.  Great diversity of skills, skin colors, body shapes and sizes is a natural and healthy part of life. Any group who tries to change that, especially for profit, should be met with critical speculation. Just as we attempt to challenge the thin ideal, we should seek to debunk tanning myths and push back against unrealistic or unhealthy expectations. One way to do that is by helping to build families and peer groups that prioritize body positivity and body acceptance.

As individuals, we can push back by refusing to buy-in to a heavily marketed tanning industry that includes outdoor tanning, indoor tanning or pre-packaged tanning. Perhaps the money, time, and mental resources devoted to the quest for a perfect summer glow could be better used elsewhere?

Find out just how much money you could save by expanding the infographic on the right.  Then head on over to Twitter or Instagram to tell us what you would do with your savings and how you intend to finish out your #bodypositivesummer free from the grip of body dissatisfaction.

 

About the Author:
t_sorenson_headshotTaylor Sorensen is a rising senior at Trinity College in Hartford, CT where she is majoring in Neuroscience.  At Trinity, Taylor is involved in research focusing on the neuronal underpinnings of Autism Spectrum Disorder.  She joined The Center for Eating Disorders as a summer intern in both the Research and Community Outreach Departments.


 

References:
  1. Stern, RS. Prevalence of a history of skin cancer in 2007: results of an incidence-based model. Arch Dermatol 2010; 146(3):279-282.
  2.  Wehner, MR. International prevalence of indoor tanning: a systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA Dermatol. 2014 Apr;150(4):390-400. doi: 10.1001/jamadermatol.2013.6896.
  3. Miyamoto J, Berkowitz Z, Jones SE, Saraiya M. Indoor tanning device use among male high school students in the United States. Journal of Adolescent Health. 2012;50:308–310. doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2011.08.007. [PubMed]
  4. Demko CA, Borawski EA, Debanne SM, Cooper KD, Stange KC. Use of indoor tanning facilities by white adolescents in the United States. Archives of Pediatriac and Adolescent Medicine. 2003;157:854–860. doi:10.1001/archpedi.157.9.854. [PubMed]
  5. Guy, GP. Et al. Indoor Tanning Among High School Students in the United states, 2009 and 2011. JAMA Dermatol. 2014 May; 150(5):501-511.
  6. Pagoto, SL, Hillhouse, J.Not All Tanners Are Created Equal: Implications of Tanning Subtypes for Skin Cancer Prevention. Arch Dermatol. 2008 Nov; 144(11): 1505–1508.

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Body Positive Summer Step 3: Set Yourself Up for Success

#bodypositivesummer_NOURISH


No one can be 100% body-positive all the time.  The best way to bounce back quickly from body image struggles is to be prepared for them.  When you’re having a good day, take the time to make a list of 5 or 6 traits that you love about yourself, or reasons you are grateful for your body.

Ex) “I am so happy my strong arms allow me to hug my nieces and nephews.

Unsurprisingly, it’s usually extra hard to recall these positive things in the moment you need them most so creating the list in advance is important.  Keeping the list on a note card in your purse, or even in a text message on your phone, makes it accessible when you need a little body image boost.

When you’re making the list, you may have negative body image thoughts pop into your head.  That’s okay, notice the thought and replace it with a positive alternative.  If it’s difficult to come up with your positive list, try thinking about it from the perspective of your friends, your kids or even your pets. They all love you for who you are and how you interact with them, not what you look like or how much you weigh.

Ex) “I am reliable and I show up everyday for my loved ones.” or “My body allows me to have fun with my friends.”

In addition to a list of things you value about yourself, a #bodypositivesummer mantra can help to center you before heading into challenging situations. For example, if you know you struggle with body anxiety during trips to the beach or pool, add little notes of inspiration or positive quotes to the items in your beach bag that you’ll be using throughout the day like a water bottle, camera or sunglasses case.

You can make-up your own mantras or print out the following 6 Statements to Support a #bodypositivesummer below.

#bodypositivesummer_6statementsRead more about the Body Positive Summer Campaign here.

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