Body Respect Q&A with Linda Bacon, Ph.D. ~ Part I

Linda Bacon, Ph.D. is an internationally recognized authority on weight and health.  She will stop by Baltimore this fall for two events aimed at dispelling long held myths about weight and health within the medical community and in our society at large. A nutrition professor and researcher, Dr. Bacon holds graduate degrees in physiology, psychology, and exercise metabolism, with a specialty in nutrition. She has conducted federally funded studies on diet and health, and  published in top scientific journals. Dr. Bacon’s advocacy for Health at Every Size (HAES) has generated a large following on social media platforms and the international lecture circuit. Her book, Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight, called the “Bible” of the alternative health movement by Prevention Magazine, ranks consistently high in Amazon’s health titles. Her latest book, Body Respect: What Conventional Health Books Get Wrong, Leave Out, or Just Fail to Understand, co-authored by Lucy Aphramor, is a crash course in all you need to know about bodies and health.

We recently had the pleasure of corresponding with Dr. Bacon to get answers to some of your most popular questions about HAES, the work she does dispelling diet myths and her newest book, Body Respect.  You can find Part I of her responses below, and Part II is available here.

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Q & A with LINDA BACON, Ph.D.

Q: What led you to pursue writing about and researching health and weight science?

LB: My journey began from own personal pain: in my adolescence and early twenties, I believed that I was fat, that there was something wrong with being fat, and if only I lost weight, everything in my life would be better: my parents would be more proud of me, I’d be more popular… Those thoughts sent me on the painful journey of fighting my weight, and included an academic search for a solution. What I found along that academic journey surprised me: the research contradicted many of the commonly accepted beliefs I held about weight. I developed a critical lens through my work first as a psychotherapist, next as an exercise physiologist and later a nutritionist. And that critical lens has been so valuable in re-learning how to look at myself, and my own relationship with food and my body, and come to a sense of peace and contentment. The war that was originally waged against my self – the fat on my body – was more appropriately waged against oppressive attitudes about fat. I’m now on a mission to share what I’ve learned, both to support others in their personal journeys and to support social change. Our culture plays a huge role in fueling our disconnection with self and it’s critical we move towards a more just and compassionate world so that this struggle isn’t so normative. No one should experience the pain and body shame that I – and many others – routinely do.

Q: What are the most important tenets of Health at Every Size (HAES)?

LB: I see three aspects as being most important: 1) RESPECT, including respect for body diversity; 2) CRITICAL AWARENESS – challenging cultural and scientific assumptions; valuing people’s lived experience and body knowledge; and acknowledging social injustice as a hazard to health and well-being; and 3) COMPASSIONATE SELF-CARE – in eating, movement, and other areas. There’s a lot packed into those words, so here’s the simpler response: HAES is all about supporting people in moving towards greater acceptance and improved self-care, and advocating for the institutional and social change necessary to support that.

Free event in Baltimore on November 8th. Click image for details.

Q: Why do you think so many people continue to rely on dieting when the data isn’t there to back it up as an effective remedy for weight loss or improved health?

LB: I have a lot of compassion for dieters. The dieting belief system is so strongly a part of our culture and medical belief system, it makes sense that many people would buy into it and believe they are doing the right thing. And there is so much fantasy imbued in the results: the belief that one will be seen as attractive and successful, and that it will ameliorate disease. It makes sense many people grab onto it, and get a sense of hope when they try. And we’re taught to believe the “experts” rather than to trust our own experience. So when the diet fails to give them lasting results, the dieter blames him or herself, rather than the diet.

The diet is the problem and it’s the diet that fails, not the dieter. It takes courage to take our power back and recognize that the problem is out there, not in ourselves, that we have a system inside us well-designed to help us manage our weight, if only we trust it. The HAES journey is about helping people to understand that the source of their pain is not the weight itself – but the weight prejudice, and to reclaim their power to know what, when, how to eat, and a new attitude towards other self-care behaviors.

Not long ago, I had a very poignant experience of the damages of the diet mentality. I attended a wedding reception where there was a beautiful buffet of gourmet food. At one end of the buffet was the proud father of one of the brides. (I’m in California, where it’s legal for lesbians to marry.) He had helped plan this party; to him, sharing food was part of the ritual that brought his daughter’s friends and family together. At the other end, three women approached. One looked at the display and said, “Oh, I really shouldn’t.” Her friend commiserated, saying, “It really is tempting, isn’t it?” They all looked on sadly. This is the world we have created. These women are “good” dieters. For them, virtue lies in confronting the temptations of good food, exerting their willpower, and overcoming their desire.

This saddens me. I want a world where food is about nourishing us, body and soul, where we can celebrate with the shared ritual of eating. Where you eat what you want without guilt… and without bingeing. Where eating is uncomplicated by weight concerns.

Fortunately, that world is possible and the Health at Every Size movement helps to articulate it. I live in it myself, and I’ve tested it in a randomized controlled clinical trial. And my results have been reproduced by others. We have shown that people – yes, even “obese” people who are experienced dieters – can learn to dump the diet mentality and celebrate food, and that it results in improved nutritional choices and improved health outcomes. And that it does not result in that feared weight gain.

Q: In your new book, Body Respect: What Conventional Health Books Get Wrong, Leave Out, and Just Plain Fail to Understand about Weight, you and your co-author Lucy Aphramor write a lot about the influence of social justice on weight and health. What’s the most important thing you think people should understand about the impact of inequality and social differences on weight and health?

LB: I can sum it up in three words: “our stories matter.” Our experiences in the world get lodged in us on a cellular level. The experience of oppression, for example, triggers a chronic stress response, which in turn leads to weakened immunity and increased risk for many diseases. When we focus solely on an individual’s weight or health habits, we miss these structural and political inequities, and it stops us from addressing the policies and systems that have a far greater impact on our health. It also supports a culture of blaming individuals for their disease: e.g., “it’s your fault for getting diabetes; if only you ate better.”

How we get treated in the world has a huge impact on our health. Acknowledging the power of social status in determining health can help take the blame off of the individual and will have more significance for tackling health disparities than getting more people to stop smoking, or to be more active, or to eat more nutritiously. This doesn’t mean that we need to stop talking about behavior change: helping someone take better care of themselves is valuable. But it needs to be put in context. Once we understand this, it opens up new avenues for self-care and for how health care gets practiced.

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Interested?  Want to learn more about Dr. Bacon’s research and how the focus on weight can obstruct us from achieving health?  Read more in Body Respect Q&A with Linda Bacon: Part II.

Then join us in Baltimore on November 7th and 8th to see her speak. Visit our Events Page to reserve your seats.


Body Respect Q&A with Linda Bacon, Ph.D. ~ Part II

Welcome to Part II of our discussion with internationally acclaimed author and researcher, Linda Bacon, Ph.D.  If you missed Part I, you can find it here

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Q&A with Linda Bacon, Ph.D. ~ Part II


Q: What are some of the repercussions of evaluating a person’s health by their weight?

LB: One key repercussion is misdiagnosis. Some thin people get the diseases we blame on weight – and they often don’t get diagnosed until later when they’re more advanced and harder to treat – and many heavier people never get the diseases we blame on weight. And then of course, it introduces the nocebo effect: tell someone they’re going to get sick and they probably will. So it’s just bad medicine. (And expensive! Those excessive costs attributed to “obesity” can be better attributed to weight bias.) Fat or thin, the conflation of weight and health imbues people with a fear of fat and distracts us from what really matters. It brings stigma, a problem of social justice, into health care. It’s both ineffective AND damaging.


Q: How could a focus on weight, or on weight loss, get in the way of effective healthcare? Can you give a specific example?

LB: My knee has been bothering me a lot lately, and that provides for an easy example. My father suffered from similar knee problems. However, he was fat (I use that as a descriptive term, stripped of pejorative connotations) and I’m not, resulting in very different treatment from our orthopedists.

My doc told me to first try physical therapy, that stretching and strengthening the muscles around the joint can help. Surgery was also presented as an option.

But what did my father’s doctors recommend? They put him on diets – over and over again. He never developed a regular exercise habit and struggled with weight cycling and disordered eating his whole adult life.

Carrying more weight may have aggravated my dad’s joint problems; no doubt there are ways it’s hard to be in a fatter body. (I should add parenthetically, that there are also ways it confers health advantage, but that’s a much longer blog post.) But trying to lose that weight is no kind of solution. I can assure you, my father – almost all heavier people – they’ve tried already.

My dad went to his death with knee pain. That’s just not effective healthcare. Even if fat is a causative factor and weight loss may be helpful in reducing symptoms, that doesn’t mean that prescribing weight loss is an effective or helpful solution. (Note also that it’s well documented in the literature: prescribing weight loss is more likely to result in health-damaging weight cycling than sustained weight loss.)

My advice in training health care professionals in respectful care with larger people is to start by considering how they would treat someone in a thinner body. Appropriate exercise? Meds? Surgery? Then do what you can to support your patients in implementing your advice and handling the challenges posed by their particular body.

It’s important to remember that good health habits benefit everyone, across the weight spectrum. And that you can’t diagnose someone’s health habits by looking at them. My father – and people of all sizes – could also have benefited from eating disorders screening. Appropriate eating disorders treatment may – or may not – have a side effect of weight change.


Q: On November 7 and 8 you will be speaking at two events in Baltimore, one for the community and another specifically for health professionals. What are some of your main goals for each of those talks and who do you think could benefit from attending?

LB: More than anything else, I want to inspire people. For the general community, I want attendees to leave with a sense of hope, that they can lose the guilt and shame and instead take pleasure in eating, that they can look at their bodies kindly. And I want the health care professionals to leave with a greater sense of agency, feeling empowered that they know how to be helpful for people. I want all of us to walk away with a stronger sense of community, feeling that we’re part of a committed group of people helping to make this a more just and compassionate world.


Q: Are you hopeful that our medical community, or even our society in general, will be able to make a paradigm shift away from a focus on weight? What helps you stay focused on and inspired by this goal?

LB: I do feel quite hopeful. I’ve watched the transition that’s been happening over the years, how my message resonates with the medical community, once exposed. Most professionals are feeling disillusioned with the old system, and I’m frequently told that coming to hear me talk is a relief. It allows them to take their disquiet seriously and they feel empowered to be presented with solutions that make sense.

But I’m not naïve. As much as I’d like to have faith in the inevitability of justice being done, and the old paradigm being tossed by the wayside, I’m just not confident that’s going to happen large-scale in the mainstream anytime soon. But I find it very liberating to consider that maybe the point isn’t victory, as much as we would like to see that done. Maybe the real issue is that by speaking my truth, I sleep better at night and it gives me hope.

Desmond Tutu offered this advice as rationale for the work of a freedom fighter: You don’t do the things you do because others will necessarily join you in doing them, nor because they will ultimately prove successful. You do the things you do because the things you do are right.

Dr. Linda Bacon

So I try to let go of the preoccupation with outcome, and find fulfillment in my involvement in something worthwhile, and being a part of this greater community. I look forward to being at Sheppard Pratt soon, and connecting with more people committed to a more just and respectful world.

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Many thanks to Dr. Linda Bacon for sharing her time, expertise and compassion with our online communities.  Please join us November 7th in Baltimore when Dr. Bacon will offer an in-depth training for health professionals and then again on November 8th for an inspiring free community event. Find out more and register for both events here.

See Also: BODY RESPECT Q&A with Linda Bacon: Part I

Mindful Eating on Campus ~ Part 1

This is the 5th post in our 8-part blog series  about eating disorders on campus.

Nothing is more stressful for a student who is in recovery from their eating disorder than trying to negotiate eating on campus. College living is full of obstacles to eating consistently and mindfully: buffets in the dining halls; eating between classes and on the go; staying up until 4 AM; social events involving food; and limited access to the grocery Mindful Eating 101store or a working kitchen. While many students in treatment are given guidelines as to how to eat in a healthy manner, it is often difficult to implement those strategies in a campus setting but it is possible.  A great resource for this task is the book, Mindful Eating 101: A Guide to Healthy Eating in College and Beyond by Dr. Susan Albers which we will reference throughout this post.

Mindfulness is an old concept that has, more recently become somewhat of a cultural catch phrase. Standing at a coffee shop bulletin board, you may notice advertisements for mindful meditation classes or yoga classes that promise skill development in the art of mindfulness or even magazine covers that stress the importance of mindful living. So, what is mindfulness?  Mindfulness refers to the ability to bring one’s awareness completely to the present moment. In contrast, mindlessness, refers to behaving or doing things without much attention.

Consider that you are eating dinner in your dorm in front of the TV during your favorite night of television. As you laugh along with the show and get intrigued by products during the commercials, you occasionally pick up your phone and make plans for the evening and attempt to skim a chapter in your text book for tomorrow’s quiz.  All the while, you also continue to go through the motions of eating your dinner…mindlessly. In this situation, your attention is likely focused on the characters and themes in the TV show and not on your food or your body’s response to the food.  When this happens, it is common for people to eat more than they normally would because they aren’t really enjoying their food, and they aren’t in touch with the mechanisms in the body that tell us when we want to stop eating. In contrast, when you choose a meal from the dining hall and sit at a table to enjoy it with a friend but without other distractions, you may find that you eat more slowly, you savor the tastes of the food, and you have an increased awareness of your hunger/satiety cues, which allow you to stop when you feel full. This style of eating would be considered mindful eating.

Individuals who’ve struggled with an eating disorder or have chronically dieted often lose touch with their body’s natural ability to regulate food and eating processes.  Sometimes they may need help establishing normal eating patterns again and re-connecting to their bodies.  In eating disorder treatment, mindfulness is a concept that is used frequently in helping people to develop awareness of their thoughts, emotions, patterns, triggers, and hunger/fullness cues.

Eating mindfully is an important skill because it allows you to eat exactly what your body wants in just the right amounts. Restricting your food intake or dieting is not mindful because it denies your body of the food that it needs for fuel and nourishment.  Bingeing is also not mindful eating because it exceeds the amount of food that your body wants or needs and may cause you to feel uncomfortably full or even pained.  Mindfulness involves trusting your body to maintain a balance.  Learning to eat mindfully can take time, so be gentle with yourself as you practice the steps that will allow you to eat intuitively in response to your own body’s needs.

Dr. Albers outlines the seven habits of mindful eaters in her book.  These habits are the key components of learning to eat mindfully.

  1. Awareness: Use your senses to gather information about the world. By using sight, sound, hearing, touch and taste, you can become attuned to what is going on around you at any moment. Turning this inward, you can better recognize your hunger, fullness and thirst cues to help guide your eating choices.
  2. Observation: Simply notice your thoughts and feelings as an impartial observer. The key is to do this without judgment. For example, if you have the thought “I am fat,” simply notice that it is there, label it as a negative thought, and move on.
  3. Shifting out of autopilot: Some of our routines become so mundane that it is difficult to pay close attention to the details. These routines sometimes enable mindless eating or skipping meals completely, and so you may want to change the routine or bring awareness to it in order to be more mindful. Try waking up a few minutes earlier to fit in breakfast or consider meeting a classmate someplace for lunch that you’ve never been before.
  4. Finding the gray area: Black and White thinking refers to thinking in extremes. Food is good or bad. Someone is fat or skinny. Clearly, life is not that simple. To be mindful, one must be flexible and avoid operating in extremes. An example of this is someone who is on a diet that forbids bread; even if a person wants bread they will deprive themselves of it because of the diet. Sometimes, this deprivation can lead to the person bingeing on bread. In contrast, a mindful eater would recognize the particular craving and allow herself to have an appropriate serving of bread at the time when she wants it.
  5. Be in the moment:  As a college student, you may find yourself frequently eating in class, while cramming for a test, or even while walking or driving across campus. Multi-tasking like this is not considered mindful because you cannot use your senses to enjoy the food or to stay aware of your hunger and fullness cues. Ideally, a mindful eater would sit with their meal on a plate at a table and devote their full attention to eating. However, this is not always a realistic goal for a college student.  Try making small changes that help you stay present during meals, such as always sitting down to eat and turning off your phone to remind yourself to stop texting and posting on Facebook until you finish your lunch.
  6. Non judgmental: Notice judgmental thoughts and proceed with compassion instead of criticism. Often at the campus dining halls, various stations offer different types and categories of food. If you notice yourself judging a particular food station ( “I can’t order from that section, everything is full of fat.”) notice the criticism attached to the food and label it (“there I go thinking of foods in good and bad categories again.”) Practice compassion and focus on truthful statements (“this food may have fat in it, but I need some fat to help me protect my organs”).  Try to incorporate different foods from each of the various food stations at the dining hall throughout the course of the week.
  7. Acceptance: Accept things for how they are as opposed to how you think they should be. Dr. Albers gives a great example in her book of accepting your shoe size, even if you wish it were different, because there really is nothing that you can do about it. As much as you may wish to have smaller or larger feet, eventually you must let go and accept that your feet are the size that they are.

If you’ve struggled with disordered eating, it may be easier to practice mindfulness at first with something that is not related to food. Try this simple exercise to practice the aforementioned skills. Close your eyes and simply count how many sounds you can hear in the room. When you think you have counted the sounds in the room, push yourself to try to hear beyond the room. Can you hear sounds from outside? In the hallway? What about the sounds closest to you…can you hear your own breathing? The sounds that you hear are happening in the here and now; congratulations…you have been successful at being mindful of the present moment! Now you might want to try doing a similar exercise with your food, using your senses to guide your eating.

Stay tuned for “Part 2″ about Mindful Eating on Campus with some more helpful hints. You can also see all of the previous posts in this blog series at, Battling Body Image Concerns and Disordered Eating on Campus.

For more information about Dr. Albers and her Mindful Eating series, visit her website at

Written by Jennifer Moran, PsyD, College Liaison at The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt

Is ‘MyPlate’ Missing the Mark?

In conjunction with Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign, The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) released the federal government’s newest national food and nutrition icon on June 2nd.   The new icon, referred to as MyPlate, is actually the 7th in a succession of food guides promoted by the USDA over the past 95 years.  The most recent predecessor to MyPlate was MyPyramid, introduced in 2005, which most people are relatively familiar with.  The new MyPlate is arguably easier to interpret than the pyramid, particularly because MyPlate recommendations are communicated through a simplified visual that consumers use every day – a dinner plate.

Michelle Obama had this to say about the usability of the new icon, “When mom or dad comes home from a long day of work, we’re already asked to be a chef, a referee, a cleaning crew. So it’s tough to be a nutritionist, too. But we do have time to take a look at our kids’ plates. As long as they’re half full of fruits and vegetables, and paired with lean proteins, whole grains and low-fat dairy, we’re golden. That’s how easy it is.”   Easy as it may seem, we still have some reservations about the new icon, particularly the dietary suggestions and some of the interactive tools that accompany it.

  • Blanket Assumptions. MyPlate’s overall recommendation is: “Enjoy your food, but eat less”.  This statement operates under the basic assumption that all Americans overeat which is simply not true.  What if the consumer already eats appropriate portions, or perhaps doesn’t eat enough to fuel their body?  “Eat less” sounds a lot like a universal prescription for restriction and leaves little room for honoring internal cues for hunger/fullness.
  • Is this just another diet? The reigning factor in MyPlate seems to be focused on control; control your diet and portions within the confines of the plate, and avoid too many of what MyPlate defines as “empty calories” (more on this term later).  Healthy, normalized eating involves trusting your own body’s hunger, fullness, and taste cues to help give you everything you need. The My Plate icon could be a helpful reminder of the importance of a balanced diet.  However, working overtime to make every meal fit precisely into MyPlate could be more harmful than helpful in establishing a peaceful relationship with food.  Furthermore, many of the associated online tools on the USDA website, including “analyze my diet”, food tracking and calorie counters seem to foster an unnecessary focus on precise counting/measuring of foods.
  • Essentially Missing. Fats and oils are not visually represented anywhere on MyPlate despite the fact that fats and oils are necessary for energy, transportation and absorption of vitamins, satiety, taste and texture, heart health, and cholesterol.  They are an essential nutrient, and a major component of all brain and nerve cells. The MyPlate website does state that “oils are not a food group, but are essential.”  If the goal is healthy and balanced eating, such an essential part of the human diet needs to be represented on this easy-to-read graphic as it was with the last two government food models. Showing healthy ways to incorporate dietary fat and oils into meals could help educate consumers on appropriate amounts of dietary fats and oils as opposed to just instilling a fear of them by ignoring them altogether in the icon.
  • Labeling Foods. Labeling foods as good/bad or healthy/unhealthy is a way of thinking that isn’t making Americans any healthier and can actually promote disordered eating.  Yet the USDA website where MyPlate lives continues to assign the  “empty calories” label to a long list of  foods.  A calorie is a measure of energy, equal to the amount of heat that is contained in food and released upon breakdown in the body.  All food provides energy to our body – glucose to fuel our cells, protein to build, repair, and maintain body tissues, and fat for healthy cell membranes and brain development. Remember that by incorporating different choices from all food groups, you will naturally be achieving an appropriate balance of calories – thus leaving room for the treats and extras that are physiologically and psychologically satisfying.  Removing labels on food, such as “empty calories”, and working to make all foods neutral lends itself to a healthier relationship with food, and helps with food habituation – when you’ve had a food item a multitude of times and can decide freely whether you’ll truly enjoy and taste the food when you have it.
  • Logic. The plate pictures protein, grains, fruits and vegetables with a side of dairy as an ideal meal. How would an average consumer translate this message? Perhaps strawberries just don’t make sense with your Chinese food meal.   Does this picture create the notion that every food group must be consumed at every meal? (i.e. veggies with your cereal?)  That feels like a lot of pressure.  And what about lasagna or casseroles when almost all of the food groups may be combined into one dish – where does that fit into the MyPlate icon?  Looking at an overall weekly balance of nutrients and food choices would be more appropriate than feeling as if the eating must be perfect on every plate at every meal.
  • Does it promote overeating? Does the plate send the message that someone should push past their satiety point just to incorporate that fruit or dairy serving? Not honoring the fullness cue could trigger feelings of shame and guilt (not to mention physical discomfort), which can lead to emotional eating or compensatory restricting.

So, the next time you sit down to a meal, take a look at your plate. Not in an effort to follow the MyPlate guidelines exactly, but more so to be mindful.  Are you choosing a variety of foods from each food group throughout the day or week? Do the food choices make sense and complement each other?  Are you able to stop when you feel full?  Choosing foods that nurture the body and the mind are all steps on your road to health, and a healthy relationship with food.

Do you have questions about MyPlate or other nutritional guidelines?  Ask our Registered Dietitians and we’ll post the questions and answers on our blog!  Submit questions by emailing anytime before August 10th.  Add “ask the dietitian” in the subject line.

Submitted by Courtney Perkins, RD with contributions by CED’s team of Registered Dietitians

20 Ways to Celebrate “International No Diet Day”

Today is the 9th annual International No Diet Day (INDD).  The campaign was started in 1992 by an author in Britain who had gone through her own recovery from anorexia. What started as a gathering in her living room has grown into a celebration of beauty and health across the globe.

Here are 20 ways you can get involved with the international celebration of INDD...

1. The obvious: Take the No Diet Pledge (Don't forget to print it out as a reminder.)

2. Review the facts.  Dieting rarely works. 95% of all dieters regain their lost weight and more within 1 to 5 years.

3. Do some research.  Next time you see a diet ad, read the extra fine print under the before/after pictures.

4. Throw out your scale.  While physically chucking that bathroom scale out a second-story window and watching it break into pieces below sounds exciting, there are obvious risks with that tactic.  Consider these alternative methods:

  • Donate it to a thrift store (bonus = tax write-off for donations!)
  • Hand it over at your next therapy or nutrition appointment
  • Wait by the road on trash day and hand it directly to your Garbage Collector

5. Use the money you planned to spend on diet products to get a massage, visit a museum,  send a gift to an out-of-town friend, OR deposit it in a savings account.  We promise it will be more fulfilling.

6. Check out some of our favorite websites and bloggers that advocate a non-diet approach to healthy living for people of every size.

7. Recycle any weight-loss magazines or diet cookbooks.  Get creative and turn them into crafts, rip-out the pages and use them as packing paper for breakables.  Or simply thrown them in the recycling bin.

8. Better yet: cancel any ongoing subscriptions to diet-laden publications.

9. Do a spring cleaning of your closet.  Donate clothes that don’t fit or don’t make you feel good in your body.  Remember,clothes are meant to fit your body, not the other way around.

10. Start living.  Do the thing you’ve been putting off until you lose X pounds. Go to the beach, take a salsa dancing lesson, go mountain climbing.

11. Reach out for support. If chronic dieting and an intense focus on weight loss has led to serious problems with eating disorders, dangerous weight-loss attempts or feelings of depression,  seek professional help.  (Not sure if you really need help?  You can start with this confidential, self-assessment quiz to find out).

12. Are you a parent, pediatrician, educator or childcare provider?  Help cultivate a new generation of non-dieters by teaching children to be competent eaters from the start.  Check out these great feeding resources:

13. Make a list of 10 positive things your body does for you. Hang it on your mirror.

14. Wear something you love and feel comfortable in

15. Spread the word. Copy the picture above and post to your Facebook profile.

16. Connect to nature.  Find some beautiful scenery, sit, relax and be inspired by the natural ability of living things to nourish themselves without external cues from diet companies.   You have the same ability.

17. Feeling crafty? Instead of trashing the bathroom scale, consider taking it apart and turning it into an art project representing your freedom from dieting.  (Side note: If you do this, PLEASE send us a pic and we will post on our facebook page!)

18. Compliment a friend on a quality not related to appearance OR tell someone you love what makes them beautiful without using words that describe body size, weight or appearance.

19. Add up all of the time you usually spend weighing yourself, counting calories, reading weight-loss articles, feeling badly about your body, or thinking about food.  Make a list of all the things you'd rather be doing with that time.  Start doing them.

20. Keep on going.  Just in case 20 ideas wasn't enough for you, here's a list of "50 Ways to Lose the 3 Ds: Dieting, Drive for Thinness, and Body Dissatisfaction" from The National Eating Disorders Association.

The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt fully supports the goals and values of International No Diet Day on May 6th and all year long.   We hope you have a chance to try at least one of the ideas today, but remember that they don't expire.   These 20 ideas represent steps you can take at any time to start changing your relationship with food and weight.

If you or someone you love is struggling with an eating disorder, please visit our website at or call us at (410) 938-5252 for information about treatment and support.

Jet Fuel and a Handful of No Regrets: The subtle reasons why Media Literacy is so important when it comes to messages about food and weight

Earlier this week we were prepping for a media literacy presentation when we came across a few examples that point to some of the very reasons why media literacy education is so important.  Of course, it’s always very easy to locate magazine ads that exemplify the ills of photoshopping (cue the recent ALDO billboard photoshop fail) or products that perpetuate an unhealthy body ideal and the sexualization of girls (cue the recent Abercrombie & Fitch push-up bikini for 8 year olds).  And, there’s certainly no shortage of  overtly harmful (and grossly inaccurate) claims about food and weight in ads for trendy diets and diet products.  These, unfortunately, very effective ads rake in more than $40 billion a year for the diet industry.  But some of the messages we get about weight, size and food are much more subtle and in many ways, that makes them even more detrimental.

Check out these two ads for almonds found in Men’s Health - a men’s fitness magazine.   Despite the magazine’s title and efforts at health-focused articles, most readers would agree, the general tone of the magazine is usually just as image-focused as any women’s fashion magazine.   Focus on health often seems secondary to the focus on rock-hard abs and a heavy dose of scantily-clad women.  However, we found the following almond ads were somewhat effective at marketing the product in a healthful and holistic way without focusing on the body. What do you think?

“A Handful of Good News…because they’re packed with great stories to tell. Like how just a handful a day gives you 6g protein, 3.5g fiber and can even help you maintain healthy cholesterol levels.”

“A handful of jet fuel. Grab a snack that’ll give you a boost anytime, anywhere. A handful of heart-smart, nutrient-rich California Almonds with 6 grams of protein power can be just the lift you need. It can even help you maintain healthy cholesterol.”

To be honest, we were fairly surprised to see an ad for anything in this men’s fitness magazine that didn’t include a photoshopped close-up of a chiseled body.  But we were  pleasantly surprised to see these ads focusing on health vs. weight and even highlighting the utility of the body vs. how it looks.  Eating for nourishment and strength to do the things that we enjoy – for example, playing with your kids – is a healthful concept that we fully support and one that is also important throughout the eating disorder recovery process.

We were fully prepared to give this company an A+  for their marketing messages until we found the ads’ female counterparts in Real Simple, a women’s magazine that generally delivers a better-than-average display of body/size diversity and emphasizes physical and mental well-being.  Notice the difference in the  marketing  of the same exact product when it is targeted towards women?

“A handful of chocolate-covered permission. Looking to maximize goodness and minimize guilt? Satisfy more than just your sweet tooth with the antioxidant-rich duo of dark chocolate and California Almonds.”
“A handful of no regrets…Want a simple snack without the guilty aftertaste? Make sure your heart-smart, nutrient-rich California almonds are always within reach. Just a handful a day can help you maintain healthy cholesterol levels.”

Internal feelings of “guilt” and “regret” are introduced to the female consumer where previously existed “good news” and “fuel”.  A very different message gets portrayed – one that implies women should rely on external permission to have a snack instead of their own body’s internal hunger cues and legitimate need for nourishment and strength.  These ads also suggest that women should feel guilty or experience regret if they eat certain foods.  These are not uncommon experiences for individuals who struggle with disordered eating*, and it is often this very cycle of eating and the subsequent guilt/regret that perpetuates chronic dieting and many of the symptoms involved with anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorders.  While extreme dieting and eating disorders are a growing problem for both females and males, this marketing campaign clearly capitalizes on the female experience.

Ads such as these do not cause negative body image or disordered eating by themselves.  However, they help to perpetuate unhealthy beliefs within a culture that is already saturated with mixed message about food, weight and an obsession with unrealistic beauty ideals.  Most interesting in this example may be the clear distinction between the two genders.   It’s essential to educate youth and adults about media literacy so we can collectively begin to protect ourselves and our families from the repercussions.  It’s also important to remember that sometimes the very subtle messages about how we “should” relate to food are even more invasive than those with obvious intentions to mislead us.

Be a critical viewer of the media.  Question the images and the advertisements you come across.  Compare ads that are targeted to different genders, ethnicities and ages.   Ask yourself what messages they are sending and what effect they might have.

Do you consider yourself to be media literate?  How do you resist subtle messages like the ones discussed above? Leave a comment below or join the conversation on our Facebook Page and follow us on Twitter.

*Disordered Eating: A significant deviation from normalized eating patterns that may include dieting, fasting, bingeing, or skipping meals. Disordered eating disregards internal regulation of hunger and fullness and provides the body with much more or much less than the body needs to function properly.  Instead of feeling good after a meal, someone who has disordered eating will often experience feelings of guilt, shame, discomfort, fear or discontent.

2010: Looking Back on a Year of Eating Disorder Awareness, Outreach & Education

2010 has been one of the busiest community outreach years to date here at The Center for Eating Disorders.  We are very glad to have welcomed many of you to our events for the first time.  In addition to providing requested trainings and workshops in the community CED also hosted five major community events on the Sheppard Pratt campus.  These are just a few of the many highlights from the past year…

In January of 2010 CED kicked-off the year with a day long conference  entitled, Promoting Self-Esteem & Positive Body Image: A Program for the Jewish Community. Despite a lingering snow storm, over 100 community members attended including parents and adolescents, educators and school staff, medical and mental health providers as well as rabbis and Jewish community leaders from Baltimore and surrounding areas.

One month later we celebrated National Eating Disorder Awareness Week with a keynote presentation by author and parenting expert Rosalind Wiseman.  In her talk,  Positive Parenting for a Healthy Self-Image, she spoke candidly about relating to kids and adolescents in ways that build self-esteem and body confidence.  That same week in February, we honored student artists from across the state of Maryland at the annual “Love Your Tree” poster art exhibit and awards ceremony. Bel Air High School Freshman, Kiley Baker was honored as her original artwork was unveiled as the official 2010 Love Your Tree poster. More than 130 art pieces were on display and over $1,200 in scholarships and prizes were awarded to participating students and teachers. (Don’t forget: the deadline for this year’s LYT Poster campaign is Dec. 17th, 2010!!!)

Before NEDAWeek 2010 ended, CED therapist, Craig Boas, LCSW  facilitated a community workshop called Mindfulness 101: An Experiential Exploration of DBT Practices for Eating Disorder Recovery and Everyday Life. In addition to these local events, we also launched a blog series called Nurture:  A mind and body wellness blog for moms and mothers-to-be. The blog entries helped to provide support around issues of fertility & pregnancy, eating disorders, body image, media and motherhood.  

In August of 2010, we were honored to host a community presentation by author and parent, Harriet Brown the very  day after the release of her book, Brave Girl Eating: A Family’s Struggle With Anorexia. Her talk was inspirational for the many parents and professionals in the audience and stimulated much discussion about Family-Based Treatment (FBT).  The Center for Eating Disorders is one of a small number of sites across the country that has clinicians who are specially trained and certified to provide FBT for eating disorders.

We switched gears in September 2010 for a focus on continuing professional education for providers.  Five eating disorder treatment experts from across the country converged in Baltimore to present at CED’s professional symposium, Eating Disorders: State of the Art Treatment.  Almost 200 physicians, nurses, psychologists, social workers, dietitians and other treating professionals attended the day long conference to learn about topics such as Family-Based Treatment for EDs, Psychopharmacology and Cognitive Remediation Therapy.  Several of our expert presenters provided guest blogs for us in advance of the symposium.  You can read them by clicking on the links below:

Several days after the symposium, CED staff members, including CED Associate Director, Dr. Steven Crawford, teamed up with fellow advocates from across the country on Capitol Hill to take part in a Lobby Day organized by The Eating Disorder Coalition (EDC).  We spent time meeting with Maryland representatives in congress and senate, discussing how important it is for them to sign on in support of the FREED Act.  It was an empowering day and CED is looking forward to being a continuing sponsor of the EDC in the new year.

Most recently we were incredibly excited to host our fall outreach event,  Intuitive Eating: Making Peace With Food,  featuring Evelyn Tribole, MS, RD, a nationally acclaimed nutrition expert and bestselling author.  There was a tremendous response from the community, and over 200 people from across Maryland and surrounding states converged in Towson on November 21st to hear Ms. Tribole’s engaging presentation.  After the talk, many attendees lined up to speak with her personally about their stories of success with Intuitive Eating.  If you missed the presentation, check out the pre-event Q & A with Evelyn Tribole on our blog.

Many thanks to all who have attended and collaborated around these events.  As we move towards 2011 and a new year we maintain a commitment to providing events and outreach opportunities with the following goals:
  • Increase awareness about the growing prevalence of eating disorders and their consequences
  • Provide opportunities to help individuals, families, schools and organizations prevent eating disorders and promote positive body image
  • Encourage early intervention and improve access to care while decreasing stigma associated with seeking help
  • Support individuals and families throughout the recovery process
  • Enhance professional knowledge and competency through continuing education events for medical and mental health providers

Upcoming community outreach events:

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Body Image, Eating Disorders & Intuitive Eating… A Special Pre-Event Q&A with Evelyn Tribole, MS, RD (Part 2)

Evelyn Tribole, MS, RD,  co-author of Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works, answered some important Intuitive Eating questions for us in yesterday’s post, What is Intuitive Eating? (Part 1).  Readers found out, perhaps surprisingly, that research shows Intuitive Eaters are actually healthier, both physically and mentally.  Today’s post (Part 2) is a follow-up Q&A with Evelyn and delves a little deeper into the intersections between body image, eating disorders, recovery and Intuitive Eating.  Evelyn will be presenting “Intuitive Eating: Making Peace With Food” at a free community event in Baltimore on Sunday, November 21, 2010.  All are welcome.  Her talk will be followed by a book signing and casual reception.  Please visit our Events page for more information.

Q & A with Evelyn Tribole, MS, RD (Part 2)

In your book, you have a chapter entitled “Respect Your Body” – what kind of role does body image play in becoming an intuitive eater?

Body image is often at the core of people’s struggle with eating and weight because their initial desire to lose weight or change their body in some way may have been the catalyst for their first diet.  Unfortunately the first diet often leads to more diets, and a long relationship with dieting and weight fluctuations can wreak havoc on a person’s metabolism, their relationship with food and their overall self-esteem.  As mentioned above, diets have also been shown to result in increased weight gain (rather than the intended weight loss) which can perpetuate further body dissatisfaction. In other words, as stated in the book, “body vigilance begets body worry, which begets food worry which fuels the cycle of dieting”.

That being said, in order to move towards becoming an intuitive eater you really have to learn to respect your body.  Respecting your body doesn’t necessarily mean immediately liking every aspect of your body.  Respecting your body means treating it with dignity, and meeting its basic needs.  It means accepting your genetic blueprint, getting realistic about what is a healthy weight for you and letting go of the unrealistic and unhealthy weight expectations you’ve set for yourself along the way. Chapter 12 in my book and my presentation in Baltimore on November 21st will delve into some more specific steps involved in this process.

Can someone who has had an eating disorder become an Intuitive Eater?

Yes they can, however, timing and readiness are key factors that must be considered in order to do so safely and in a way that does not create risks for relapse.  When an individual is in the throes of an eating disorder, he or she is not capable of accurately hearing biological cues of hunger and fullness.  In this situation, their “satiety meter” is broken, a consequence of complex interactions of mind-body biology and malnutrition.  In the beginning of treatment, nutrition rehabilitation usually requires some sort of eating plan (often under the direction of a nutrition therapist). With proper treatment and input from their providers, individuals with eating disorders can determine the best timing and their readiness to begin transitioning from a structured eating plan to more intuitive eating. Ultimately, when a person recovers from an eating disorder, she trusts her inner body wisdom. She/he is at peace with mind and body, and finally, enjoys the pleasures of eating according to natural hunger and fullness cues and without guilt or moral decree.

In your experience, what are some of the most frequent reactions or responses people have had after learning about and incorporating intuitive eating into their lives?

One of the most common reactions from people who make the shift into Intuitive Eating, is that they marvel at their new sense of freedom and peace—freedom from:

  • Worrying about every single morsel they put into their mouths.
  • Judgment from their incessant food-police critic.
  • Worrying about what other people think about their food choices.
  • Pre-occupation about eating the “right” or “wrong” food.
  • Counting—calories, carbs, or points.
  • Guilt, judgment, and self-worth related to food and body.

Consequently, their anxiety is markedly decreased, and they can participate in life—on what’s happening — right now, in the moment.  No more distraction.  When someone is constantly worried about what they eat—it’s akin to talking on the phone to a person who is simultaneously emailing or surfing the net.  The distracted person is saying the right words, but the connection is missing.

I never tire of hearing the genuine surprise of “taste discovery”, when someone finally gives herself unconditional permission to eat.   It’s not unusual for some to discover that they really don’t like a particular food that they have lusted after, and felt guilty while eating it.  When you have unconditional permission to eat—you really get to taste and experience the food, without judgment.

When someone embraces Intuitive Eating (and “gets it”), it is very empowering—because ultimately, the individual becomes self-attuned, and the expert of his or her own body.

Who could benefit from attending your workshop on November 21st, 2010 at The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt?

This will be a great opportunity for individuals who’ve struggled in anyway with their relationship with food or weight including those who struggle with yo-yo dieting, compulsive overeating, weight fluctuations, restrictive diets, disordered eating or any type of general anxiety about food and weight.  This will also be a helpful presentation for parents or caregivers who are looking for ways to help their families develop an emotionally and physically healthy relationship with food.  Professionals who work with individuals around eating and weight can also benefit from learning more about Intuitive Eating.

In addition to attending your workshop on Nov. 21st and reading your book, Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works, can you recommend any other supportive resources or additional strategies for individuals or families who are interested in intuitive eating?

On my website I have an entire collection of articles, interviews, research, trainings, and supportive resources related to Intuitive Eating. I would suggest starting there. You can also sign-up for my e-newsletter to receive ongoing news and research about intuitive eating.

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If you missed Part 1 of this special Q & A with Evelyn Tribole, we suggest you take a moment to go back and read it here.   Part 1 is important to understanding what Intuitive Eating is all about and provides links to additional research supporting the intuitive eating principles set forth by Evelyn Tribole, MS, RD and her Intuitive Eating co-author Elyse Resch, MS, RD, FADA.

You may also be interested in some of these past entries from The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt Blog: