Okay, so eating disorders are a problem. That much is clear. But, why focus on them when our society seems to have an obesity problem?
We eat less nutritious food and participate in less physical activity on a day-to-day basis than in the past. How can people possibly develop eating disorders when consuming fast food and spending hours on the television or Internet? As contradictory as it sounds, this obesogenic environment actually contributes to eating disorders.
Professors Joyce Corsica and Megan Hood characterize an obesogenic environment as one that has “highly palatable, readily available, heavily advertised foods; larger portion sizes; increased pressure to eat; and significantly decreased work and leisure activity.” Scroll through Facebook or surf TV channels, and it’s nearly impossible not to see an advertisement for fast food. Burgers, chips, fries, cookies… all quickly available at a drive-through window. While these foods are okay for occasional consumption, the processed ingredients can harm our bodies over time.
But then, spend some more time on social media and you’ll no doubt see a thin model chomping on a decadent dessert or strutting around in the latest fashions. Talk about a paradox. Our society emphasizes looks and appearances while also promoting less-than-healthy habits. So our eating behaviors are constantly subjected to others’ scrutiny. We want to see how others are striving for “beauty” while faced against these seemingly impossible odds.
The professors say, “Exposure to critical comments by family about shape, weight, or eating behaviors, as well as weight-related teasing, have been identified as risk factors for a range of eating disordered behaviors.” Due to our environment, we’ve equated overweight with lazy or unattractive, increasing the desire to become thinner and thinner.
Social media only increases how much we are able to judge others. Post a picture of yourself enjoying a homemade cookie, and suddenly comments appear about how you don’t need those calories or how they wish they could eat desserts—if only they had your body type. You weren’t thinking of that when you hit the “send” button. You were only thinking about how amazing the cookies tasted or how great it was to make them with your grandma.
Food suddenly becomes a sin, not nourishment for our bodies and minds. So, then we’re drawn to extremes. We feel guilty at binging on sugary foods, or even strive to make ourselves better by abstaining from such “bad” food altogether.
Instead of focusing on ourselves, we constantly worry about others: What will they think if they knew I ate that box of Twinkies? If he’s eating a salad, I can’t possibly order a sandwich. I want another piece from the breadbasket, but will she think I’m fat? I can’t possibly eat as much as him because I didn’t go to the gym today.
So, yes, our society might lend itself to unhealthy habits or food choices. However, it also shames body sizes that don’t fit in with its impossible standards. In an attempt to juggle between these two opposites, we condemn each other. How can we get out of this ugly spiral?
One suggestion the professors make is eating meals as a family. If we encourage a positive interaction with food, then kids know their eating habits are nothing to be ashamed of. Also, a strong family bond helps boost self-confidence so we can combat negative thoughts about others or ourselves.
I don’t think that’s enough.
We need to rewire our thinking.
Food is not evil. Someone’s body type and eating habits do not make them better or worse than us. Yes, we should be active and eat healthy food most of the time. But we’re all unique.
Our weight and food do not make us who we are. We need to create an environment that celebrates our talents and individuality, independent of our physical appearances.
Fuel for Freedom: What do you think? Does an “overweight” society contribute to eating disorders? Do we place too much emphasis on health, or not enough?