Posts Tagged ‘Body Image’

Can how we were Raised Contribute to Developing an Eating Disorder?

Parents holding toddler's hand

Eating disorders are complex and serious illnesses that can cause serious harm to the individual afflicted. Characterized by a disturbance in an individual’s self-perception and food behaviors, eating disorders are biologically-based brain illnesses that are affected by environmental, cultural, and psychological factors. A key aspect of eating disorders is their complexity and the questions surrounding them—what caused my eating disorder? Will I get better? Do other people experience this?

Environmental Factors

There are certain environmental factors that may contribute to the development of an eating disorder including diet culture, the media, and peer judgment. Diet culture is a series of beliefs that idolize thinness and equate it to health and wellbeing. Diet culture manifests in less obvious ways, too, and can be seen in the way that menus portray “healthy” options as superior or how the typical chair size is made for someone thin. These diet culture consequences can plant the idea, at a young age, that thinner is “normal” and something to strive for, which can lead to disordered eating later in life.

The media is largely problematic in its portrayal of the idea that thin is superior. From the majority of celebrities and actors being thin to weight-centric TV shows like “Biggest Loser,” it’s no surprise that society gets the message that skinny is better. This media messaging infiltrates daily lives. There’s billboards of new diets, commercials promoting gym memberships to get you in beach body shape, and reality TV featuring only the thinnest of stars. When faced with this negative messaging daily, individuals can feel intense pressure to “fit in,” leading to dieting, appearance dissatisfaction, and eating disorders.

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How Sobriety Influenced my Eating Disorder Recovery

Rachel Moe

*Please keep in mind this is one person’s story and that everyone’s path to recovery and beyond will be unique.

Rachel Moe is a Registered Nurse, Emily Program client, Aunt, coffee connoisseur, and writer who loves sharing her experience through recovery in hopes of connecting with and helping others. Rachel started and leads an Eating Disorders Anonymous meeting in Duluth, MN. She also recently started a blog and plans to dive more into recovery advocacy, as she is passionate about ending the stigma around mental illness. She loves to hike, spend time with her family and friends, write, and practice yoga.

I vividly remember the first time I was told by someone that I may be an alcoholic and I should consider a life of sobriety. It was a hot August day in the Twin Cities, I was 24 years old, and sitting in my therapist’s office in a residential treatment center for my eating disorder. I had already been struggling with Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa since the age of 13. My parents were on the couch across from me, tears in both of their eyes, and we were participating in family week at treatment. Now, this was not the first time someone had brought up my drinking and substance abuse to me, this was just the first time that I chose to truly listen to what was being said. I could no longer deny my life was falling apart as a result of alcohol, drugs, and my eating disorder.

The flood of emotions came immediately that day—sadness, shame, anger, grief. I mostly felt sad for my parents. I felt as though I had already inflicted enough pain through my eating disorder, how could I add another diagnosis to the list that has been growing for as long as I can remember? I felt angry that once again, I was different from my peers. In my group of friends, I was always the friend who was too anxious to go out for pizza or ice cream, so how could I also be the sober one as well?

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Why Healthy Looks Different on Everyone

Three women on the beach

Health is often described as having a sound mind, body, and spirit. However, society is quick to latch onto the physical aspect of health and question what physical health truly means. Is health subjective? Can people be healthy at different weights? Is everyone’s ideal health different? The answer to all of these questions is yes!

Why do body sizes differ?

We know that body sizes are not all the same and that every single human being looks unique. Body size and structure is determined and influenced by a variety of forces, which is why all individuals look different. Genetics play an obvious role in physical appearance, as an individual’s gene pool influences bone structure, predispositions, and more. For example, if a child has two extremely tall parents, it’s likely that the child will be tall as well.

In addition to genetics, factors like nutrition, society, and autoimmune functioning can influence body size and shape. Nutrient deprivation in growing children can result in stunted growth, weakened bones, and physical changes. Society can often influence body shape as well—typically, what is culturally ideal has an impact on how individuals strive to look, which unfortunately, can be problematic. Lastly, certain autoimmune diseases and other health conditions can affect the appearance of the body. Some illnesses come with physical or appearance-based symptoms, which can alter body size and shape.

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Why do we Compare Ourselves to Others?

Boy looking at reflection

Teacher and inspirational speaker Iyanla Vanzant once said, “Comparison is an act of violence against the self.” If that’s true, why do we do it?

Comparison is in our Human Nature

In 1954, social psychologist Leon Festinger coined the term social comparison theory. At the core of his theory was the thought that people compare themselves to others so that they can learn about themselves or learn how to act in a socially acceptable way. Comparison, in some circumstances, can keep us safe or be a source of motivation.

For example, imagine an individual who enters a new culture. This person does not speak the language or understand the traditions. In order to find food, fit in, or become a part of the community, the individual may compare others’ behaviors with their own to determine whether they are doing what is necessary to adapt successfully to their new environment.  In this example, comparison helps an individual survive.

The social comparison theory also states that humans compare themselves to others to get an accurate gauge on their abilities, to process situations, and to understand themselves. If a high school student wants to get into Harvard, they will likely compare their grades, test scores, and extracurricular activities to those of students who were accepted into the university in the past. These comparisons arm the student with knowledge of how to get into the university and may assist the student in making smart choices in high school. Additionally, if the student finds out that they do not stack up to admitted students’ academic achievements, it could help them to set a realistic expectation and to avoid future disappointment.

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