Eating and Body Image Concerns

Disordered Eating and Your Relationship with Food

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, signs and symptoms of disordered eating may include, but are not limited to:

  • Frequent dieting, anxiety associated with specific foods or meal skipping
  • Chronic weight fluctuations
  • Rigid rituals and routines surrounding food and exercise
  • Feelings of guilt and shame associated with eating
  • Preoccupation with food, weight and body image that negatively impacts quality of life
  • A feeling of loss of control around food, including compulsive eating habits
  • Using exercise, food restriction, fasting or purging to "make up for bad foods" consumed

Many people who suffer with disordered eating patterns either minimize or do not fully realize its impact on their mental and physical health. This lack of understanding may unnecessarily exacerbate the harm of disordered eating. Detrimental consequences can include a greater risk of obesity and eating disorders, bone loss, gastrointestinal disturbances, electrolyte and fluid imbalances, low heart rate and blood pressure, increased anxiety, depression and social isolation.

If you are curious about your own relationship with food, you can access a Screening Tool through the National Eating Disorders Association. This tool evaluates potential disordered eating behaviors but is not a substitute for a diagnostic assessment with a treatment provider.

Or check out this post on Valuing Your Relationship with Food by Dietitian Laura Jean, author of Eat With Awareness. This will help you explore if your relationship with food is in line with other values that you find important.

As with other mental health issues, it is important to explore how and to what extent disordered eating is affecting an individual’s daily functioning. Issues to consider (according to Eating Disorders, Compulsions, and Addictions Service (EDCAS) of the William Alanson White Institute) include the following:

  • Concentration and ability to focus Do thoughts about food, body, and exercise prevent concentration or impede performance at work or school?
  • Social life — Is socializing restricted because it might require eating in a restaurant, consuming foods that are scary or uncomfortable, or disrupting exercise routine?
  • Coping skills — Is food consumption and/or restriction used to manage life’s problems or cope with stressors?
  • Discomfort or anxiety — How much discomfort do thoughts of food and body cause? Are these thoughts hard to shake and anxiety-provoking?

A mental health professional can help determine if you are struggling with disordered eating or an eating disorder and benefit from services. Services can include but are not limited to individual therapy, meeting with a dietitian, or an exam completed by a medical doctor.

Student Health has a Registered Dietitian on staff: Denise Cochran, MMSc, RDN. No referral is necessary. Schedule an individual appointment by calling 804-828-8828, ext 5. Appointments are available on Tuesdays and Wednesdays at the Student Health clinic on the Monroe Park Campus. Set aside 60 minutes for the initial visit and 30 minutes for follow-up visits.

For more information about specific eating disorders and warning signs visit the website of the National Eating Disorders Association.

Find a clinician in the community on your own or receive help in finding a clinician in the community from our case management services by calling 804-828-6200.

Intuitive Eating

“Ultimately, what Intuitive Eating boils down to is learning to understand and interpret your own hunger and satiety cues. But it’s also SO MUCH MORE than that: it’s about learning to make peace with foods (including sugar, gluten, and dairy), it’s about learning to accept your body and stop trying to control it with food, or punishing it with exercise. It’s about learning to be cool with cookies and brownies and understanding what’s really going on when you faceplant into a bucket of Ben & Jerry’s. It’s about learning to shut down the Food Police and eat for pleasure because food tastes good. It’s about honoring your body with food that tastes good AND makes you feel good. It’s about letting go of restrictions on food and trusting that your body knows how to maintain the healthiest weight for it, without you obsessing over every mouthful you eat. Like I said, it’s hard. It’s complicated and nuanced and there are tons of caveats.”- Laura Thomas, Ph.D., author of Just Eat It

To hear more from Dr. Thomas, check out the episode of her podcast on Intuitive Eating.

More Information on Intuitive Eating

10 principles of Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole, MS, RDN and Elyse Resch, MS, RDN

“Why You Should Eat Like A 2-Year-Old” The Anti-Diet Project with Kelsey Miller

“Hunger Shaming” Food Freedom, Hormones, and Intuitive Eating with Registered Dietitian Robyn

Body Positivity, Body Neutrality, and Body Acceptance

Body positivity refers to the assertion that everyone deserves to have a positive body image, regardless of society’s current views on the ideal shape or appearance. This can include promoting the idea of accepting all body types, challenging unrealistic body standards, and promoting everyone’s confidence in their own bodies. Someone with a positive body image appreciates and feels confident about their body and accepts it the way it is.

Body positivity is a healthy goal, but it feels that body positivity does not leave room for frustrations or insecurities with their body. For those individuals, adopting Body Neutrality is a more accessible and equally healthy goal. An approach of Body Neutrality may be a stepping stone on the way to Body Positivity, or it may be the destination for an individual. Dr. Elizabeth Wassenaar, the Medical Director of Eating Recovery Center, describes Body Neutrality as “minimizing body negativity; for example, saying to yourself, “I may not feel good about my body, but I will try not to put myself down or make myself feel bad about my body. For some people, getting to body positivity feels like too much of a challenge for many reasons, including a history of trauma, internalizing weight stigma, and/or feeling restricted because of their body’s limitations. Body neutrality is a place to start to reverse the impact of internalizing the trauma of weight bias and stigma. Sometimes body positivity can feel ‘fake’ and body neutrality feels more authentic, which is so important when you are working on living authentically and joyfully in the body you have.” Body neutrality focuses on appreciating your body for what it does and how it helps you accomplish things from day to day.

You can incorporate these Body Acceptance Practices, developed by Gatewell Therapy Center, into your daily life to help move toward your goal of either Body Neutrality or Body Positivity.

Supporting a Friend or Loved One with Disordered Eating

The National Eating Disorder Association has an entire page dedicated to supporting someone struggling with disordered eating. Beat Eating Disorders also has helpful tips to keep in mind. They provide especially valuable tips regarding the language you use when talking about food, body image, and disordered eating behaviors with someone you are concerned about.

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