Disordered eating is an epidemic in our current society. It's been prevalent for many, many years -- but I truly feel as though it's at an all-time high right now. We're blasted with social media each and every second of our lives, making it especially easy to compare ourselves to others and to think that we're not good enough, thin enough, pretty enough, worthy of, etc. Fortunately, as much as social media has contributed to this epidemic, it's also been a useful tool in opening up this otherwise taboo topic. New trends that support the idea of loving your body are on the rise; we've had enough. In recognition of the closing of Eating Disorder Awareness Week in Canada and from my affected heart to yours -- I want to break this taboo topic that is very near and dear to my heart and start an open, vulnerable conversation so that we can support and help heal one another.
I have been affected by disordered eating.
I was an model for 8+ years and I lived and breathed the world of fashion. I was adamant about making it to the top, but the journey sure came with an abundance of hurdles and hard life lessons. After some very lucrative years in the industry, my body began to transition into a more "womanly figure" -- straying away from strict high fashion standards. Jobs became less and less frequent and my ultimate goal to get to the top started slipping away from me. I didn't know how to cope, who to turn to nor who to take advice from, so I scoured the internet in the hopes of finding answers to quick weight loss. I began intense workouts, cut out major food groups, and jumped around from extreme diet to extreme diet; I was pushing my boundaries to an all-time high. Food and workouts soon had a dangerous symbiotic relationship with morality and self-worth and my new lifestyle became incredibly detrimental to both my physical and psychological wellbeing.
However, not many knew I was struggling.
From an outside perspective, I was living the dream: I was making big bucks "just by looking pretty", traveling the globe to the most lavish destinations, going to extravagant dinners and events with famed celebrities and highly influential people, and living unique experiences people only dreamt about -- but on the inside I was struggling. I was perpetually bombarded with internal insecurities around my physique that dictated every aspect of my life.
I felt helpless and alone.
I was struggling quietly. I felt I had nobody to turn to. Thankfully, going into holistic nutrition was the best thing I could have done for myself. The years of education allowed for physical healing, but better yet, the incorporation of self-love allowed for a complete shift in mindset. It took time, but eventually I began to listen to my body and make food decisions based on vitality and nourishment rather than body image alone. Food was no longer tied to morality and self-worth. I felt so freed and liberated that I began to open up to others about my own personal journey -- hoping that others affected by disordered eating could see they weren't alone. The more I opened up the dialogue, the more I found a major commonality: the majority of us were desperately trying to be perfect on the outside, constantly chasing our tails in the never-ending cycle of perfectionism, yet keeping our struggles hush-hush. The moment I realized I wasn't the only one battling this issue, Holistic Heels came to fruition. Knowledge is power, and the more I can help educate others, end common misconceptions, and bring awareness to holistic health, the faster we can put an end to this epidemic -- together.
Here's what you need to know.
It's imperative to know that eating disorders and disordered eating come in all shapes and sizes. They may come in more classically diagnosed forms like anorexia or bulimia, as well as lesser known forms of disordered eating such as restrictive eating or orthorexia (characterized by an extreme obsession with eating solely foods that one considers healthy or 'clean'.) Although there are formal guidelines that health care professionals have used for hundreds of years to diagnose specific eating disorders, disordered eating is lesser-known and often experienced without clinical diagnose -- but it's on the rise. I strongly believe that both eating disorders and disordered eating should be treated with similar degrees of concern, practices, therapy, and wisdom.
Eating disorders don't discriminate; they can affect anyone, at any given time. The National Eating Disorder Information Centre states that:
...Eating Disorders can affect any individual regardless of gender, age, ability, race and ethnic identity, sexual orientation, and socio-economic status. There are 7 billion people on the planet, and 7 billion sizes.
Your brother, mother, school teacher, fitness instructor, and even the kid you coach could be suffering from an eating disorder -- but you would never know it if you based it solely off of body shape alone. This is where intuition and full, dedicated presence comes into play. Tune into behavioural patterns of those around you -- it's beautiful how much you can learn about somebody if you really tune in. Although I don't believe there is one rulebook for all behavioural signs of eating disorders, some common red flags may include:
- Constant or repetitive dieting
- Excessive or compulsive exercise patterns
- Making lists of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ food
- Elimination of entire food groups
- Binge episodes
- Avoidance of social events where food is present
- Development of repetitive or obsessive body checking behaviours like pinching of the skin or constant weighing of self
Eating disorders and disordered eating aren't just about the food. They are often materializations of deeper underlying issues: a lack of familial support, a traumatic experience, a need of control in one aspect of life with a perceived loss of control in other aspects, to name a few. So when dealing with the root of the disorder, it's crucial to avoid focusing on food and eating habits alone -- because there's more to it. Let's break the stigma.
If you or someone you know is battling with food, weight, and/or body-image issues, here are some ways in which you can offer support:
- Express your concerns early on, and do so in a loving and supportive way.
- Be there for the person even if he or she may not be ready to open up yet.
- Be a positive role model of healthy self-esteem and body image.
- Focus on self-love. Compare less and appreciate more.
- Educate yourself on eating disorders -- and pass along the info to others.
- Know that you're not alone and that there's an abundance of professional help out there -- from medical advice to holistic nutritionists to published resources.
Recovery is possible. Life gets that much more beautiful when you're optimally healthy, your brain is nourished, and you love yourself unconditionally. And if you need a helping hand, I am here for you.
Peace, self-love, and kale,