Is Something Eating You?
I first started reading about eating, body and weight issues about thirty years ago, when Susie Orbach's controversial book "Fat is a Feminist Issue" came on the scene. Year later, my masters' thesis championed the need for eating disorder prevention programs in schools and the community. For a while, I worked as a psychometrist in the Eating Disorders Outpatient Treatment Program at the Toronto General Hospital, attempting to help young women accept their bodies and themselves. And while I formally left the field some twenty years ago, I have continued to see many clients over the years who have suffered from some form of disordered eating, distorted body image or dysfunctional view of self.
Over the past thirty years, I have noticed some changes. Whereas in 1979, Dr. Orbach's book was one of the few self-help books on the subject, thirty years later, amazon.com lists 2, 655. There are countless eating disorder information services that disseminate information to those seeking treatment and supports. Most Ontario high schools now include discussions about eating, body and weight issues in their Family Studies programs. And recently, the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario introduced a program designed for use with boys and girls from kindergarten to grade 8, on the issue of body image. Health professionals have become aware of the dangers of dieting and the need for nutritional education and counselling. And companies like Dove have recognized the public's willingness to accept women of all sizes, shapes and ages as models in their "Campaign for Real Beauty."
Despite these advances, there is still cause for concern. Statistics suggest that 80% of Ontario schoolgirls of normal height and weight wish they were thinner, and 27% of them report significant symptoms of eating disorders (Jones et al 2001). And while there are not a lot of studies on males, there has been a rising incidence amongst men. Judy Teffer, a spokesperson for the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, estimated that there are 1 million men of the 8 million Americans with eating disorders. Typically, those that actually seek service are just a percentage of the numbers who suffer the problem. And in the case of men, many might feel too much shame and embarrassment to seek out treatment for what has long been viewed as a women's issue.
The causes of eating disorders surround us. There are sociocultural, familial and individual influences, so there are no easy solutions. Even if we were to successfully change society's view of the need to be thin, or help parents recognize that complaining about their own bodies will only perpetuate the problem amongst their children, there are also the individual's own biological or psychological issues.
According to the National Eating Disorder Information Center, there are certain warning signs of an eating disorder that we can look for in others and ourselves: Low self-esteem; Social withdrawal; Perfectionism; Extreme preoccupation with food, body weight, shape and counting calories; Inability to concentrate; Changes in mood and behaviour; Denial that there is a problem.
If you know of someone who fits this bill or if you can see yourself, please give me a call. I would be happy to help or direct you to someone else who can.
Barbara Fish, M.Ed.
Personal and Career Counsellor
“Helping Your Life Work”
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