Food & Weight Preoccupation

Thoughts, feelings and behaviours related to managing food and weight can begin to interfere with our everyday activities. When we focus too much attention on our bodies and our eating, these preoccupations can quickly lead to missed opportunities in other parts of our lives. Our personal, school or professional lives, not to mention our overall well-being, can be drastically affected. Food and weight preoccupation can also lead to severe physical and emotional problems.

Learn here about the myths of dieting, how these issues affect males and females, cross ethnic, racial and economic lines, and much more.

How Does Someone Develop an Eating Disorder?

There are many societal, familial and individual factors that can influence the development of an eating disorder. Individuals who are struggling with their identity and self-image can be at risk, as well as those who have experienced a traumatic event. Eating disorders can also be a product of how one has been raised and taught to behave. Usually, an eating disorder signals that the person has deep emotional difficulties that they are unable to face or resolve.

What's It Like to Have an Eating Disorder?

People with eating disorders often describe a feeling of powerlessness. By manipulating their eating, they then blunt their emotions or get a false sense of control in their lives. In this way, an eating disorder develops out of a method of coping with the world. This coping, however, is merely a mask, as it does not solve the life problems that the person is experiencing.

How Do You Know If You Have an Eating Disorder?

If the way you eat and think about food interferes with your life and keeps you from enjoying life and moving forward, then that is disordered eating. Take it seriously and talk to someone who can help. You don't need to wait for a diagnosis by a doctor.

Clinical Eating Disorders

What exactly are clinical eating disorders? Clinical eating disorders include:
Anorexia nervosa - When you lose a lot of weight because you're hardly eating anything, and might over-exercise. You probably can't or don't admit how underweight you are. You may not initially look very thin, but may be far too thin to support your health. You can be so thin that every bone in your body shows, but still feel "fat". When you feel fat it makes it hard to ask for help or hear advice from others because, to you, "fat" has come to mean "being bad". You could also know that you are much too thin but don't make changes because you're so afraid of food and gaining weight. To you, this would represent losing control over yourself.
Bulimia nervosa - When you binge and purge. You eat out of control and then try to get rid of the calories. You fast, make yourself vomit, abuse laxatives, or exercise too much. These ways of purging harm your body and don't help you accomplish what you want. Your weight may go up and down a lot.
Binge eating disorder - When you eat so much you're uncomfortable, eat to comfort yourself, eat in secret, or keep eating as part of a meal or between meals. You feel a lot of shame or guilt about your eating. Binge eating is also called compulsive eating. It is not the same as bulimia because you do not usually try to get rid of the food you've eaten.
Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (ED-NOS) - When you experience a mix of anorexia, and/or bulimia, and/or binge-eating symptoms, but don't fall neatly into one of these medical categories, you may have an Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (ED-NOS). If you have an ED-NOS, you should also receive the help and resources provided to individuals who have a "neat" clinical diagnosis.
For additional information, see Definitions.
Please keep in mind...
Any food and weight issues that limit your ability to live a full and pleasurable life are of concern. It doesn't matter if you don't clearly fit one of the clinical categories above  you still can and should seek help.

Ideas for Yourself

Encourage positive body image and healthy attitudes towards food in yourself and those around you. This is part of a healthy lifestyle, which includes working towards physical, emotional, spiritual and mental well-being.
Criticize the culture that promotes unhealthy body image, not your self.
Look at how encouraging people to dislike their bodies helps to sell products. Even young children can understand this. Encourage children to question, evaluate and respond to the messages that promote unhealthy body image and low self-esteem.
Do not encourage or laugh at jokes that make fun of a person's size or body.
Find a direct and gentle way to say that a person's worth and morality are not related to how they look.
Avoid labelling food "bad," "sinful," or "junk food."
Labels like this can make you feel guilty or ashamed for eating "bad food". If we think this way, we can restrict, and then binge, on certain foods. Remember that a healthy diet includes both regularly eating nutritious food and occasionally eating less nutritious, high calorie food. Use different labels for food like "sometimes food" and "everyday food".
Get rid of your diet!
Fight against the main cause of eating disorders - dieting. All you need is a trash can. Put one in your office, school or home. Get rid of all those negative products in your life. Fill it with dieting how-to guides, calorie counters, bathroom scales, diet pills, laxatives and other diet products. Be real. Free your body and your mind. Spend your money and your passion on something that matters.
Get rid of your scale!
Numbers can be deceiving. Listen to your body. Let it tell you how healthy you are. Remember that your weight is not a measurement of your health or self-worth. Make health and vitality your goal, not a specific weight. Read about Dieting Facts & Fiction and how diets can be harmful to your emotional and physical health.
Tell the media what you think: they do listen.
Write a letter to the editor of a newspaper, call a TV station, radio station or newspaper. Let them know what you think of their advertisements, articles, stories, etc. Organize a shredding table at a local community centre and invite the public to bring and shred their most despised adverts and articles. Provide a paper shredder or scissors and a wastepaper basket. Invite the media. Work within your community to gather petitions through schools, community health centres and youth organizations. Help raise awareness of harmful images and messages by contacting local media activism organizations, such as Adbusters. Send copies of the petitions to the offending company and to your provincial or federal standards association. Advertising Standards Canada is one such association responsible for all print and television advertisements in Canada. Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) also deals with any radio, televised or Internet complaints.
Tell advertisers how much you appreciate positive advertisements. This increases the likelihood of them using more inclusive and real images.
For examples of positive examples, visit the About Face.
Celebrate Eating Disorder Awareness Week (EDAW) and International No Diet Day in your community.
For ideas and information see In Your Community.