Week 7: Fighting Eating Disorders with NEDA and 10 Steps to a Positive Body Image
When you look in the mirror what do you see? Are you happy and confident with yourself? Or do you immediately see flaws and failures or feel shame and anxiety? Low self-esteem, negative body image, poor body confidence… these can lead to self-harm and eating disorders. The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) aims to help. Their message of hope is that your true beauty, worth and power is what’s within — and not what you see in the mirror or on the scale.
On Saturday I participated in the NEDA Walk in Morristown, NJ and I took home more than I expected going into the event.
In looking back over my life I realize I have felt dissatisfied with my weight and my physical appearance much more often than I felt confident and positive. Influenced by what I perceived to be societal norms set by media and advertising, I felt I did not meet the “standard of beauty” that was portrayed and expected. While I did not specifically struggle with an eating disorder, I could definitely relate to having poor body-image and how those feelings of not “being enough” impact self-worth and self-esteem.
I’ve read countless articles about self-image, body perception and general information about eating disorders. I’ve known people who have struggled with Anorexia. So when I arrived at the event I thought I had a pretty good understanding of eating disorders in general. I looked forward to hearing inspiring stories of strength and courage but did not think there was much more to learn about the illnesses themselves.
I was wrong. I was surprised to learn about the depth of complexity of diagnosing and treating eating disorders. I was also surprised at not just how uplifting the activities and messaging were, but how applicable they were across society as a whole, for those suffering with eating disorders or not. Developing self-confidence, self-love, being okay with who you are and what you look like… you are so much more than the scale and what you see in the mirror. Media, the fashion industry and advertisers may value what’s on the outside and choose to promote the almost unattainable, but it’s what’s on the inside of you that counts in the real world – in relationships and life. How you cultivate that viewpoint within you and help develop it in others around you (including your children)… that is the message of NEDA. So I left Saturday’s event with new ideas and life skills and new perspectives to think about.
How can you develop a positive body image in today’s society? NEDA’s 10 Steps resonated with me:
- Appreciate all that your body can do. Every day your body carries you closer to your dreams. Celebrate all of the amazing things your body does for you—running, dancing, breathing, laughing, dreaming, etc.
- Keep a top-ten list of things you like about yourself—things that aren’t related to how much you weigh or what you look like. Read your list often. Add to it as you become aware of more things to like about yourself.
- Remind yourself that “true beauty” is not simply skin deep. When you feel good about yourself and who you are, you carry yourself with a sense of confidence, self-acceptance, and openness that makes you beautiful regardless of whether you physically look like a supermodel. Beauty is a state of mind, not a state of your body.
- Look at yourself as a whole person. When you see yourself in a mirror or in your mind, choose not to focus on specific body parts. See yourself as you want others to see you — as a whole person.
- Surround yourself with positive people. It is easier to feel good about yourself and your body when you are around others who are supportive and who recognize the importance of liking yourself just as you naturally are.
- Shut down those voices in your head that tell you your body is not “right” or that you are a “bad” person. You can overpower those negative thoughts with positive ones. The next time you start to tear yourself down, build yourself back up with a few quick affirmations that work for you.
- Wear clothes that are comfortable and that make you feel good about your body. Work with your body, not against it.
- Become a critical viewer of social and media messages. Pay attention to images, slogans, or attitudes that make you feel bad about yourself or your body. Protest these messages: write a letter to the advertiser or talk back to the image or message.
- Do something nice for yourself — something that lets your body know you appreciate it. Take a bubble bath, make time for a nap, or find a peaceful place outside to relax.
- Use the time and energy that you might have spent worrying about food, calories, and your weight to do something to help others. Sometimes reaching out to other people can help you feel better about yourself and can make a positive change in our world.
I was surprised to learn that in the US, 20 million women and 10 million men suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder at some point in their lives. That 42% of girls between the ages of 6 and 10 want to be thinner. That girls with anorexia between ages 15 and 24 are 12% more likely to die of the disease than any other cause of death.
Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, Binge Eating Disorder and other specified eating disorders have stigmas attached to them in our society. They are misunderstood and underfunded. Patients don’t choose to have these disorders, they are complex medical and psychiatric illnesses that need to be professionally treated. Only 1 in 10 people who have an eating disorder actually seek treatment.
NEDA confronts these serious illnesses through increased awareness and education, early intervention and improved access to treatment. They support individuals and families through screenings, helplines, finding treatment solutions, support groups, funding research studies, legislative advocacy and more. Their annual walk raises awareness, helps educate the public and raises funds for their activities. Before and after the walk the participants were able to check out tables of activities and vendors. Many of the activities were ones we should all be doing, whether we have an eating disorder or not, because they focus on self-acceptance, resiliency and confidence.
Here are two activities I particularly loved: the “Self-love Mirror” and “Trash Your Insecurities“:
Learn more about NEDA and eating disorders by visiting the NEDA website at: https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/
A .pdf of the 10 Steps to Positive Body Image above can be found here: https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/sites/default/files/ResourceHandouts/10StepsToPositiveBodyImage.pdf
Special note: Covery Box was one of the sponsors of the Morristown NEDA Walk and is a recovery-focused gift box service that sends supportive packages to women affected by mental illness, addiction, and other life struggles. I LOVED this idea! To find out more, check out: https://coverybox.com/