Tag Archives: media

A Balanced Diet: What Do Those Words Really Mean?

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We hear it everywhere: in order to be healthy, you need to eat a balanced diet. But what does that really mean? I’m scrolling through Google images right now trying to find an appropriate picture to go with this article, and at least half of the images only show “healthy” foods. You know what I mean: your greens; your grains; your fish; your eggs; your cheese; your meats (the latter four tiny splodges at the top compared to the large array of fruits and breads). A large percentage of the pictures are only of fruit and veg. I mean, come on: I have my own “cheese corner” in my fridge, and no one is ever taking that away from me. Especially not a food chart.

For the most part, the food triangle often used to demonstrate balanced eating is a fairly accurate rough guide, and looks something like this:
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It is a rough guide to the way our diet will look if we listen to our bodies (when energy-balanced and healthy in themselves – not in a state of recovery or beforehand) and follow its cues – and we do not have to do any counting or checking or weighing or recording to trust that this is what our bodies will naturally lead us to do. Our bodies are extremely intelligent and I urge you to listen to them over most external influences.

I also like this pie chart, apart from the wording of “treats”, as these types of foods should just be another part of the pie chart rather than being labelled with a word that holds so many negative connotations.

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What I do like about this pie chart is that it shows that 10% of your diet in a day should include foods deemed “unhealthy” by society. Foods like cookies, sweets, chocolate, cake, biscuits etc. Now this chart shows a representation of your daily diet. If you start to think about it, that means that you can eat these foods every day – something that I have seen demonised in countless magazines and online articles. I have often seen or heard advice that you should only eat “treats” a few times a week, and no way am I giving up my daily dose of baked goods, however much you tell me it’s not good for me, Karen.

The thing is, a lot of us believe the words “balanced diet ” to exclude those yummy foods that are so often seen as the devil. The thing is, these foods are an important part of a varied, balanced diet. They are part of our mental health – because we should not deprive ourselves of anything. They are a good, quick energy source for our bodies, and they are especially helpful to our bodies in recovery because of this. Eating a balanced diet means eating bits of everything. It means not restricting any food types or specific food items, unless you have a food allergy, food intolerance, or you have an illness that requires you to cut out certain foods or monitor them. It means varying what you eat and not eating the exact same thing every day (yeah, I’m talking to you, ED). It means eating foods and consuming liquids that you enjoy. It means getting in those nutrient dense fruit and vegetables. It means providing yourself with an adequate amount of carbohydrates so that you have enough energy for the day. It means having that coffee and cake with Ann, and getting takeaway with Heather, and digging into ice cream and popcorn in front of a movie with Sam. It means changing up your routine. It means being flexible. It means trying out new things. It means going back to old favourites. It means hearty meals, light bites, snacks, and puddings. It means not overthinking it and letting your body lead the way.

So often these wonderful foods like crisps, pizza, and cake are associated with feelings of shame, greed, and overindulgence, and there can be judgement from others when eating them. However, this is only because they also have been made to feel those negative emotions when eating those foods themselves. The thing is, food is not a moral issue (and you can read my article on that here). You are free to eat what you want, when you want. You are free to be as healthy or unhealthy as you want – and that is not anyone’s business. And if you want to be healthy, follow the lead of your body (yes, I will repeat that until my death). If you want to check that you are eating a varied, balanced diet, do a quick valuation of what you eat on an average day or an average week, but don’t overthink it, as this can very quickly descend into a spiral of obsession. As long as every food group is incorporated into your diet, that’s a good sign. And when you’re uhmming and aahing in the cafe with Susan, just get the damn cake.

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Health At Every Size and Big Is Beautiful/Fat Acceptance: What These Movements Stand For and Why They Are Important

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Health at Every Size and the Fat Acceptance Movement started as small, barely recognised movements. Due to the hard work of those involved and the (very) gradual shift in views around weight, shape, and size, these movements are now beginning to get the acknowledgement and publicity that they deserve. The more exposure these movements get, the more people will start to be enlightened to the real facts, figures, and evidence around size, health, and weight set point theory. Hopefully with time weight-based myths, discrimination, and stigma will be something that we as a society look back on and cringe with shock and humiliation that we got something so wrong and treated millions of people so badly. However, we still have a really long way to go until then.

You might be new to these movements, or you might not be, but either way, you may be unsure about what they stand for and why these things are so important. So let’s have a look at each movement and discuss a little bit about them.haes-4

Health At Every Size (or HAES) was first developed by American psychotherapist and nutritionist Linda Bacon, who wrote the book Health at Every Size (first published in 2008), and the sequel, Body Respect. Health At Every Size is a movement that is promoted by those who believe that health and fitness can be achieved regardless of weight, shape, and size, and that weight-loss is not a requirement for those deemed “overweight” or “obese” by BMI in order to live a healthy and happy life. HAES encourages people to accept their weight as it is, and promotes mental and physical well-being without weight loss as a goal. HAES cites studies that have shown that weight loss often leads to worse health regardless of the starting weight, and presents evidence that suggests that obesity is not the cause of health issues or premature mortality. It provides strong arguments for the idea that correlation does not equal causation, and picks apart flaws in studies that apparently connect obesity to poor health. HAES supports self love, self care, and body positivity, as well as healthy physical lifestyle choices such as being active and eating a balanced diet. HAES promotes this in a way that is conductive to mental health: it urges people to engage in activity that is enjoyable first and foremost, and not gruelling and repetitive work-out routines, and it supports the idea that food is not just for survival but also for pleasure. It maintains that weight loss should never be a goal, and that weight loss is frequently damaging, and encourages people to follow intuitive and instinctive eating and activity. It also supports weight set point theory.

The Health At Every Size® Principles are:

  1. Weight Inclusivity: Accept and respect the inherent diversity of body shapes and sizes and reject the idealizing or pathologizing of specific weights.
  2. Health Enhancement: Support health policies that improve and equalize access to information and services, and personal practices that improve human well-being, including attention to individual physical, economic, social, spiritual, emotional, and other needs.
  3. Respectful Care: Acknowledge our biases, and work to end weight discrimination, weight stigma, and weight bias. Provide information and services from an understanding that socio-economic status, race, gender, sexual orientation, age, and other identities impact weight stigma, and support environments that address these inequities.
  4. Eating for Well-being: Promote flexible, individualized eating based on hunger, satiety, nutritional needs, and pleasure, rather than any externally regulated eating plan focused on weight control.
  5. Life-Enhancing Movement: Support physical activities that allow people of all sizes, abilities, and interests to engage in enjoyable movement, to the degree that they choose.

Health At Every Size is a movement that I strongly agree with. Its main principles on exercise, food, weight, and body positivity are ones that I advocate with every fibre of my being. It’s incredibly important because we live in a culture obsessed with dieting and weight loss; a culture preoccupied with attaining the “perfect body – a body that is not achievable for the majority of people without sacrificing their mental and/or physical health. Even if you are someone who naturally has society’s idea of the “perfect” body, the dieting and weight loss industry will find ways to make you feel inadequate and flaw-ridden in a bid for you to buy their products to “fix” yourself with. The diet and weight loss industry controls much of our research into food and weight, and sweeps any evidence that contradicts their interests under the rug and publicises in a selective and biased way research that has questionable study methods or sample sizes, contentious results, and tenuous correlations. So do I have any criticism of the HAES movement?

Firstly, I think that although HAES is absolutely correct in that we should intuitively eat and listen to hunger and fullness cues, it underestimates how difficult that can be to relearn, especially if you are someone who has suffered with an eating disorder or severe dieting. In our society, feelings of guilt, self-loathing, shame, anxiety, and, on the other hand, superiority and control, have become inextricably linked with food and weight, and so it can be incredibly difficult (and perhaps even impossible) to entirely disentangle our emotions from our biological signals. That’s not to say that it cannot be done, but we need to address the context in which we live in our bodies  before we can start to challenge and relearn the way that we feed and view our bodies. Being presented with the principles of the Health At Every Size movement can feel like ordering flat-pack furniture and taking it home, only to open it up, lay out the pieces of the floor, and realise that the instructions aren’t there. You’re left with all the parts, but with no idea how to assemble it. And in reality that’s not exactly a flaw of the HAES movement itself, as HAES aims to educate and promote a mentally and physically healthy and positive way of living, but it is an area it sometimes fails to recognise and address.

Secondly, I’m not really a fan of the name. Heath At Every Size is misleading. Although I absolutely 110% agree that the what we view as “healthy” should be a much much much broader range of weights, it is undeniable that there are certain weights at which you just cannot be healthy at. You cannot be a healthy adult at 50lbs, just like you cannot be a healthy adult at 500lbs, and so the name of the movement leaves it open to criticism from the onset. Prader-Willi syndrome, hypothyroidism, cancer, depression, anxiety, or eating disorders are a few examples which can cause a person’s weight to plummet or skyrocket, and there are weights that are too low or too high for anyone to be healthy at. So for me, I believe in Health At (Pretty Much) Every Size, and whilst Health At Every Size is much more catchy, it’s technically incorrect, allowing those against the movement an easy starting point on which to discredit it.

Last but not least, HAES aims to provide people with the information to start working towards accepting their bodies whatever their weight, shape, and size in order to improve both physical and mental health. However, it also has to be addressed that we live in a society where fat people are constantly subjected to prejudice, body-shaming, weight stigma, and discrimination. Fat people who agree with HAES may still struggle to accept their body size in a culture so cruel to them, and their inability to find peace with their bodies may well become yet another source of shame. Again, this isn’t a flaw in the principles of HAES, but a topic that may need more recognition.

So what is the difference between Health At Every Size and the Fat Acceptance Movement? Let’s take a look at the latter:
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The Fat Acceptance movement (also known as the size acceptance, fat liberation, fat activism, fativism, or fat power movement) is a social movement seeking to change anti-fat bias in social attitudes. Those involved seek to change attitudes towards fat people in areas of life including the aesthetic, legal, and medical approaches to people whose bodies are fatter than the social norm. The Fat Acceptance movement focuses more on the way fat people are perceived and judged due to their weight, shape, or size, and although it does address physical health and the research to back up the same principles as the Health At Every Size movement, it is more focused around changing the way fat people are treated and discriminated against. Fat people are often dehumanised and shown far less respect than those that are at a socially “acceptable” weight. One of the main examples is medical care. Fat people’s medical issues are often inaccurately dismissed as being caused by their weight, are shown less respect, and are often shamed for their body size.

The Big Is Beautiful movement is a smaller movement that comes under the Fat Acceptance movement, and focuses more on aesthetics. Its message is that people whose bodies are bigger than what is considered socially “acceptable” are beautiful too, and that you don’t have to be a certain weight, shape, or size to be attractive. Its aim is to help people find beauty in their bodies regardless of any contributing factors that make them look a certain way: health is besides the point.

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Both movements are focused around respect, and also talk about health as irrelevant. The ideas is that even if you believe that someone IS unhealthy due to their weight, its not your business what lifestyle choices they make, and they should be treated with respect regardless of those choices. For example, we all know people who smoke or binge drink, but we do not treat them as less human on an everyday basis because those choices lead to poor health. We do not assume their personality, or directly link their personal lifestyle choices with their moral character. This is why these movements are so important: they address the way society perceives and treats people who are fat.

My only criticism of these two movements (Fat Acceptance and Big Is Beautiful) is that there are some people involved in this movement who look down on those who diet as betrayers of the movement, when they should be seen as victims of a diet and weight loss obsessed society. As I stated above with HAES, it can be forgotten how powerful and pervasive “thin ideals” are, and all of us are affected by it in some way, even if we do constantly work to disentangle ourselves from it and rise above it. We should all be working together to support one another and help to lift each other up not put anyone down. We should aim to educate, not shun; support, not vilify.

Health At Every Size, the Fat Acceptance movement, and Big Is Beautiful, are all extremely important in terms of physical health, mental health, feminism, and education around food, weight, and health, amongst other things. They are powerful and uplifting; inspiring and motivational; enlightening and passionate. They can give us the information and confidence to live in a better way; a way that makes the aspirations of health and happiness more achievable.

To find out more about weight set point theory, and to read discussions around and evidence to support Health At Every Size, you can visit the resources section on this website. There is a drop-down menu that displays many sub-sections, including one for each of these topics.

And as a last little titbit of information, check the photo out below:

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Exercise (pt 1): Is it Part of Your Healthy Lifestyle, or Are You Waging War on Your Body?

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My first ever blog post was on the dangers of exercise addiction, but I wanted to reboot this topic and do it over in two parts, focusing more on exercise in recovery from an eating disorder (in part 2), as well as exercise in the general community (part 1 right here), and the effects it can have on both sets of people.

Exercise is something that those with eating disorders use and abuse to lose weight, change their bodies, and deal with negative thoughts and feelings in a negative and unhealthy way, but it is also something that has become a toxic part of many people’s lives in the community at large. It has become something that is unhealthy for many people who are engaging in it.

“Exercise…unhealthy?!” you gasp in disbelief, “How can something that is clearly part of a healthy lifestyle be a problem?”

The issue with exercise in our society now is the way people exercise. The issue is why people exercise. The issues are the mentality: the thoughts and feelings behind what is driving someone to exercise, and the outcome that they are looking for.

If you look around at the media, at health food blogs, at doctors recommendations, at magazines, books, and website articles, then you will see that women primarily, but also men too, are constantly being told that they should be exercising in order to lose weight or become toned, or in some way alter the way that their bodies look. I frequently see my friends updating their Facebook statuses letting us all know they have had an intense session at the gym, or tweeting about how they don’t want to go out for a run because it’s cold but that they need to. I see “healthy” lifestyles which include clean eating (eliminating all processed foods and extra additives from your diet, and only eating whole, unrefined foods) and regular exercise all over blogging sites. I can’t seem to avoid fitspo. Society has become obsessed with it.

There are people who genuinely enjoy the physical activities that they pursue as hobbies. There are people who don’t like the physical activities that they choose to do but feel that the results are worth it.  There are people who cannot stand to do the physical activity that they force themselves to do but feel like they have to do it because of whatever the driving force behind their exercise is – which is usually body hatred.

In my opinion, only the first of the three types of active people that I mentioned should be exercising. The others should cease exercise and heal their relationships with their bodies and themselves before resuming any physical activity. They should find physical activities that they genuinely enjoy that are primarily focused on having fun and/or socialising rather than changing the way their bodies look.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not condoning a lifestyle of sitting on the couch eating Chinese takeaways and playing videogames forever after (but if that’s what makes you happy, by all means, go for it! No judgements made), as I believe movement is part of a healthy lifestyle, but I do not think that anyone should be forcing themselves to do a workout that they don’t find any enjoyment in. I do not think that anyone should be wasting time engaging in activities that they do want to do purely because they are driven by a society telling them that their bodies are not good enough as they are and/or that they are lazy and unhealthy if they do not engage in x amount of physical activity doing certain types of exercise.

“I really don’t want to go the gym today, but I know I need to/have to/should,” is a common comment that I hear from colleagues, friends, and strangers, and this is a result of the insidious and toxic system that is diet culture. Nobody has an obligation to engage in physical activities that they don’t enjoy. Nobody should.  These days we see exercise as something we don’t want to do, but something that we have to do. Doctor’s orders. Exercise has become something we associate with gyms and aerobics and gruelling runs, which most people don’t really enjoy. We’ve lost touch of recreational activity: doing things that we enjoy that involves physical activity. The enjoyment part is primary, and the activity secondary.

Being active is great, but only when you have found something that you actually enjoy. This could just be leisurely strolls through the countryside, or hikes in the hills. This could be swimming with your kids, or challenging a friend to a few badminton games. This could be finding a team sport that makes your heart race and your grin wide. It could be practising mindfulness through yoga, or getting competitive with a colleague whilst playing squash. This could be once a week or once a day. Whatever makes you happy. Not whatever makes you lose weight, or whatever gives you abs. Not whatever gives you a tiny waist or bulging arm muscles. Not whatever burns the most calories. Whatever makes you happy.

Physical activity should be done only if it adding to your life, not something that comes at a cost. Not something that you dread. Not something that you have to make yourself do. Exercise is something that is pushed on us as categorically healthy, but it’s just not when it comes at the expense of someone’s mental or physical health, and it’s not when the drive behind it is body dissatisfaction, or downright body hatred. On the extreme end of the spectrum, exercise can also turn into a dangerous addiction, and in the case where exercise becomes the focus of someone’s life it needs to be taken very seriously, and this is something that I will talk about in my next article in the coming weeks (part 2).

If you are exercising not because you want to, but because you feel that you should, or have to, then I would highly suggest that you take time out, stop the exercise that you have been engaging in, and take the time to evaluate if what you are doing is actually benefiting you. Assess your reasons for exercising, and start building a positive and healthy relationship between you and your body. Because you need it, and you deserve it. Your body is perfect just as it is. Learn to love it, not to wage war on it. Then find movement in your life that makes you smile. Find movement in your life that you look forward to. Find movement that brings you positivity, and never expend energy in the name of diet culture ever again. You are beautiful, and this is what you deserve.

 

The Portrayal of Anorexia Nervosa in the Media (and the General Lack of Representation of Any Other Eating Disorder)

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There was a time, a couple of years ago, when I expressed interest in a photoshoot that was going to show people of various shapes and sizes in bikinis or “tasteful white underwear”, to accompany an article on the recovery of eating disorders. As a B-eat media contact, I receive emails about research projects, articles, and surveys to do with eating disorders that I could possibly help out with, which is when I stumbled across this article and the request for those who had recovered or were in recovery to contact the journalist who was to be writing the article.

I expressed my interest, and the journalist and freelance writer who was to write the article responded. She explained that the aim of the article was to have a positive and influential impact on the way eating disorders are viewed in the UK. She wanted to eradicate the myth that a full recovery isn’t possible, and also to present a healthy image of women’s bodies. She expressed that she was aware that the media usually sensationalises eating disorders, and portrays the subject is a very negative light, without ever looking at the recovery journey and people who have achieved remission. She wanted the article to inspire those in the grips of an eating disorder. To me this sounded like an excellent idea until I read with unease that my present weight and clothes size was expected to be included in the article, as was a “before” and “after” photograph.  It stated within the email that she was not looking for a shocking image, but if that was the case, why on earth was there any need for a “before” photograph at all, showing me when I was sick?

If the intent was to raise awareness for non-disordered people, and inspiration for those who have an eating disorder, then a photograph of someone when they are sick would not be beneficial in any way. Disordered people would only be triggered by such images and most likely put off by the weight gain that they see between the before and after photographs (a comparison between the two would be inevitable), and raising awareness means showing a variety of eating disorders: bulimia, EDNOS (Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified), and BED (Binge Eating Disorder), as well as anorexia. People who suffer from eating disorders that are not anorexia tend to be of a normal or above normal weight, and therefore a “before” photograph would not illustrate their sickness. Eating disorders are mental illnesses, and therefore the problem lies predominantly within the mind, not exclusively within the body. A photoshoot portraying people who are recovered in bikinis or underwear would be positive because it would show those in remission being proud of their bodies instead of feeling ashamed and hiding them, the focus should not be on what clothes size or weight they are now. Giving that number significance just defies the point of recovery and draws attention to what these people have been fighting so hard to get rid of: the destructive obsession with attaching such an importance to a number. Why would that number even be given a mention in an article about recovery?

I replied to the journalist, stating my thoughts on the matter, but she never sent me an email back to answer my questions about it all.

The media need to stop printing photographs of these extremely underweight girls day in and day out. Not only does the frequent publishing of photographs of anorexic individuals numb the viewer, but there is a high risk that it will trigger people with eating disorders to push themselves further into the disease, and hinder those who are trying to recover by possibly sparking a relapse. This could also cause the same for those who are recovered, because being recovered does not mean being cured. One of the eating disorder’s most powerful weapons is its little mantra: you’re not sick enough, and so when faced with images of the worst cases of anorexia, those with eating disorders more than likely have that voice whispering persuasively into their ear. Photographs of anorexics at their lowest weight benefit nobody. Ever.  At the end of the day the use of these images of very underweight people are there to satisfy the curiosity of the viewer, and not for any beneficial reason for those afflicted with the disease.

Notice that I said “girls” in the paragraph above. The prevalence of eating disorders in men is becoming more and more significant, but articles about men with eating disorders are extremely rare, which furthers the stigma surrounding it and invalidates the many men suffering from the illness. We need to start representing the male population who suffer with eating disorders. It is so important that they get recognition and acceptance, so that more men feel able to ask for help and support which they desperately need.

Another negative to these images is that because anorexia nervosa is the eating disorder most visible to the eye, the media focuses almost entirely on that eating disorder only so that they can publish disturbing images alongside the articles to shock the viewer and satisfy their morbid curiosity. This results in the media neglecting to give equal coverage to bulimia nervosa, BED, and EDNOS, not to mention ortherexia nervosa* and ARFID, which most people have not even heard of, and anorexia athletica. Our society seems eager to gawp at people who are physically different in some way to most others; whether they are exceedingly thin, extremely overweight, showing severe symptoms of illness, deformed, or disabled. Some examples of this are the programs Supersize Vs Superskinny, The Undateables, and Embarrassing Bodies. We are overly intrigued to see those deemed physically unattractive try (and often fail) to lead a normal life, but that has got to stop when it effects those in similar situations in a harmful way, which is exactly what the publication of these types of images does. We are so obsessed with staring at those different to us that it becomes the main focus of articles on eating disorders, and so all the other eating disorders get barely any coverage, which is extremely invalidating and perpetuates the myth that anorexia is the only “serious” eating disorder. All eating disorders are life-threatening and soul-destroying, and it is so important that people receive that message loud and clear.

Because the media focuses chiefly on those with severe anorexia nervosa and ignores the existence of other eating disorders, this only enhances the misconception that eating disorders are about weight, and that people who are not severely underweight cannot suffer from an eating disorder. Eating disorders are judged far too frequently by appearance, and people that are of a normal weight or above normal weight are not taken seriously enough by friends, family, and even doctors. The media only panders to that incorrect judgement.

People need to realise that eating disorders are exceptionally harrowing, extremely serious, and utterly destructive mental illnesses, and not some kind of sick pastime in the form of some “light reading” in a glossy magazine.

We are people, and we are suffering: stop parading us around for the entertainment of others.

*Ortherexia nervosa is not mentioned in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) but was first used by Steven Bratman to characterize people who develop an obsession with avoiding foods perceived to be unhealthy. This is something a vast majority of people in recovery from an eating disorder experience a phase of, but it is also very much experienced as a stand-alone mental disorder and should be taken very seriously, as it can result in malnutrition and even death.