In our culture, we are bombarded by daily images of perfect models on magazine covers and
overly-thin actresses on TV and overwhelmed by stressful living. External success is valued over
authentic happiness, and industries get fat financially as a result. It's no wonder we are seeing the
biggest rise in the most insidious causes of death today.
On the one hand, we have an obesity epidemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one-third of U.S. adults (33.8 percent) are obese. Approximately 17 percent (or 12.5 million) of children and adolescents aged 2 to 19 are obese. An estimated 300,000 deaths per year may be attributable to obesity.
On the other hand, we have an eating disorder crisis. An estimated 24 million people of all ages
suffer from anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorders in the U.S. In fact, a young woman with
anorexia is 12 times more likely to die than other women her age without anorexia. (The Renfrew Center Foundation for Eating Disorders, 2003).
More common, but lesser-known, is a phenomenon called "disordered eating." Disordered eating
affects 3 in 4 American women ages 25 to 45, according to a 2008 survey sponsored by SELF magazine in partnership with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Disordered eaters may engage in excessive dieting, eating when not hungry, eating in secret, skipping meals and primarily eating fattening, over-processed, "comfort" or convenience foods. This can result in low energy, trouble concentrating, anxiety, depression and/or being moderately overweight or underweight. Although disordered eating is considered less serious than eating disorders or obesity, it can lead to both.
Eating disorders, obesity and disordered eating arise from a variety of physical, emotional, and
social issues, all of which need to be addressed for effective treatment. The use or avoidance
of food as a coping mechanism ultimately leads to illness and emotional distress, affecting the
majority of the U.S. population.
We overeat because we are unhappy with ourselves or want to feel a sense of comfort or control
in our lives. We avoid eating or eat and then purge because we feel we cannot measure up to
the ideal body image. We choose unhealthy convenience foods to avoid the planning or time
commitment needed for authentic care of the body.
It all boils down to a state of being that we are trying to achieve through food. We are a culture of
people who do not love ourselves enough to live well nor accept ourselves enough to eat for our
individual body types, shapes or chemistry -- and industries profit from these insecurities.
The food industry feeds us processed, packaged, pesticide-laced food to make life "easier."
The advertising industry constantly reminds us how unacceptable we are so that we'll purchase products. The entertainment industry feeds us fantasies to escape our unhappy lives and false notions that fame and fortune lead to happiness.
In addition to exploring the medical reasons for these troubling eating patterns, the solution rests
upon the development of emotional mastery -- the ability to manage painful or uncomfortable
emotions separately from food, combined with an awareness of industries that use our emotions
against us. Developing a high level of self-acceptance is also critical to this process.
This does not mean that the problems of obesity, eating disorders and disordered eating should
be ignored. Self-acceptance means adopting a non-critical attitude toward yourself and making
choices based out on love for yourself and a desire to treat your body respectfully. It means
accepting your particular body shape, understanding your specific body requirements and giving
your body the type and amount of food and exercise it needs.
Mimi Francis, behavioral health therapist at Green Mountain residential weight loss center, asks, "How well has not liking yourself worked so far? The truth is, it hasn't. In fact, if you dislike your body, it's that much easier to abuse it."
People who truly love and accept themselves will not settle for overeating or starving themselves.
They will do what is necessary to be healthy.
In order to heal the obesity, eating disorders and disordered eating crises in America, we need to
shift our attitudes and our choices:
- Take time to understand your emotions, adopt empowering ways to resolve your conflicts and reduce the stress in your life, and teach your children to do the same.
- Choose to nurture a deep respect and acceptance for your body, and teach your children to do the same. From this place, you will feel motivated to practice body benevolence: to discover what is good for your body and then choose accordingly.
- Say "NO MORE" to the industries that feed us fattening, nutrition-stripped foods, and those that play on our vulnerabilities to get us to spend money to "feel good."
- Change how we relate to those among us who are obese or anorexic. We must cast our judgment aside and find ways to love these individuals through the resolution of the pain they are trying to escape.
The human body wants to thrive. In its natural state, it seeks to find homeostasis within itself.
When we can teach people how to truly love themselves, how to master their emotions and value
what is truly good for them, then people will naturally do what is needed to create optimum health
within the context of what is possible for them.
Follow Susan Liddy, M.A., P.C.C., C.P.C.C. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/SusanLiddy