Eating Disorders - Developing a positive body image






Developing a positive body image is necessary to the prevention of eating disorders. Many people struggle with this issue and must work hard at accepting their bodies. Eating disorder experts emphasize the importance of exercising for health reasons rather than for burning calories and losing weight. The same experts also recommend becoming politically active in the fight against unhealthy cultural messages because it can be a source of positive feelings and empowerment.

HOW DOES DIETING AFFECT THE BODY AND MIND?

The body needs a certain amount of food to function properly. If caloric intake is restricted and the body falls below its set point, it will respond by lowering its metabolism. Metabolism is the rate at which the body burns energy. When the body doesn't get enough fuel to burn, it must learn to function on less. In response, the body will hold on to any food it gets and store fat more efficiently on fewer calories. Typically, when a person stops dieting, she will gain more weight than what was lost and be more likely to keep the extra weight because the body has made adjustments to compensate for a lack of food from the dieting.

The negative physical effects of dieting can include:

  • headaches
  • dizziness
  • stomach pain
  • iron deficiency that causes fatigue
  • possible menstrual irregularity
  • lack of estrogen
  • calcium deficiency
  • lack of growth from malnutrition

The negative psychological effects of dieting can include:

  • preoccupation with food, eating, and calories
  • increased irritability
  • increased stress and anxiety from semi-starvation
  • inability to determine hunger and fullness
  • negative body image that can lead to depression and low self-esteem
  • fear of food that can lead to isolation and alienation

Other suggestions include:

  • Avoid negative talk about food and weight.
  • Avoid referring to foods as "good" or "bad."
  • Don't participate in weight-loss programs or experiment with weight-loss products.
  • Exercise moderately; don't engage in unhealthy or excessive exercise programs.
  • Talk about body-image issues with close friends and family.
  • Don't criticize people for gaining weight.
  • Don't compliment people for losing weight.
  • Encourage family and friends to question cultural attitudes about weight and body shape.

Fat and Fit? The Obesity Question

Many people have been taught to fear fat, which leads to unhealthy dieting and intense struggles to lose weight. This thinking is based on the assumption that being fat is unhealthy and should therefore be avoided at all costs.

Now, however, many researchers are questioning the idea that being fat automatically puts a person at risk for health problems. The New England Journal of Medicine published an article in 1998, edited by Jerome P. Kassirer, M.D. and Marcia Angell, M.D., that confirms what many researchers have already suspected: treatments for obesity do not work, obesity treatments pose serious health risks, and the treatments are not justified because the health risks of obesity are not as high as once thought.

THE NATIONAL ASSOCIATION TO ADVANCE FAT ACCEPTANCE

The National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA) was founded in 1969. Its mission is to work to better the lives of fat people around the world. Through advocacy and education, the organization tries to eliminate the discrimination that fat people face in their lives. NAAFA also works to empower fat people and help them accept their bodies and live more fulfilling lives.

NAAFA's basic message is that a person's worth should not be based on his or her body size. NAAFA uses the word "fat" in the hopes that people will stop using it as an insult and remember it is just an adjective (descriptive word). In this way, the word will not cause shame or embarrassment.

The organization challenges ideas about the connection between obesity and health risks. It promotes research that accurately studies the different aspects of being fat. The goal is to move away from looking for ways to help fat people lose weight and, instead, help fat people be healthy.

NAAFA has more than fifty chapters across the United States that provide support groups for people to share their feelings. Since being fat can be emotionally painful and isolating in many societies, especially in the United States, the organization promotes programs that unite people with similar experiences.

Some researchers claim that obesity is dangerous to one's health when combined with a sedentary (non-active) lifestyle. It is possible to be fat and healthy. In fact, how healthy a person is depends more on how much a person exercises rather than how much a person weighs. Weight alone is not a proper indication of how healthy a person is, and it is more beneficial for a person to concentrate on fitness instead of fatness.

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