By Monique Richard MS, RDN, LDN
It is that time of year again where I see an influx of New Year’s resolution articles related to weight loss, as well as a bevy of marketing and promotional programs for weight loss supplements, quick-fix diets, gadgets, and exercise equipment. The shiny appeal of ‘New and Improved’ or the promise of all your dreams being realized if you lose weight quickly fade when expectations are not met, money runs out, you’re miserable, or it does not come from a genuine, centered, and healthy place of knowledge and effort for the long haul. February is also the month that devotes a week to focus on Eating Disorder Awareness. This year, the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) awareness week theme is ‘It takes just 3 minutes to save a life’- focusing on the importance of early intervention. The NEDA website states:
We’re encouraging the public to take just 3 minutes to complete the confidential online eating disorders screening at screening.mentalhealthscreening.org/NEDA. Taking 3 minutes to complete the screening will help determine if it is time to seek professional help. If someone is exhibiting signs or thoughts of struggling with an eating disorder, intervening during the early stages of development can significantly increase the likelihood of preventing the onset of a full-blown eating disorder. It also leads to greater chances of a full recovery. It can prevent years of struggle and can even save lives.1
I work with a lot of patients and clients who have eating disorders ranging from orthorexia (although not an officially recognized diagnosis yet, it is a term to describe someone who is obsessed with ‘clean’ eating or being healthy to an extreme) to binge-eating, bulimia, or anorexia or a combination of all of these. Four out of 10 Americans have suffered or know of someone who has suffered from an eating disorder2; I, personally, am also seeing more and more disordered eating patterns and beliefs in general. They affect individuals across the spectrum of age, gender, race and socioeconomic background.
Self-Confidence and Weight
Our society’s focus on food, external beauty, weight, and physical appearance, along with the multiple social media platforms and images now accessible at any given time, has been a source of intense pressure and scrutiny for many and can be a catalyst for someone to be triggered into a negative health spiral. Recently, I have noticed a heightened recurring theme come to light in some academic arenas and organizations, as well as in the media, of tying one’s self-confidence to their weight. When one becomes confident in their weight only, it may be due to feeling they need to defend their body size due to perceived images, outside criticism, or discomfort within their own body. Additionally, they may pride themselves on their size or image due to the media or celebrity focus, or there may be an obsession with the number on the scale due to a certain irrational or distorted belief. Self-confidence in your weight or size can be dangerous in a number of ways; it can lead to:
• disordered eating patterns
• an eating disorder
• bullying others to project negative feelings
• judgment of others’ physical image, lifestyle, choices or health status
We must understand weight can fluctuate, even on a daily and hourly basis, and self-confidence should not waver based on a fluid number affected by physiological, psychological, or medical changes. Self-confidence in oneself is critically important and we should have it for many reasons, but weight should not be one of them. Here are some reminders of what self-confidence should be based on. How self-confident are you?
Your beautiful brain. Even daily tasks we may consider the simplest, or the most challenging, are fueled by your body and brain. Your intelligence and drive to be better, to learn, to thrive, are beautiful things. Do you care for your beautiful mind? Do you:
• read, write, paint, draw, play an instrument,
listen, speak another language, sign, teach,
sing, or learn on a daily basis?
• drive, decide what to wear, decide what to
have for breakfast, feed and take care of
yourself, the kids, animals, spouse, or plants?
• calculate a budget, pay bills, go to work, brush
your teeth, phone your doctor?
Your health or health management. You may not be in control of all the details and diagnoses, but you are in control of the choices you make regarding your health, as well as how you react to situations. Focus on how you feel, what your health status is, and what barriers are stopping you from achieving your goals. Do you:
• exercise regularly?
• eat a balanced, varied, and moderate diet of wholesome foods to support your awesomeness?
• participate in stress management practices?
• get adequate hydration and sleep daily?
• seek professional guidance when self-management becomes difficult or overwhelming?
Your kind spirit. Your generous heart, good intentions, and thoughtfulness are something to be cherished; feel proud about the kind of person you are. Do you:
• check on your neighbor, family member, or co-worker?
• carpool the neighborhood kids?
• call a friend to check-in?
• listen to the same story for the umpteenth time?
• provide a service to the public?
• donate time, money, or goods to the food shelf, church, school, community garage sale, 5K, cancer awareness program, hospital, homeless shelter, animal shelter, or national organization?
A Holistic Approach to Health
I also work with a lot of patients and clients that are interested in weight loss (or weight gain) the healthy way, and they have had great success with time, coaching, the right skills, and mindset. The success is long-term, and a holistic quality of life is emphasized, not a shot, a pill, a ‘system’ or boxed, point-assigned packages. We discuss in-depth weight and the number on the scale not being the center of their journey to health and nutritional adequacy. Their needs as an individual are really taken from a multi-faceted approach from sleep to stress management, supplements to exercise, water to nutrient needs; all of this naturally tends to lead to better weight control, self-confidence, a positive relationship to food and their body, and optimal metabolic function.
As a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN), my goal is to help you thrive. That means looking at several different elements and using many tools in my toolbox. One of those tools may or may not be weight in order to establish a baseline of health status, in addition to other necessary clinical information. What is happening physiologically? What are some barriers that prohibit you from getting to your most optimal health? Working through these answers should naturally move you toward an ideal body weight for you, but that is not the focus—health is.
You have every right to be self-confident where you are at, right at this moment. You are perfect and enough. I hope you can help teach others to believe in themselves as well, but let it be for all the reasons beyond physicality and weight. Set yourself free and see the beauty that has been there all along, and if you need help with your health goals and nutritional needs, I’m here!
Disordered Eating vs. Eating Disorder:
What’s the difference?
Disordered eating is more of a descriptive phrase of behavior and thoughts versus a diagnosable disorder. Disordered eating, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), is “a wide range of irregular eating behaviors that do not warrant a diagnosis of a specific eating disorder.” This may be classified as Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED). Disordered eating can be of concern as it can turn into more problematic conditions or a specific eating disorder and may put the individual at risk for factors that negatively influence health.
Signs and symptoms of disordered eating may include, but are not limited to:
• Chronic yo-yo dieting
• Frequent weight fluctuations
• Extremely rigid and unhealthy food and exercise regime
• Feelings of guilt and shame when unable to maintain food and exercise habits
• Pre-occupation with food, body and exercise that causes distress and has a negative impact on quality of life
• Compulsive or emotionally-driven eating
• Use of compensatory measures, such as exercise, food restriction, fasting and even purging or laxative use to “make up for” food consumed (reference # here, 1&2?)
Signs and symptoms of an eating disorder may include any or all of the above as well as more specific criteria within each subcategory (anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating) such as binging, purging, restricting and can be identified by more extreme emotions, attitudes, and behaviors surrounding weight and food issues.