Research shows that body dissatisfaction is a leading risk factor in the development of an eating disorder. Body Acceptance Week, a new initiative from the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), works to promote body acceptance, including body positivity, body neutrality and body liberation for all, in addition to providing resources, education, and support for those experiencing body dissatisfaction and its associated risk factors.
In honor of Body Acceptance Week, West Michigan Woman sat down with Rae Green, JD, LPC, CAADC, Founder and President of Sanford Behavioral Health, to get her perspective on body acceptance as the holidays approach and what to do if you think you or a loved one need help.
Green emphasizes the importance of body acceptance and says Sanford's eating disorder programming has shaped the way the entire organization looks at body image, eating and meals.
"We know that body dissatisfaction is a primary risk factor in the origins and development of an eating disorder, but it also plays a role in other mental health conditions. 'Normal' body acceptance is tough when you are bombarded with social media images that glorify unattainable body ideals," Green said. "We at Sanford Behavioral Health embrace Body Acceptance Week as an opportunity to support and educate those struggling with eating disorders and those who need help in creating a positive culture at home, school or the workplace."
Body acceptance and positivity, Green explains, begins at home and can and should be practiced during any season.
"During the holidays, our priority should be to get time outside, enjoy time with family, avoid focusing on appearance and emphasize togetherness," she said, offering three strategies for accomplishing this:
1. Never criticize your own appearance, especially in front of children.
2. Value yourself more for your character.
3. Learn the difference between weight and health and concentrate on health-enhancing behaviors.
"We practice a Health at Every Size (HAES) approach, which honors body diversity and encourages movement for health and enjoyment—not to lose weight," Green said, noting that body dissatisfaction can lead to a variety of other issues. "Often, body dissatisfaction leads to dieting, and research shows that children and youth who diet are much more likely to develop eating disorders. In fact, the earlier that dieting begins, the more likely a significant eating disorder can occur. Body dissatisfaction can also trigger substance use, anxiety and depression."
There may be a time when you notice some concerning behaviors from yourself or a loved one. Green shared some of the red flags the expert eating disorder clinicians and dietitians at Sanford are on the lookout for: A hyper-focus on body image and food; changes in eating patterns, restricting certain categories of food, and obvious signs of compensatory behavior; and drastic changes in exercising and weight.
"It's important to remember that eating disorders are not always visible and don't always manifest themselves physically. And if they do, it might be too late," Green said, offering a reminder. "Even those who have larger body types can be anorexic."
If you feel you may need to broach the topic with a loved one, Green suggests approaching them with sympathy and kindness—and without judgment—as you would with any personal issue.
"Find a time when you are alone and the person is not overly tired, visibly stressed or intoxicated," she said. "And let them know how their condition has changed their behavior and affected you and your family/community. Offer suggestions and support."
An ultimately, if you recognize personal behaviors that are affecting your health or quality of life, Green emphasizes the importance of seeking professional help.
"Eating disorders are serious illnesses that involve the biopsychosocial aspects of each individual," she said, acknowledging that navigating the holiday season can be difficult in a variety of ways for many.
"It helps to help. Look outside yourself and volunteer or take food or gifts to those in need. Go to the NEDA and take the pledge. You are worthy. You are not defined by your weight, shape or size. Treat your body with respect. Challenge weight bias. And celebrate. Make sure you celebrate you."
Written by Sarah Suydam, Managing Editor for West Michigan Woman.