Our bodies and health have been historically policed through diet culture. Diet culture is a tool of the patriarchy which forces individuals, especially women, to centre their lives around their physical appearance. It intertwines with capitalist systems to promote unrealistic body-image whilst offering a vast array of products-paradoxically promoting the idea that one can achieve the unachievable.
The result it has …
Health and wellness is equated with weight loss and thinness i.e. ‘You look great, have you lost weight?’
When addressing body-image issues, we must also consider body-based oppression and how society treats certain bodies.
Eurocentric beauty ideals means that diet culture intersects with racist and ableist attitudes, which continually discriminate against certain groups of marginalised bodies.
Trans people, people of colour, people with disabilities all face significant barriers to social acceptance and inclusion and it is these systems of oppression which we must fight against.
Having a good self-image is more than simply what we look likewe have to remind ourselves and others that our worth does not come from what we can or cannot do, or what we look like, but from our mere existence. Worth isn’t something that can be given or taken away.
However, we must be aware of the issues which individuals experience when attempting to reach a place of self-love or acceptance, and focus our efforts on tackling existing prejudices and bias.
The National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) provides a thorough explanation of eating disorders, stating "Eating disorders are real, complex, and devastating conditions that can have serious consequences for health, productivity, and relationships. They are not a fad, phase or lifestyle choice. Eating disorders are serious, potentially life-threatening conditions that affect a person's emotional and physical health.
Between 1.25 and 3.4 million people in the UK are affected by an eating disorder.
Around 25% of those affected by an eating disorder are male.
Eating disorders are most common in individuals between the ages of 16 and 40 years old.
“Only women struggle with eating disorders”
25% of those affected by eating disorders are male: eating disorders can affect anybody, regardless of age, gender, sex assigned at birth, sexual orientation, race, background or religion. They aren’t mutually exclusive to any social or biological factor, and they can be just as severe for men as they are for women.
“Only underweight people struggle with eating disorders”
Many people of all shapes and sizes battle with eating disorders, and it’s important to know that not all eating disorders lead to being unhealthily underweight.
There are many different types of eating disorders, all with different symptoms, but none of them are exclusive to a certain weight type.
Whilst being underweight can be a symptom of some eating disorders for some people, it certainly doesn’t mean that only those who are underweight can struggle with an eating disorder.
“An eating disorder can’t be bad if the person looks healthy”
Eating disorders don’t have a certain “look”, and it’s impossible to tell who has one, or how severe it is based on looks alone. Eating disorders are often well hidden conditions, and whilst they can majorly impact someone’s overall health, the fact that someone “looks healthy” isn’t a factor when it comes to judging the severity of it.
“An eating disorder is a successful way of losing weight”
Weight loss isn’t just about reaching your goal number on the scale – it’s about making sustainable lifestyle changes that can be supported to maintain a healthy weight. If we go by this definition, an eating disorder isn’t a successful way of losing weight, purely because it isn’t healthy or sustainable.
In addition to this, many people with eating disorders don’t just stop or change their attitude towards food and weight when they reach a healthy weight. Unfortunately, it can become a long-term condition that’s difficult to control, and sufferers can end up becoming underweight and malnourished, which definitely isn’t successful when it comes to wanting to achieve a healthy weight.
“An eating disorder is a choice”
Eating disorders can be classed as a mental illness, and can often occur alongside depression, anxiety, or other mental health problems.
Some eating disorders are born out of compulsions, whilst others are born out of depression or anxiety surrounding weight and body issues.
However, it doesn’t matter why or how an eating disorder develops when it comes to this myth – the main thing is that people understand that it isn’t a choice, and it’s a condition that needs treatment and support just like anything else.
“Eating disorders are only about food”
The idea that eating disorders only affect food choices perhaps comes about because of the “eating” part of the name. However, this isn’t always the case.
Whilst some people do develop unhealthy habits towards food purely because of sensory or taste issues, others develop these attitudes due to low self-esteem or poor body image.
Eating disorders are complex conditions, so whilst for some people, it might be purely about food, others may see food restriction as a small part of the disorder compared to self-image, purging and mental health issues.
The services provide expert advice on the symptoms and behaviours associated with eating disorders, in addition to ways in which you can access help. If you or anyone you know is experiencing these issues, do not hesitate to contact these services or speak to the SU Advice Centre who will be able to advise you on where best to access support.
Accepting that you have a problem with disordered eating and/ or body-image issues is a huge first step and one that you do not have to make on your own
Beat Eating Disorders is recommended by the NHS for both those that are struggling themselves, and for those that are worried about a loved one, pupil or co-worker. There’s so much information available from Beat, and there’s even a helpline that you can call for more advice.
Another UK based site that offers help and support for those with eating disorders as well as their friends and family, including an online support group for parents and carers of those with an eating disorder.