C/O Yoohyun Park

How social media has been fuelling eating disorders and body image issues 

cw: eating disorders, body dysmorphia, body image, self-harm 

With today’s society being submerged in a world of social media that advertises bodies that are considered “norms,” it can be quite easy for one to feel down about their appearance. Today, it is not a shock when young teens decide to undergo procedures such as lip injections that are supposedly meant to look “natural.” 

It begs the question: how can one be confident in their own body? We are constantly surrounded by images of individuals with body types that may be unachievable.  

For example, the current ideal for a woman’s appearance is deemed as someone with big lips, a tiny nose, long hair, thin waist and an hourglass figure. And don’t forget — men need to be jacked, tall and strong. 

In my own experience, it’s been interesting seeing the norms change in the media throughout the years. First, we had the Tumblr phase, in which eating disorders, self-harm and anorexia were considered the norm.  

It was a competition of who had it worse and whoever did was the most “beautiful.” These were the standards around the same time I was in middle school.  

Then Instagram came in. At first, it was lighthearted but as the years went on, it became more toxic.  

With the rising popularity of editing apps such as FaceTune, it can become immensely difficult to discern what is real and what is fake.  

Popular Instagram models and the Kardashian family have set a “norm” for what beautiful women should look like, even though their beauty may have been attained through personal training and cosmetic surgery.  

Due to these overbearing images and social norms, the terms body positivity and body neutrality have become more and more prominent. 

In a broad sense, body positivity is loving all bodies, no matter their size, race or anything in-between. Body neutrality is accepting your body — recognizing its remarkable abilities and non-physical characteristics instead of focusing on your physical appearance alone. 

For example, let’s say I’m talking about my thighs. From a body positivity perspective, I love my thighs, cellulite and all. From a body neutrality lens, I would simply love my thighs because they help me walk. 

While these terms have become more common and helped many, they’ve also negatively affected some people. The body positivity trend has also led to negative consequences such as skinny shaming, which need to be avoided if we truly desire to treat all bodies equally.  

Our society also needs to understand that a certain body isn’t the picture of health and having another body type doesn’t mean you’re inherently unhealthy.  

Being healthy is allowing yourself to eat what you’d like while balancing a lifestyle that allows you to receive all the nutrients you need. It’s learning how to take care of your mind and body. It’s creating healthy habits.  

And it is okay to not love certain things. 

It takes time — a lifetime, really. But be patient with yourself and the world and notice all the things that you were given, notice what they do and appreciate them. Practice gratitude towards yourself and others and everything else will slowly follow. 

Photo by Cindy Cui / Photo Editor

By Ember, Contributor

cw: fatphobia, disordered eating

Food is what fuels our bodies. So why is it that there is an ever increasing rise of popularity in dieting and diet culture? A movement that encourages us to deprive ourselves; to aspire to be thin. To put it plainly? A hatred for fat bodies that results in widespread disordered eating.

The way we frame different topics and discussions is very important. This especially applies to the way we talk about food, our bodies and other people’s bodies.

Caloric science is based on outdated Western scientific methods from the nineteenth century by Wilbur Atwater. It is the estimate of how much energy is contained in a portion of food by burning it in a tank submerged in water, and measuring how much burning the food increased the temperature of the surrounding water.

However, it is hard to accurately predict the energy stored in food; our bodies do not work as simply as a furnace burning fuel. There are many factors that influence the calories of the foods we eat, like how the food is prepared, if cellulose is present and how much energy it takes to digest the food.

Not to mention, there are additional factors that affect digestion, such as metabolism, age, gut bacteria and physical activity. Labels on food do not accurately represent what we’re putting into our body nor what we’re getting out of it.

Ever since Canada enforced the Healthy Menu Choices Act back in 2016, which requires food establishments to list the amount of calories in their products, there has also been an increasing number of discussions surrounding the negative impact of the addition of calories to menus.

Another measurement that is often used to determine how healthy we are is body mass index, even though it is an inaccurate measurement of “health” for multiple reasons. It was meant to analyze the weight of populations, not individuals, and doesn’t take into account whether mass is fat or muscle. As a result, BMI is a biased and harmful method to gauge health.

Along with measurements like calories and BMI, language surrounding food can also be dangerous. You may hear things like “carbs are bad”, or you may hear discourse on “healthy” versus “unhealthy” foods, “cheat days” and “clean eating”, to name some examples. This language can contribute to the notion that we should feel bad for eating food, when it simply is a way to nourish ourselves and additionally, something to enjoy.

Diet culture is so pervasive and present in society. It is encouraged by menus listing calorie amounts, peers, elders and healthcare professionals in various ways. Thoughts like “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” stem from conflating “health” and “weight”, which has roots in racism, classism and fatphobia.

Diet culture is so pervasive and present in society. It is encouraged by menus listing calorie amounts, peers, elders and healthcare professionals in various ways. Thoughts like “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” stem from conflating “health” and “weight”, which has roots in racism, classism and fatphobia.

Hannah Meier, a dietitian who contributed to a project tackling women’s health, writes about how society glorifies dieting. In Meier’s article titled A Dietitian’s Truth: Diet Culture Leads to Disordered Eating she writes, “I was half-functioning. I remember filling pages of journals with promises to myself that I wouldn’t eat. I planned out my week of arbitrary calorie restrictions that were shockingly low and wrote them all over my planner, my whiteboard, the foggy mirror in the bathroom.” 

For many of us, the mindset of diet culture swallows you whole, consumes your every thought and waking moment, then spits you out like rotten food.

Oftentimes, people aren’t advocating for diets because they want to be “healthy”. Instead, they often feel passionate about dieting because of their hate and disdain for fat people since they associate being “fat” with “unhealthy”, “unhappy” or “unlovable”.

It’s also important to note that views on fatness and fat bodies change depending on the time period and culture; renaissance paintings often depict fat women in angelic and celestial aesthetics. As well, certain cultures, both past and present, value fatness as a symbol of privilege, power, wealth and fertility.

Diet culture, eating disorders, and fatphobia are so tightly knit together that they are like an ill-fitting sweater woven by your grandmother that you didn’t want or ask for. Sometimes you think about wearing it, to make things easier or simpler. But it won’t. You will only become a shell of your former self; a husk that is barely scraping by.

Any joy derived from depriving yourself is temporary. A scale will weigh how much of you is there, but it won’t weigh how much of you has been lost to an eating disorder. It is a mental illness, a distortion of reality and external factors that influence how you think. You can’t just stop having an eating disorder on a whim.

Calorie counting isn’t healthy, demonizing certain foods isn’t healthy and having preconceived notions about someone’s health based on how their body looks isn’t “just caring about their health.” Stop calling food “unhealthy” or “healthy”, start calling it “nourishing” or “not/less nourishing. Eat food that makes you happy and makes you feel good. Bodies are so many things, including wonderful and complex. You only have one — so treat it with kindness.

 

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By: Whitney Klahom - WGEN Contributor

opinion_wgen_trudeau_march16_2The prevalence of eating disorders is growing, says Melissa Kimber, a Postdoctoral Fellow working in McMaster’s Offord Centre for Child Studies. The elevated frequency of conditions like disordered eating and body dysphoria stems from many factors including, but not limited to, social pressures to conform to unattainable beauty ideals.

Despite the popular stereotype of eating disorders as an affliction for adolescent girls, young adults, particularly students, can and do suffer from them as well. The Freshman 15 and the fear of it can provoke anxiety among university students that adds to general societal pressures regarding body image.

The Queen’s University student newspaper has previously reported that 51 per cent of students at Canadian universities engage in binge eating, and bulimia incidence among female students at postsecondary institutions is around two per cent. That’s comparable to the national average, which Statistics Canada puts at one to three per cent.

At McMaster, the resources are there to seek support, like counselling services and support groups through the Wellness Centre. Off campus, Hamilton’s Body Brave offers workshops and clinical support around combatting eating disorders and body image issues, and St. Joseph’s Healthcare has an inpatient eating disorder clinic for more prolonged support.

Despite the community resources available, the stigma surrounding eating disorders can be a significant barrier to accessing these supports.

Let's all try to be fearless about our discussions of eating disorders like her while accessing and spreading knowledge about the resources available in Hamilton and McMaster.

That’s where Sophie Grégoire Trudeau comes in. She is seemingly tireless, continually advocating for and volunteering with charities across Canada that are related to the broad, multivalent issue of women’s rights. Both her charitable advocacy for eating disorder awareness and her uncompromising honesty regarding her past struggles with bulimia make her someone university students can and should hold in high esteem.

She’s talked about suffering from bulimia as a teenager since 2006 when she was still the Quebec correspondent for eTalk, and she’s been consistently open about that part of her past ever since. In 2013, she spoke on the matter at a fundraiser for Toronto-based eating disorder support centre, Sheena’s Place.

Just recently, she gave a similar speech on Parliament Hill during Eating Disorders Awareness Week. She’s worked with the Baca Clinic and the Bulimia Anorexia Nervosa Association to raise further awareness of eating disorders. She has helped advocate for healthy living with organizations like FitSpirit and Fillactive. A notable amount of her charity work, particularly for Plan Canada and Fillactive, is on a volunteer basis.

She, for her part, has consistently put her money where her mouth is for over a decade, and her honesty regarding this crucial issue holds some valuable lessons for university students.

We may not have as much free time as Ms. Trudeau has to dedicate to charities, though we can and should certainly try, but we can always be honest with ourselves and others about body image issues and eating disorders. We can always be the ones to break the silence, to have those awkward conversations and to say enough is enough. Her efforts in nationally reducing the stigma surrounding eating disorders should be a source of inspiration for McMaster students.

Let’s all try to be fearless about our discussions of eating disorders like her while accessing and spreading knowledge about the resources available in Hamilton and McMaster. We should continue to support and normalize conversations around these experiences, so others may feel safe getting the help they need.

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Happy National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, McMaster! I think it’s time we talk.

You see, eating disorders are an ugly problem especially prevalent among people our age, and we need to change that. One in ten people with anorexia will die due to suicide or medical complications within ten years of diagnosis. We all contribute to perpetuating society’s disordered relationship with food and exercise and we all have the responsibility to fix it.

There’s so much that you can do. You can call people out on b.s. about “clean eating” (which isn’t even based in scientific evidence) and labelling food as good or bad. You can compliment young girls on their ideas rather than how cute they look. You can challenge stigma towards the psychiatric system, recognizing that eating disorders are often connected to depression or anxiety, which may require medication. You can stop assuming that it’s only underweight people that suffer from eating disorders; in fact, people with bulimia tend to be average or overweight.

You can also lobby for important institutional change. We should have at least one dietician in the Student Wellness Centre and ideally a psychologist as well. McMaster should have a policy that athletes with eating disorders are not allowed to compete until they’ve started to work towards recovery. We should have the ability to provide treatment for students that don’t qualify for outpatient because of a low BMI.

The status quo is insufficient. I experienced this when I was diagnosed with an eating disorder but my weight was too low to be accepted into outpatient. The people at the Student Wellness Centre went above and beyond to help me, but eating disorders require expertise and a level of care that the SWC is unable to provide. I am thankful to have survived and thrived thanks to an incredible network of friends and family. But I’m worried.

I’m worried for the students that will come after me. I’m worried that if they don’t have a severe enough case that they won’t receive sufficient help from the SWC because of resource constraints. I’m worried that the cult of perfection at our university will continue to be a catalyst that does not get subjected to criticism. So please be critical of our institution and of yourself and the norms you perpetuate, not just this week, but every week.

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TYLER HAYWARD / SENIOR PHOTO EDITOR

Cassandra Jeffery 

Assistant InsideOut Editor

According to the Slimband dieting center, the average 20-year-old woman weighing in at 120 pounds and reaching a height of five foot, two inches should consume a total of 1776 calories per day. Not 1880 or 1978, but exactly 1776; one calorie over and the wrath of Jenny Craig will become more stressful then a biology midterm.

If you’re looking to be under the 120-pound mark, then try cutting down your calorie intake to 1421 per day. Slimband then goes one step further, suggesting 1065 calories per day for extreme results. After all, extreme measures lead to extreme results.

Our society is overly obsessed with calorie counting, to the point that we analyze every bit of food being consumed. Let’s say you eat the 120 calories in a large apple, a 300-calorie slice of pizza, and the 150 calories in a beer; six beers later and you’re over the calorie count for the day.

Next time, you’ll just have to avoid eating when preparing to drink. Often, an obsession with food, body weight, and dieting can lead to extremely dangerous illnesses, such as various sectors of eating disorders.

The pain and health complications affiliated with eating disorders are an inevitable result, yet time and time again individuals let their unrealistic goals of body perfection compromise their health.

Does beauty truly mean pain? Just a year ago, Rory Dakins, third-year Commerce student, would agree with such a statement. For four years, Dakins fell victim to bulimia nervosa.

“I wanted to be thinner, but I didn’t have the self control in order to restrict myself from eating. So when I would eat, usually junk food, I would feel guilty. Gaining weight was just not an option, so I would panic and purge,” confesses Dakins.

Eating disorders are vicious cycles, often resulting in continuous relapse coupled with a negative relationship to food and body image. “It would go through stages of intensity. For example, on certain days I would throw up an apple. It’s really an addiction that was hard to defeat. I would be constantly thinking, ‘What’s worse, gaining weight or just purging my food?’” says Dakins.

An obsession with food and body image has detrimental effects to an individual’s health and self-esteem, though the severity of eating disorders are frequently undermined or altogether ignored.

According to the Mental Health Association, 70 percent of women and 35 percent of men are on a diet. Of women between 15 and 25, one to two per cent have anorexia and three to five per cent have bulimia. Ten to twenty per cent of those who develop eating disorders die from related complications – that’s a higher rate than any other mental illness.

The severity of eating disorders varies among individuals, and for the most part, detecting that someone has an eating disorder is difficult. However, eating disorders are prevalent in both genders and many cultures. The most obvious form of pressure that contributes to an eating disorder is the glamorized media portraying men as buff and women as too thin. Depression, self-esteem problems and identity issues are just some of the many contributing factors to eating disorders.

The Mental Health Association has categorized three of the most commonly known sectors of eating disorders: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge-eating. Symptoms for anorexia include refusal to maintain appropriate body weight, dietary and exercise extremes, and constant reference to the body as being over-weight, despite dramatic weight loss.

Anorexia is essentially the refusal of food to the body, whereas bulimia is the process of purging unwanted food from the body post-consumption. Symptoms of bulimia include “self-induced vomiting, abuse of laxatives and diet pills, and eating beyond the point of fullness,” according to the Association.

Binge-eating disorder is a constant flux between overeating and excessive dieting. Symptoms include periods of impulsive and continuous eating followed by sporadic dietary crashes.

The effects of eating disorders are extremely damaging to our health. Anorexia essentially starves your muscles, as well as the heart. The heart can slowly begin to deteriorate and eventually stop because of starvation. According to the website Eating Disorder, “bulimics frequently experience muscle cramps, heartburn, fatigue, bloody diarrhea, fainting episodes, dizziness, and abdominal pain.”

Rory Dakins eventually conquered her illness. Upon extensive research she realized the damaging health effects of bulimia were not a part of her ideal conception of thinness. Her fixation with body image did not improve overnight; healing took time and energy. Today, Dakins says that she has learned to accept her body and work towards realistic weight goals in a natural way.

Dakins’ experience will hopefully be a lesson for anyone struggling with an eating disorder. However, our superficial society gives us the perception that self-worth is reliant on an unrealistic notion of perfection. We need to stop aiming for an unattainable perfection and instead focus on altering society’s definition of what perfect entails; apathy should be reserved for the world of celebrity influence, not our bodies.

 

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