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Not Skinny Enough: Fit vs. Fiction

by Marci Warhaft-Nadler

I know what it’s like to look at myself in the mirror and hate what I see. I know what it’s like to never feel good enough, smart enough or pretty enough.

I know what it’s like to think that if I could only lose weight my life would be perfect and I know what it’s like to lose the weight only to find out that I’ll never feel skinny ENOUGH.

But I also know what it’s like to find recovery and regain control of my body and my life. I know how it feels to feel comfortable in my own skin and like myself from the inside out. I know what freedom feels like and I’ll never go back.

I lost over 20 years of my life to body image and eating disorder issues and was one of the lucky few to find recovery.  As a fitness professional for 25 years, I had become frustrated with how our society confuses BEING fit with just LOOKING fit.  There is a difference.

As a mother, it angered me to hear children as young as seven years old berating themselves over the size of their jeabs and being bullied for their body types. As a recovering anorexic/compulsive overeater, my heart broke for every child on the verge of a life consumed with food and weight obsession. I felt an intense need to do something to help.

Three years ago, I created the “Fit vs Fiction” workshop for kids and parents that I bring to schools, camps, parent groups etc.  It’s an interactive presentation that gets people talking about the pressures they feel to live up to society’s unrealistic expectations about beauty.  I use images, games and true life experiences to break down the myths related to the beauty,fitness and diet industries.

By telling my story, I give kids a safe place to share their own. The truth isn’t always pretty, but there’s beauty in having the courage to share it when it can help others.

In the last few months, I have been hearing from more and more parents that their young children are showing clear signs of negative body image and are seeing a drop in their self-esteem. Once again, I felt the need to take a stand.

The Fit vs Fiction Body Image Awareness Campaign was designed with the goal of bringing attention to the fact that our kids need help NOW.  I’m constantly amazed at what the kids I meet share with me about the risks their willing to take to get the bodies they think they should have.

I’m hoping to get my posters seen by as many people as I can because nothing will change unless we change it.

Marci Warhaft-Nadler is the mother of 2 very active tween boys and has spent the last few years bringing her Fit vs Fiction workshop to schools in an effort to change the way kids treat and feel about themselves.In sharing her story of a lifelong battle and ultimate recovery from Body image issues, she gives kids a safe place to share their own. While no longer obsessed with food, she can’t however say the same thing about tattoos. Follow Marci on Twitter.

Eating Disorders and the Media: How Much Does Media Play a Role?

Ben Barry Agency, model Lelia
Ben Barry Agency, model Lelia

A recent report revealed that eating disorders are sending more U.S. children to hospital.  The number of American children under 12 who were hospitalized because of an eating disorder has jumped 119 per cent between 1999 and 2006, according to a clinical report released by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“We used to think eating disorders were the consequences of bad family dynamics, that the media caused eating disorders or that individuals who had certain personality traits got eating disorders,” Dr. David Rosen, a professor of pediatrics, internal medicine and psychiatry at University of Michigan who authored the research, said.

“All of those can play a role, but it’s just not that simple. All young women are exposed to the same media influences, but only a small percentage of them develop eating disorders. So what is different about those 1 percent that develop an eating disorder compared to the 99 percent who don’t?”

The medical report may have missed those adolescents and young women and men who don’t necessarily have a hospital visit and do not receive an actual medical diagnosis.

Ben Barry

“I think when you look at eating disorders and body image from purely a medical perspective, you’re missing out 99%  of girls and women where we are dealing with day to day insecurities, worries and concerns, about not looking good enough,” Ben Barry, founder and CEO of the Ben Barry Agency, says.

“A lot of that comes from media images because everywhere where we look, no matter where we are, we’re surrounded by a singular beauty ideal.”

The Ben Barry Agency represents women of all different ages, sizes, backgrounds, abilities, as models and offer to the industry from solely hiring and casting models that actually reflect consumers.  His agency offers an alternative by connecting with the consumer and which reflects the consumer, and offering models that actually reflect the diversity of the target market.

Sharon DeVellis is a mom of two who struggled with anorexia and bulimia for many years.  When asked about the report findings, she said she found it worrisome, “especially since the girls and boys who are suffering from it are getting younger and younger.  But in a way, it doesn’t surprise me at all.”

“There’s such a focus on how we look in our society and while this is not the only reason (nor does it have to be one) someone would start down the road of eating disorders, I feel there’s this constant pressure to conform to one certain standard of beauty,” she says.

Although Barry says he wouldn’t argue that the media are the only cause, but they are certainly a critical cause.

Sharon DeVellis,
Sharon DeVellis

“Outside of the world of eating disorders, when you look and girls and woman and increasingly boys and men, it doesn’t have to do with family dynamics or abusive violent experience in their past, and it primarily has to do with media images because these images are inescapable, they are surrounding us, whether you’re walking down the street and you see billboards, you see posters on subways, you see images of the beauty ideal everywhere.”

DeVellis suffered with her eating disorder for a long time.   “I walked around for a very long time hating myself.  I was just never good enough and no matter how much weight I lost, that feeling never went away.  I kept thinking I would hit a magic number and suddenly I’d like who I was and how I looked.”

Eating disorders are much more complex than being an issue of food.  Many factors play a role.  But what’s disturbing is that children are now dealing with this issue, and that concerns DeVellis.

“The fact that young, elementary school kids (and younger) are making comments about their bodies means we as adults need to look at the overall picture and see what we can do to change it.”

Eating Disorders: The facts and how to get help

Eating Disorders in Hollywood

Eating Disorders Increasing In Children in the U.S.

scaleThe number of American children under 12 who were hospitalized because of an eating disorder has jumped 119 per cent between 1999 and 2006, according to a new report.

Eating disorders are sending more U.S. children to hospital, and pediatricians should be on the lookout for patients suspected of having a problem, according to a clinical report released by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“We are seeing a lot more eating disorders than we used to and we are seeing it in people we didn’t associate with eating disorders in the past — a lot of boys, little kids, people of color and those with lower socioeconomic backgrounds,” said Dr. David Rosen, a professor of pediatrics, internal medicine and psychiatry at University of Michigan who authored the research

At the same time as eating disorders have risen, the obesity epidemic has also increased.   According to Rosen, it is crucial how parents and physicians are talking to young people about obesity. Concerns about overweight and obesity have prompted some physicians to counsel their young patients about nutrition, which Rosen said can backfire if not handled correctly. 

“There are lots of kids in my practice who say their eating disorder started when their family doctor told them, ‘You could stand to lose a few pounds,'” Rosen said. “As physicians, we need to make sure our conversations are not inadvertently hurtful or impact their self-esteem.”

Parents and pediatricians also have to be aware of the changes in their children’s health and look for signs.  Signs include a child whose progress on growth charts suddenly changes, very restrictive eating, compulsive over-exercising, making statements about body image and disappearing after meals.

As with mental health problems and addictions, ranging from depression to anxiety disorder to alcoholism, studies have shown that eating disorders can run in families.  There is a strong genetic component, according to Rosen.

“We used to think eating disorders were the consequences of bad family dynamics, that the media caused eating disorders or that individuals who had certain personality traits got eating disorders,” Rosen said. “All of those can play a role, but it’s just not that simple. All young women are exposed to the same media influences, but only a small percentage of them develop eating disorders. So what is different about those 1 percent that develop an eating disorder compared to the 99 percent who don’t?”

It is estimated 0.5 per cent of adolescent girls in the United States have anorexia nervosa (self-starvation), and one to two per cent meet criteria for bulimia nervosa (bingeing and purging).

For more information, read:

Eating Disorders: The Facts and How to Get Help

Eating Disorders in Hollywood: Celebrities Who Suffer

Eating Disorders: The Facts and How to Get Help

What are eating disorders?

Eating disorders are a group of conditions characterized by abnormal eating habits that may involve either insufficient or excessive food intake to the detriment of an individual’s physical and emotional health, binge eating disorder, bulimia nervosa, anorexia nervosa being the most common specific forms in the United States.

Reasons for eating disorders are poorly known but may vary from person to person. Factors contributing to eating disorders range from ADHD to mental health disorders to body image. Some think that peer pressure and idealized body-types seen in the media are also a significant factor.

No Body is Perfect

What are some facts?

Here are is the astonishing truth:

In the United States:

  • It is estimated that 8 million Americans have an eating disorder – seven million women and one million men
  • One in 200 American women suffers from anorexia
  • Two to three in 100 American women suffers from bulimia
  • Nearly half of all Americans personally know someone with an eating disorder (Note: One in five Americans suffers from mental illnesses.)
  • An estimated 10 – 15% of people with anorexia or bulimia are males

In Canada:

  • In 2005, more than 500,000 Canadians suffered from some sort of eating disorder (Canadian Mental Health Association).
  • According to a 2002 survey, 1.5% of Canadian women aged 15 – 24 years had an eating disorder.
  • Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, between 18-20%
  • Eating disorders are the most common chronic illnesses in the female adolescent population, with an incidence of up to 5%.
  • Men are more likely to be affected by binge eating disorder than any other type of eating disorder.
  • A study published in 2001 reported that 23% of adolescent females were dieting to lose weight
  • According to a 2002 survey, 28% of girls in grade nine and 29% in grade ten engaged in weight-loss behaviours.
Why are eating disorders prevalent in our youth?eating disorder awareness

Grade-nine students already see themselves as “too fat”.  According to a study, 37% of girls in grade nine and 40% in grade 10 perceived themselves as too fat.

Even those students who are normal in weight (based on their body mass index or BMI), 19% believed that they were too fat, and 12% of students reported attempting to lose weight.

Boys are not excluded from this disorder.  In a survey of adolescents in grades 7-12, 25% of boys reported being teased by their peers about their weight (girls 30%).

And it doesn’t stop at school.  Such teasing has been found to persist in the home as well – 29% of girls and 16% of boys reported having been teased by a family member about their weight.

Eating disorders and the Media:

Our girls are starting out way too early worrying about their weight.  What is to blame?

The link between eating disorders and the media is high on the list of factors.  Self-esteem becomes too closely tied to physical attributes and girls feel they can’t measure up to society standards.   My article on celebrities who suffer from eating disorders shows the prevalence of body image issues in Hollywood itself.

The media, including television, movies, videos, music, magazines and the internet all portray images of girls and women in a sexual manner, such as revealing clothing, body posture and facial expressions, as models of femininity for girls to emulate.  How can our young girls not be influenced if this is all they see?

What can you do?

Search for local treatment in your area.

Call or visit the website of a national organization, such as the National Eating Disorder Information Centre.    Womenshealth.gov offers some great resources as does the National Eating Disorders Association and the National Institute of Mental Health.

Visit Girls Inc.

Visit Dove Self-Esteem 

Visit Teens Health 

Read a personal account by Sharon DeVellis

Read Part 1 on AMW here

Sources: http://www.nedic.ca/knowthefacts/statistics.shtml  and Wikipedia