Healing & Preventing Disordered Eating
There are many ways why young women develop disordered eating. For some, eating disorders offer a false sense of control, success or confidence. For others, it is used as a coping mechanism from stress, depression, or just a bad day. Disordered eating is not about vanity or will power, it is a complex problem where multiple factors and issues must be considered. Just remember, you are beautiful as you are, and you were put on this earth for a reason.
Preventing Eating Disorders
‘Eating disorder’ is an umbrella term used to describe a variety of specific and unique unhealthy relationships to food including bulimia, anorexia nervosa, binging and purging, laxative abuse - essentially any conscious relationship with food that causes harm to the body.
Young women entering teenage years are particularly vulnerable to developing an eating disorder for many reasons. Media marketed towards this age group has become overly sexualized and beauty-focused, putting pressure on young girls to look a certain way that will grant them approval from others and themselves. Media portrays an image of women that is much thinner and unrealistic than what is normal, and so many young girls fall into disordered eating trying to attain that unattainable aesthetic.
Aside from media influences, eating disorders can also arise as a coping mechanism for dealing with unresolved emotional trauma. Any lasting intervention for an eating disorder will involve some type of therapy to address this trauma to heal the imbalance from the roots up. It’s also incredibly helpful to work with a holistic practitioner for support
That being said, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Taking the time to learn about how the human body works in relation to food can really set the stage for a healthy, long-term relationship between food, your mind, and your body.
Risks of Disordered Eating
The risks of eating disorders are innumerable. What you eat and, more notably, the way you eat becomes a part of who you are, physically and energetically. On a physical level, we consume food and absorb the constituents which then become the building blocks of our own molecules and cells that make up our bodies. On an energetic level, the emotional and mental state that we are in while we eat can significantly affect digestion and how well we assimilate the nutrients from those foods into our bodies. Eating disorders can be particularly dangerous because there is usually impairment in both of these areas - the types of foods being eaten and the emotions/mentality around the act of eating in itself. This can lead to all kinds of negative physical, emotional and mental ramifications ranging from nutrient deficiencies and obesity to severe depression, anxiety, and low-self esteem.
It is important for teens to know about these risks as early as possible to understand that extreme dieting and eating towards fast weight loss are never the way to go.
Misconceptions About Weight Loss
Calories In < Calories Out = Certain Weight Loss: The ‘calories in vs. calories out’ paradigm rests on the notion that in order to lose weight, we must consume fewer calories than we are burning in a day. However, there are many different variables within each individual that can render this method completely ineffective. Not to mention it completely ignores the quality of the foods being eaten and focuses only on quantity meaning that, theoretically, it’s okay to eat junky or non-nutrient-dense food as long as it’s under your caloric threshold (calories burned) - which we know is not true. Focusing on calories is a waste of time - focus on nourishing your body with a variety nutrient-dense, fresh foods.
You must go on a “diet’ to lose weight. In other words, pleasure and satisfaction must be taken out of the experience of eating food for weight loss to occur: Going on a ‘diet’ actually inhibits a healthy, long-term relationship with food by encouraging significant and sometimes extreme restrictions that almost always cause a whiplash effect after the diet is over. (Whiplash effect = overeating after dieting to compensate for the deprivation experienced while on the diet.) This can create an imbalance on both a physical and a psychological level. There are so many healthy foods to choose from that are deeply enjoyable. Bringing this pleasure into your relationship with food will help you to make the right decisions more consistently. Also, the stress created by strict diets often backfires, leading to weight gain. Again, just focus on balanced, proper nourishment. Regular meals at regular meal times.
Eliminating an entire macronutrient (fat or carbs) is the way to lose weight. We are constantly being bombarded with contradictory information about nutrition based on current health trends. While some of them absolutely have their merit and place, trendy diets tend to be extreme and, therefore, unsustainable in the long run. Eliminating an entire food group or macronutrient in order to achieve or maintain a healthy weight ends up diminishing the body of the complete nourishment that it needs to grow.
Exercising more and eating less is the way to lose weight. Similar to the ‘calories in vs. calories out’ approach, this paradigm suggests that exercise is another way to increase the gap between caloric output and input by increasing output while decreasing input. The body needs fuel to move and regular nourishment to maintain a healthy metabolism. Balance each in harmony again, not stressing the body with excessive exercise, fasting or starvation - this is not sustainable and will always backfire.
Recovery from disordered eating takes time and patience. The following nutrients are helpful for rebuilding the body after long-term nutrient deficiencies - look for a balanced multivitamin containing the following. It’s often helpful to work directly with a holistic practitioner, especially for long-term, extreme cases to determine what the individual needs.
Zinc: Low levels of zinc impair the body of smelling and tasting. Increasing your levels of zinc may increase appetite and allow you to better enjoy your food as these senses return.
Food Sources Include: pumpkin seeds, cashews, chickpeas, lamb, grass-fed beef, pasture-raised chicken, cacao powder, spinach, mushrooms.
Amino acids: These are so important as they affect the body’s ability to feel hungry and the desire to wind down for bedtime. Improper levels of amino acids can lead to sleeplessness, fatigue, depression, intense cravings and lack of hunger. Animal protein sources, such as meat, fish, poultry, eggs and dairy, are similar to the protein found in your body. These are considered to be complete sources of protein because they contain all of the essential amino acids that your body needs to function effectively. When consuming a strictly plant-based diet - a variety of foods are needed to create a complete protein. Often, the combination of legumes and grains or grains and nuts work together to fulfill a complete amino acid profile.
Plant & Animal Food Sources Include: All animal products, nuts & seeds, grains & legumes.
Vitamin A: Helps maintain the proper functioning of mucosal membranes: nose, mouth, lungs, throat, ears and more. It assists in vision and is important for maintaining healthy bones, skin, and teeth.
Food Sources Include: Kale, Carrots, Sweet Potato, Spinach, Apricots, butternut squash, broccoli, Egg yolks, butter, beef liver
Vitamin B1 (Thiamine): Helps change glucose into energy or fat, aids in proper digestive function, assists with oxygen distribution to the whole body, helps maintain a healthy, functioning cardiovascular and nervous system.
Food Sources Include: Asparagus, Brussels sprouts, black beans, sunflower seeds, macadamia nuts, nutritional yeast, spirulina, lentils, navy & white beans, pinto & mung beans.
Vitamin B12: Assists in proper cell function in the nervous system, intestinal tract and in bone marrow while increasing the metabolism of protein, carbohydrates, and fats.
Food Sources Include: Nutritional yeast, spirulina, eggs, beef liver, dairy, wild caught salmon, lamb, grass-fed beef.
Folic Acid/Folate: Necessary for cellular division and the production of DNA and RNA. Folic acid is also needed to utilize sugar and amino acids. When deficient you may experience dizziness, fatigue and grayish/browning of the skin.
Food Sources Include: Spinach, avocado, romaine lettuce, brussels sprouts, asparagus, broccoli, beef liver, legumes, eggs, dark leafy greens, beets, nuts & seeds.
Niacin: Important for tissue respiration, a functioning nervous system, brain, and healthy skin.
Food Sources Include: Sweet potatoes, sunflower seeds, brown rice, sardines, liver, pasture-raised turkey & chicken, wild caught salmon, mushrooms, avocado, asparagus.
Vitamin C: Super important vitamin for healthy connective tissues and the development of healthy bones, teeth, cellular formation, increased ability to heal and is also a powerful antioxidant.
Food Sources Include: Kiwi, guava, lemons, oranges, papaya, strawberries, kale, parsley, broccoli, brussels sprouts, mango, grapefruit, peas.
Vitamin D: Aids in the absorption, metabolism, and retention of calcium. It is also important in normalizing proper immune function.
Food Sources Include: Eggs, wild-caught salmon, mushrooms, beef liver, sardines, cod liver oil.
Realize that you are not just your body - you are a whole person. There are so many other beautiful things that make you you. Build up confidence in the substance of who you are rather than just your surface because that is what radiates outward and connects with others. Invest your time in activities and hobbies that nurture your unique interests and talents, and try spending less time worrying about how you look. Keep a list of the things you like about yourself that have nothing to do with your body or the way you look. The more you nurture your non-physical inner beauty, the more you will embody the truth that beauty is an energy - a mentality that you carry within yourself that will take you so much farther than physical beauty ever could.