As the parent of a teenage girl, you know one thing: No one’s more beautiful, inside and out, than your daughter.
If only she felt the same way.
Studies show that 81 percent of 10-year-old girls worry about their weight.1 Add a few more years of body anxiety, puberty and interest from the opposite sex to the mix and it’s no wonder she responds to comments about her beauty with a shrug saying, “Whatever.”
What’s a loving parent to do? We’re here to help with four actionable ways to encourage a healthy body image in your teenage daughter.
1. Focus on what the body can do, not what it looks like.
Our bodies are incredible machines. They enable us to do all kinds of things — run, jump, dance, take care of ourselves and others, pursue our hobbies, do work we love and so much more!
Tap into the interests of your daughter and ask how a strong body might help her to reach her goals. Then start with what happiness researcher Gretchen Rubin calls foundational habits: quality sleep, healthy eating and regular exercise.2 Model these behaviors for your daughter and look for ways to get the whole family involved.
You might ask your daughter to help with grocery shopping and meal prep or build after-dinner walks or Saturday morning hikes into your weekly routine. Need motivation to get moving? Try this on for size: “Studies show active teens have a better body image regardless of their weight.”3
2. Be honest about the role social media plays in body image.
Let’s start with the not-so-obvious: Does your daughter need (or is she ready for) unlimited access to social media? Of course, the answer should depend on the age and maturity level of your child — not on pressure from peers, yours or hers.
It’s also helpful to keep in mind that it’s much easier to slowly award privileges than to suddenly take them away. If, by some miracle, your daughter isn’t already plugged into the world of Instagram and beyond, consider bestow those types of opportunities gradually.
Then, when you give the go-ahead, have this conversation:
“Social media can be a lot of fun, but it can also mess with your head. As you scroll through pictures, you might see stuff you wish you had: a nicer car, stylish clothes or what looks like the ‘perfect’ body. What you may not realize is that sometimes people post pictures that aren’t true to life. There are even apps for creating an unrealistic magazine-cover version of your face and body.4 What do you think about that?”
Let her answers guide your discussion as you prepare her heart and mind for the potential dangers of social media.
3. Give careful consideration to the way you talk about your own body.
The bar is high with this one, folks. After all, if you’re the mom of a teen girl, you know what she’s going through and then some. Maybe you’ve spent your life tackling body insecurities of your own.
We’re not suggesting that, at the completion of this article, you walk like a supermodel and flaunt your new-found confidence. (Although, by all means, please feel free!)
Instead, we’d like you to simply keep a few things in mind:
How might my negative comments about my body unintentionally transfer over to my daughter’s thoughts about her body?
In what ways could my openness about my own body struggles help my daughter to overcome hers?5
How can I separate body talk from a particular body – mine or my daughter’s?
Then proceed accordingly.
4. Celebrate her unique qualities and support individual expression.
Wanna hear the most outrageous message you could share with your daughter? She doesn’t have to be a copycat of every other girl in school. Say this, sure, but reinforce your words with actions.
Make room for her passions. Help her discover a personal sense of style. Emphasize character development, academic effort and physical strength. Encourage healthy friendships with kids who are unique themselves.
As you do, you communicate a powerful truth: Confidence comes from growing who you are on the inside and being OK with who you are on the outside.
Above all, make your home a haven — a place where your daughter feels both fully known and fully loved just as she is.
“I hate you,” Dusty whispered. She glared at her own dark eyes in the mirror, searching for signs of anything worth fighting for. Dusty’s stomach rumbled as venomous thoughts flowed through her. Her chest ached, and her head throbbed with hopelessness.
Disgusted, she turned and headed for the back door, stepping out onto the patio. She sat for a long time wishing herself away. Then she saw inside an old lopsided planter a flower still surviving in the cold earth. It was a dusty miller that her grandmother had planted last spring.
“Dusty miller for my Dusty girl,” Grandma said with a smile as she covered the roots with soil.
Dusty rubbed the silver, velvety leaves between her fingers. The plant was still growing, even after the last freeze. Maybe Grandma was on to something. It reminded Dusty of what she learned in treatment — recovery for her eating disorder was an ongoing process, just like tending a garden.
Dusty stood up. It was time for breakfast, and the day ahead awaited. She looked at the flower once more, took a breath, and determined to focus on today only. She knew there’d be more moments when she felt frozen inside, but today she was determined to dig deep and find the beauty and life within herself.
The Fight for Wellness
There are over 30 million Americans every year who are affected by eating disorders, and only one in 10 of them actually seek treatment. Of any mental illness, eating disorders have the highest mortality rate.1 If you’re in recovery, you’re not alone.
It’s a challenge to keep your eating disorder from defining you. It’s hard to not fall back into old patterns and ways of coping. There are days you can’t stand your own reflection. Some days it may feel like you’re just too tired to keep fighting. So how do you keep going? What will be the key to keeping the critical voice inside you from winning?
Using Self-Compassion to Overcome Your Critical Voice
When you’re struggling with an eating disorder, the disorder can become your “critical voice.”2 This critical voice can affect every area of your life as you fight for wellness. It tells you to hate the way you look, act and feel. It tempts you to give in to the belief that things will never change, that you should just give up. It may even tempt you to take your own life. In the moments when the critical voice begins to nag you, there are some tips you can use to fight it:2
Identify the moment: Take a deep breath when the critical voice begins to be the loudest voice in the room. If it is hateful, angry, shame-inducing or self-loathing, take note. Acknowledge you are experiencing a difficult moment. You’re not alone in experiencing difficult moments. Everyone struggles.
Write it down: Write down what the voice is saying and then take some time to think about it logically. Seeing the words on paper helps take away their power. Try drawing a line through the words and writing the opposite of what the critical voice was saying. Keep writing as long as you need to. Write a letter of encouragement to yourself. Write down everything you are grateful for. Use the writing time to develop your empowering voice.
Reframe the critical voice: Think about what may have triggered the critical voice in the first place. Is there something you can do to avoid a trigger in the future? Come up with a plan for next time, such as self-soothing techniques, positive self-talk or engaging in something healthy and fun to turn your attention away from the critical voice.
Practice self-compassion: It’s hard to be kind to ourselves when we are carrying shame and feeling stuck. Often we go months or years believing we don’t deserve kindness. Think about what you would say to a friend who was struggling. What advice would you give them? Show yourself the same love and kindness.
Look forward: Look for things you can plan that you will look forward to. Engage in social and physical activities you enjoy. Find productive outlets that help you focus on your hope for the future.
Choosing Your Influences and Environment
As your focus shifts, you’ll have the capacity to realize who you are without the profound mental and physical effects of an eating disorder. Consider ways to move away from unhealthy influences and environments:3
Social media: Are there certain people or pages that trigger you on social media? It’s OK to stop following or unfriend them. Choose positivity whenever possible.
Commercial media: You might have to stop consuming commercial media, such as specific magazines and television shows, that encourage you to chase unrealistic ideals. Don’t allow them to influence you any longer.
Embrace change: Learn new patterns and habits to replace the old ones. For example, if going to the gym obsessively helped to feed your eating disorder, find a way to reduce your gym time. Get outside and find other activities to fill your time.
Just like tending a garden, the recovery process takes work. Some days you won’t get it right. The truth is, perfection is actually the enemy in recovery. Don’t strive for perfection. Embrace the process and strive for progress, even if it feels slow. Life is beautiful and messy, and you were made to be right smack dab in the middle of it.
By Quinn Nystrom, MS, National Diabetes Ambassador at Center for Change
This past month I had the incredible opportunity in participating in my first protest, as well as an annual diabetes advocacy event called Call to Congress in Washington, D.C. I often say to people that being an activist is one of the best things that I’ve ever done for my mental health. When I kept my secrets of living with type 1 diabetes and/or an eating disorder, it was me that was struggling, not anyone else. This is why I love the quote from Brene Brown that says, “Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy–the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”
I think the most difficult part about being an activist is that you’re putting yourself out there in a very public way with your personal story and where you stand on a certain issue…and you certainly can get people who will fight against you on that. My tip to people is have a strong sense of who you are, and why you’re so passionate about an issue. That way, if criticism does come, you take it with a grain of salt, but still stand firm. As for tips for taking care of your mental health, I tell people only tell the parts of your story you’re comfortable with. If it gives you more anxiety, don’t do it. Lastly, you need to make sure that self-care is still an integral part of your life. For me, I knew that because I was in Washington, D.C. for three days advocating on behalf of people with diabetes and then taking part in the March for our Lives event, that I would take two days off for personal time and to unwind. If you burn yourself out, the important work can’t continue.
It’s easy to look around us and think that the problems that our world is facing are so gigantic, seeming nearly impossible to change for the better. We may not even know where to begin. But my advice is just that, just begin. One small step at a time gets us that much closer to creating change.
I’ve struggled with an eating disorder since I was 12 years old. I was a competitive figure skater and remember back to the year when I started comparing myself to the other skaters, equating my weight to how good I’d be at the sport, and putting myself on a strict diet regimen. The following year I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. My new strict regimen was now made up of multiple finger pokes a day, multiple insulin injections daily, and strict times that I’d be eating and how much I’d be eating at each sitting. This added obsession with food and numbers to not just me, but now my family and medical professionals, was too much pressure for me. What had started the year before as anorexia, had now turned into bulimia. I struggled in silence. Not just for a short time, but for a long time. It wasn’t until I was 24 years old that I first entered an eating disorder treatment program. Why so long? To be honest I think it was part denial, and another part was because the only time I heard people talking about eating disorders and type 1 diabetes was when they referred to it as “diabulimia”, which only discussed insulin omission as the symptom. Since I had never used insulin omission, I felt that must mean I didn’t have an eating disorder, maybe just a dysfunctional relationship with food. It wasn’t until I entered treatment that I learned that women with type 1 diabetes are at a 2.5 times higher risk of getting an eating disorder than a woman without diabetes. I also learned why we may be at a higher risk:
Diabetes treatment recommendations give attention to carbohydrate counting and portion control,
encourages perfectionism and frustration with blood glucose ranges,
symptoms of depression and anxiety may develop,
weight gain can be associated with improved HbA1C,
higher risk for depression,
negative feelings about weight and shape and fear of weight gain,
feeling deprived of food choices, dietary restraint that can lead to binge eating cycle. *
Learning about why I was at a heightened risk, made me feel less alone. It also made me feel less shameful that I just simply “chose” to have an eating disorder. I was able to better understand why I was more prone to this diagnosis. The reason why I prefer the term ED-DMT1 is because I believe it covers the spectrum of various symptoms that someone with type 1 diabetes struggling may use in their eating disorder. It’s not just specific to insulin omission.
The theme of this year’s National Eating Disorder Awareness Week is “Let’s Get Real”. When I was struggling in treatment, my mother would send me letters and have this phrase on it, “Secrets make you sick.” For 12 years I had suffered in denial, silence, shame, guilt, and despair. I didn’t believe there was another life that I could live. It wasn’t until going to treatment, along with my family and friends support, that I realized there was a wonderful life to live out there. I just needed to be honest with my struggles, accept help and believe that I was worth it.
*Taken from Ann Goebel-Fabbri’s book “Prevention and Recovery from Eating Disorders in Type 1 Diabetes”.
Most of us have either heard these phrases uttered by a teenager in our lives or remember having been a teenager with our own version of these thoughts. It is probably safe to assume that we have all have experienced insecurities, internal stories and judgements related to feeling not enough of something or too much of something else.
Adolescence is a particularly vulnerable time marked by role changes, achievement-oriented stress, and social anxiety. It is common to see a focus on having perfect clothes, the right kind of body, and being part of a popular friend group. Living in the age of social media has intensified this experience with endless options for edits and filters on pictures, access into the lives of celebrities, and the quest for likes, comments and ratings on appearance (Am I hot or not?!). Teens simultaneously want to fit into a common group and stand out as unique.
Insecurities about one’s place in the world can get projected onto our bodies. Beliefs about not being enough or being too much can quickly become negative thoughts and feelings about physical appearance, weight, shape and size. Individuals most vulnerable to negative body image and the development of an eating disorder are those for whom appearance and self-worth are conflated. When physical appearance holds a place of core importance for the individual, self-worth is undermined. Self-esteem becomes determined by how one feels about their body in any given moment. Negative feelings about one’s body means negative feelings about one’s value as a human.
This period of critical transitions is a time when experimental behaviors and risk factors collide. Comparison with others, struggling self-esteem, physical changes, and increased sociocultural pressures may provide fertile ground for the development of poor body images, susceptibility to dieting behaviors and disordered eating.
Eating Disorders are the 3rd most common chronic condition in adolescents. In 2016, the American Academy of Pediatrics reported that some teenagers who attempt to lose weight through dieting may develop an eating disorder. The peak age of onset for anorexia nervosa is early to middle adolescence and bulimia nervosa is late adolescence. This report indicated that dieting is counterproductive to weight management and is the most important predictor of development of an eating disorder. The authors recommended that pediatricians focus on promoting a healthy lifestyle and avoid weight-based language.
What is a “Healthy Lifestyle”?
The word “healthy” is wide open for misinterpretation. In our social media driven world it means things such as eating clean, eating raw, eating organic, excessively exercising, and restricting caloric intake for weight management. The hashtag #healthylifestyle brings up images of mainly raw fruits and vegetables, perfectly portioned meals, and many forms of extreme working out. Adolescents are spending a significant amount of time on social media and are influenced greatly by the messages and images received there. A teenager trying to eat “healthy” may begin to restrict certain foods or caloric intake. A hyper focus on health may lead to obsession with nutrition facts, excessive exercising, utilization of laxatives or self-induced vomiting.
Let’s take a moment to remember the real definition of health to guide us, rather than what social media and the diet industry are promoting as health behaviors.
Webster’s defines health as:
The condition of being sound in body, mind, or spirit
Freedom from physical disease or pain
A condition in which someone is thriving or doing well
Whether you are a therapist, educator, parent, or trusted adult with teenagers in your life, it is essential to have some ways to help teens feel good about themselves and their bodies in a hashtag saturated world.
How to Help Develop a Healthy Lifestyle
Teens require and deserve our unwavering support, love, and encouragement during this critical transitionary time in their lives. Nurturing their spirit and sense of self instills confidence and hope, essential building blocks for the future of our communities (and the world!) and helps develops protective factors against negative body images and disordered eating behaviors.
Instead of trying to “stop” or “reduce” something, we suggest a focus on “giving”. Giving our teenagers more support, empowering their innate goodness, teaching them skills, and promoting trusted relationships. It is essential to tell them what they have done right and include them in decision making.
Here are some ideas for what to focus on in your relationships with the teenagers in your life to help promote a healthy lifestyle and feeling good about themselves and their bodies:
Focus Less on…
Focus More on…
Personality and character building
Food as reward or punishment or good or bad
Eating a variety of foods in response to hunger or a social situation
Conforming to societal pressures to fit in
Identity development and healthy emotional expression
Cooking and eating together as a family
Skills for life such as budgeting, resume writing, and filling out job applications
Relationships with family and peers
Media driven messages and the thin-ideal
Critique of cultural norms
What is wrong
What is right and how to ask for help
Strengths and engaging teens as leaders
Our youth need an abundance of support and encouragement from caring adults. It is important to tell the teens in your life who may be struggling with negative body image and a low sense of self-worth that they are good, they are enough and that their body is not the problem.
Sources of Strength, a comprehensive youth suicide prevention program that also targets substance abuse, is designed to build protective influencers around youth. Many of the elements may also be applied youth at risk for development of an eating disorder.
Levine, M. P., & Murnen, S. K. (2009). “EVERYBODY KNOWS THAT MASS MEDIA ARE/ARE NOT pick one] A CAUSE OF EATING DISORDERS”: A CRITICAL REVIEW OF EVIDENCE FOR A CAUSAL LINK BETWEEN MEDIA, NEGATIVE BODY IMAGE, AND DISORDERED EATING IN FEMALES. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 28(1), 9-42.
Eating disorders are common in the US — it’s estimated that 20 million women and 10 million men in America will suffer from an eating disorder at some point during their lifetime.1 The term eating disorder is a collective term for several specific disorders, including anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder, among others.
Someone suffering from an eating disorder may have trouble pinpointing what led to their struggles, but the reality is that eating disorders are complicated and often have biological, sociocultural and psychological roots to their development.2 Something has led to disordered or disturbed eating practices, and the best way to heal is to bring the underlying struggle into the light and seek help.
National Eating Disorders Awareness Week is an effort to highlight the commonality of eating disorders and promote health and healing for those suffering from them. By hosting events all over the country to encourage healthy body image and educate the public, National Eating Disorders Awareness Week helps diminish the stigma commonly associated with the struggles surrounding these medical conditions.
Signs and Symptoms of Eating Disorders
There is a range of specific disorders under the broad category of eating disorders, and there is a range of symptoms associated with each one. However, there are some key triggers to watch for if you suspect that you or a loved one may be suffering from an eating disorder, including the following:
Extreme weight loss
Fear of gaining weight
Preoccupation with eating habits and caloric intake
Working out excessively
Weighing yourself at an abnormal frequency
Vomiting after eating
Avoiding situations where eating takes place
Always having an excuse not to eat
Maintaining strange eating habits or rituals
Preoccupation with body image2
Many people who suffer from an eating disorder will go to great lengths to hide it from their loved ones. They may become master manipulators and be skilled in providing excuses for their behavior. However, you know your loved one best, so if you notice changes in their eating habits, physical appearance or demeanor, trust your instincts and don’t be fooled by excuses.
How to Participate in National Eating Disorders Awareness Week
One of the main hallmarks of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week is education — educating yourself and educating others. A great way to participate in the week is to take a step toward better understanding how eating disorders develop and how they affect those around you. Unfortunately, it’s common to hear people joke about behaviors that are extremely detrimental, like purging or binge eating. Once we recognize that eating disorders are more common than we might realize, we can learn how to be more careful with how we speak about sensitive topics that can be triggers for others.
During National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, many organizations will be hosting specialized events in the community. Another great step toward awareness is to find a way to participate in an event. Volunteer your time, or just support the event by showing up and being involved. In particular, college campuses are likely to host spotlight events for students and the surrounding community, so if there’s a college campus near you, there’s likely an event taking place. If you don’t find an event in the works in your area, take it upon yourself to host one or take time during the week to share what you’ve learned with others and support those you love who may be struggling.
Help for Those With Eating Disorders
Although eating disorders can bring fear, anxiety and a sense of being out of control, the good news is that they are treatable and help is available. Many treatment plans include a combination of talk therapy (or individual counseling), ongoing medical care, nutritional counseling and medication.3 At Center for Change, we offer compassionate care for those suffering from eating disorders as well as education and support for how to thrive after treatment.
If you or someone you love is struggling with an eating disorder or you suspect that they may be, please give us a call on our 24-hour, toll-free helpline. Our goal is always to care for you and your family and equip you for a life of health and well-being.
There are all kinds of misconceptions about men and women diagnosed with anorexia. Some people may simply chalk up behaviors to extreme dieting, a zealous preoccupation with fitness or a phase that’ll pass.
Considering that 0.6 percent of adults in the United States will be diagnosed with anorexia — with women three times more likely than men — according to the National Institute of Mental Health, it’s important to make the designation that anorexia is more than a mere self-esteem concern or problem with food.1 It’s a mental health issue that must be taken seriously with treatment being an ongoing, individualized process that must be handled with the utmost care.
Ensuring that you have your daily nutritional needs met while in recovery is absolutely essential. While it may feel counterintuitive to do so when eating disorders and food obsession often go hand in hand, working closely with a trusted medical professional to devise a custom-fit meal plan can be a crucial step in successful recovery.
Reintroducing Healthy Habits
When one’s body has been deprived of food for an extended period of time, and it’s missing the nutritional benefits that regular meals provide, healthful, restorative eating is definitely first priority.2
And when the guesswork is eliminated — namely, what you should be eating, how much, how often, etc. — by having a medically approved strategy in place, mealtimes don’t have to be a source of stress or confusion.
Rather, each meal is seen as fuel for the body and can be “checked off” as another positive step toward healing. Basically if you’ve eaten what you and your doctor have agreed upon at the appropriate times you’ve discussed, you’ve accomplished all you’ve needed to that particular day. And when you’re recovering from an eating disorder and the distorted body image that results, that’s a life-changing prospect.
The physical manifestations of anorexia, including abnormal heart rhythms, weakening bones, and for women, dangerous effects of reproductive functions, are numerous. But if treated in time, they can be reversed.
Developing Support Systems
Just like any other life-changing endeavor, recovering from an eating disorder requires hard work, and it’s always better when you’ve got a strong support system in place.
Despite wanting to move forward, some days are going to be easier for you than others, so it’s important to educate your friends and loved ones in the language they use to be supportive and non-judgmental.3
It’s helpful to know you have someone you can confide in. Having someone present and engaged in your life as a friend, supporting you and the lifestyle changes in progress and including your in social engagements can be especially helpful during this season of change.
Not commenting on your appearance, weight in particular, or working out and exercise is essential. This is a time for building up the body physically and developing a positive association with food, not potentially taking a step backward into behaviors that may have contributed to anorexia in the first place.
Getting Back in Touch With Your Body’s Default Settings
While you transition into healthier terrain, it naturally takes time to learn to listen to your body’s signals again.
It’s particularly important to be patient during this process because it doesn’t happen the moment you leave the hospital or go to therapy sessions less often. It’s an ongoing effort as your body learns to process food again.
Once you begin eating regularly again, it still takes the body a bit to recover and retrain itself. Having a predictable schedule of meals and snacks, not to mention groceries already purchased in advance, inevitably helps set you up for success. Preparation also helps provide built-in accountability, an easy checklist when you’re not quite sure what’s in your best interest with nutrition.
At first glance, a meal plan may seem contrary to recovery from an eating disorder, but being more regimented in the beginning actually helps pave the way for a more flexible future.
So, here we are… it’s the middle of January and there is a good chance that whatever resolutions you have made have already proved a struggle. Perhaps you feel totally caught in the web of “New Year New You” that seems to be floating around all over social media and you aren’t sure how to get out of feeling like a failure.
See most of the time we make these resolutions that are all or nothing. We make resolutions that require us to be a totally different person- a “new you”.
Hmmm, what does that even mean?!
It sure seems like these kinds of resolutions ask us to negate the value of who we already are in service of becoming someone totally different- an unattainable ideal of some sort.
If you are struggling with an eating disorder, black and white thinking and all or nothing extremes may be all too familiar to you- and may even be a comfortable place to be mentally and emotionally. An important part of recovery however, is learning to be okay with the gray, the in-betweens, the both-ands of life.
Even if you are actively working on this, there is something about the start of the new year with the focus on resolutions that can sweep us up into the web of extremes.
Diet and consumer culture so expertly lure us into these seemingly innocuous ideas such as eating “clean”, buying only organic, working out more (for health of course!), and denying ourselves certain pleasures of life that may be just “too sweet” for our own good.
Shame and guilt-inducing resolutions have been repackaged as “good for our health” or as “character building challenges”.
We can get caught in this powerful web of diet industry generated ideas and resolutions that ultimately rob us of a deeper connection to our passions, purpose, values, and deepest desires of the heart. These ideas that seem innocent, harmless, or even good for us, in the extreme version (think “new you”), actually bring us deeper into the web of de-valuing instead of celebrating who we are and building up our character.
Now, don’t get me wrong- sometimes we need to make changes in our lives in order to truly heal from something or celebrate and be the best version of ourselves… and what I am suggesting here is that you use all of your energies and intentions to go after just that- the best version of who you are and were meant to be, rather than scrapping it to chase after some unrealistic and unattainable ideal that keeps you disconnected from a sense of deeper meaning and purpose.
Here are a few practical journaling prompts and some action steps for using the rest of January to untangle yourself from the web of unrealistic extreme resolutions and set you on a path of connection, joy, purpose, and meaning in 2018.
Pull out your journal and take some time to reflect and write some of your responses to the following prompts. (I also suggest bringing this to your next therapy session to process and share what you have learned from writing):
Stop and Challenge: What goals did you set for yourself for this year that have you feeling entangled in a web of perfectionism or extremes? How has the diet culture lured you into resolutions that appear healthy but may be the same old messages repackaged or rebranded? Write a response back to those extremes that provides a different perspective, one that takes into account the matters of the heart and soul.
Build on Successes: Instead of the approach of completely starting over each year, what are you proud of or happy about from the last year and the year before? How can you build on that success in the new year? What would be the next step in doing something to take action on that success? Make a commitment to do one small thing in the next week that builds on your success and share that with someone else for accountability.
Find Value in Your Story: What has your life brought to you (joys, heartbreaks, mental health issues, healing etc…)? What have you learned from it? In what ways has it pushed you forward or held you back? Is there something in your story that others may benefit from knowing? Could you inspire someone by owning your story just a little more this year? Think about one person you might want to share a piece of your story with and contact them in the next week for a cup of tea, a shared meal, a walk out in nature, or a phone call.
Cultivate Enjoyment and Meaning: What brings you joy? What helps you feel a sense of purpose or meaning? What matters to you in life? What do you like? Think about intentions or “resolutions” that are in service of bringing more of this into your life. Write down a few things that you would like to incorporate into your life that are not about being better or different, but instead about bringing more joy and a deeper sense of purpose for 2018.
We all have insecurities about our looks. Our focus may change from our weight to our skin, or we may have one particular feature that always bothers us. No one is perfect, and we can often be our own worst critic.
While it’s normal to experience insecurity and low self-esteem due to body image issues, prolonged, excessive worry about specific bodily flaws may point to body dysmorphic disorder.
What Is Body Dysmorphia?
Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is an anxiety disorder characterized by obsessive thinking and preoccupation with a minor or imagined bodily defect, which often leads to compulsive behaviors and disrupts a person’s everyday life. The International OCD Foundation says that body dysmorphic disorder affects between 5 and 7.5 million people in the US.1 According to Psycom, it usually surfaces in adolescence and affects men and women equally.2
So when is it simply insecurity, and when might symptoms signal something more serious?
Causes and Symptoms of Body Dysmorphic Disorder
It’s important to realize that body dysmorphic disorder is an actual clinical diagnosis, not just vanity or insecurity about looks. Thoughts about appearance often rule the lives of those with body dysmorphic disorder, causing them to spend exorbitant amounts of time thinking about, checking or trying to conceal perceived flaws. The disorder is closely linked to OCD, anxiety and eating disorders, but it carries specific symptoms unique to the disorder.
While the exact cause of body dysmorphic disorder is unknown and symptoms vary from person to person, Psycom lists certain factors that likely lead to the disorder, symptoms and common areas of fixation.
Causes and factors leading to body dysmorphic disorder:
– Genetic predisposition or having relatives with similar disorders
– Negative childhood experiences, such as bullying or teasing
– Personality traits like low self-esteem or competitiveness with others
– Societal pressures to be pretty
– Other psychiatric disorders, such as anxiety or depression2
Symptoms of body dysmorphic disorder:
– Fixation on a real or imagined bodily imperfection
– Engaging in behaviors to minimize or hide the perceived flaw
– Engaging in activities such as exercising or getting plastic surgery to try to “fix” the flaw
– Obsession with or avoidance of mirrors
– Repetitive grooming activities or compulsive touching, checking or measuring of the flaw
– Frequent thoughts about appearance
– Avoidance of social situations
– Repeatedly asking others for their opinions of appearance
– Belief that others are taking special notice of the flaw
– Feelings of depression, disgust, low self-esteem and anxiety2
Common areas of fixation related to body dysmorphic disorder:
– Moles or freckles
– Minor scars
– Facial and body hair
– Size and shape of genitalia
– Size of breasts
– Muscle size
– Size, shape or symmetry of face or other body part2
People with certain temperaments and ways of thinking may be predisposed to body dysmorphic disorder and show obsessive or anxious tendencies in other areas of life. 2 This disorder is often mistaken for others due to its similarities in symptoms, but also because those dealing with it often hide their symptoms out of shame and embarrassment over their appearance and obsessions. If left untreated, it can get worse over time and lead to depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts and actions.3
It’s important to remember that if your loved one has body dysmorphic disorder, their flaws are real to them, even if they don’t seem real to you. No amount of reassurance or reprimanding will help them see things more rationally. It is a mental illness, and it should be treated as such.
How to Treat BDD
Fortunately, body dysmorphic disorder is diagnosable, treatable and can be improved and managed with proper attention and lifestyle changes, along with professional help. If you notice any of the above symptoms in yourself or a loved one, take action to get necessary help.
Read on for the most common treatments for body dysmorphic disorder.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has been found to be the most effective treatment for body dysmorphic disorder. This is a specific type of therapy that teaches people how to recognize irrational thoughts and replace negative patterns of thinking with positive ones. Two key processes in CBT are exposure, in which patients confront the situations that cause them fear, and response prevention, which teaches them how to resist the urge to perform compulsions.2
Antidepressants, specifically selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), are often prescribed alongside therapy to help relieve obsessive and compulsive thoughts and behaviors associated with body dysmorphic disorder. It is believed that serotonin is a factor in the disorder.2
In addition to therapy and medication, there are lifestyle changes you can make to ensure the success of your treatment. Don’t skip medicine doses or therapy sessions, even if you feel fine or don’t feel like talking. Educate yourself on the disorder and how it affects you, and pay attention to warning signs and triggers so you can get ahead of symptoms. Exercise can help alleviate symptoms, especially anxiety and depression, so stay active and take care of yourself. Avoid drugs and alcohol, which can interact with medication and worsen symptoms.2
There Is Help and Hope
Above all, know that if you or someone you love is wrestling with body dysmorphia, there is help, which means there is hope. Reach out to your physician or a mental health professional to find out how to get started on the road to recovery.
1 Phillips, Katharine. “Prevalence of BDD.” International OCD Foundation, Accessed January 15, 2018.
Eating disorders are often a silent disease, hidden in the shadows and closets of life. Unfortunately, however hard someone tries to keep it secret and separate, an eating disorder inevitably ends up affecting almost every aspect of a person’s life.
If you’re in a romantic relationship with someone struggling with an eating disorder, you probably already know this. As much as your partner tries to hide it or tell you it’s not that big of a deal, you feel the strain it places on your relationship.
It may be your partner’s eating disorder, but it’s affecting you too.
How Eating Disorders Affect Romantic Relationships
Romantic relationships require honesty, vulnerability and intimacy from both partners in order to be healthy and successful, and the very nature of eating disorders erodes these crucial relationship elements.
In an article in Psychology Today, Carrie Gottlieb, PhD, talks about the effects eating disorders often have on relationships. A person with an eating disorder is intensely preoccupied with food, weight and shape, making it difficult at times for them to think of anything else. In fact, eating disorders can become so preoccupying that they virtually take the place of other interpersonal relationships.1
As your loved one slips deeper into symptoms, there is increased distance in what should be a close, intimate relationship. Shame and secrecy replace vulnerability and honesty as the eating disorder tightens its grip on its victim. It’s not surprising, then, that romantic partners of people with eating disorders often report feeling decreased emotional intimacy in their relationships.1
What You Should Know About Your Partner and Their Eating Disorder
If you’re romantically involved with someone struggling with an eating disorder, there are some things you should know about your partner. The following list of six key words, compiled from articles in Thought Catalog and Recovery Warriors written by women who have struggled from eating disorders, will help you begin to understand your partner better.
Eating disorders are usually not about trying to look good for someone else (yes, that includes you). Control is often the driving factor – she wants to be in control of her life, and when things get out of control and she starts to feel anxious, she will turn to her eating disorder to regain that feeling of control.
Your partner is most likely hiding many aspects of her eating disorder from you. She hides because she fears your reaction to her habits. She may fear that you will reject her, be disgusted by her or pity her. Or she may even fear your compassion and understanding, since she’s so uncompassionate to herself. She may decline invitations to social events or shared meals in order to hide her habits from prying eyes.
One of the reasons she hides things from you is the shame she feels about her eating disorder. Shame from past events may even be a motivating factor in her eating habits, and while she might feel a fleeting sense of control during one of her episodes, that shame is likely to quickly return in its aftermath.
Self-Esteem. Shame erodes self-esteem, and your partner probably has extremely low self-esteem. While low self-esteem is often a precursor to eating disorders or a co-occurring issue, her self-esteem is further diminished by her eating disorder. She may even be a high achiever in other areas of her life, but until she changes her approach to food and her body, the low self-esteem is here to stay.
Your partner may avoid sex and intimacy due to shame and low self-esteem over her distorted body image, and in fact the disorder may be a way of coping with past sexual abuse. She could also be extremely sexual, using sex as a way to numb the shame and bad feelings. Hormonal imbalances and caloric insufficiency can also decrease sex drive.
As counterintuitive as this may seem, her eating disorder is not, ultimately, about her weight. Even if she does reach one of her goals, she won’t be pleased if she meets it. No matter her weight or waist size, she will never measure up in her own eyes.2,3
Just like with substance abuse, it can take years for someone with an eating disorder to reach the bottom and turn things around. You can’t fix your partner, but there are ways you can be there for her and, hopefully, point her toward recovery.
How You Can Help Your Partner
If your partner is struggling with all of these things we’ve listed, it’s understandable for you to feel helpless or overwhelmed. Don’t worry, there are steps you can take to support your partner, and care for yourself, in this situation.
Educate yourself. Learn everything you can about your partner’s eating disorder, and clear up any misconceptions you have about it. This will help you to better understand what she’s struggling with, and how you might be helping or hurting with your responses to her behavior.
Be careful with your words. You may not think your comments about her eating habits or weight are harmful, but the reality is that she’s constantly thinking about these things, and something you say can easily trigger her. As you educate yourself on her disorder, educate yourself on what words are helpful and what words aren’t.
Support your partner. It’s easy to become overprotective or policing, or withdrawn and silent, if you’re dealing with a partner with an eating disorder. You might find yourself questioning every food decision she makes, or conversely, avoiding the topic altogether for fear of saying the wrong thing. Instead, try talking to your partner in a nonjudgmental way if you notice her struggling. See if you can get her to open up and be honest with you. Eating disorders thrive in the darkness, so try helping her bring it into the light.
Find support for yourself. You most likely could benefit from a support group, or even individual or couples therapy with an eating disorders specialist. These environments provide a safe place for you and your partner to talk about your concerns and find new ways to cope with feelings and support your partner.1
There is hope for your partner, and your relationship, no matter how hopeless things may seem. You can play a crucial role in your partner’s recovery process, and you might even find that walking together through recovery actually strengthens your relationship.