Unhealthy food attitudes

Sitting in Gwinn Commons was never easy or comfortable. Noticing what the skinny girls put on their plates and into their mouths was a diligent observation Laura had perfected. Twisted thoughts, not of having designer jeans, but having a skinnier body constantly filled her head.

Today, Laura Spencer, a senior studio art major at SPU, has learned to cope with the warped thoughts her eating disorder once fed her. She has finally reached a happier and healthier state of self-confidence in herself and her body.

"It controls your life. Even though you think it’s something you have control over, it has complete control over you," Spencer said of her anorexia.

For students like Spencer, disordered thoughts surrounding food and body image are extremely prevalent on the SPU campus. Today’s culture and media constantly feed ideas to women in particular that foster unhealthy relationships with food. These patterns are slowly being uncovered, yet conversations surrounding these issues are few and far in between.

According to the Academy for Eating Disorders, over 10 percent of adult and late adolescent aged women report symptoms of eating disorders. This does not account for the large amount of unreported cases.

"A lot of the eating disorders out there are not even being identified because we think they’re doing the right thing," said Ann Hammond-Meyer, a clinical psychologist from Edmonds, Wash.

Hammond-Meyer, a former graduate of SPU, received her doctorate in clinical psychology and has since worked on the SPU campus, as well as several other college campuses. She is currently running her own practice and dedicates much of her work to issues of eating disorders and body image.

Student cases such as Spencer’s, who constantly battles with disordered thoughts and self-image, make the national prevalence of eating disorders hit home.

"Disordered eating has become normative. It’s hard to find people who are intuitive, internally regulated and competent eaters because we’re very confused about eating in this culture. As a general rule, we hear that our hunger is dangerous. We are constantly telling young people that our hunger is out of control," Hammond-Meyer said.

Individuals in our culture feel that it is their moral obligation to be thin, even when their body type would argue otherwise, she said. These types of thoughts are what fuel impressionable, young college students’ minds nationwide, including on the SPU campus.

From her book "Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family," Ellyn Satter writes, "normal eating is flexible. It varies in response to your hunger, your schedule, your proximity to food and your feelings."

Satter, a well-known authority in the world of eating, has helped popularize the idea of "intuitive eating," which encapsulates the ideas of loving good food, trusting yourself and sharing that love and trust with others.

In the Disney Pixar animated feature, Ratatouille, Remy the rat serves as a prime example of an individual with a perfectly healthy relationship with food.

"I just really, really love good food!" he says in the film. Remy recognizes the value of good food and savors each flavor he puts in his mouth. Never do we see Remy scrutinizing a nutrition label in order to make sure he does not exceed his calorie quota.

Our culture is one that primarily focuses on weight-centered versus health-centered ideals. As a society, we have become grotesquely preoccupied with the nutritional value of food that we are finding ourselves depriving our bodies of enough fuel, and are restricting ourselves from enjoying good food for fear of gaining weight.

Seattle is a health-conscious city. Its inhabitants are constantly being told to buy organic foods or so-called "healthy foods."

"To me, a healthy food is just the buzz word for a socially acceptable way of restricting. We are normalizing inappropriate attitudes towards food," Hammond-Meyer said.

In a diet-driven society, our culture constantly throws billions of dollars away each year on the latest and greatest diet tricks. According to the National Eating Disorder Association, 95 percent of diets fail because they just don’t work.

The media is centered on the idea that an individual’s worth is placed upon their body and their image. These are the values that are fueling unhealthy thoughts and behaviors in the heads of young women across college campuses and their truths are hardly accurate reflections of reality.

"There is a lot of self-comparison and poor self-talk on any college campus," said Erinn Koerselman, a therapist of the Student Counseling Center at SPU.

WIN, an on-campus organization that stands for "what is normal," is seeking to do away with these types of conversations by encouraging positive talk about body image, while educating students on what is healthy. WIN is currently moving toward gaining club status at SPU.

One student verbalized her preoccupation with striving to fit the perfect mold instead of properly taking care of her health. It is no surprise that issues of eating disorders and body image affect our small Christian community.

"There’s a lot of social comparison that goes on at SPU: a lot of look-ism," the student said. "Why I find that so sad is that this draws people toward external influences. The real spiritual growth gets diluted from those external forces."

Sarah Rehberg, SPU’s registered dietician who works in the Student Counseling Center, would agree.

"I see eating disorders as prevalent in the Christian culture because it’s more acceptable than drinking or drugs or pornography. It’s the good girls’ and guys’ issue. And I feel that it’s because of the legalism we can have in the religion."

So, how do we protect our students on campus from developing issues of disordered eating and poor self-image?

Awareness is the first step in changing poor behaviors. It is unhealthy for anyone to believe that thinner people are happier than others. Becoming critical viewers of the media can also help students to be reminded that the media’s truths are not accurate portrayals of reality.

"This can be a campus where women are truly empowered in their bodies and voices. It can feel like you might not have a voice, but I think student voices together have such an impact. I would love to see women love their bodies and just feel empowered to go after life instead of being slavish to food and body issues," Koerselman said.

Change will happen when students spark conversations and bring about a new culture, Rehberg said.

The last week of February will mark the celebration of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, during which SPU will be holding campus-wide events throughout the week. This week will serve to initiate and foster conversation while promoting educational awareness.

Eating disorders, patterns of disordered eating and poor self-image fuel an unhealthy relationship with food. Treat your body with respect and kindness and eat intuitively.

"Girls don’t choose to have eating disorders, but they can choose not too," Spencer said.

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Title: Unhealthy food attitudes | Author: Melissa Daniels | Section: News | Published Date: 2008-12-10 | Internal ID: 5845