Why it’s important to change the conversation about eating and exercise
Magazine covers are splashed with headlines about celebrities’ “incredible” weight loss.
Paparazzi photos of celebrities at the beach are designed to shame them for their cellulite or less than “perfect” bodies.
Before and after photos are shared alongside stories of how regular people radically transformed their bodies and their lives.
This needs to stop. While we can’t change media representations of a “healthy” body, we can take steps to change our conversations. Let’s ditch the talk about calories, exercise and food… it may be more important than you even realise.
Understanding eating disorders
There are so many eating disorder myths floating about that it’s hard to separate fact from fiction. As it relates to changing the conversation, it’s important to understand that eating disorders are mental illnesses. A person with an eating disorder doesn’t make a choice to not eat so they can lose weight.
Why is this important to understand? So much of the conversation around weight relates to choices. Choices of what to eat or not eat. Choices about how much exercise you do. Choices about how you want to look and how you can make that happen.
This direction of conversation is generally unhealthy. But for a person with an eating disorder – and there are almost 1 million Australians who do – these topics of conversations can be incredibly triggering. It tells them that they aren’t sick enough. It can minimise their illness. And it can also contribute to the damaging mindsets around body image and self worth they already hold.
What needs to change
Why do we need to talk about physical appearance as a measure of worth? Or physical appearance at all for that matter? Does it matter how many calories a person eats? Or the food on their plate at lunch?
What if we cut all reference to calories, exercise, food, weight, shape, diets and appearance from our conversations? Imagine what a difference we could make. Not just to society overall but to those individuals who are in the fight of their life with their minds over these very same topics every day.
People commonly associate eating disorders with Anorexia Nervosa but there are many other eating disorders, such as Binge Eating Disorder or ARFID. An eating disorder may not have any overt physical symptoms that are easy to recognise. You never know what someone is battling on the inside.
The new conversation
This shift in conversation isn’t about censorship. It’s about removing judgement and negativity. Because whether we realise it or not, that’s so often the framework within which these conversations sit. There is enough shame and judgement attached to eating disorders as it is.
The new conversation relies on all of us stopping to reframe our thinking. Switch from the negative to positive. There is no bad food. Food is food! There is no need to exercise to make up for eating “bad” food or a large meal. There is no need to show restraint if you get served a bowl of something delicious.
Now is the time to confront our own biases and ditch the stigma around food and weight to change the conversation.
Support on the journey
At Eating Disorders Families Australia (EDFA), we provide support to carers and family members of people with eating disorders. We help them to understand the complexities of eating disorders and provide resources and information so they can support and advocate for their loved one.
If you have a loved one – a child, sibling, family member or close friend – with an eating disorder, we invite you to learn more about EDFA and our mission. Or dive into our resources that cover different aspects of eating disorders from diagnosis to treatment and recovery.