What They Never Told You About Your Body: Table of Contents
Body Positivity and Eating Disorders
Body Positivity and Eating Disorders
By Emunah Garmaise and Hailey Donahue
The dangers of the diet
It’s everywhere – billboards, magazines, poolside conversations, and biology textbooks. It shows up in advertisements and in grocery stores and gyms.
Still baffled? This ubiquitous and influential force is called diet culture, which verywellfit.com aptly describes as the “pervasive belief that appearance and body shape are more important than physical, psychological, and general wellbeing.”
The truth is, while one diet may seem innocent, one singular diet increases your risk of developing an eating disorder by 20-25%, and 95% of diets fail. Intuitive eating is the logical, scientific, and statistically-proven approach to eating.
What Exactly Is Intuitive Eating?
Intuitive eating, pioneered by anti-diet dietitians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, is a revolutionary eating approach that has been shown to reduce food preoccupation, emotional and disordered eating, stress and anxiety and improve body image, cholesterol levels, metabolism, and self-esteem. So what is it?
1. Reject the diet mentality.
Throw out all those books with shiny covers of taut, bronze abdomens and tantalizing covers. Hold a mental funeral for all the diets you started so hopefully but ended so dejectedly.
The pursuit of thinness is exciting and glamorous because of its premium in Western society, thanks to the 71 billion-dollar diet industry. Consider two simultaneous truths: dieting starts off super fun and can result in weight gain, eating disorders, and low self-esteem.
I remember thinking: I will never diet again. Say it with conviction, even if you’re not so sure. (It’s okay if you need to do step one a few times or even every day–it’s a process).
2. Honor your hunger.
Just like you would take a sip of water if you woke up parched at 2am, eat when you’re hungry. Just ate lunch an hour ago but starting to feel pangs? Eat. Then, stop when you’re full and satisfied. You do not need to finish your plate or feel absolutely stuffed. In the inverse, you do not need to stop when everyone else has. Your hunger is unique to you and informs you exactly what your body needs.
Hunger is not an enemy to defeat with a diet. Honor it.
If this is hard, think about how you would feel about a friend. Would you tell a friend to stop eating because you’ve decided they’ve had enough food? What about the opposite– would you force a friend to keep eating to clean off their plate? If you wouldn’t do that to a friend, don’t do it to yourself.
To really remedy this, think of your hunger itself as a friend. Honor your own hunger just as you would honor a friend’s.
3. Make peace with food (and stop binging).
Abolish the food police, as Tribole would say. No food is inherently good or bad – there is nutrient-dense, and less nutrient dense. Practice calling foods “fun or nutritious” instead of using diction that implies a moral element of food choice (unless you stole it).
Remember the last time you told yourself you wouldn’t have pizza at your nephew’s birthday party, only to find yourself eating slice after slice after everyone left? Temporary deprivation only leads to long-term binging. There is no prize for restriction–but there is a consequence. Fully allow yourself to eat, enjoy, and be present. Trust yourself to monitor internal satisfaction and fullness signals enough to enjoy with everyone else.
It is physiologically impossible to avoid the binge after restricting yourself. Your body is evolved to demand energy during starvation mode.
4. Challenge the food police.
A lot of times before people eat something less nutrient-dense, they say, “OMG, I am so naughty.” If you’re going to eat it anyways, just enjoy it. Similarly, eat what your body is craving when it is craving it. If you have a hankering for a strange food combination, just eat it. It could be your body’s signal that you need a specific nutrient from the nutrition profile of your craving.
Take, for example, when the body is low on iron. I’ve seen that with a friend of mine–when their iron levels are really low, they want to eat ice chips and drink soda from a can. Your body is giving you a signal that it needs something. So go ahead –drink the soda.
I remember the first time I realized I could eat whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. It was so freeing–but at the same time, I mourned how much energy I’d been wasting on food. Decision fatigue is real, and it took away my energy to exert free will in other areas of my life.
5. Discover the satisfaction factor.
Food is fuel, but not just fuel. Watch your life become enriched by religious, cultural, familial, and national celebrations whose delicious foods offer opportunities for joy, connection, and nourishment. Consciously relish what you are eating and exercise gratitude for the food in front of you.
Enjoy what you’re eating, and don’t treat certain foods like they’re a treat to only have on special occasions. When you honor your enjoyment of a meal, and enjoy it without punishing yourself, you’re less likely to then binge eat that same meal. Take joy in food, just as you take joy in engaging with anything else that you enjoy.
6. Feel your fullness–
And try to respect it. If you can’t, no one’s perfect. Part of Intuitive Eating is actually realizing that stringency in fullness and hungry cues can be a sneaky ploy of diet culture. Most of the time, aim to stop when you’re full. But if you don’t occasionally, accept it with grace and self-compassion.
7. Cope with your emotions and kindness.
“Emotional eating” is not always a bad thing. From a young age, our families used food to soothe and comfort us. When we’re homesick or miss someone, we often crave a specific dish. But if you’re bothered by how out-of-control your eating gets when you’re upset, learn to cope in ways that are not food–like calling a friend, taking a bath, or meeting with a therapist.
With that said, a sprinkle cookie is a perfectly respectable way to end a horrific day. Food can be a coping mechanism, but it should be just another tool in your belt. Overreliance on any one coping mechanism is not healthy.
8. Respect your body.
Not everyone is meant to be a size zero. Acquiesce to your natural set-point, a range in which you are most likely to fall if you eat in alignment with your hunger cues. Dieting to fit into a size zero can and will be dangerous if that’s not the size that your healthy body is supposed to be. If you starve your body, not only do you increase your risks of eating disorders, but you also diminish your physical health. Muscle cells atrophy because your body needs energy. Energy stores within the body diminish. The body attacks itself when it is not being nourished. It is not worth it to destroy your body to fit into the smallest size available.
You don’t need to strut around thinking, “I’m so gorgeous,” to have a positive self-image. Start with simply respecting your body as the vessel that carries you through life. This is called body tolerance.
Even if you do not feel you are in your set-point range, wait patiently and try to practice body tolerance. Through IE, you will most likely get there.
Exercise is often used as self-punishment or as a weight loss method–but don’t let diet culture steal joyful movement from your life. Pick up a new activity–like walking alongside the beach, sunrise yoga, or biking with a loved one–that makes you feel proud of how capable your body is. (If you are disabled or struggling with an active eating disorder, follow the recommendations of your healthcare provider).
Walking is a great way to get some exercise, especially if you’re busy. It’s an enjoyable way to get out and include some joyful movement in your life.
10. Gentle Nutrition
If you have allergies or a health condition that requires that you eat a certain way, honor that. If your allergies or condition are severe, speak with an intuitive eating dietitian to make a plan that works for you.
Focus on adding nutrition instead of subtracting calories. Eating chips? How about some avocados with them to balance the glucose spike associated with carbs?
What if I need to lose weight?
According to your BMI, doctors, parents, or “friends,” you may need to lose weight. The first thing to consider with this is “why.” Ask yourself: what is compelling me to lose weight?
Is it because of how other people perceive you? Think: how else can you determine your worth? Your body is the least interesting thing about you. Additionally, a study cited by the Business Insider suggests that people who lost 5% of their body weight were more likely to feel depressed four years later.
95% of diets fail, so you’re very unlikely to maintain fat loss for more than a few months. In fact, you’re more likely to gain weight or develop an eating disorder than if you hadn’t dieted at all.
BMI was developed by a mathematician (Jacques Quetelet) for use as a measurement of weight by the population to help the government calculate resource allocation, not for individuals. It does not take into account muscle mass, height, build, or lifestyle.
Even if a doctor tells you that you need to lose weight for “health-related concerns,” you reserve the right to be skeptical. Sudden loss of weight can aggravate certain medical conditions. Even if your doctor insists that your health will improve automatically if you lose weight, get curious about causation vs. correlation. Can you implement new, healthy habits such as drinking more water or blending baby spinach into strawberry smoothies without aiming to shrink yourself? An article by the NPR suggests that healthy habits have a greater bearing on overall health and longevity than weight on its own, except for at the extreme ends of the spectrum.
The Modeling Industry: A Picture Isn’t Worth Giving Up 1000 Calories
The modeling industry is to diet culture as peanut butter is to jelly: “the worst-kept secret about the industry is its reliance on harmful and toxic diet culture,” says Hailey, who has experience in the industry. About forty percent of models have reported having eating disorders, and that number is most likely higher due to underreporting. “Models aren’t necessarily aware of having an eating disorder; the industry is centered around people being perceived as beautiful due to their thinness,” adds Hailey.
“Many models are threatened to get dropped if they don’t lose weight. Many are encouraged to stay skinny, exercise even more, and skip meals.”
Hailey implores, “Are you hungry after a long shoot? Eat something. Did you just come out of rehearsal or a costume fitting or an audition, and you feel like you haven’t eaten all day? Eat. You need it. Your body needs fuel. To be able to perform, or model, or film anything, you need to have energy to do so.”
Ultimately, it isn’t worth it to restrict yourself. You’re worthy at every size. There is now space in modeling for people of all sizes, shapes, and colors. Your success as a model cannot come at the cost of your mental and physical health.
The plant-based diet and intuitive eating:
I’m a vegetarian for reasons that range from my moral discomfort with the meat industry to the simple ick factor I get when I see a pound of slimy ground beef. However, it is common for people to take on dietary restrictions in order to more easily eat in a disordered way.
I remember lying that I thought I had a gluten intolerance
just so I wouldn’t be pressured to indulge in all the delights available to me
in a new city. I was twelve and on vacation. I do not remember the trip: all I can recall is struggling to convert kilojoules to calories.
Deconstruct your dietary restrictions:
Are you vegetarian for cultural, moral, or religious purposes,
or for aesthetic or emotional reasons?
If you had to eat a piece of meat or dairy, what would be your biggest concern? Ethics–or saturated fat?
I had to take a break from veganism because I lost my period
and had a low mood constantly. It’s okay to put yourself above all.
If you feel you are unable to keep up with veganism or vegetarianism after battling an eating disorder, remember that your health comes first. For now, keep it a goal for the future and try to minimize your carbon footprint and practice ethical consumption in other ways.
Calorie counting: not just arithmetic practice
I know I’m not alone when I say that calorie counting takes the focus completely off health and completely onto numbers–and not in the same way that grades take the focus off learning, either. Striving for good grades at least results in learning as a byproduct–but with calorie-counting, countless healthy foods are cast away merely because of the potential energy they supply.
For example, an avocado is around 200 calories (234, if you really must know), but a bag of Little Bites is 190. And for someone who’s trying to keep her calories as low as possible, you can guess what she’s going to eat. However, what people discount when they pick the bag of mini muffins is that the avocado is going to keep you full for longer, and that if you listen to your internal hunger cues, you’ll actually eat exactly what and how much your body and mind need.
It took me years to discover this: that I didn’t need to eat celery sticks for lunch and three ice cream bars at night in the dark of my kitchen, illuminated only by my deep shame and the pool of the freezer light beside me. Instead, I could eat the ice cream bar when and if I craved it to avoid a later binge.
Like we mentioned earlier, one thing that can be very helpful is “and” statements – inclusive sentences that express simultaneous truths. (“I’m going to eat pizza and pasta” – just kidding). In all seriousness: “It feels really exciting to start a diet,” you might say, “and I’m not going to do it because I know that diets aren’t a scientifically proven way to lose weight.” (95% of diets fail).
What completely pulled me out of diet culture and into a healthy self-image and relationship with food was Intuitive Eating. With a slight leap and a little bit of hope, you can too.
**All names have been changed to protect the contributors’ privacy.
Did your school discuss sex ed that encompassed everyone?
Is there any knowledge on sex ed that is taught beyond general anatomy?
In the United States, there is not a standard for sex education. Some classes only teach about anatomy, while some include information about the LGBTQIA+ community and consent. Others only teach about abstinence.
These include information on consent, the LGBTQIA+ community, as well as abstinence. Only thirty states mandate sex ed, and even then, the curriculum varies.
One of the key issues with sex education is the lack of information about consent. Learning consent is the most important aspect of being sexually active. When schools take that away, they take away students’ knowledge that they can say no. Even at the university level, consent is not taught well, so it is vital that students know what consent is.
Consent is defined as an open agreement between people who plan to engage in sexual activity. When consent is not given, you should feel open to removing yourself from the situation. Consent is about what you are comfortable with. People can revoke consent, just like you can, so respect their lack of consent just as you would want others to respect your own.
You have the right to say “no” to anything if you are not comfortable engaging in sexual activities. It might seem awkward at first for someone to ask before kissing someone, but it’s better to have a moment of awkwardness at first than for someone to be forced into a situation they don’t want to be in. Even after the ‘yes’ is given for a kiss, the person might not want to have sex afterward. By asking for consent at every step, the person who might not be ready to have sex is able to say no.
There is no situation in which a person should not first be asked for consent before something occurs. Consent is the most important aspect of having a comfortable relationship. Consent builds trust.
Religion is also a major factor in the way sex education is taught. In more religious communities, it is more common for abstinence to be taught instead of practical sex education. However, this is ineffective; the less knowledge students have about sex, the more likely they are to experiment sexually, which is the opposite of what these communities are aiming for. This type of culture can also encourage victim blaming because of how shunned having sex is.
Sex Education: the Basics
The basis of sex education begins with puberty. Puberty can begin at any age ranging from 8-13, but it truly depends on the individual. One of the main things to keep in mind while reading this section is that no two bodies or experiences are the same, so if some information does not apply, then don’t be too concerned.
People with uteruses and ovaries primarily begin puberty by getting a period. Periods last anywhere from 3-7 days and occur once a month. They are often accompanied by cramps causing pain and discomfort for just a couple of days of the period. However, it is important to note that too much pain should not just be brushed off. According to Healthline’s’ article How to Handle Severe Menstrual Cramps, “[s]evere cramps, however, tend to begin earlier in the menstrual cycle and last longer than typical cramps do.”
If you or someone you know experiences severe menstrual cramps, make an appointment with a doctor or gynecologist. If you genuinely feel that something is wrong regarding both menstrual cramps and any other health issues, advocate for yourself, and do not let doctors dismiss your problems as being “overdramatic.” It can cause issues in the future.
Another important part of sex ed is the knowledge of birth control and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs). To keep yourself and your partner healthy, make sure to wear protection to limit the possibility of spreading or contracting an STI.
This ties into the usage of birth control –condoms are a form of birth control, but they are not the only type. There are many types of birth control, ranging from pills, implants, and shots to dental dams and condoms (both internal and external), to surgical procedures.
The first category of birth control –the pills, implants, and shots– can have side effects like nausea, headaches, weight gain, period loss, mood swings, and a lessened sex drive. The second category can break or be tampered with. Surgical procedures can work, but they are expensive, and can be reversed.
As such, some people have to try more than one method of birth control until they find the right one, so in this situation, it is key to remain patient. When exploring protection, the LGBTQIA+ community should also be addressed. Items such as condoms and dental dams can be used to protect from STIs and other issues that result from unprotected sex.
Sex Ed for LGBTQIA+ Individuals
Sex Ed for LGBTQIA+ individuals is not just about telling students about how to have sex safely, but it’s also about understanding different gender identities and sexualities.
There is nothing to be gained from telling a cisgender lesbian that her cisgender female partner should use a condom on a penis that neither one has. Now, changes when objects like vibrators or strap-ons are used. In these situations, it is incredibly important to use condoms on them and to clean them off after every use. When engaging in oral sex, products like dental dams are used to limit the transmission of STIs and bacteria between parties. Both before and after vaginal penetration with either a hand or fingers, one needs to wash their hands thoroughly to ensure that there are not any harmful bacteria on the hands.
Once again, sex ed is different for transgender individuals. A transgender man can still experience a period, and it is important to discuss periods for all individuals, as anyone can have one, regardless of gender identity. The Human Rights Coalition has a great resource here that covers all aspects of safe sex for transgender individuals. A similar sentiment of “use protection” is discussed throughout the entire article, regardless of gender identity and assigned sex at birth.
Using protection remains the key factor in all styles of sex. Sex between two cisgender males also requires protection to limit the transmission of STIs. Negative stereotypes against gay men make it seem like they are the only people who can get and transmit STIs, but that is untrue. Just as with any other type of sex, protection is important for all parties to remain healthy. Having sex with a male individual as a male individual does not mean that that person is automatically at a higher risk of developing or contracting an STI.
Anyone can contract an STI without protection. That’s one of the main reasons why informed consent is super important. Besides making sure that your sexual partner(s) are comfortable, you can also make sure that all parties know if there is a risk of contracting an STI.
Asexuality and Sex Ed
When talking about sex, sexuality, and the LGBTQIA+ community, the asexual community is often left out. Within the asexual spectrum, there are different orientations to discuss. People within the ace community can be aromantic, but they do not have to be (aromantic individuals are people who do not feel romantic attraction to others). Nor do aromantic individuals have to be asexual. There are also demisexual, gray-asexual, and ace-flux individuals.
Within this, there are three main types of asexuality:
Sex-repulsed asexuals, who do not feel sexual attraction to others, and who are repulsed by the thought of sex. People who are sex-repulsed do not want to hear about, look at, talk about, or think about sexual situations.
Sex-neutral asexuals are indifferent to sex. They do not experience sexual attraction, and their feelings about sex are neither negative nor positive.
Sex-positive asexuals think that sex is “a healthy part of human experience.” They see sex as necessary, and they do not mind when other people talk about sex, even though they themselves don’t experience sexual attraction to other people.
Additionally, just because people on the ace spectrum do not experience sexual attraction, which does not mean that they can’t have sex. Some ace people do. Some people have sexual attraction, even though they do not have a romantic attraction to other people. Some parts of the asexual spectrum will only develop a sexual attraction to other people when they have formed a connection with them.
Therefore, it is important to bring up protection and consent once again. If you are asexual and you engage in sex, make sure that protection is involved in staying healthy! If you are in a relationship with an asexual person, get their consent, regardless of whether it is sex or not, just to make sure that they’re comfortable.
It’s important to discuss the asexual community within Sex Ed because there are far too many people who are told that they’ll find someone eventually or even that there’s something wrong with them for not wanting sex. There isn’t.
Sex Ed is a place for everyone, and everyone should have the ability to have sex ed that accurately fits them. All students deserve proper sex education, no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Ultimately, sex ed is a lot like sex. It should be conducted in a way that helps the person receiving it instead of just focusing on going about it in a way that might only be beneficial for one party.
Periods are a part of over 50% of the population’s life, so why are they so stigmatized? By the age of twelve, a majority of menstruators will have gotten their periods. Every month for at least 2-7 days, most menstruators have their period, and yet it continues to be considered shameful by the general public—an issue which is certainly not helped by the lack of period education in schools.
Every month, the uterus prepares itself for an egg by thickening the tissues around the uterus, forming a uterine lining, but when there is no egg, the uterus sheds the tissue from the uterine wall. Every menstrual cycle is different, with some experiencing heavy amounts of pain and others not, as well as long cycles but short periods and vice versa. Many menstruators utilize tools like pads, tampons, and painkillers like Midol to deal with the pain and discharge.
“Menstruation is a human rights issue” – Dr. Natalie Kanem.
Recently, periods have taken up a big spot in the news and government as activists fight to get rid of the tampon tax in some states. The “tampon tax” describes a situation in which menstrual products are classified as non-essential, and thus are taxed in ways that increase the prices consumers pay to purchase period products. According to a study done by the National Organization for Women, the average menstruator will spend $20 per cycle on menstrual products. This introduces the issue of period poverty, which affects low-income menstruators who cannot afford to pay an extra $20 per month. Period poverty is a direct result of non-menstruators creating bills and laws that directly affect menstruators despite them having never experienced it. However, not all news regarding period-related bills is negative: some states, including Alaska, California, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, and Massachusetts, have eliminated the tampon tax. Scotland has also signed a bill that makes period products free for everyone, making it the first country to do so. Since then, many countries have abolished tampon taxes and provided hope for an end to the epidemic that is period poverty. Having access to essential items like menstrual products is a basic human right.
The Effect of Period Poverty
“I am unable to go to school when I’m on my period because I cannot access menstrual products” said a Florida student (age 16). This is many menstruators’ issue when there are no available menstrual products. Missing school causes grades to drop, and students don’t get the education they deserve. Some brands like “It’s August” pay the tampon tax on their products; however, a majority do not.
If you or someone you know is having difficulty accessing menstrual products, organizations like the Alliance for Period Supplies and Happy Period provide free menstrual products for low-income menstruators.