Healthy Living in the North

Mirror, mirror on the wall: Body image impacts mental health

This post was co-authored by Marianne Bloudoff (population health dietitian), Sandi DeWolf (Eating Disorders Clinic), and Marta Torok (Eating Disorders Clinic). It originally appeared in the spring issue of Healthier You magazine, which focused on the topic of women’s health.


Body image and disordered eating resources

February 1-7 is Eating Disorder Awareness Week in B.C. If you think that you or someone you love has an eating disorder, please contact the Northern Health Eating Disorders Clinic at 250-565-7479.

What is body image?

It is the way each of us perceives our physical appearance, and includes our thoughts and feelings about how we look. Our self-esteem, or sense of self-worth, is often closely linked with body image.

There are many things that can contribute to a negative body image. The mass media is one that many women can relate to. The media often presents women with an idealized image of female beauty that is impossible for the majority of women to attain. The images we often see are of thin, tall, photoshopped women, who represent only one body type that few real-life women possess.

Body image is also influenced by family relationships, cultural beliefs, sports involvement, peers and past traumas. Women with a negative body image are more likely to suffer from depression, social isolation and low self-esteem.

Negative body image is a risk factor in developing disordered eating patterns and eating disorders. Up to 65% of women report engaging in disordered eating patterns and 10% of women display symptoms that meet the criteria of an eating disorder, such as anorexia or bulimia. The physiological and psychological effects of disordered eating can have significant impacts on a woman’s physical and mental health, interpersonal relationships, day-to-day functioning, and quality of life. Eating disorders are complex conditions that most often require professional intervention.

If you think that you or someone you love has an eating disorder, please contact the Northern Health Eating Disorders Clinic at 250-565-7479.

Understanding and awareness is important so women can understand how their own body image affects their life and others around them. Over one-half of teenage girls and nearly one-third of teenage boys use unhealthy weight control behaviors, such as food restriction.

Research has shown that daughters are more likely to have ideas about weight and dieting if their mothers participate in “fat talk” (self-degrading statements about one’s body, food, or eating) or dieting. Children pay attention to what parents say and do, even if it doesn’t seem like it. Parents are role models to their children, and can help support their children to focus less on their external appearance and more on overall wellness and personal successes.

There are many things women can do to improve their body image, such as:

  • Appreciate everything your body can do, not what it can’t.
  • Remind yourself that true beauty is not defined by your physical appearance.
  • Choose to wear clothes that are comfortable and make you feel good.
  • View media messages with a critical eye.
  • Focus your time and energy on positive things instead of worrying about food, calories, or weight.

Resources:

Poster with the phrase: Your weight is not your worth.

The Provincial Eating Disorders Awareness Campaign (PEDAW) is a great resource if you or someone you love needs support. (Poster artwork by Gillian Berry / Courtesy of PEDAW)

Marianne Bloudoff

About Marianne Bloudoff

Born and raised in BC, Marianne moved from Vancouver to Prince George in January 2014. She is a Registered Dietitian with Northern Health's population health team. Her passion for food and nutrition lured her away from her previous career in Fisheries Management. Now, instead of counting fish, she finds herself educating people on their health benefits. In her spare time, Marianne can be found experimenting in the kitchen and writing about it on her food blog, as well as exploring everything northern B.C. has to offer.

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I am not just the reflection in the mirror

Label on mirror reading: "Warning: Reflections  in this mirror may be distorted by socially constructed ideas of "beauty"

“I am a whole person; I am not just a reflection in the mirror.” Mental Health Week is a great opportunity to share Darri’s warning label for mirrors and other suggestions for improving body image, self-esteem, and mood.

Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.

This is a phrase I have unfortunately said to myself over and over, trying to talk myself down from a junk food ledge. My reasons for eating or overeating have never been restricted to one particular feeling – it’s a cycle of emotion, whether it be sadness, happiness or celebration. Feel, eat, guilt, restrict, repeat – for me, it’s a fairly predictable cycle.

The feelings I have about my body image at any particular time are also variable. I have always struggled with my weight, how I look to others, how I feel about myself. Placing value on who I am as a person solely on how I carry the weight of my body. Body image is complicated.

“I know that once I am thin enough, I will be happy.” These thoughts, whether rational or not, have been foremost in my mind most of my life. But I have been “thin” and I have still been unhappy. The thing is, changing my outside does not change how I feel on the inside. This is not a groundbreaking epiphany, yet it has taken years for me to accept that my value as a human being is not based on my weight.

So where did these ideas come from?

I could talk about my family and the emphasis that was placed on appearance. My mom and sisters were constantly riding the yo-yo diet train. The messages I received were subtle and self-esteem shaping. But where did my family members get these messages themselves? I can’t ignore the fact that we live in a superficial world full of glossy magazines and blockbuster movies oozing with sexuality. The basic message that we seem to hear all the time is that your successes in life can equate to how you look. The better looking you are on the outside, the more success, health and happiness you can attain.

In a 2004 paper titled The Impact of Exposure to the Thin-Ideal Media Image on Women, Hawkins and her colleagues found that:

Exposure to thin-ideal magazine images increases body dissatisfaction, negative mood states, and eating disorder symptoms and decreases self-esteem. Exposure to thin-ideal media images may contribute to the development of eating disorders by causing body dissatisfaction, negative moods, low self-esteem, and eating disorders symptoms among women.

The impact of body image on mental health and overall well-being is undeniable. How we see ourselves impacts how we feel about ourselves and how we interact with the world around us. What can I do to improve my body image and lessen the impact on my daughters? I can choose to eat healthy, not restrict, give myself permission to eat a variety of foods without shame or guilt; I can be active and do things that energize and motivate me to feel good about the body I live in. I can be kind to myself and all aspects of which I am.

I am a whole person; I am not just the reflection in the mirror.

As a mental health and addictions clinician for Northern Health, I see how body image directly impacts the mental health of the clients with whom I work. Here are some practical suggestions for improving body image, self-esteem and mood:

  • Stop comparing yourself to others. You are unique and need to celebrate your positive qualities.
  • Practice self-care. Go for a walk in nature, have a bath, read a book, reignite an old hobby you once enjoyed, take time for yourself. Self-care should not be confused with being selfish, it is important for your mental health to take time to re-energize and refresh yourself.
  • Create a support system. Spend time with those who lift you up and support you. They have a positive impact on how you feel about yourself. It’s OK to ask for support!
  • Pay attention to lifestyle. Small changes over time can add up to a large shift in mental health in the future.
  • Seek help from community resources such as Mental Health and Addictions Services. You can contact us through the Northern Health website. For more information on body image, please visit the National Eating Disorders Information Centre or the Canadian Mental Health Association.
Darri O'Neill

About Darri O'Neill

Darri has worked for Northern Health in the position of mental health and addictions clinician for the past six years. Darri enjoys her work and also knows the importance of getting outside to enjoy time with her young family. In the summers, they like to camp at the local lakes and have recently purchased snowshoes which they hope to use to explore the trails around their home in the winter. Darri and her husband were both raised on Vancouver Island and moved to the northwest 10 years ago. They've grown to love the area and appreciate that they can raise their family in such a naturally beautiful part of B.C.

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Love our bodies, love ourselves

Purple wristbands that say: Love Our Bodies, Love Ourselves

Finding ways to foster positive body images is important for our mental and physical health. National Eating Disorders Awareness Week (February 1-7) is a great time to think about how to cultivate a positive body image in yourself and others! (Photo by Kimberly Strain / Courtesy of PEDAW)

This blog post was co-written by Marianne Bloudoff, Sandi DeWolf, and Rilla Reardon. To learn more about all of our blog writers, visit our Contributors page.


This week, February 1-7, is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. This year’s theme is “Love Our Bodies, Love Ourselves.”

Body image is our own perception and feelings of our physical appearance. It is shaped by our life experiences, personality, culture, and social influences. While many experiences will help us to develop a positive body image, some will do the opposite and foster a negative body image.

Body dissatisfaction is one of the best known contributors to the development of disordered eating patterns and eating disorders. This starts early in life. It is estimated that 40 to 60 per cent of girls aged six to twelve are concerned with weight, and this carries on throughout their lives. Finding ways to foster positive body images is important for our mental and physical health.

Here are five steps you can take to help cultivate your own positive body image:

  1. Appreciate everything your body can do, not what it can’t. There are countless things our bodies do every day that we take for granted. We also all have our own unique skills and abilities like painting, running, or public speaking. Keep a list of all the things you can do, and read it often.
  2. Remind yourself that true beauty is not defined by your physical appearance. Confidence, self-acceptance, openness, honesty – these and many other traits all make you beautiful. Beauty is a state of mind, not a state of body.
  3. Choose to wear clothes that are comfortable and make you feel good. Work with your body, not against it.
  4. View media messages with a critical eye. Be aware of how images and slogans make you feel about your body and remind yourself that these images do not depict reality.
  5. Focus your time and energy on positive things instead of worrying about food, calories, or weight. Do something to help others. Not only will this make a positive change to your community, but you will feel good, too.

If you think that you or someone you love has an eating disorder, please contact the Northern Health Eating Disorders Clinic at 250-565-7479.

Additional resources:

Poster with the phrase: Your weight is not your worth.

The Provincial Eating Disorders Awareness Campaign (PEDAW) is a great resource if you or someone you love needs support. (Poster artwork by Gillian Berry / Courtesy of PEDAW)

Marianne Bloudoff

About Marianne Bloudoff

Born and raised in BC, Marianne moved from Vancouver to Prince George in January 2014. She is a Registered Dietitian with Northern Health's population health team. Her passion for food and nutrition lured her away from her previous career in Fisheries Management. Now, instead of counting fish, she finds herself educating people on their health benefits. In her spare time, Marianne can be found experimenting in the kitchen and writing about it on her food blog, as well as exploring everything northern B.C. has to offer.

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Diverse bodies are healthy bodies

healthy bodies, diverse bodies, move for life

Accept your body at its current size and shape and then enjoy your body by moving and eating in ways that support your health.

Growing up in outport Newfoundland, everyone was the same: the same skin colour, spoke the same way, attended the same church, and all without cable TV or the Internet. Needless to say, this did not provide an opportunity to know diversity. When I moved to Toronto in the early 1990s, I remember standing on the corner of Bloor and Yonge Streets and being overwhelmed by the diversity of people all around me. Overall, Canada ranks high for accepting diversity, especially to culture, language, religion, gender and sexual orientation. Where we, and the rest of North America, fail is with accepting size diversity.

Society, fueled by the media, tells us that bodies (male and female) should look a certain way – a way that very few people can achieve.  However, that doesn’t stop people from trying and the costs are great:

  • In a study of 5,000 teens, more than half of girls and a third of boys engage in unhealthy weight control behaviours.
  • Teen girls who diet are at 324% greater risk for obesity than those who do not diet.
  • 81% of 10-year-olds are afraid of being fat.
  • 98% of females are unhappy with their bodies.
  • Canadians spend more than $7 billion per year on diet programs, diet books and diet pills.
  • However, evidence tells us that 98% of people who lose weight will regain the weight and more.

Despite what TV makeover shows might suggest, the human body is not easily transformed.

Body shapes and sizes are the result of many factors beyond what one eats and how much one moves. For example, genetics, life stage, environment, cultural norms and socioeconomic status all influence body shape and size. In my 20 years as a registered dietitian, I have worked with many people who eat well and are fit and healthy but do not match society’s “ideal” body.

Body size and shape is not the determining measure of one’s health. To support health, wellness and positive body image, try these approaches:

  • Respect and care for your body. Accept your body at its current size, shape and capabilities.
  • Eat for well-being not weight loss. Listen to your body and eat according to hunger, fullness and satiety cues, nutritional needs, and cultural and family traditions.
  • Be active in your own way to support energy, strength and stress management.

For more information about challenges that youth are faced with when it comes to healthy eating, go to keltymentalhealth.ca.

How do you measure your health? When do you feel most healthy?

 

Data sources:

Neumark-Sztainer, Story, Hannan, Perry & Irving, 2002. Relation between dieting and weight change among preadolescents and adolescents. Pediatrics, 112(4), 900-906;  findings from Project EAT (population-based study of approximately 5000 teens).

http://keltymentalhealth.ca/sites/default/files/Youth%20Disordered%20Eating%20Fact%20sheet.pdf

http://www.vancouversun.com/health/Diet+industry+expands+right+along+with+North+America+waistlines/8268951/story.html

Flo Sheppard

About Flo Sheppard

Flo has a dual role with Northern Health—she is the NW population health team lead and a regional population health dietitian with a lead in 0 – 6 nutrition. In the latter role, she is passionate about the value of supporting children to develop eating competence through regular family meals and planned snacks. Working full-time and managing a busy home life of extracurricular and volunteer activities can challenge Flo's commitment and practice of family meals but flexibility, conviction, planning and creativity help!

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