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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Talking saves lives

Purple for #PEDAW poster

When it comes to eating disorders, talking saves lives! There are many myths and stereotypes about eating disorders that we have to challenge and Eating Disorders Awareness Week is a great opportunity to do that! Poster 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.”

There are many stereotypes and stigmas surrounding eating disorders that continue to persist in our society: they only affect women, they are just about vanity, and that they would get better if people would “just eat.” Talking openly about eating disorders can be a taboo subject and many people may feel ashamed of their eating disorder so they suffer in silence. But dispelling the myths and talking about eating disorders can save lives.

On the surface, it may seem like eating disorders are simply about food and weight, but they are much more complex. Eating disorders are mental illnesses that are influenced by social and cultural experiences as well as biology. They do not discriminate against sex, age, or ethnicity. They can arise in those struggling with their identity and self-image or from traumatic life experiences.

Eating disorders can result in medical complications – anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric illness. It is important to be aware of the signs that someone may have an eating disorder and how to assist them to seek out the help they need.

Signs that someone may be struggling with an eating disorder:

  • They spend a great amount of time counting calories, weighing themselves, eating only “healthy” foods, and thinking about dieting and their weight.
  • They talk about feeling “fat” despite a noticeable weight loss.
  • They avoid meal times and look for excuses not to eat.
  • They may have low energy or exercise excessively.

Some people may show no obvious signs, however, as they can become very good at masking symptoms.

It can be difficult to approach a loved one who you suspect may have an eating disorder with your concerns. Remember that talking really can save lives and keep the following in mind:

  • Discuss your concerns openly, in a caring and supportive way. Give examples of what you‘re seeing.
  • Avoid battles, blaming, or shaming. Use statements like “I am concerned for your health.”
  • Offer to support them through seeking help.

There are a variety of places where you can help your loved one find help for their eating disorder:

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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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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