Healthy Living in the North

Promoting a positive body image for students

Two young girls cooking food.

In honour of the recent Provincial Eating Disorders Week, registered dietitian Rilla Reardon shared some great tips for promoting positive body image in youth. Building a positive body image helps youth thrive physically, emotionally, and socially, and can protect against the development of disordered eating. Unfortunately, feeling good about one’s body is not always easy in today’s society. The BC Adolescent Health Report, a survey of youth ages 12-19 across the province paints a distressing picture. From the 30,000 students who were surveyed, they found that:

  • 36% of females and 28% of males are unhappy with their bodies.
  • 35% of females and 19% of males have engaged in risky dieting behaviour in the past year.  
  • Disordered eating behaviours are more common among older and larger-bodied students.

Since youth spend a large portion of their time in school, it makes sense that our efforts extend beyond home to include the school environment. Read on to find out what steps schools can take to promote a positive body image and prevent disordered eating among youth.

Focus on health, not weight

Research shows that talking about weight (yours or others) or dieting is harmful for children of all ages. Help children value themselves for who they are and what their bodies can DO. We all have different strengths that deserve to be celebrated. 

Say no to weight-based bullying

Speak up against weight-based bullying and include weight discrimination in your school’s anti-bullying policy. Teach children that teasing someone about their body is never okay and that all bodies deserve to be treated with respect.

Talk to children about their changing bodies

Health class is a great opportunity to let children know that weight gain is a normal part of growing up. Puberty is going to comes at different rates and times for everyone.  Knowing about these changes before they occur can help children feel more at ease, and prevent risky behaviours.        

Avoid the collection of student height, weight, and/or BMI

There are many factors that influence weight, and most are outside of an individual’s control. BMI is not a good measure of health, especially for children, and its collection has been shown to cause harm. Instead, schools can focus on celebrating body diversity and creating environments that make the healthy choice the easy choice for all students.

“Do no harm” with nutrition education

Provide students with hands-on experiences with growing, choosing, and preparing foods, rather than food rules. This type of information (e.g. calorie counting, “healthy” vs. “unhealthy” foods) can promote black-and-white thinking, and does not encourage a positive relationship with food. For curriculum recommendations check out the Northern Health Healthy Eating at Schools page.

Do not provide specific information about eating disorders

Research shows that talking about eating disorders is not effective for prevention, and can backfire. “She ate only X calories a day” or “He took as many as X laxatives at a time” can turn a well-intentioned story into ‘how-to’ instructions for someone to follow. A better approach is talking about body image and promoting media literacy.

Teach youth to be media savvy

Encourage students to be critical of how bodies are portrayed in the media. Getting students to ask, “Who stands to benefit from these messages?” is called media literacy, and can help children reject unrealistic body ideals. In addition, teaching youth to spot nutrition fads, and where to find reliable sources of health information (e.g. Health Services at HealthLink BC), goes a lot further than simply providing information. To get started, check out this list of teaching tools, videos, and lesson plans from Jesse’s Legacy and Vancouver Coastal Health.

Sign up for a free teacher workshop

Consider attending a “Healthy Attitudes, Healthy Bodies, Healthy Schools” workshop designed to help educators become more confident promoting positive body image in the classroom. Workshops are free and available in your local community or virtually. Call 1-800-242-6455 or email to book a workshop.

We’d love to hear from you. How does your school promote a positive body image for students?

Emilia Moulechkova

About Emilia Moulechkova

Originally from the Lower Mainland, Emilia started her career with Northern Health as a dietetic intern in 2013. Since then, she has worked in a variety of roles as a Registered Dietitian with the population health team. In her current role, she supports schools across the north in their efforts to promote healthy eating. Emilia is passionate about food’s role in bringing people and communities together, and all the ways it can support physical, mental, and social health. Her overall philosophy on healthy eating can be summarized by this Ellyn Satter quote: “When the joy goes out of eating, nutrition suffers.” In her spare time, she loves exploring the beautiful northern outdoors by foot, skis, bike, or canoe!


Time to take a second look in the mirror at our body image

(Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Northern Health’s Healthier You – Fall 2018 edition on Youth Mental Wellness. Read the full issue here.)

Wristbands stating Love Ourselves and Love Our Bodies.

When we turn on the TV or run through our social media feed, we are bombarded with images of thin, fit, photo-shopped, “perfect” people. But is this the norm? And is this healthy? In a recent study, girls, ages three and five, who were presented with dolls of different shapes preferred the thin version, describing the bigger dolls as sad, tired, and having no friends. We think we are immune to media, but even young children are exposed to messaging that implies being in a bigger body is bad. 

The fat phobic society we live in contributes to a negative body image. Body image is our own perception of our physical appearance, including our thoughts and feelings about the way we look. It impacts self-esteem, mental health, and well-being. Negative body image may lead to unhealthy dieting behaviours, the development of disordered eating and eating disorders, and may also lead to feelings of shame, guilt, low self-worth, and unhappiness. It’s estimated that 40 to 60 percent of girls aged six to twelve are concerned about their weight. 

As parents and caregivers, we often encourage our kids to be their healthiest. This may come across in messages about eating, activity, or striving to be a certain body size. While the intentions are good, these types of messages can often be misinterpreted by kids – that there is something wrong with their body and they need to change their shape or weight. If you look around where you live and in your family, healthy bodies are very diverse. Weight is not the biggest, or only, indicator of health. Focusing on well-being and healthy habits is more important than any number on the scale!

It’s important to have age-appropriate conversations with our children about health and body image, and work towards fostering a healthy relationship with our bodies.

How can you support youth to promote a healthy body image?

Be a positive role model. Be aware of your self-talk around weight and food, and get curious about your own beliefs and attitudes about body size and eating. For example, let your child catch you saying one positive thing about your body daily.

Celebrate diversity. Help your child to focus on their own unique qualities and talents rather than appearance as a foundation for self-esteem.

Open up the conversation. Talk about how media can impact our body image, or invite your kids to share how they are feeling about their bodies.

Teach your kids to view media messages critically. Help create awareness of how images and slogans make us feel about our bodies, and talk about how these images do not depict reality. Check out this tip sheet from MediaSmarts to get started.

Eat together. Plan and offer regular family meals as a way to encourage family time and model healthy approaches to eating. Get your kids involved in cooking too – how about a build your own taco or pizza night?

Make meals and snacks enjoyable. Practice an “all foods fit” approach in your home, offer a variety of foods and create a shame/guilt-free space to make food choices.

Take a balanced approach to physical activity. Encourage physical movement that is joyful, and focus on the fun, social aspects of being active. Refrain from teaching your child that activity is punishment or used to compensate for eating.

Explore what health really means to you and your family. Recognize that health is more than the absence of disease or having a certain body size. Health is inclusive of emotional, intellectual, social, spiritual, and physical wellness. Don’t let focusing on one (physical) compromise another (mental). Health may mean something different to you than your child.  Take the opportunity to explore. Plan family activities that promote a balanced view towards health.

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.

Rilla Reardon

About Rilla Reardon

Rilla is a Registered Dietitian working for Northern Health since 2013. Rilla moved to northern BC from the east coast to continue developing her skills as a dietitian in a clinical setting while enjoying all that the north has to offer. Outside of work, she can be found experimenting in the kitchen or navigating the trails around Prince George with her dog, Henry. Rilla channels her passion for nutrition into practice, inspiring others to nourish their bodies, minds and souls with delicious and healthy food!


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.


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.


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.


Tales from the Man Cave: men and eating disorders

You are youIncreasing numbers of males are developing eating disorders. The men’s health MANual dedicates over 19 of its 39 pages to eating healthy, a very important topic. However, one section that is missing is unhealthy eating in males (although it is implied throughout that our diets suck), and when I say unhealthy, what I actually mean is disordered.

Earlier this month was National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, a time to reflect on eating disorders and to share (by shouting out loud from the rooftops) the warning signs. It’s also a time to let those who have an eating disorder know what help is available (see below for a list of resources).

Our world seems obsessed by weight – everywhere I go there is some conversation about weight. It is said that this is the silent epidemic and that in their lifetime, 10 million males in the US will develop a significant eating disorder and overall 5% of males will have a significant eating disorder in the western world. This is apparently much higher in the gay community.

It seems to me that the world we live in is increasingly telling us that we are our bodies and has been doing so for almost 50 years. More specifically, it seems to say that we are what our body looks like. Well, we lads used to be able to nod our heads in sympathy that this was a woman’s world. But no more.

When I was a young lad, it was rare to see all those guys with muscle in places where, generally, muscle did not seem to express itself too much. I even spent some time in Glasgow’s Ingram street boxing gym, where the world Champion Jim Watt trained and never saw the kind of display you do now.

Maybe I am just a wimp but it occurs to me it was never needed. When we engaged in weightlifting activity, it was usually at work with a mate, such as running upstairs with a full beer keg on each shoulder. We both could do it – we were young strong men. No need to look like young strong men or stand naked in the mirror flexing muscles. No need to be into protein powders and steroids, just whatever you could grab on the run and that was usually made by mum or, in my case, Dad.

Now males are falling into the media trap. We are, apparently, what our bodies look like. We are our image and it’s distorted. We can never be buff enough, and so some young people are developing in the opposite direction and going down the anorexic road.

There is pressure from media in all directions and a confusing array of messages: Eat more. Eat less. Look like this. Own this. Have this. Need this. Be this. Did you notice how stupid men look in a great deal of advertisements? For goodness sake, shut up, I hear myself shouting at the TV! Truly adverts make me feel sick – it’s a subtle form of bullying that goes unnoticed, and I am tired of flashy lies being broadcast into my home. (Yes, I know, get the heck off the couch. Well that’s another blog post.)

The body comes in all shapes and sizes, so eat healthy, quit dieting, and let it be what it is. You are not what your body looks like. You are you.

Resources on eating disorders:

Jim Coyle

About Jim Coyle

Jim is a tobacco reduction coordinator with the men’s health program, and has a background in psychiatry and care of the elderly. In former times, Jim was director of care at Simon Fraser Lodge and clinical coordinator at the Brain Injury Group. He came to Canada from Glasgow, Scotland 20 years ago and, when not at work, Jim plays in the band Out of Alba and spends time with his family.


Health at Any Size

self-image, weight bias, weight stigma, health at any size

A big part of being healthy is feeling good about yourself. How is that impacted by others?

Living in a small town where you are known by your work role (I’m a registered dietitian) can sometimes be a challenge. Awhile back, a stranger approached me in the grocery store, peered into my basket and said, “Just making sure you’re following your own advice,” and walked away. I can brush this incident off knowing that what was in my basket was in line with what I believe and say about healthy eating. This position includes a variety of foods – the foods highlighted in Canada’s Food Guide, but also chocolate and the occasional summer hot dog roast. But, this got me thinking about how we are judged by the foods we eat and this can impact what we eat, how we view ourselves, and – ultimately – our health.

“Fat” is not a four-lettered work. It is a descriptive word like short, tall or blond. Being fat is no more negative or positive than being thin. Healthy bodies come in a variety of shapes and sizes; sometimes these bodies are fat and sometimes they are thin.

Unfortunately, weight bias (negative assumptions, beliefs and judgments based on body weight) and weight stigma (being devalued based on your body weight) are more common than we’d like to admit.

No matter our size or weight, we all have the right to health. When I hear people talk about “getting healthy,” their first step is most often to try to lose weight. This comes from three very common myths:

  1. Weight loss will improve health – Strategies to lose weight are not always healthful. Attempts at weight loss are associated with increased rates of disordered eating and overall long-term weight gain. Studies have shown that weight “yo-yo”ing is more harmful to health than being at a stable, higher weight.
  2.  Fatness causes disease and early death – Studies show that people in the “overweight” body mass index (BMI) category live longer than those in the “normal weight” category and that poor health is more likely at the extremes (very “underweight” and very “obese”).
  3.  Weight management is about energy balance – Eating less and moving more is thought to be the magic bullet to lose weight, but this doesn’t consider things like family history, personal dieting history, socioeconomic status, the environment and the many other factors that impact one’s weight.

Research tells us that people who are the victims of weight bias and stigma are at risk for poor body image, low self-esteem, loneliness, depression, anxiety and suicide and are more likely to avoid medical care, experience stress-induced illness, avoid physical activity and engage in unhealthy eating behaviours. That doesn’t sound like health to me. We would all benefit from this prescription for life:

  • Eat well
  • Move daily
  • Hydrate often
  • Sleep lots
  • Love your body
  • Repeat for life
  • Let your weight settle where it is meant to be

 Weight bias and stigma must stop. Have you noticed weight bias in your day to day life?

Flo Sheppard

About Flo Sheppard

Flo has worked in northern BC for over 20 years in a variety of roles. Currently, she is the Chief Population Health Dietitian and Team Lead for the Population Health Nutrition Team. She takes a realistic, supportive, and non-judgemental approach to healthy eating in recognition that there are many things that influence how we care for ourselves. In her spare time, you are likely to find Flo cooking, reading, volunteering, or enjoying the outdoors.