Written by Mayma Chaibi, guest blogger and nutrition student at Simmons University
As part of my fieldwork with Nancy Clark, I listened to a podcast titled Words Matter: Eating Disorders Truths and Triggers. The speakers, Christi Conti, founder of Conti Fitness and Wellness, and Karli Taylor, co-founder of BarreFlow, enlightened us about how detrimental what we say can be to other sports-active people, specifically those that may have had or still are suffering from an eating disorder. Conti and Taylor dissected how what we say is a direct result of preconceived notions and stigmas that we may subconsciously hold. For example, bikini body and six-pack abs should be “the norm”, right? Ironically, many of us, myself included, do not realize when we are subjecting an individual to triggering words because they are, unfortunately, so deeply rooted within the society.
What is an eating disorder?
Before I comment on the information the speakers presented, I want to be sure you understand what an eating disorder is, and what it is not. An eating disorder is not—and never was—limited to a “skinny” girl whose bones are showing (even though that image might result from one type of eating disorder). Eating disorders can present themselves in a magnitude of ways including anorexia, bulimia, exercise bulimia, binge eating disorder, orthorexia, and atypical anorexia (the person eats very little but lives in a large body). One thing they have in common is they include obsessive, compulsive behaviors in regards to what those people are eating and how that reflects on their body.
Who is affected?
Christi started off the discussion by asking, Who do you think is most likely to have an eating disorder? (Males or females? Skinny or fat people? High school girls or mid-life moms?”) Ironically, anyone can develop an eating disorder. But why are we so surprised when we learn, for example, a man has an eating disorder? More surprised yet, a male athlete? Even a straight male?
As Christi touched upon throughout the webinar, our reactions possibly minimize the severity of this male’s eating disorder. (That couldn’t be true. Men don’t get eating disorders, do they???) As a female who has never dealt with an eating disorder, I have had other medical-related issues about which people constantly commented. I can only begin to imagine how a man with an eating disorder must feel! After all, “real men” do not suffer from such physical and psychological issues for whatever reason, do they? And women who live in large bodies could never have anorexia, could they?
Yes, indeed, both can and do happen!. Christi emphasizes we must work towards diminishing these social norms in order to curb our knee-jerk shock when we learn that a male colleague suffers from an eating disorder or a person in a larger body has anorexia.
When speaking to a person who might have food issues, be mindful that what you say can be very triggering. Essentially, you want to avoid using words that target the way an individual physically looks, such as “Wow—You look great!!! You’ve lost a lot of weight!!!” Even though these words have a positive connotation, Karli states repeatedly that what we say and how we say it can be detrimental to a person’s mental health. WORDS MATTER! Telling someone “You look great” can trigger a series of thoughts and emotions, including, “If I look great now, how did I look before— terrible? Am I now a better person? What happens if I regain the weight—will I be a bad person?
Our verbiage must be mindful and considerate. We need to focus on how a person seems from the inside out and stop judging or commenting on bodies from the outside in. Are you OK? Are you happy? I love the sparkle in your eye! These are appropriate phrases. But please think twice before you tell someone they look fantastic in those jeans, or an outfit makes them look skinny. Fo the person with food issues, those comments can trigger the desire to lose even more weight.
The webinar was sponsored by MedFit Education Foundation: