What are the key signs you are suffering from a distorted body image?

body image

Body dissatisfaction and building body image resilience

 

One in five adults feel shame, and one third feel low because of their body image in 20194.

Distorted body image and body dissatisfaction seems to be on the increase, but how can you recognise the signs of distorted body image and how to overcome it? This article will outline some of these signs and signpost you to some methods to overcome distorted body image.

 

What is a distorted body image?

Body image refers to how individuals picture their body, regardless of how it looks. It is comprised of a complex network of factors including thoughts, feelings, evaluations and behaviours relating to your body1.

Body image is a dynamic concept which can change daily due to our mood, stress levels, or any external cues of the day, such as how clothes feel on your body.

Your body image can alter your behaviours, either concealing or revealing your body, or even pursuing a diet to try and change the body.

You may see articles online using the terms body image distortion, negative body image, body dissatisfaction and many more similar terms – these all refer to the same phenomenon.

However, body dissatisfaction is when there is a difference between your perceived body image and your idealised image of what your body should look like1.

 

What causes distorted body image?

There appears to be a range of factors that contribute to our relationship with our bodies including socialisation, physical changes within the body, and our environment and family systems.

In fact, self-recognition is assumed to have developed by the time we reach the age of two1. In your toddler years you are exposed to social norms and begin to internalise these, especially in relation to gender stereotypes and expectations.

It has been reported that 40-50% of children aged 6-12 years reported being dissatisfied with their body size / shape5. Children may start to manipulate their appearance to get approval from adults and peers – therefore some researchers claim body image is a learned behaviour and not something humans naturally do1.

 

How do I know if my body image is distorted?

We are all exposed to the same messaging in the media, yet we don’t all have distorted body image.

Body image is a social phenomenon, with one in five adults reporting images used in advertising had caused them to worry about their body image4, with those experiencing any form of teasing about their body as a child more likely to have distorted body image1.

There may also be a link between body image and self-esteem, with high self-esteem protecting us from negative thoughts about our body and reducing any anxiety that others will judge our body negatively1.

 

What are the key signs you may be suffering from a distorted body image?

  • Feeling unhappy with your appearance
  • Losing interest in activities that once made you happy
  • Experiencing low self-esteem
  • You have trouble eating in front of others
  • Constantly comparing yourself to other people
  • Avoiding mirrors
  • Avoiding social situations because you’re worried about what you look like
  • Hyper fixating on specific body parts and engaging in body checking behaviours such as grabbing or poking different body areas
  • You feel guilty when eating or drinking because of how you look

We all may experience some of the above from time to time but a key sign you’re suffering from distorted body image is a preoccupation with any of the above.

If you constantly compare your body to what it used to look like or what you think it should be, you are experiencing body image distortion – and if you then act on this through activities such as dieting, cosmetics and products, or even to the extent of surgery, then you may be experiencing this distortion6.

 

How to overcome distorted body image?

Firstly, know that you are not alone in your experience. Many people are experience bad body image.

As we aim to overcome distorted body image, we should focus on building a positive body image, or even body acceptance. Researcher, Catherine Cook-Cottone2, says cultivating a positive body image plays a powerful role in recovery from an eating disorder.

Body acceptance involves agreement between the inner aspect of yourself such as thoughts and feelings with a concept of the body that accepts all shapes, sizes and unique qualities – as well as the emotional protection of kindness toward the body2.

In a study asking those with high body satisfaction about their body’s, they commented on their ‘flaws’ but were not troubled by them, rather accepting them as part of themselves2.

We are here to support you on your body acceptance journey with our top tips to cultivate better body image!

 

  1. Prioritise your mental health

There is an established link between negative body image and mental health problems. Over one third of UK adults have felt depressed or anxious because of their body image4. By working on taking actions that will improve your mental health, you will, in turn, improve your body image.

 

  1. Notice how you talk to yourself

Your thoughts create your reality and journaling is an effective tool to begin observing your inner dialogue. When you have a negative thought about your body, write it down and then challenge yourself to write three neutral statements. It may feel challenging at first but the more your practice the easier it becomes.

 

  1. Detox your social media

Find what works for you as stepping back completely from social media may be most beneficial if it contributes to a negative body image. However, if you use it for social connection, prioritise cultivating your feed, setting daily limits and seek out body positive accounts that add to your life, rather than take away.

 

  1. Set goals to improve body function

Changing our goals from appearance-focused to function-focused is more sustainable when we are healing our relationship with our body. Focus on what your body allows you to do every single day such as run, walk, play, dance, swim! You may choose to set goals such as improving your cardiovascular fitness, getting stronger or improving your flexibility.

 

  1. Engage in embodiment practices

The aim of embodiment is to come back home to our body where we feel a deep sense of connection, appreciation, and attunement with our body. Many individuals we work with at EHL are disembodied, meaning they are out of touch with many sensations and emotions that arise in their body. You can start to practice embodiment through many practices such as mindfulness, meditation, yoga or dance.

 

  1. Cultivate an environment to support a positive body image2.

Surround yourself with other humans who don’t hyperfocus on their body. If you know someone who is struggling with their body image, we have a post on supporting them in a way that is most helpful.

If you want more support, we are here to help you every step of the way!

Contact us at hello@embodyhealthlondon.com.

To learn more about our group coaching programme head to THRIVE to join a safe and supportive community of like-minded women on their journey towards body confidence, food freedom and self-love.

 

Team EHL x

 

References:

Hosseini and Padhy 2019 https://europepmc.org/article/nbk/nbk546582

Cook-Cottone 2015 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1740144515000285

Braun et al 2016 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1740144516301000

Mental https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/body-image-report/exec-summary

Smolak L. Body image development in childhood. In: Cash TF, Smolak L, editors. Body image: a handbook of science, practice, and prevention. 2nd ed. New York: The Guildford Press; 2011.

Phillips et al 2001 Surgical and nonpsychiatric medical treatment of patients with body dysmorphic disorder https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11815686/

5 Safe alternatives to emotional eating

emotional eating

How to stop emotional eating and what to do instead

 

We’ve all seen movies showing post-breakup ice cream cravings to deal with heartbreak – but should we be worried about using food as an emotional crutch? And is it harming our health? In this article we will look at emotional eating, how to deal with it in general, and more specifically the relationship between emotional eating and stress.

 

What is emotional eating?

Emotional eating is often defined as our tendency to overeat as a response to experiencing negative emotions1. In German, the term Kummerspeck means grief bacon4 and refers to eating when sad.

We should remember that emotional eating can be used to refer to eating of any kind – over or undereating – driven by a psychological and / or emotional trigger, whether that’s a positive or negative emotion.

We eat food that is nostalgic and associated with happy memories as well as consuming when we are bored or anxious. It is only when we over-rely on food in response to negative feelings that we may need to be concerned.

Hunger that causes emotional eating often comes on abruptly in response to a stressor and leads to a longing for foods that are easily palatable or associated with positive experiences. Do you find yourself eating more when you are stressed or anxious? Or do you eat when you are bored?

As we reach for these foods, emotional eating can lead to feelings of guilt directly after the experience. If this is something you often encounter, it may be time to investigate whether you are eating emotionally.

 

Why should we be concerned about emotional eating?

Links have been found between emotional eating and depression, as well as binge eating and various eating disorders5. Emotional eaters also tend to report higher levels of body dissatisfaction and an increased desire for thinness5.

A 2013 study found that 40% of participants increased their food intake when stressed, while 40% decreased their intake3

Emotional eating may be considered an example of disordered eating, with a risk of tipping over into the territory of an eating disorder.

 

Emotional eating and stress

When we are stressed, our bodies quickly release adrenalin and cortisol as part of our fight or flight response. The adrenalin temporarily lowers your appetite, but it is fleeting.  The stress-hormone – cortisol lingers and its role being to replenish the body long after the stress has passed. If chronically raised, cortisol drives you to eat more and store body fat in the visceral areas – deep within your abdominal area surrounding your organs.

This in part explains why when you’re really stressed, there’s an urge to have to do something, anything.  And it’s usually something easy and comforting – like eating or drinking. 

In essence, your raised cortisol levels increase your desire for high carbohydrate-rich food– and once you give in to it once – once turns into twice and three times… and your brain learns a shortcut to feel a sense of comfort. A habit is now formed.

 

How to deal with emotional eating

 

  1. Identify the reason why you want to eat

Methods such as journaling may be useful to help you notice any patterns of emotional eating as well as help you acknowledge what it is you are feeling. This may be a process that allows you to work on embodiment and listening to internal cues around food – especially in relation to hunger.

 

  1. Diversify your toolbox to deal with your emotions

Eating releases a rush of our happy hormones, including dopamine and serotonin. So, it makes sense we would want to continue eating if we are feeling down, overwhelmed, or negative. But food is not the sole source of these happy hormones! Dopamine is released in response to sunshine, listening to music, and connecting and socialising with other human beings.

 

  1. And, breathe!

Breathing exercises and mindfulness can be a great resource to help deal with emotions and cause the body to move away from the fight or flight mode that comes with stress, into a relaxed, calm and present state.

Utilising mindfulness might mean that when you reach for food when anxious you slow down and appreciate all aspects of that food, and how it makes you feel. Are you still using it to soothe your emotions? Maybe! But the difference here is that you are consciously choosing to eat emotionally with awareness2 and attunement.

 

  1. Tap into your social network or join a support group

This will allow you to feel less alone in your experiences. Equally hanging out with friends and family will allow you to circumvent thinking about food or being bored as a trigger for eating.

 

  1. Be mindful of what you eat and how food makes you feel

Again, journaling might be helpful here, it will allow you to see how food makes you feel emotionally and physically. Can any associations be found between certain foods and their effect on you, especially any regular bouts of emotional eating after regular occurrences or periods of stress?

 

  1. Seek professional help

A 2018 study found that participants who ate emotionally believed that it would be impossible stop. Our thoughts create our reality and us human beings have unlimited potential. Most of us are just scraping the surface of our powers. Fear not friends, you inherently possess the wisdom, courage, and tenacity to make powerful changes in your life! It’s NEVER too late. You can achieve food freedom, body confidence, and shape your new reality.

If you are not where you want to be in your food and body freedom journey, think about where you are holding back. You have one shot at this thing called life and you are worth investing in. Want more support? Email us at  hello@embodyhealthlondon.com to discuss group coaching or one-to-one tailored support.

 

Kacie Shoulders, ANutr

Team EHL

 

References

Frayn et al 2018 – Emotional eating and weight regulation: a qualitative study of compensatory behaviours and concerns – https://link.springer.com/article/10.1186/s40337-018-0210-6

Mindful – A Mindful Approach to Emotional Eating https://www.mindful.org/a-mindful-approach-to-emotional-eating/

Yau and Potenza 2013 – Stress and Eating Behaviours https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4214609/

Reichenberger et al 2019 – Emotional eating in healthy individuals and patients with an eating disorder: evidence from psychometric, experimental and naturalistic studies https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/proceedings-of-the-nutrition-society/article/emotional-eating-in-healthy-individuals-and-patients-with-an-eating-disorder-evidence-from-psychometric-experimental-and-naturalistic-studies/971ADF9FDF616EB6A7CCAACD76F68493

Braden et al 2018 – Eating when depressed, anxious, bored, or happy: Are emotional eating types associated with unique psychological and physical health correlates? https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0195666317315933

How can I stop the feeling of loneliness?

loneliness mental health awareness

Mental Health Awareness Week 2022

 

Between October 2020 to February 2021, 7.2% of adults reported often or always feeling lonely1 with the government and Office for National Statistics currently mapping how COVID has affected how lonely people are.

This trend of increasing loneliness may be what led the Mental Health Foundation to declare it the theme of this year’s mental health awareness week.

This article will set out what mental health awareness week is all about, and why, if you’re feeling lonely, you might not be that alone after all.

 

What is Mental Health Awareness week?

Mental Health Awareness week was created in 20012 and is celebrated worldwide, with a different theme each year around mental health.

This year, Mental Health Awareness week will take place between the 9th and 15th May on the theme of loneliness.

The aim of the week is to encourage conversations around loneliness, as well as steps we can take as individuals to help improve our mental health.

 

Am I lonely?

Loneliness is described as when we perceive ourselves to be isolated, compared to what we perceive we should be. You may feel lonely even if surrounded by people. It is all about our perception.

 

How many people are lonely?

“Loneliness is increasingly recognised as the next critical public health issue” – Lim et al 20204

A survey of UK adults during the implementation of COVID-19 restrictions found that 24% reported experiencing loneliness7.

It’s important to note this is self-reported, and whether loneliness is reported is a concern for researchers. It might be hard to know how many people are lonely if they are socially isolated or don’t have access to such surveys.

According to the Office for National Statistics3 you may be more likely to experience loneliness if you are in poor health, single or widowed, between the ages of 16 and 24 and renting rather than owning your home.

However, loneliness can affect anyone, independent of your age, sex, education level and ethnicity6 – it is a condition that can affect any of us at any point.

Loneliness can be triggered by many ‘normal’ life events such as moving house, starting a new job, illness, becoming a parent – it may even occur as more than one of these happen at one time such as starting a new job while moving house4.

These events may even seem to be positive to the person experiencing them, but they require a period of adjustment socially and so can cause loneliness. If you are feeling lonely despite moving for a promotion, or after becoming a parent, know that this may be more common than you think.

 

How does loneliness impact physical and mental wellbeing?

We should always be careful saying one thing causes another, as our physical and mental health are affected by so many things.

Research has found associations between loneliness and disruption of sleep, cognitive ability, depression, anxiety and even non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, stroke and Alzheimer’s4,5.

We recently wrote an article on human connectedness and eating disorders, in which we shared studies finding that better social connectedness was associated with reduced eating disorder symptoms.

Recovery is also influenced by how much support someone feels they have within their family and friend groups, alongside their health professional.

Loneliness can be both a product and cause of poor mental and physical health, creating a cycle that can be hard to get out of. But fear not, there is hope!

 

What can I do if I am lonely?

Firstly, remember even if you feel lonely, you’re not alone – most of us experience loneliness at some point or another in our life. It can feel hard to take steps to combat loneliness, so read on for our top tips for loneliness: 

  1. Find a friend or family member that you feel you can trust and talk to about how you are feeling. A problem shared is a problem halved!
  1. Strengthen friendships that you currently have. Remember, it is our responsibility to nurture our relationships. Make time to connect with old friends or schedule a walk or coffee date. There’s nothing better than reminiscing on past experiences and sharing a funny story with a friend you have known forever. 
  1. Look into peer support groups that allow you to share your experience and connect with other like-minded folks.
  1. Join a class or group in your local area such as a book club, sports club, rock climbing centre, tennis club, the list goes on! Find a hobby you love and nurture that part of you. Other people will love that hobby too and you may even make new friends through shared experiences.
  1. Spend time in nature to boost your mood – this was the theme of last year’s mental health awareness week and has been shown that people who are more connected to nature are usually happier in life. Why not connect this with tip with tip number four and find a hobby outside such as gardening, cycling or rollerblading. Your inner child will be bursting at the seams!
  1. Detox from social media if you find yourself comparing to others frequently. Social media can be used a wonderful tool for connection and meeting people you wouldn’t otherwise, however excessive social media use can exacerbate negative body image and feelings of inadequacy and loneliness.
  1. Make time for self-reflection, journaling, and mindfulness in your life. Is there a local yoga studio or church can join in your area?
  1. If loneliness is significantly impacting your quality of life in a negative way, consider seeking professional support from a health care professional or helpline.

 

How can I access support?

There are a range of health professionals and forums available to you online. If you are struggling with loneliness, secret eating, and body shame, we are here to help!

Join us in THRIVE – the missing puzzle piece of food and body freedom – A practical and supportive step-by-step framework to heal your relationship with food in 12-weeks, without the fear, guilt or overwhelm. In THRIVE we deliver weekly live support groups to help you nurture a healthy relationship with food and connect with other courageous people who will support you along the way. Because you can never have too many cheerleaders in your life!

Kacie Shoulders, ANutr

Team EHL x

References

  • Cacioppo and Cacioppo 2018 – The growing problem of loneliness

https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(18)30142-9/fulltext

  • The Mental Health Foundation – Loneliness during the Coronavirus Pandemic

https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/coronavirus/loneliness-during-coronavirus

Four mindset-blocks holding you back from recovery and how to overcome them

mindset for eating disorder recovery

How fear is getting in the way of your recovery

 

In recent articles, we unpacked some of the key 3 signs you are ready to recover and how to stay motivated in eating disorder recovery. Today, we will explore some of the barriers that may be holding you back from choosing recovery and some shifts we can make to let go of these potentially destructive barriers to our healing.

 

ONE: Fear of failure

When it comes to eating disorders, pressure often exists to get things perfect when living with or recovering from one. 

It can be challenging to break the cycle of intense exercise or restrictive eating patterns, making us feel unprepared to recover, with a high potential failure rate. In addition, we may have tried and failed to heal entirely in the past, which can often play in our minds and hold us back from believing we have the power to recover.

To help find some motivation and affirmation on why you have what it takes to recover, why not try making a list of all the things you have succeeded in during your life so far? 

Maybe you won or outperformed others in a competition that was important to you, or you were offered a place with your dream job or university. Perhaps you picked up a new skill or hobby recently and are starting to feel confident and empowered in your abilities. 

No matter how small or how long ago these may have been – celebrate your achievements and use them as a reminder that you are capable and worthy of meaningful change when it comes to your relationship with food, too. Positive reinforcement is essential to appreciating our bodies and minds in recovery. (1)

 

TWO: Fear of change

When we have lived with an eating disorder for a proportion of our lives, of course, there is a level of unfamiliarity when it comes to recovery and healing. 

The idea of recognising and listening to our hunger cues may be a foreign one, and we may be so distant from them that the idea of even beginning to reconnect with our bodily intuition may seem almost impossible.

To help shed a more positive light on the prospect of change, think about a time when you have had to adapt to a change. Perhaps it was moving to a new home, town, or country, losing a loved one, a changing relationship dynamic, or a bold career move. 

The fact that you are still living through it all now is a sign that you are brave, strong, and resilient.

Sometimes change benefits us – moving home allows us to branch out, meet new people and become more independent as adults. Ending a toxic relationship or friendship can enable us to invite more high-value connections into our life. 

Choosing recovery teaches us to show up for ourselves and accept our bodies for what they are. We can appreciate all the fantastic ways they serve us and enable us to live our everyday lives.

Achieving meaningful change concerning recovery will shift our mindset to focus on more than just food and exercise, holding space for all of the other beautiful facet’s life has to offer us.

 

THREE: Fear of success

The fear of success can be another critical mindset holding us back from recovery, such as the fear of things working out and milestones being achieved on the road to recovery. 

We may be concerned with what our next step might look like and whether we will still feel like ‘us’. For example, we might have a fear of not liking our bodies if we restore our weight. 

Will we look or feel any different? Will others around us still accept us and give us the same compassion that they may have offered during our ED?

Will we be accepted in society if we look different, and how connected will we feel to our identity?

These questions are all perfectly normal and valid – recovery can certainly feel like an unfamiliar environment to be in, especially when we may have been consumed by our eating disorder and our bodily cues and regular eating habits need to be re-established.

Alternatively, you may have achieved some degree of success in the past in recovery, but this may not have been enough to achieve total recovery and food freedom. This may make us believe that we are incapable of reaching a point of full recovery where we feel healed.

Start by defining what a successful endpoint may look like for you. Work backwards to see what baby steps you can take daily and incrementally to achieve this larger goal. 

Any journey we make is sprinkled with flaws and mishaps, so it’s important to plan for these and recognise them when they arise, showing ourselves compassion and understanding to overcome and continue forwards regardless of the obstacles in our way.

 

FOUR: There will never be a perfect time. 

When it comes to any goal, it’s perfectly normal to have barriers and roadblocks in our minds that prevent us from taking the steps towards it. 

Maybe it’s that we are too busy, or we have an upcoming wedding or event we want to look our best for, or perhaps arguably the most powerful barrier of all – our mental health – may prevent us from seeking and achieving recovery. It can be helpful to look inwards and identify these roadblocks and how we might overcome them. 

We also may have this idealised narrative of being totally ‘healed’ – when the reality is imperfections are a part of the human experience. We will constantly be faced with ongoing challenges and experiences regardless of whether we are in recovery or not, so it’s important to think about what healing means to you individually. 

Studies show that participants with an eating disorder find that a looser definition of the endpoint in recovery can be more beneficial than a rigid number on a scale or other marker. (2) As we know, recovery isn’t solely about weight restoration, either. 

Consider what a good relationship with food may look like for you and use this as a starting point to navigate your recovery. The ‘perfect’ time may never be clear – so fuelling yourself with a drive to consistently work on your journey with food and choose a path of healing is sensible and sustainable.

Remember, recovery is not about creating the “perfect” life, rather developing the tools and building emotional resilience when life feels hard.

 

Ready to get started with us? Book in a free discovery call today or read more about how we have helped previous participants like Anastasiia.

 

Priya Chotai, BSc ANutr

EHL Team x 

 

References

Koller KA, Thompson KA, Miller AJ, Walsh EC, Bardone-Cone AM. Body appreciation and intuitive eating in eating disorder recovery. Int J Eat Disord. 2020 Aug;53(8):1261-1269. doi: 10.1002/eat.23238. Epub 2020 Feb 5. PMID: 32020677.

LaMarre A, Rice C. Recovering Uncertainty: Exploring Eating Disorder Recovery in Context. Cult Med Psychiatry. 2021 Dec;45(4):706-726. doi: 10.1007/s11013-020-09700-7. Epub 2021 Jan 2. PMID: 33389444.

What are the stages of eating disorder recovery?

stages of eating disorder recovery

What to expect during recovery

 

There is no one-size-fits all approach to recovery, just as there is no singular experience of an eating disorder. That being said, there are some general stages most people go through when recovering from an eating disorder. In this post we will discuss these stages and what they involve.

Recovering from an eating disorder is rarely a straightforward path, your readiness and experience of the journey will be changing and that’s okay. We have an article on preparing for recovery and knowing you’re ready – as well as accepting that this may involve a degree of change.

It should be noted that recovery might be a lifelong journey, and there are many angles with which to approach recovery – the below stages are one of many models of recovery.

 

Stage 1: Denial and Isolation

In this stage, the person suffering might not want to admit they have a problem. This can be through hiding eating habits from friends and family or denying there is anything wrong. In the stages of change model this is referred to as pre-contemplation, where the benefits an individual believes the eating disorder provides, such as control, outweigh the cost of the disorder3.

This stage has the same name as a stage in the grief model, and for some this can be seen as the loss of self within the eating disorder. Self-efficacy, self-directedness and self-concept have been found to be lower in those with eating disorders than healthy controls4 and the creation of a new self-schema for recovery to occur.

Eaton5 points out that for some their eating disorder is internalised, and therefore seen as integral to both their identity and their survival.

The disorder acts like a life jacket for everyday life, and understandably the person suffering doesn’t want to part with it.

Research2,5 tends to indicate eating disorders may escalate to a pinnacle before the ‘turning point’ that initiates the start of recovery, whether this point is a person or event related to or separate from their eating disorder. For example, one individual experienced a car crash and appreciated the value of life2, initiating recovery as opposed to an eating disorder side effect.

This can be a difficult stage to move forward from and support from loved ones is important at this point. Feeling isolated and unsupported, as well as misunderstood, shamed or blamed increases an individual’s need to remain trapped in their eating disorder5.

 

Stage 2: Awareness and Acceptance

The person may realise they have a problem, and they need to take action to recover. This stage often occurs when individuals acknowledge the negative consequences of an eating disorder, particularly medical2 such as increased heart rate, or light headedness.

In regard to the stages of change model this may encompass contemplation, determination and action3.

  • Contemplation: Wanting to change but conflicted between the safety of current eating disorder behaviours and changing.
  • Preparation: Deciding to change, no action implemented yet but initial steps to seek help and support may be taken. The individual may still be undecided.
  • Action: The initial engagement with treatment, this leads into treatment and recovery.

 

Stage 3: Treatment and Recovery

The person seeks out professional help to recover, and say goodbye to their disorder – “I had to cut the rope to what had been my life jacket 5

The definition of recovery varies, with some individuals using the DSM-5 criteria for the eating disorder in question and seeing if they continue to meet this criterion. Often there is also a specific weight gain goal for those with various disorders, but in recent years there has also been a focus on psychological and behavioural changes as well4.

In this phase, individuals start to gain control and re-join society2,5 by connecting with not only professionals but friends and family members. They commit to valuing life outside of their eating disorder, embracing the freedom that comes with this and establishing their identity free from the disorder5.

The road to recovery is not linear and although this newfound freedom leads to feelings such as “getting better is worth it” 1, disappointment is also common with necessary side effects such as gaining weight, or their post-recovery life not meeting their expectations.

Individuals may experience relapses and re-enter recovery, and it is seen as a cyclical process which can be re-entered and started from baseline.

“I wandered through 2-3 years in a fog, so it’s great to recover step by step”1

 

Stage 4 and onwards: Life after recovery

At this stage individuals will have coping strategies in place to support life after recovery and have built a support network – whether it be friends, family, or an eating disorder professional.

“If you can recover from an eating disorder, there’s not much you can’t do”5

The most important aspect of recovery is for an individual to feel supported and understood. At Embody Health London, our team of dietitians specialise in helping people restore their relationship with food and normalise their eating habits.

You can contact us at hello@embodyhealthlondon.com to request a free enquiry call to chat about how we can help you to improve your relationship with food and your body.

 

Kacie Shoulders, ANutr

Team EHL

 

References

Keski-Rahkonen and Tozzi 2005, The process of recovery in eating disorder sufferers’ own words: An Internet-based study https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/eat.20123

D’Abundo and Chally 2004, Struggling with Recovery: Participant Perspectives on Battling an Eating Disorder https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1049732304267753

National Eating Disorders Collaboration, Stages of Change https://nedc.com.au/eating-disorders/treatment-and-recovery/stages-of-change/

Bardone-Cone et al 2010, Aspects of Self-Concept and Eating Disorder Recovery: What Does the Sense of Self Look Like When an Individual Recovers from an Eating Disorder? https://guilfordjournals.com/doi/epdf/10.1521/jscp.2010.29.7.821

Eaton 2019, Eating Disorder Recovery: A Metaethnography https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/1078390319849106

 

Is there a relationship between negative body image and Instagram use?

social media bad body image

Instagram and negative body image

Is there a relationship between negative body image and Instagram use?

Over the years, social media usage has taken off massively. It took Facebook just three years to grow to a 50-million user base, and many are aware that this tech giant now owns other big names in the social media world, including WhatsApp and Instagram. 

Whilst these apps are intended to link us with our individual networks of friends and family, they may also inspire new connections, introduce us to thought-leaders and ‘influencers,’ and even spread subconscious messages and standards, particularly when it comes to beauty and health.

However, there is still much controversy about the benefits (or threats) of using social media regarding body image, dieting and physical activity.

You may have previously read our blog on body image and social media use. This article will cover body image impacts, focusing specifically on Instagram.

Fitness and diet influencers on Instagram have been criticised for sharing misinformation about nutrition or triggering those with histories of an eating disorder, reinforcing destructive eating patterns in those most vulnerable. This impact on body image can lead to low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety – negatively affecting the user’s mental health.

Subconsciously, Instagram may be putting out messages on how society should eat, look, and dress, but this isn’t always representative of different sizes, ethnicities, and cultures. It arguably has reinforced unrealistic beauty standards. Little regulation exists on Instagram, meaning that airbrushed and photoshopped bodies and faces are often the norms, and little is done to control or avoid this. 

Survey-based research has indicated that higher Instagram usage when following health food accounts is associated with a greater tendency towards orthorexia nervosa. (1)

Influencer anecdotes of ‘how cutting out dairy and gluten cleared my skin’ and ‘what I eat in a day’ posts can be easily misleading and lead healthy audiences to restrict eating and eliminate food groups, often with no guidance from a healthcare professional. Not only could this harm body image perceptions of ourselves, but it can be dangerous from a physical health perspective, too. 

How does Instagram affect body image negatively?

A 2021 review comparing social media platforms and body image impacts found that more visual platforms, i.e. Instagram, were more dysfunctional for body image than text-based ones such as Facebook and Twitter. Positive comments and reactions (likes) intensified these negative consequences. Disclaimer captions and ‘fitspiration’ content did not show any positive effects on body image. (2)

A 2017 questionnaire on 259 women aged 18 – 29 years, measured Instagram and Facebook use with body image outcomes. It was found that appearance-focused use of these apps – engaging in photo activities on Facebook and appearance-focused Instagram accounts were most associated with thin-ideal internalisation, body surveillance and a drive for thinness. Neutral accounts, however, were not associated with any negative body image outcomes. (3)

A 2018 study measured the effects on body image when viewing ‘highly-liked’ Instagram posts of thin-ideal or average bodies. The cohort of 220 female undergraduate students was seen to have a greater body and facial dissatisfaction when looking at the thin-ideal images compared to the average. (4)

A further study on 138 female undergraduates showed either celebrity, attractive ‘peer’, or travel images found that exposure to celebrity and peer photos increased body dissatisfaction in contrast to the travel images. This concluded that exposure to images of attractive celebrities or peers could be detrimental to women’s body image. (5)

When focusing on the effect of captions, two studies showed that when comparing photos with either no caption, a body-positive caption, or a disclaimer caption, all three may increase body dissatisfaction and decrease body appreciation equally. 

No significant effect was found regarding the presence of captions and their content – implying that captions do not serve to improve women’s body image or mitigate any negative impacts caused by viewing these photos. Both studies, therefore, concluded that on social media, visual imagery remains the most potent contributor to body image effects than any accompanying words. (6,7)

Many of us may also be able to relate to increased phone usage during the COVID-19 pandemic and the various lockdowns we may have had to endure. A questionnaire on 2601 Spanish women aged 14 – 35 years showed that this significant increase in social media usage was particularly harmful to women following appearance-focused Instagram accounts – correlated with greater body dissatisfaction and a drive for thinness. (8)

What role does Instagram play in the way women see their bodies?

Women have often been the focus of these studies; however, body image impacts from social media aren’t all limited to them, either. With increasing pressures for males to stay ‘on trend’ with a lean, muscular body, no one is exempt from the unrealistic appearance pressures of today’s society. 

A study that quantitatively analysed 1,000 posts from male Instagram accounts showed that high levels of muscularity and leanness posts attracted significantly more likes and comments. However, posts were more related to training to be healthier rather than appearance-related (training to look attractive), and dietary behaviour was less focused on the physical activity itself. (9)

Although this sounds more promising and ‘health focused’, it is potentially still harmful to men’s body image and continues to set an unrealistic standard on how men should look, behave and present themselves in the world. 

What’s the verdict?

We can see that image-based social media, such as Instagram, is most negatively associated with positive body image. As discussed, the main risk factors from Instagram that may negatively impact our body image perception are heavily related to the content consumed and the duration of this. Captions and disclaimers are often overlooked and unimpactful in comparison to the image itself. 

Other factors, such as the user’s health history or overall mental health state, should, however, not be dismissed, as these could also make one more vulnerable to negative consequences of Instagram use.

And finally, are Instagram and social media truly the only ones to blame here? For years, portrayals in advertisements, media and television have abided by similarly unrealistic beauty standards, and this constant exposure may even be a catalyst to what is then posted on social media. 

Perhaps, the fact that individuals like you and I can sign up to a platform and post content that has the potential to reach millions is arguably more ‘realistic’ than the entertainment sector, over which the general public has little to no control. But, of course, this is still dependent on the content posted and how authentic and representative it is. 

Ways to address the issue of negative body image online and off

Of course, the obvious thing to say here would be out of sight, out of mind.

However, we know the importance of apps like these in many people’s lives, and so instead it can help to learn to work with the app in the most mutually beneficial way.

These are our top tips when using Instagram to protect your wellbeing:

  • Manage your time spent on the app, setting a limit on your phone and sticking to this.
  • Limit your use of the ‘like.’ Button. Research shows that greater investment in Instagram likes can be associated with more appearance comparison and facial dissatisfaction. (4)
  • Unfollow accounts that make you feel negatively about yourself. They’re not paying rent in your head – so don’t allow them to take up that space for free!
  • Follow fewer accounts of ‘strangers’ and people you don’t know, and more of the people you do know. Studies show this can positively impact our mental health, reducing potential depressive symptoms associated with high Instagram use. (10)
  • Follow positive role models who have a healthy relationship with their bodies – check out these six body liberation and self-care activists we think you should check out!
  • Follow accounts that genuinely make you passionate about what you enjoy or are interested in. There are so many great non-diet related Instagram accounts out there: puppies or other animals, travel inspiration, news updates, educational – such as language learning, and so much more!
  • Be more mindful of consumption. It’s easy to tell ourselves we will quit social media, only to find ourselves on it a moment’s later – and that’s okay! Instead, why not consume more mindfully? When something makes you feel uneasy or vulnerable, try to realise this and perhaps even journal or reflect on your experience—strengthening these connection and awareness within yourself will enable you to better know your triggers and how to avoid them or know that they are not always worth ruminating over. 
  • Get out in the real world. Remember the days when life was more than a bunch of screens and shiny objects? Why not pick up a hobby or activity you have been curious about and use the opportunity to make friends and live in the moment. It can be so refreshing to switch off from socials for an afternoon or evening; we promise you won’t regret it!

We hope you enjoyed this article. We know you are making incredible and continuing progress on your healing journey. Stay focused and keep showing up for yourself every day. You are worth it.

Priya Chotai, BSc, ANutr  

EHL Team x 

References

Turner PG, Lefevre CE. Instagram use is linked to increased symptoms of orthorexia nervosa. Eat Weight Disord. 2017 Jun;22(2):277-284. doi: 10.1007/s40519-017-0364-2. Epub 2017 Mar 1. PMID: 28251592; PMCID: PMC5440477.

Vandenbosch L, Fardouly J, Tiggemann M. Social media and body image: Recent trends and future directions. Curr Opin Psychol. 2021 Dec 14;45:101289. doi: 10.1016/j.copsyc.2021.12.002. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 35030460.

Cohen R, Newton-John T, Slater A. The relationship between Facebook and Instagram appearance-focused activities and body image concerns in young women. Body Image. 2017 Dec;23:183-187. doi: 10.1016/j.bodyim.2017.10.002. Epub 2017 Oct 19. PMID: 29055773.

Tiggemann M, Hayden S, Brown Z, Veldhuis J. The effect of Instagram “likes” on women’s social comparison and body dissatisfaction. Body Image. 2018 Sep;26:90-97. doi: 10.1016/j.bodyim.2018.07.002. Epub 2018 Jul 21. PMID: 30036748.

Brown Z, Tiggemann M. Attractive celebrity and peer images on Instagram: Effect on women’s mood and body image. Body Image. 2016 Dec;19:37-43. doi: 10.1016/j.bodyim.2016.08.007. Epub 2016 Sep 3. PMID: 27598763.

Brown Z, Tiggemann M. A picture is worth a thousand words: The effect of viewing celebrity Instagram images with disclaimer and body positive captions on women’s body image. Body Image. 2020 Jun;33:190-198. doi: 10.1016/j.bodyim.2020.03.003. Epub 2020 Apr 11. PMID: 32289571.

Tiggemann M, Anderberg I, Brown Z. #Loveyourbody: The effect of body positive Instagram captions on women’s body image. Body Image. 2020 Jun;33:129-136. doi: 10.1016/j.bodyim.2020.02.015. Epub 2020 Mar 6. PMID: 32151992.

Vall-Roqué H, Andrés A, Saldaña C. The impact of COVID-19 lockdown on social network sites use, body image disturbances and self-esteem among adolescent and young women. Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry. 2021 Aug 30;110:110293. doi: 10.1016/j.pnpbp.2021.110293. Epub 2021 Mar 2. PMID: 33662532; PMCID: PMC8569938.

Gültzow T, Guidry JPD, Schneider F, Hoving C. Male Body Image Portrayals on Instagram. Cyberpsychol Behav Soc Netw. 2020 May;23(5):281-289. doi: 10.1089/cyber.2019.0368. Epub 2020 Apr 15. PMID: 32286866.

Lup K, Trub L, Rosenthal L. Instagram #instasad?: Exploring associations among Instagram use, depressive symptoms, negative social comparison, and strangers followed. Cyberpsychol Behav Soc Netw. 2015 May;18(5):247-52. doi: 10.1089/cyber.2014.0560. PMID: 25965859.

What is disordered eating and what are the key warning signs?

disordered eating warning signs

What leads to disordered eating and how to spot it 

 

Eating disorders are a key concern in the modern world, with an estimated 1.25 million people in the United Kingdom living with an eating disorder1. But what if you’re in the middle of the eating behaviour spectrum – not experiencing a healthy relationship with food and your body, but not at the point of a diagnosable eating disorder? This is where disordered eating may come in.

We have previously written about the distinction between disordered eating and eating disorders in a previous post which details the two definitions. The main distinction to make here is that disordered eating does not yet have a clinical definition and is rather a group of behaviours that can be included under the umbrella term.

It is difficult to estimate how many people currently experience disordered eating, although it is becoming seen as a “normal’ part of many people’s lives to experience its symptoms.

Have you ever felt guilty or anxious when it comes to food to the point that you’re dieting often, setting yourself food rules and/or tying your self-worth to your body shape/weight?

Today’s blog post explains what disordered eating is, the causes and relevant consequences, and how you can get help to heal your relationship with food.

 

What causes disordered eating?

Disordered eating can be caused by the feeling that our body is inadequate. This causes us to embark on a diet and pursue weight loss as an ‘easy fix’ to liking our bodies. Food restriction is common in dieting, leaving us feeling unsatisfied and unfulfilled. When we inevitably come off the diet and reintroduce ‘banned foods’, we may experience guilt or shame for breaking food rules imposed by the diet.

These feelings contribute to the initial feelings of inadequacy that led to the diet to begin with, and soon we will try a new diet or mechanism to deal with these feelings – mechanisms that can be seen as disordered.  

This diet cycle as it is known feeds into disordered eating and has been around for a long time. Diet culture can be traced back to Ancient Greek society, so if you have found yourself sucked into the world of quick fixes and #bodygoals you are the latest in a long line. And the Ancient Greeks didn’t have social media!

There is a sociocultural model of disordered eating which states that when we internalise the ‘thin ideal’ we compare and become dissatisfied with our body, inevitably leading to disordered eating.

Saunders and Eaton noted that whether you’re using social media for work or actively looking for dieting / body image posts you are likely to encounter things that will engage with this model, especially if you spend more time on social media. Those who use social media to post updates relating to their image, exercise, food etc. are more likely to engage with posts that do the same2.

In the last few years, the COVID-19 pandemic has also contributed to the increase in disordered eating.

Increased stress, financial worries and abrupt changes in our lives and their schedules have all contributed to this increase in disordered eating, with some individuals losing their appetite and others “eating to cope”.

In a study of young adults there was a marked increase in eating disorder symptoms with one individual commenting that not gaining weight was extremely important to them during the pandemic and led to them restricting and trying a new diet, another commented that COVID-19 stress led to reduced appetite and not eating4. If you’ve found your relationship with food changing in the last few years know that this is common and has been experienced by many individuals.

There may be many reasons someone develops disordered eating behaviours, and just like eating disorders, those affected can be of any race, age and gender. If you or someone you know is experiencing disordered eating, know you are not alone, and it is not a conscious choice you have made.

 

Why are disordered eating habits dangerous?

A study in 2017 found that disordered eating in young adults can lead to long term health consequences, both in terms of physical health and psychological health, both of which can greatly affect your quality of life2.

Experiencing disordered eating can be stressful psychologically, but it can also act as a predictor of future psychological distress and any ensuing physical illness.

Physically, disordered eating often includes deprivation and taking away key food components from your diet. This has the potential to lead to nutrient deficiencies as well as fatigue, headaches, and gastrointestinal problems. Physical symptoms of disordered eating increase with the scale of disorder and vary according to whether the individual is restricting, binging or purging.

Disordered eating is also a risk factor for developing an eating disorder, especially if behaviours such as purging, or binging are present. Whilst disordered eating habits aren’t immediately life-threatening, eating disorders such as Bulimia Nervosa and Anorexia Nervosa absolutely can be, and are much more difficult to deal with once they manifest. The earlier someone can access help and start recovering from such behaviours, the greater their chances of full recovery.

 

How to identify disordered eating

Disordered eating is a spectrum as opposed to one disorder. Whilst Bulimia Nervosa and Anorexia Nervosa have quite narrow criteria for diagnosis, many behaviours fall under the disordered eating umbrella. Some examples of disordered eating behaviours include a strict approach to food and eating with a focus on dieting, fasting, or detoxing – sometimes restriction or binge eating can also occur. Compensating for calories eaten through exercise or behaviours such as vomiting or laxative use can also be considered a disordered eating behaviour.

A preoccupation with food and body image are also indicators of disordered eating. Much of the recent research focus is on the mental health aspect of disordered eating, with some professionals classifying disordered eating as a mental health condition. If you’re experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression around food this may mean you’re experiencing disordered eating. Making a note of how you’re feeling around food such as a mood and food journal can be a useful self-monitoring tool to identify disordered thoughts around food.

 

How to get help with disordered eating

If you are experiencing disordered eating know that you’re not alone, disordered eating has been on the rise since 19985 and it is estimated that 1.25 and 3.5 million people in the UK may be affected by an eating disorder6 – not including those that do not meet the clinical threshold for diagnosis. Any of the symptoms of disordered eating can majorly affect your quality of life and it may be time to seek support to help your relationship with food and your body.

It can be easy to think that as these behaviours aren’t classed as an eating disorder you don’t need help, but you are worthy of support. The most important thing is that you seek support from a practiced health professional. At Embody Health London our team of dietitians specialise in helping people restore their relationship with food and normalise their eating habits.

You can contact us at hello@embodyhealthlondon.com to request a free enquiry call to chat about how we can help you to improve your relationship with food and your body.

 

Kacie Shoulders, ANutr

Team EHL

 

References

  1. Beat Eating Disorders, Statistics for Journalists. Available: https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/media-centre/eating-disorder-statistics/
  2. Kärkkäinen,U et al 2017, Do Disordered Eating Behaviours Have Long-term Health-related Consequences?, European Eating Disorders Review, 26(1)
  3. Saunders and Eaton 2018, Snaps, Selfies, and Shares: How Three Popular Social Media Platforms Contribute to the Sociocultural Model of Disordered Eating Among Young Women, Cyberpsychology, Behaviour and Social Networking, 21(6)
  4. Simone et al 2021, Disordered eating in a population-based sample of young adults during the COVID-19 outbreak, International Journal of Eating Disorders, 54(7)
  5. Mitchison et al 2012, Time Trends in Population Prevalence of Eating Disorder Behaviors and Their Relationship to Quality of Life, PLoS One, 7(11)
  6. Priory Group, Eating Disorder Statistics, Available: https://www.priorygroup.com/eating-disorders/eating-disorder-statistics

 

5 tips for managing emotional eating

manage emotional eating

When emotional eating becomes your main way to cope

 

Do you find yourself eating more than you intended to when you’re feeling emotional? If so, you’re not alone. Emotional eating refers to eating in response to environment or emotional cues as opposed to your internal hunger and fullness cues.

Many people turn to food for comfort, especially during difficult times.

Turning to food for comfort is not a bad thing- it’s a very normal thing to do.

We tend to associate emotional eating with negative emotions like stress or sadness, but it can be driven by positive emotions too, such as a childhood memory, nostalgia, or positive celebrations. Emotional eating is not a problem inherently, but it can become unhelpful if it is your only coping strategy.

In this blog post, we will discuss five tips for managing emotional eating.

 

Identifying Your Personal Reasons for Emotional Eating

A lot of the time when we emotionally eat, it can be to numb or suppress a feeling, so it can be hard to identify what it is you’re experiencing when your automatic reaction is to emotionally eat.

The next time you find yourself eating when you’re not hungry, try to identify the emotion you’re feeling or reflect on the experience afterwards to identify what lead up to that moment. This could be boredom, stress, anxiety, loneliness, sadness, or anger.

Once you know what this trigger is, you can start to implement alternative strategies to help you to deal with this emotion.

 

Find Healthy Ways to Deal with Negative Emotions Instead of Turning to Food

If you struggle with emotional eating, it is important to diversify your coping strategies for dealing with these emotions. Managing your emotions in a healthy way can help to break the habit of emotional eating and improve your relationship with food and with yourself.

This might look like taking up a new activity or trying some exercise, journaling, or speaking to family and friends.

For example, if feeling lonely leads you to emotionally eat, you could call or meet a friend instead of seeking comfort through food. Similarly, if you find that stress leads you to emotionally eat, you might find that yoga helps you to relax.

 

Be Mindful of the Foods You’re Eating and How They Make You Feel

The idea of ‘comfort’ foods might make you think of foods that remind you of your childhood like your Nanas lasagne or Mums cottage pie, or foods which make you feel good, like chocolate or ice-cream. When you’re feeling stressed or anxious, it’s normal to crave ‘a hug in a bowl’, and typically we turn to carbohydrate rich foods.

Carbohydrates help our brain to produce serotonin, our happy hormone, so it makes sense that we reach for carbohydrate-dense foods like pasta or pie for comfort, or sweet foods like cookies and chocolates for a mood boost.

Other foods have mood boosting properties too, such as foods rich in omega 3, like salmon, seeds and nuts, and foods containing flavonoids, which have been shown to promote brain health (1), such as dark chocolate.

Food rich in B vitamins help to support the release of serotonin. Low levels have been linked to mood disorders, such as depression (2), so foods like meat and fish, beans and pulses, oats, eggs, yogurt, avocados, and bananas are great to include within the diet.

When you emotionally eat, you can overeat, as you are not eating in response to your hunger or fullness levels in the moment. This can result in feeling quite sluggish or bloated afterwards, rather than energised. This can further contribute to the cycle of emotional eating because you may feel low within yourself or experience guilt for eating when you weren’t hungry.

There is never a need to feel guilt for eating, regardless of whether you were hungry or not, and having these beliefs can lead to poor self-esteem and thus sustain the cycle of emotional eating. If this sounds like you, try to identify the types of food you tend to turn to for comfort or to pick you up, as you might find that you have certain ‘rules’ around these foods.

Having food rules can lead to emotionally eating too because food becomes moralised. For example, because you think cake is a ‘bad food’, you may feel like you are ‘bad’ for eating a slice of cake, and this can cause you to turn to food for comfort later in the day as you feel low and ashamed.

 

Avoid Eating When You’re Feeling Stressed, Anxious, or Bored

Eating when you’re feeling stressed, anxious, or bored can lead to mindless eating. Instead of eating when you’re not hungry, try to find other ways to deal with your emotions or something that can serve as a distraction. This might include getting out of the environment that is causing the urge to turn to food, exploring some relaxation techniques, or talking to a friend or therapist.

Ensure that you are getting enough sleep too, as this plays a vital role in our ability to manage our emotions and regulate our appetites. When we’re tired, we’re more likely to overeat and reach for more high-sugar foods.

 

Seek Professional Help if Emotional Eating is Causing Serious Problems in Your Life

If you feel really stuck in a rut with emotional eating and find it is something you do regularly, then it is time to seek professional help. This can include talking to a therapist or speaking with a dietitian. Professional help can provide you with the tools you need to manage your emotions in a constructive way and overcome emotional eating.

If you or someone you know struggles with emotional eating, we are here for you! Book your free discovery call to see how one of our compassionate dietitians can support you on your way to food freedom.

 

Elle, R.D, BSc, MSc

Team EHL x

 

1.Scholey, A., & Owen, L. (2013). Effects of chocolate on cognitive function and mood: a systematic review. Nutrition reviews71(10), 665–681. https://doi.org/10.1111/nure.12065

2.Kaplan, B. J., Crawford, S. G., Field, C. J., & Simpson, J. S. (2007). Vitamins, minerals, and mood. Psychological bulletin133(5), 747–760. https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-2909.133.5.747

How to manage Ramadan with an eating disorder

ramadan eating disorder recovery

Eating disorder recovery: To fast or not to fast?

Throughout the month of Ramadan, Muslims fast as a reminder of the human duty to help those in need. This entails not eating or drinking anything, including water, from dawn to sunset.

Ramadan can be considered the utmost expression of religious dedication for many Muslims. However, for those struggling with a past or present eating disorder it can be a triggering and even harmful period.

As Ramadan is approaching, in this article we will explain how you can cope during this time, whether you choose to fast or not, as ultimately, it is up to YOU and we hope to facilitate empowered choices.

 

How Can Ramadan affect my Eating Disorder?

Validating fasting for religious purposes can be an opportunity for your eating disorder to obscure your food restriction with the veil of devotion to Islam. Even if you are medically cleared to participate in Ramadan, the fasting practice can still make you poorly.

 

Ask yourself, “Who am I fasting for,
Allah, or my eating disorder?”

 

Fasting can strengthen your eating disorder voice, put a strain on your improvements, or even elicit a relapse. For example, if you are prone to overeating, there are chances you will overindulge at Sehri or Iftar, which can make you feel distressed and uncomfortable. On the other hand, if you engage in restrictive eating behaviours, fasting can be damaging to your recovery and health.

 

To Fast or not to fast?

For all believers, fasting during Ramadan can be an extremely challenging practice not only physically, but mentally too. Even though it is one of the five pillars of Islam, there are exceptions to Ramadan as per the Surat-Baqarah of the Quran1. Allah ‘does not intent hardship’ for those who are ill, as it would be detrimental to their health.

 

Like any other illness, withholding nutrition
and hydration can be harmful to eating disorder recovery.

 

It’s painfully true that for some people, eating disorders and other mental health conditions do not fall under the category of “illness”. We want to remind you that your eating disorder, visible or not, IS AN ILLNESS. You have valid reasons to not abstain from food and drink and suffer in silence this time of the year.

Remember, not taking part is NOT a weakness in faith, and you shouldn’t feel guilt or shame for not fasting.

 

After all, religion shouldn’t stand
in the way of treatment, it should aid it.

 

What else can I do instead of fasting to participate in Ramadan?

Ramadan is so much more than fasting. True spirituality always comes from within. If you are not fasting, you can focus on other ways to participate that have nothing to do with when or how you feed yourself.

 

I am NOT fasting during Ramadan; how else can I participate?

  1. Recite Quran
    • ‘Feed’ less fortunate people, cook for someone who is sick (even yourself) or donate food to charity.
  2. Focus on good deeds within your community
    • Offer used clothes to charity, volunteer, teach, foster animals, pay a visit to a nursing home, hold the door for people behind you, tip generously or babysit.
  3. Use this as an opportunity for self-reflection, growth, and discovery
    • Avoid bad behaviour, apologise to an old friend, help those in need.

 

If I am choosing to fast during Ramadan; how can I help keep myself safe?

  1. Be mindful of your triggers. List them all down and formulate a plan of how to avoid them but also what to do if they come up.
  2. Create a plan with a Dietitian or a family member.
  3. Do not skip Sehri or Iftar to reduce risk of bingeing and/ or purging.
  4. For your non-fasting period, have meals regularly. You can start with a starter, then have a main meal, and finish off with a pudding and/ or snack later.
  5. Have balanced meals including carbohydrates, protein, fat, fruit, and vegetables.
  6. Aim to eat complex carbohydrates (whole wheat bread, pasta, brown rice) that will keep you fuelled for longer.
  7. Pace your water intake slowly after your meals so you don’t feel overly full.


Where can I find additional support during Ramadan if I have an eating disorder? 

Websites

  1. https://waragainsteatingdisorder.com/
  2. https://naseeha.org
  3. https://myh.org.uk
  4. https://www.meeda.me

Instagram accounts

  1. @islamandeatingdisorders
  2. @1866naseeha
  3. @muslimyouthhelpline
  4. @meedassociation
  5. @muslims_eds

Be kind and compassionate towards yourself. You are not the only one with this struggle and internal conflict. You do not need to fast because of family or peer pressure, and do not let anyone question your faith. You are no less Muslim than someone who decides to observe Ramadan. If you choose not to fast, you are making the right choice for yourself. Remember, Allah does not want to make things difficult for you.

Do not be afraid to ask for support and speak up. Whether this is professional help or speaking with a community that shares the same interests and struggles.

Dimitra Theodoraki, BSc, RD

Team EHL x

Reference

 https://corpus.quran.com/translation.jsp?chapter=2&verse=185

Why weight gain happens during menopause and tips to help avoid it

menopause weight gain non diet

Menopause Weight Gain: Is It Inevitable?

 

Menopause is a natural part of aging, and typically occurs between the ages of 45 to 55. However, we are humans, not robots, and it can occur outside of this age range for many women too, with early-onset menopause happening before age 40 and late-onset menopause happening after age 60.

People with a uterus often notice changes in their bodies such as hot flushes, sleep disturbances, mood swings, vaginal dryness, and a decreased libido. Weight gain is also quite common during this period. All these changes can make menopause a difficult experience and understandably lead you to feeling uncomfortable within your body.

When folks start menstruating, and throughout child-bearing age, they tend to store fat around their hips and thighs as subcutaneous fat, which doesn’t increase the risk of disease as much as visceral fat, which is the fat that builds up around internal organs. However, during menopause, low oestrogen levels can promote fat storage around the stomach areas in the form of visceral fat, which is linked to various health conditions, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease (Abildgaard et al., 2021; Mauvaise-Jarvis et al., 2013).

To prevent weight gain, it is important to know the root cause of it. This article will discuss menopause and weight gain, how it might affect you, and what you can do about it from a non-diet approach.

 

Why does weight gain happen during menopause?

Weight gain is caused when the calories consumed through food exceeds the calories being burned by our body through basic functions and activity. However, we know that it is not always that simple as our hormones, health status and so many other factors play a massive role too.

Weight gain during menopause is multi-factorial, meaning it is not attributed to one thing but a combination of changes. Hormone imbalances and sleep disturbances can lead to poor nutrition intake, lack of exercise or a change in lifestyle habits such as drinking more alcohol or being more sedentary, and these factors can contribute to weight gain during this period.

 

How does menopause lead to weight gain?

  1. Reduced caloric needs:

Our reproductive system requires energy to function, which is why in severe calorie deficits, women may lose their period and their fertility can be affected as the body shuts down this system to conserve energy.

With this system shutting off during menopause, you may naturally require less energy, and therefore you may notice some weight gain during menopause if your intake remains the same.

  1. Hormonal changes:

Menopause is associated with significant drops in oestrogen levels, which can affect body fat distribution, but also lead to water retention and bloating, which may look like weight gain.

There is also an increase in cortisol levels, which is ‘the stress hormone’, and this encourages the body to store fat as opposed to using it. This can be increased due to mental stress, but also physical stress such as lack of sleep and not eating enough (Nedeltcheva & Scheer, 2014).

  1. Reduced activity levels:

Sleep disturbances are common during menopause, and this may lead to tiredness throughout the day, which might make you feel less like exercising. Exercise and general activity increase calorie output, and if your intake is higher than your output, it can result in weight gain.

  1. Changes in nutrition:

Due to a lack of sleep, or changes in hormone levels, you may find that you are eating more food to give you a sense of energy or pleasure. Various studies have concluded that people who do not get enough sleep are more likely to have a higher calorie intake without an increase in energy output (Grander et al., 2014).

 

Tips to help fight menopausal weight gain

  1. Rest and respect your body

Sleep deprivation is a common cause of weight gain (Wu et al., 2014).  When you are tired, you may find that you reach for more fast-acting carbohydrates, which give you instant energy, but this energy is not sustained, so it means you seek more food to feel energised. This is an example of how sleep can lead to eating more, and thus lead to weight gain.

If you don’t get enough sleep, cortisol levels increase, which makes the body resistant to weight loss. Lack of sleep can also lead to decreased energy output due to lack of exercise.  

 

You can try to improve sleep by improving your sleep hygiene or pre-bed routine. This might look like creating a sleeping environment that is conducive to sleep i.e., dimmed lighting, cool room, clean bed sheets, or implementing some strategies to help you wind down such as putting away your phone an hour before going to bed, doing some meditation, reading a book, or having a bath.

It can be difficult to accept the decline in energy and changes in your body during menopause, and you may find having a lack of energy frustrating. Fighting against your body will not get you the results you desire, so instead of increasing your levels of cortisol more by perhaps exercising when you’re tired, try to listen to what your body needs a bit more and be gentle during this adaption i.e., perhaps try a gentle walk if you didn’t sleep well or try some other low-intensity form of movement such as yoga.

  1. Focus on gentle nutrition

Weight gain may feel uncomfortable, and you may feel compelled to restrict your intake or to go on a diet. Menopause aside, we know that crash diets can lead to weight gain in the long run due to the increased likelihood to overeat when the diet ends, and the effects of dieting on the body’s natural hunger and fullness cues.

Prioritising a balanced diet can help to keep blood sugar and energy levels balanced, which can mean you are less likely to overeat or to rely on processed food for energy. Ensure that you include foods you enjoy regularly, so that you don’t feel restricted and crave them, as this can lead to binging or overeating when you are next presented with that food.

Choosing carbohydrates which are rich in fibre can help to keep us to feel fuller for longer. Fibre-rich carbohydrates, such as whole grains, legumes and fruits and vegetables, release energy slowly, keeping us energised for longer and our blood sugar levels stable; to minimise urgent cravings.

Eating plenty of protein and including some dietary fat can help keep you satiated and provide essential nutrients to nourish your body.

  1. Manage stress levels effectively

As mentioned above, cortisol increases when we feel stressed. By actively trying to reduce or manage stress better, you can reduce the likelihood of weight gain due to stress.

Also, eating is a common coping mechanism for stress, and whilst it is not necessarily a bad thing to eat when stressed, it can become an issue if it is your only coping mechanism.

If you experience high levels of stress in your work or personal life, it’s important to recognise how this may be negatively impacting your relationship with food. Our top tips are to set healthy boundaries, schedule breaks in your day and make it a priority to include activities you love. Mindful movement can be useful to help you to get out of your head and into your body. Check in with yourself, practice a gentle yoga flow or challenge yourself to go for a walk without anything in your ears. Take a breath and reconnect with nature.

If you feel as though you are struggling with the changes during menopause and it is having a detrimental effect on your relationship with food and your body, book your free discovery call with us and it will be our pleasure to guide you on this journey.

 

Elle, R.D, BSc, MSc

Team EHL x

 

References

  1. Abildgaard, J., Ploug, T., Al-Saoudi, E. et al.Changes in abdominal subcutaneous adipose tissue phenotype following menopause is associated with increased visceral fat mass. Sci Rep 11, 14750 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-94189-2
  2. Grandner, M. A., Jackson, N., Gerstner, J. R., & Knutson, K. L. (2014). Sleep symptoms associated with intake of specific dietary nutrients. Journal of sleep research23(1), 22–34. https://doi.org/10.1111/jsr.12084
  3. Mauvais-Jarvis, F., Clegg, D. J., & Hevener, A. L. (2013). The role of estrogens in control of energy balance and glucose homeostasis. Endocrine reviews34(3), 309–338. https://doi.org/10.1210/er.2012-1055
  4. Nedeltcheva, A. V., & Scheer, F. A. (2014). Metabolic effects of sleep disruption, links to obesity and diabetes. Current opinion in endocrinology, diabetes, and obesity21(4), 293–298. https://doi.org/10.1097/MED.0000000000000082
  5. Wu, Y., Zhai, L., & Zhang, D. (2014). Sleep duration and obesity among adults: a meta-analysis of prospective studies. Sleep medicine15(12), 1456–1462. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sleep.2014.07.018