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Tag Archive for disordered eating

#foodforthought: Disordered Eating Disguised as Healthy

By an anonymous Foundation volunteer

Eating disorders and disordered eating come in all shapes, sizes, and guises. Individuals who say they’ve never known an individual with an eating disorder may not realize that they actually have. For example, bulimia goes undetected quite often because many who suffer from this disorder tend to have a normal weight. In addition, many individuals (in my experience) do not even realize that the behaviors of binge eating, may also be a full-blown eating disorder.

One type of disordered eating — not yet categorized as an eating disorder — that was coined by Dr. Steven Bratman in 1997 — and has recently become more prevalent — is orthorexia nervosa: “a fixation with healthy eating, to the point where it becomes a crippling compulsion, described as ‘a disease disguised as a virtue’¹.”

This disorder — like other eating disorders — is also greatly impacted by the media. Not only are we constantly bombarded by images of thin women and men — we are also bombarded by ads and marketing for “clean” eating. I just googled clean eating and the webpages and blogs seem to go on forever. Not only that, but “Instagram has 26 million posts with a clean eating hashtag.”

While there is nothing wrong with eating the types of foods that eating ‘clean’ promotes, it can become unhealthy when an individual starts to cut out food groups entirely. Heavily restricting and only eating a few types of foods, actually can create malnourishment- even though the misconception is they are eating healthy or ‘clean.’

For example, individuals who decide to completely cut out animal products may become iron deficient or anemic. There is nothing wrong with that lifestyle choice, but one has to be extremely mindful of their diet (and possibly take an iron supplement). Also, individuals who decide to cut out all grains may be missing out on insoluble fiber and a variety of B vitamins, and may need to find the nutrients in something else.

“One of the problems with orthorexia is that in some ways it is more socially acceptable than other disorders. Stand in any gym locker room and you can overhear a woman admit she allowed herself a piece of fruit that day, or a man bemoan messing up his macros.”

Another danger of orthorexia is the obsessing that happens in the mind when we say this food is “good” and this food is “bad”. It starts to distort thinking and can end up leading to other disordered eating or eating disorders.

Carrie Armstrong, a London-based author and TV personality said she became orthorexic that “left her unable to walk.” She became obsessed with what she put in her mouth, cutting out most foods. In the end before seeking help, her hair was falling out and her teeth were crumbling because of the lack of nutrients her body was getting.

What does healthy eating really mean?
How about a hashtag of #eatwell or #foodvariety


¹Bratman, Steven.  Health Food Junkie.  Yoga Journal 1997; 


Becoming Lighter Each Stone I dropped

By Angela Haugen

I spent a lot of time in my recovery feeling like I was wasting my time. I thought that every counseling session should produce enlightenment and each day should provide improvement.  When that wasn’t happening, I was surely failing. stones-in-hands

After four straight years of feeling as though I’d made no progress, I can remember numbing myself to the possibility of change. At the time, I happen to have found a church that I could sneak in and sneak out of with little interaction with others.  It was a great place for me to just ‘be’ for a while and witness other people feeling things that I no longer thought viable. It was here that I was awakened to the possibility of releasing – of letting go of all guilt and all pain.  All my mistakes, everything from the last minute to the last hour to the last four years, I could literally let them go.

The speaker had talked about the difference between guilt and conviction: one of them holds you frozen in place, keeping you stuck wherever you transgressed; the other moves you toward something new.

Though I was not in a spiritual place, I quickly saw the connection between the extra weight that I felt I was carrying – the weight I was trying to shed with all my restrictions and rules – all of that weight was burden and guilt. I needed to let it go.

The hardest part in all of this process was focusing on me. I was very used to helping others, and accommodating for others, and understanding for others, and forgiving others… but the truth was I just added stones into an invisible backpack of burden each time I did that.  My strong empathetic nature had me carrying unnecessary weight.  It was guilt of what would happen if I disagreed, didn’t accommodate, did things my own way.  And, though I wasn’t in tune enough to FEEL that load emotionally, I mixed it all up in my head and had mistakenly felt it physically.

The first step for me was to look at myself, as I was that day, and drop the stone of that day. Each time I restricted or binged or purged – each and EVERY time – I forgave myself, acknowledged that I didn’t have to do that, but that I was still and person that needed love, even if it was just love from myself.

It didn’t stop right away, but I stayed in the practice of acknowledging exactly where I was and what I did or didn’t like about the situation. I acknowledged the feeling of being disappointed, of wanting something more.  I refused the stone of guilt and set it down.

I stayed in that space, each day dropping the stone of that day but, eventually, I also tried to drop the stones I had collected along the way. Stones of friendships and relationships lost over my ED – acknowledging my part in the loss, but also acknowledging where others had let me down and had left the burden in my hands to carry. Stones of burdens unrealized from childhood and from school and from missed expectations: where people had failed me, where I had failed people.  Where I didn’t match up to what I expected, where I didn’t match up to what everyone else expected, where everyone else’s expectations were unfair or just plain wrong – I released each stone that I could not change or control.  I addressed the ones that  I could confront.  I set down the ones that I could not.

I released other people’s feelings and their reactions. I did not do everything right, but I trusted that others were either capable of addressing that with me, or else let them carry their own responsibility to address it.  I worked hard to releasing the stone of assumption and presumption, and instead focused on laying those stones at the feet of other people.  I asked more questions, clarified statements, and started to say when things bothered me or hurt me or just didn’t fit into my schedule.  I set the stones down in conversations or prayers or calls for help.

It all felt selfish at first. Some people tried to throw the stones back at me and wanted me to carry them (because most people don’t want to hold on to them, I find that they often deflect them – but that doesn’t mean that I have to pick them up!).  I hated having to let go of the comfortable role I’d established as being an ‘easy-going’ personality.  I didn’t want to push back – I wanted to still be the flexible one.  I didn’t want to be the one who riled the relationship or who seemed ‘difficult’ to work with.  But I also didn’t want to carry the excess weight anymore.

Once I realized that I wasn’t going to lose anymore weight because I didn’t actually have any to lose, I was freed up to loose the weight that was tied around my heart – the weight of heavy emotions that were easier to carry than to just address. When I freed myself to no longer carry the ‘bad’ feelings, but instead set those stones aside, I freed myself up to be ok with letting people down, making mistakes, and trying to figure it all out – just like everyone else is doing.

I literally had to forgive myself and embrace the conviction of the self-damaging behavior Every. Single. Day.

Multiple times each day – for over a year an a half before I felt the miraculous release of my ED. The interesting thing was, the day that I let the last stone go – I remember feeling a physical weight lifted off my shoulder.  For the first time in over 5 years, I was lighter.  All because I embraced feeling bad about myself and others…

and then, let it go.


Taking Food Off Moral Grounds

By Angie Michel

It’s as if we order morality off a menu: We choose between “good” and “bad” foods, “clean” and “indulgent” entrées, and “guilt-free” and “sinful” desserts. We attach moral value to eating so routinely that we even label ourselves “naughty” when we order burgers instead of salads and “treat” ourselves to French fries instead of fruit. Only when we excuse ourselves for “cheat days,” it seems, do we give our bodies what they truly crave.

A recent example of this moralized labeling of food appears in an advertisement for thinkThin High-Protein Bars, found in the May 2016 issue of SELF magazine. The ad pairs an image of the energy bar with a message that relieves consumers from food shame. “Guilt free. Unless you steal one,” it reads, implying, of course, that consumers may enjoy these sugar-free, high-protein bars without any guilt.

Despite what the advertisement suggests, thinkThin’s bars aren’t inherently “good” in ways that other foods are “bad.” You see, food is neither good nor bad. We feel bad eating certain foods only because our cultural mindset is bad—unhealthy, dangerous, and wrong.

Food with sugar is not bad. Ditto to food with fat and food with calories. Even if these foods were bad, they couldn’t make us—the living, breathing, surviving-on-food people we are—bad. Contrary to common lore, we are so much more than what we eat.

Food, on the other hand, is just food. From donuts to ice cream to apples to kale, food across the nutritional spectrum is fuel. It’s energy, as basic as the air we breathe and the water we drink. Let’s rid our language of labels that attach moral meaning to our plates. Let’s recognize that food has social, cultural, and emotional value, yes—but no moral value.

Food is food. Let’s not give it more power than it deserves.

“thinkThin.” SELF Magazine, May 2016.

What Is Beauty? Campaign – TCA

The student-led project titled “What is Beauty?” is a partnership opportunity for schools to team up with The Emily Program Foundation to redefine beauty. What Is Beauty is a student-led campaign supported by The Emily Program Foundation staff and the school and focuses on the promotion of the importance of internal beauty and raises awareness of the dangers of focusing on external beauty. The campaign works to change the conversation about beauty and address the significance of internal beauty over external beauty. By raising awareness about issues such as eating disorders, self-image, peer pressure, and self-confidence by implementing ideas (found in the curriculum), real beauty may be defined. Our hope is to have students look at each other without judgment, to have continuing discussions about beauty, and be able to communicate with friends or family who might be struggling with body image and eating disorders.

Students from Twin Cities Academy participated in this campaign over the Spring 2016 Semester, raising the question of beauty with their high school peers. The Sophmores and Juniors at Twin Cities Academy engage in a service learning project of their choosing, splitting up into groups based on their interests. Fourteen teens chose the “What Is Beauty?” campaign, partnering with the Foundation.

The students created videos, posters, and ribbons, implementing projects to engage their peers and challenge day-to-day activities and behaviors that may result in negative body image.

Twin Cities Academy What Is Beauty? projects:

Objectively looking at magazines



Picturing how they see beauty


Developing social media pages for What Is Beauty?


“Take What You Need” boxes. The boxes are filled with inspirational quotes, thoughts, and actions


“Take What You Need” flyers


Define Beauty “selfie” board


Sticky-notes posted on the lockers, walls, and bathroom mirrors


Campaign ribbons


Student Interviews

For more information on the What Is Beauty? project, and to start a campaign in your school, please contact Emily Monson.

Media Monday- Time for a Funny Video

*Blog originally posted June 16, 2014.

FYI: This video does contain adult humor! It originally aired on Comedy Central, so if that’s not your thing, just be forewarned.

Amy Schumer offers a hilarious take on the way we, as a culture, assign food moral value. Women identified folks in particular are expected to feel repentant for what they’ve eaten, and even the fact that they’ve eaten.

In this video, a group of friends spill confessions of meals and snacks alongside other ethically questionable behaviors that were often harmful to others- behaviors like cyberbullying, animal abuse, and recreating trauma- followed by, “I am so bad.” The friends all ignore the behavioral side to these confessions and absolve each other of the guilt of having eaten: “You can afford it!” “You don’t look fat at all.” “You always look great.”

Yeah, things are less funny if you explain them, but we want to pull apart a little bit about what makes this video so spot on. First, people are absolutely made to feel guilty about eating, especially certain foods and especially if the act of eating was enjoyable. We love that this video shows the ridiculousness of assigning moral value to something that is necessary for your survival. It isn’t “bad” to like and eat food, anymore than it is “bad” to like and drink water, like and breathe air, like and partake in sleep. We need those things to live! The absurdity of our cultural guilt is brought up by the juxtaposition of food confessions with confessions that actually raise some serious ethical questions.

Second, when the friends breeze past those ethical questions to reassure the confessor that their eating behavior was morally acceptable, they bring up other dangerous cultural assumptions that have become normalized. Most of the responses focus on body shape and size- the characters are giving each other permission to eat because they are all perceived as having thin bodies. In the eating disorder world, we know that health cannot be seen and that body shape and size does not tell you 1) a person’s health 2) how or what they eat or 3) whether or not they have a healthy relationship with food. Of course, this isn’t the message given by most media. So many factors affect body shape and size beyond eating behaviors! The compliments they give to grant each other permission to eat also show how ingrained a thin ideal can become in our minds. No confession addresses weight or looks- they all address food and eating behavior, but most of the responses are assuring that the speaker adheres to current beauty standards- “You’re stick thin.” “Your thigh gap is, like, the envy of every thigh gap.” Being stick thin and having a thigh gap were certainly not always considered part of having an ideal body and are not directly linked to food consumption at all. They also assure each other that the food is morally ok because of its content- “Those are like air.” “No, I think that’s, like, negative calories.” Food with more substance is seen as food one needs to especially earn, but foods that might be marketed as “guilt free” (all food should be guilt free!) due to their caloric content are “good” and don’t warrant confessions.

I love food

An example of how our culture gives people permission to eat and enjoy food based on their body shape and size

Lastly, the video brings to light the danger of this type of fat talk. Although the friends are intending to give compliments, by bringing discussion of food to assurances about each other’s bodies- and assurances that their bodies fit certain ideals- they are just perpetuating the root causes of why they feel the need to confess in the first place. This side of fat talk can be harder to see and harder to stop, because intentions are meant well. But telling someone, “It’s ok that you ate, you are obviously thin” just reinforces the notion that you have to be thin to be worthy or food and enjoyment of food and the notion that a body with fat in undesirable. I think the makers of this satire were aware of this, especially with comments like the joke about a thigh gap- are there better and worse thigh gaps? That line definitely earned a chuckle.

So, here’s to media calling out the problems and dangers in some of our deeply rooted cultural ideals and assumptions- and all done with a smirk and a giggle.

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