Mixing Eating Disorder Thinking with New Year’s Health Resolutions

Many people in the New Year set out goals to become healthy, whatever that may mean to them. Resolutions for a healthy mind, body, soul, relationships, personal life, etc. can have great intentions, and usually come with the rationalization “I want to get healthy this year.” There are abundant ‘tips and tricks’ that can be found in the mainstream media- anywhere from online news, social media, magazine articles, and mainstream television.  However, our mainstream culture is focused with the thin-ideal and we need to be aware of that when taking any tips from the popular media.

A news story that aired on Good Morning America last week on January 1st, 2016 raised some particular concern about blending the thin-ideal with the idea of ‘health.’ Generally, we associate health with taking care of ourselves, a good state of being. It is a socially normalized concept that most people try to obtain in their lifetime. However, because now the thin-ideal is also normalized in our culture, health has become mixed up with losing weight and being thin. Watch the news segment here.

This news segment on Good Morning America openly describes one of the newscaster’s, Mara Schiavocampo, experience with weight loss. The story takes us through her life as a woman who had was considered over-weight, and how miserable and embarrassing it was. Mara went to intensive treatment to focus on losing the weight she had gained because she had binge eating disorder. Mara, and another patient at the intensive treatment facility do not mention that the disorder is a mental illness and that the weight itself may actually have nothing to do with the struggle.

The story of Mara’s recovery from binge eating disorder, and her message- that she was a binge-eater and she learned to heal from the disordered eating behaviors, is beautiful. Yet, all of the amazing eating disorder recovery gets pushed behind the fact that she lost x amount of pounds.

The discussion in the rest of the news segment emphasizes disordered eating and weight control behaviors. The title of the book Mara wrote about weight loss tips for the New Year is called, “Thinspired,” a term often used for inspirational tips on disordered eating and exercising behavior. The other newscasters discuss clean eating and strenuous everyday exercise routines. This is problematic because as they are emphasizing disordered eating and exercising behaviors.

The last part of the segment flashes to a medical doctor’s point of view on weight, and states how important it is to lose weight, how that alone will decrease health issues. The notion of health as a good state of being, taking care of ourselves has morphed into disordered eating and weight control behaviors becoming normalized in our culture.

Health does not equal skinny. Binge eating disorder is not solved solely with weight loss. The thin ideal and disordered behaviors to obtain that ideal are not okay.

Consider these questions:

What does it mean to you to be healthy?

Are weight loss and health related? Are they mutually exclusive with each other?