In my experience with individuals dealing with distorted body image and disordered eating, I think well meaning professionals sometimes use language and/or discuss topics that could be misinterpreted by the individual, especially coming from someone they place in authority (such as their doctor or therapist).
Please consider the tips and resources within this page to further educate yourself and open your awareness of disordered eating and body image. I welcome feedback (especially if there is a broken link) and suggestions of other resources for professionals. Feel free to email me firstname.lastname@example.org
Tips for medical professionals:
- For those in the medical profession, please be careful when weighing your patients. If they look away or want to weigh with their back to the scale, please respect that this can be an incredibly difficult moment for some men and women. I have known many who avoid and put off going to the doctor simply because of being weighed. I think most of us would agree that it would be better to have regular check-ups and/or promptly visit a physician when their is a health concern….. Making the weighing process as gentle as possible is key to building that trust and relationship.
- If they do not want to know their weight, please be careful not to say it or show it as you write it down. Also, do not include on discharge papers, if that is allowable. Numbers can be one of the biggest triggers for those with disordered eating and poor body image. The most triggering number for most is their weight.
- Unless the client brings it up, please consider not mentioning current weight or suggesting dieting to lose weight. And even if they bring it up, proceed with caution. I am aware that this is a heated topic. After all, someone who is quite “overweight” needs to know that this is not healthy, right? First of all, there are some studies out there debating how crucial weight and size is at predicting health (check this info out ). The truth is, they are often overly aware of their weight and obsess about food and weight and body image. Their health (and consequently sometimes their weight) may stabililze if they focus on loving and accepting themselves, taking care of themselves, and making peace with all foods. TAKING CARE OF THEMSELVES includes having regular check-ups or seeing a physician when they have a health concern. Please be aware that 95% of diets fail and most will regain their lost weight in 1 to 5 years (source: Monte Nido statistics page). Suggesting diets or focusing on weight (or BMI, etc.) during their evaluation can intensify distorted thinking around their body and food, or worse, begin such thinking. Many of the clients I have worked with that have eating disorders have stories of times when their body was discussed in a way they perceived as negative, and quite a few times, it was a well-meaning physician. There is so much power in words, in general, but words from someone with authority on health and bodies…. can profoundly affect them.
- Consider having a list of professionals who are trained and experienced with eating disorders, so you can make referrals and coordinate care responsibly. In addition, perhaps having some printed materials and reading recommendations for those you suspect have food and body issues.
- Remember that certain terms are not used by your patient. For instance, someone who restricts their food to one meal a day may not consider themselves “anorexic” and may not even consider it “restricting.” Additionally, using the word “eating disorder” may not resonate with someone who overeats, binge eats, obsesses about foods, chronically diets, over exercises, etc. And if they do not meet the criteria for an eating disorder right now….one may be budding.
- Be aware of your own beliefs around food and your body that may influence thoughts you have, which could be passed on to your patient and pathologized in their own minds and beliefs.
- Get further education on these topics….check out links below…..
Tips for mental health professionals:
- Be aware of the prevalance of disordered eating and body image. Three out of four women have disordered eating, and 91% of women are unhappy with their bodies..Men’s statistics aren’t as accessible, but there is dissatisfaction with bodies and disordered eating with men as well….and the numbers seem to be increasing with my experience and research. Their presenting problem may not be these issues or fully be impacting these issues, but there is a good chance that it is an underlying issue.
- Be so careful with discussions about food and weight and diets. This is especially true if the discussion is not related to therapy. A friendly comment about your current diet endeavor or losing weight can seem harmless. However, such comments can trigger eating disorder behaviors or self deprecating thoughts about their body. Please note that our society is rampant with discussions about food and diets and weight and exercise. It is so easy to get “sucked” into these disucssions and thoughts without realizing it.
- Consider having a list of professionals who are trained and experience with eating disorders, so you can make referrals and coordinate care responsibly. In addition, perhaps having some printed materials and reading recommendations for those you suspect have food and body issues.
- Be aware of your own beliefs around food and body that may influence thoughts you have, which could be passed on to your client and pathologized in their minds and beliefs.
- Get further education on these topics….check out links below…