Societal ED

NEDAwareness 2011I don’t know if you’ve really observed this, but if you pay attention… our society really loves disordered eating.  It embraces it. It celebrates it. It worships it.

The phrase “societal ED” doesn’t necessarily mean that society has an eating disorder, but there is a clear message in the world today, particularly in America, that really has some messed up perspectives on food and eating.


This is an easy one to target… people who have body types that are not reflective of the general public are then dolled up by professional make-up artists and custom wardrobe fittings, after which they are Photoshopped to a level that is unattainable in reality… even by the model themselves.  The media world extends beyond just film, tv and print these days… with social media we are all creating the messages.  A gal that I adore tweeted just the other day that her cat is bulimic and binges on grass, followed by the statement that her cat knows how to party.  Bulimia isn’t a party, just FYI!

Assigning Morals to Food

We’ve all heard this: “I ate a salad today, I was good.” or “Ugh… I ate cookies, so bad.”  I’m guilty of this all or nothing thinking at times, but I’m very aware of it now and actively try to not practice this.  Granted, some foods have a higher nutritional profile than others, but some have a higher pleasure factor than others.  It’s all about balance… and part of that balance is allowing yourself to eat something you enjoy.  Plus if you learn to be more mindful of the moment and eat intuitively… you may find that the enjoyment you get from something that you’ve previously deemed as “bad” will be heightened or diminished once you let that judgment get out of the way.

Fat Talk or Negative Self Talk

This is a rampant problem in our country, it is commonplace for people to berate themselves and it is considered weird to celebrate themselves.  While on the treadmill the other day I paused for a moment on the Rachael Ray show and she was talking to Jennifer Aniston.  Rachael asked Jennifer, “We all have them, what is your least favorite body part?”  I just thought that was a messed up question, asking someone to actively focus on disliking something about themselves.  Nobody is perfect (alright, let’s not get on the subject of perfectionism right now…) and we all have down days, but if you catch yourself saying terrible things to yourself… things you would never dream of actually saying to someone else… stop the action. If you can’t find something nice to say about the appearance of the spot you were berating, then focus on the function of that body part.  I often criticize my butt… and it’s very hard for me to say something nice about the appearance, but if I focus on the fact that it contains muscles that help me power up hills… it comforts me. (And not all the time, I’ll admit that. But actively trying to change the thought patterns is good practice and hopefully over time the new way of thinking will become second nature.)

Impacting The Next Generation

Girls who hear their mothers berate their bodies constantly grow up to have higher rates of body dissatisfaction than those in homes that are more neutral toward or celebrate their bodies.  From the Girl Scouts website: A majority of girls (59 percent) reported dissatisfaction with their body shape, and 66 percent expressed the desire to lose weight. (American Academy of Pediatrics). From the National Institute on Media & Family: At age thirteen, 53% of American girls are “unhappy with their bodies.” This grows to 78% by the time girls reach seventeen.

Sadly, youth are not receiving these messages only from inside the home.  In the book Be Happy Without Being Perfect the author reflected upon a group of 9-year-old girls operating a bake sale.  Every single woman that interacted with them had some kind of negative message about bodies and baked goods. “Do you think these thighs really need a brownie?” or “Well, there goes my diet, right?”  And when the author pointed this out to the other mother helping the girls, she hadn’t noticed.  It is so common in our society that we think nothing of it!  That’s just wrong and sad.

I encourage everyone to pay closer attention to the messages they are spreading, not only does it affect others around you… but it affects your own feelings of self-worth. It’s hard to change! But it will also be worth it… if you can’t do it for others, then do it for yourself!  And if you can’t do it for yourself, then do it for others!


  1. I guess I need to tell the story of my morning. I had to go to the hospital for a pre-op appointment.

    Nurse 1: Oh, I know you from Gold’s Gym. Gosh that was years ago when I went there. I guess that explains why you are so tiny and why I’m not. I told her that I don’t really work out to be “tiny”, but to be strong and healthy (besides, I know I’m not tiny – more average). Then she informed me that I need to go on a liquid diet for the next two days. The upside is that you could lose weight that way. Why would she say that it’s a good thing for a “tiny” person to lose weight?

    Nurse 2: So you understand the liquid diet for the next two days. Oh yeah, you need to do a colon cleanse on Sunday. You’ll be so skinny by the time this is all over with.

    I guess Societal ED is all around us!!

  2. I have to tell you about two great blogs I’ve only recently started reading! One is called Dances With Fat, written by a woman who embraces Health At Every Size, and chooses to just eat healthy delicious foods and move her body in ways she enjoys rather than trying to diet and lose weight. She happens to be fat, and also a champion ballroom dancer! She’s funny and smart and articulate. I’ve really been enjoying what she has to say.

    The other blog happens to be written by a woman who was homeschooled growing up, which is how I found her in the first place, but this blog is focused on women, self-image, and food. It’s called Eat the Damn Cake. She ends every post with an un-roast, something she likes about herself or her body that day. (Your recounting of the Rachael Ray-Jennifer Aniston exchange about hated body parts made me think of the un-roasts.)

  3. Jill, this is such a great post. Societal ED is all around us and it’s so upsetting how often people ignore it or accept it as part of daily life. The way you have outlined its different forms is so spot-on! It is truly disturbing how often people comment on how a stomach bug will make them lose weight, or how they shouldn’t have eaten X, Y, or Z, or how fat they are. It’s equally disturbing that the accepted way to relate to a celebrity is to hear her trash her body, because the assumption is that we all hate our bodies, too.

    Thank you for bringing this concept to light! I hope that more people start to recognize how disordered our entire society is when it comes to food and our bodies.

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