From learning about and improving our own self-esteem and body image, to working with others and making positive societal changes, the following information can help us to reduce the occurrence of disordered eating.
What is the key to prevention? Understanding that you can make a difference and that you can affect the people around you. If we work together we can stop people from hating their bodies, thinking too much about their weight, and developing eating disorders.
Your prevention project does not have to be expensive or complicated. Prevention can be as simple as:
- Living a healthy life - it can inspire others.
- Focusing on health and well-being, no matter what size you are.
- Knowing the risk factors for problems with food and weight.
Prevention can also happen every time you talk to people. When you talk about food and weight problems, make sure you:
- Use language and ideas that are right for the person's age.
- Take into account all the social and cultural messages people get.
- Talk to both sexes about eating disorders and unhealthy attitudes or activities.
Consider the following ideas for us all, for families and friends, for educators, and for administrators.
You can start changes in your home, school, workplace, sports or hobby group, place of worship, camp and anywhere else you can think of. Explore the What's New section or contact NEDIC and other community organizations for a list of Eating Disorder Awareness Week (EDAW) and International No Diet Day (INDD) events in your area. For ideas on how to start an event in your community, explore the Ideas for EDAW & INDD section.
Here are some additional things all of us can do:
Model a healthy lifestyle. When others see you eating well and being physically active in a normal, ongoing way, without preaching or over-emphasis, they will accept these behaviours as normal. You can be a role model to guide them.
Remind people how to identify symptoms of stress: Shallow, fast breathing; sweaty palms; racing heart; headaches or stomach-aches; a panicky sensation. Suggest things to do to calm down.
Model and teach ways to deal with stress and conflict: Deep breathing, progressive relaxation exercises, a solitary walk, quiet time alone, listening to or playing music. You can also teach ways to deal with stressful situations, such as:
- Make a list of the things you have to do and put them in order of importance.
- Practice talking positively to yourself to get you through the effects of a poor decision or unhappy result: it was one incident, not your whole life.
- Keep a journal to help you understand your feelings and thoughts.
- Think up new ways to cope and share them with others.
Help others to develop self-esteem based on qualities other than physical appearance: Comment on and affirm characteristics that contribute to the smooth working of a study group or class. Be specific with your compliments:
- Help other individuals to have realistic expectations of themselves and others.
- Encourage individuals to take ownership of their accomplishments and talents.
- Encourage and affirm personally and socially responsible behaviour.
Don't ignore negative comments about physical appearance, including size, shape, cultural dress or race. Do not allow belittling remarks based on racial, sexist or other stereotypes. Use them as teachable moments without shaming anyone.
Teach critical thinking skills. Help others learn to analyze, synthesize, apply and evaluate.
Teach about aspects of self and life that one can influence, and help people feel stronger and more able to cope.
Get rid of your diet! Fight against the main cause of eating disorders - dieting. All you need is a trash can. Put one in your office, school or home. Get rid of all those negative products in your life. Fill it with dieting how-to guides, calorie counters, bathroom scales, diet pills, laxatives and other diet products. Be real. Free your body and your mind. Spend your money and your passion on something that matters.
Get rid of your scale! Numbers can be deceiving. Listen to your body. Let it tell you how healthy you are. Remember that your weight is not a measurement of your health or self-worth. Make health and vitality your goal, not a specific weight. Read about Dieting Facts & Fiction and how diets that restrict calories are harmful to your emotional and physical health.
Avoid labelling food "bad," "sinful," or "junk food." Labels like this can make you feel guilty or ashamed for eating "bad food". If we think this way, we can restrict, and then binge, on certain foods. Remember that a healthy diet includes both regularly eating nutritious food and occasionally eating less nutritious, high calorie food. Use different labels for food like "sometimes food" and "everyday food."
Do not encourage or laugh at jokes that make fun of a person's size or body. Find a direct and gentle way to say that a person's worth and morality are not related to how they look.
Criticize the culture that promotes unhealthy body image, not your self. Look at how encouraging people to dislike their bodies helps to sell products. Even young children can understand this. Encourage children to question, evaluate and respond to the messages that promote unhealthy body image and low self-esteem.
Tell the media what you think: they do listen. Write a letter to the editor of a newspaper, call a TV station, radio station or newspaper. Let them know what you think of their advertisements, articles, stories, etc. Organize a shredding table at a local community centre and invite the public to bring and shred their most despised adverts and articles. Provide a paper shredder or scissors and a wastepaper basket. Invite the media. Work within your community to gather petitions through schools, community health centres and youth organizations. Help raise awareness of harmful images and messages by contacting local media activism organizations, such as MediaWatch or Adbusters. Send copies of the petitions to the offending company and to your provincial or federal standards association. Advertising Standards Canada is one such association responsible for all print and television advertisements in Canada. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) also deals with any radio, televised or Internet complaints.
Tell advertisers how much you appreciate positive advertisements. This increases the likelihood of them using more inclusive and real images. For examples of positive examples, visit the About Face website.
Celebrate Eating Disorder Awareness Week (EDAW) and International No Diet Day (INDD) in your community. For ideas and information see Ideas for EDAW.
Children develop their beliefs and behaviours from the adults that they love and respect. You can make a positive difference to the children in your life. Emotionally healthy children depend on positive relationships with both male and female caretakers.
Teach children that their self-worth is not related to how they look. Emphasize their talents and qualities. Don't focus on their physical appearance.
Give children healthy choices, and teach them to make informed decisions about what they eat. Involve them in planning meals, shopping and cooking.
Emphasize the positive aspects of healthy eating, rather than focusing on the effects of unhealthy eating.
Do not use food as a reward or punishment. If you use food as a reward or comfort, or if you restrict food as a punishment, you are sending the message that food leads to love and acceptance. This may encourage children to seek out food for comfort or self-punishment.
Encourage children to take responsibility for their own well-being. This will help them learn to listen to their bodies.
Remind them to eat when they are hungry and stop when they are full.
- Remind them that the amounts they eat will vary as they grow. The amount also depends on how active they are each day.
- Respect their choices. Do not make them finish their plate if they are full. Do not limit food if they are hungry.
- Teach them to recognize and act on the signs of what they are feeling. For example, teach them that if they are worried their palms may sweat, their heart may race, or their stomach may hurt. To relieve the feeling they can try deep breathing, a walk, or talk about what is bothering them.
Make your family meals a peaceful time for enjoying food and talking with each other. Save arguments, TV shows, telephone calls and difficult decisions for another time.
Live with a positive attitude to body image, not with a focus on food and weight. Show how you can be happy, healthy and active at any body size. Avoid complaining about your body, particularly in front of children. Don't talk about diets, calories and weight.
Model a healthy lifestyle.
- Balance work and leisure time.
- Take care of yourself. Meet your emotional, spiritual, mental and physical needs.
- Regularly participate in exercise you enjoy. Let your child decide what physical activity she/he prefers. Help children be physically active by limiting TV and other inactive play. Encourage physical activities. These can be as simple as washing the car, shovelling snow or gardening.
Encourage self-awareness and critical thinking skills. These will help children evaluate new information using their own values, strengths and needs. Children who can do this are more likely to resolve their problems in healthy ways rather than by using food and weight manipulation as coping strategies.
Be aware of advertising and toys aimed at children. Notice how they reinforce gender stereotypes and body dissatisfaction. Encourage a conversation about how the child in your care views the advertisement or the toy. Foster critical thinking. and playfulness.
Work toward identifying and resisting all forms of discrimination. Remember that prejudice against size and body relates to prejudice based on sex, race, sexuality, class and physical ability.
Research shows that it might be harmful to teach students about eating disorders. Some students might learn to glamourize disturbed eating patterns. Information must be age appropriate.
Instead, teach students about general health. This can include:
- Healthy lifestyles (healthy eating, active living, self-acceptance)
- Media literacy
- Positive life skills (assertive communication, positive relationships, problem solving)
- Ways to cope with sexual, racial or other harassment and appearance based teasing.
Prevention must take place on many levels:
- Help parents and teachers to think about their own attitudes. Their behaviour, language, eating and physical activities influence children.
- Make time and space for meals at school. Discourage "starve-a-thons". Set up policies that ban teasing about physical appearance.
- Empower adolescent girls to feel good about themselves. Start a support group.
- Promote understanding and tolerance for natural weight gain and fat among girls going through puberty.
- Maintain consistent health promotion messages.
These ideas come from the Comprehensive Healthy Schools Prevention Programs, courtesy of the Ontario Community Outreach Program for Eating Disorders.
Administrators are in a unique position to effect change in our communities. Below are several suggestions to help turn the tide of eating disorders:
Organize staff development sessions for teachers and administrators. Encourage teachers to examine their own attitudes toward physical appearance and their own body image. Highlight the importance of being role models for their students. This does not mean being "perfect". It does mean being willing to explore and resolve difficult issues. Equip teachers with practical skills to deal with self-esteem and body image issues. Invite local agencies and/or community health organizations to lead training sessions in your school. Contact Us to connect with organizations that can lead training sessions in your school.
Organize a parent information session to teach parents how their attitudes affect their children's body image. Involve parents in developing policy and curriculum. Equip parents with ideas on how to deal with self-esteem, body image issues, and problem food and weight behaviours in their children.
Establish an effective school-wide policy on teasing and bullying. Ensure that you include physical appearance in your anti-bullying and anti-discrimination policies. Involve parents, students, teachers and school administrators in developing this policy.
Introduce Peer Mediation Programs or Anti-Bullying programs in your school. Consider a peer support program between senior and junior students to help younger students feel less afraid, stressed and isolated. Older students will feel greater self-esteem and learn leadership and problem-solving skills.
Develop a classroom behaviour agreement with your students. Ask them each to sign the agreement, and display the terms of agreement in a place where they can all see it. Commit to respecting each other's point of view, listening, respecting differences and challenging stereotypes.
Develop a school health program where students receive consistent positive messages about healthy eating attitudes and behaviours and healthy body image. Focus on health and well-being, not physical appearance. Respect the wide range of ethnic foods eaten. Involve teachers, administrators, families, community leaders and students when you develop this program. Make sure the school staff agree to treat students' bodies respectfully and do not make comments about students' body shapes and size.
Work with the library. Give your librarian a list of resources that are appropriate for different age groups - you can find a list of helpful books, magazines and videos in Information Resources. Ask your school library and local libraries to stop subscribing to fashion magazines. Encourage them to order magazines that promote healthier images. Examples are New Moon, for girls between the ages of 9 and 14, and Shameless for older teens.
Involve food services at your school. Encourage your school to provide a variety of nutritious foods to children in the cafeteria, at school activities and at fundraising events. Support every effort to promote healthy eating.
Learn to recognize the signs of someone at risk. The BodyWise handbook is an excellent, free resource for school personnel, teachers, nurses, coaches, and other educators. The handbook includes tips for identifying disordered eating, and suggestions for integrating eating disorder prevention into existing curricula and initiating school-wide activities to promote healthy eating and prevent weight preoccupation.
Teach children critical-thinking skills to help them identify and resist cultural messages that could promote negative body image. Teachers can integrate media literacy lessons into many subjects, such as social sciences, literature, history and health. For more information see Information Resources and Beyond Images.
With your students, examine the images in your school. Look at posters, books, magazines or even activities that promote stereotypical representations of the ideal beautiful or healthy body.
Provide children with alternative images of healthy bodies. For example, showcase pictures of athletes of all different sizes and shapes, including athletes who are differently abled. Put the pictures under the title "Healthy bodies come in all shapes and sizes." Normalise and celebrate diversity by having a range of pictures around the school. Check out our Resources for appropriate posters, or go to your local art gallery.
EDAW is an annual effort by groups across Canada, the U.S., Europe and Australasia to educate the public on the relationship between dieting, body dissatisfaction and eating disorders. The goal is to increase awareness of the factors causing individuals, particularly women, to develop anorexia, bulimia and weight preoccupation.
EDAW continues to be a huge success. A number of organizations and community groups work together to promote healthy body image and self-esteem, and to celebrate the diversity of shapes and sizes in our culture during the first week in February.
Why do we need an EDAW?
Self-esteem and social value are still unrelentingly connected to physical appearance, particularly for women. The beauty ideal today is uniformly thin, white, able-bodied, smooth-skinned, young and "glamourous". Given that less than 1% of us fit this ideal, it is not surprising that most women in our society are dissatisfied with their bodies. The displacement of other issues onto our bodies creates pressure to meet an unattainable standard of beauty, and leads us to develop harmful feelings toward ourselves and our bodies.
Many women and men act on these feelings and go to dangerous and damaging lengths to change their bodies. Given that we have a genetic predisposition to a particular weight, shape and size, it is no wonder that dieting fails for 95% of individuals.
This is why the slogan "Celebrating Our Natural Sizes!" was chosen for EDAW.
The week encourages individuals to move away from one narrow ideal of beauty to healthy lifestyles and a celebration of natural diversity. This allows people to accept their bodies, get beyond appearance, and concentrate on putting their energies into more empowering, enjoyable activities. It is important to take a strong stand in challenging rigid, unrealistic and damaging expectations.
When is EDAW held?
Different countries commemorate EDAW at different times. In Canada, it is always the first full week in February. Having a consistent date is important. It takes many years of consistency for a commemorative event to 'register', and to become a norm in the minds of the media, organizations, participants and influencers. Having a nationally uniform time for such events increases media pick-up and increases the overall impact of the event.
Goals and Objectives of EDAW
To reduce the prevalence of anorexia, bulimia, dieting and body image problems through a public education program emphasizing social factors causing their development.
- To provide information on eating disorders, dieting and weight preoccupation, emphasizing social factors and dispelling common myths.
- To launch a national media campaign designed to heighten awareness of EDAW and to make connections between eating disorders and body image problems experienced by most women.
- To advocate for widespread changes in social attitudes.
- To encourage individuals with eating disorders and their families to acknowledge the problem, to encourage and direct them to appropriate resources, and to provide them with information and support.
- To educate professionals on the importance of primary and secondary prevention, and to provide professional development for healthcare workers, counsellors and therapists.
- To make governments aware of the need for additional funding for health promotion, primary prevention and treatment programs.
- To celebrate the diversity of body sizes and shapes of all people.
How can you get involved?
Check out the current and past event listings for ideas on activities and events you can become a part of. Alternatively, there are plenty of ideas for organizing your own events in the Ideas for EDAW & INDD section.
INDD was founded by Mary Evans Young of DietBreakers in England. It is now celebrated across Canada and internationally on May 6 of each year. Young established the day to express frustration with societal standards of appearance that pressure us to be thin, often with devastating results. Results range from all degrees of food and weight obsession to potentially deadly eating disorders and weight-loss surgery, depression and suicide.
INDD has become a widely used opportunity for health-care educators to challenge unfounded beliefs around food and weight issues, and to encourage healthy lifestyles for individuals, regardless of size and weight.
The goals of the day are to:
- Declare a moratorium on diet/weight obsession.
- Increase public awareness of the dangers and futility of dieting.
- Celebrate the beauty and diversity or our natural sizes and shapes.
- Affirm everybody's right to health, fitness and emotional well-being.
- Educate the public with the facts about weight-loss dieting, health and body-size.
- Increase public awareness of damage done to physical, emotional and financial health by society's obsession with thinness.
- Honour the victims of eating disorders and weight-loss interventions.
- Help change the prejudice with which fat people are perceived and treated.
- NEDIC is available to provide ideas, strategies and consultation to individuals and groups wishing to develop an EDAW event or awareness campaign, or find out about listing of EDAW and INDD events in your area.
Each one of us can make a difference!
Public Forum/Speak Out
- Arrange for speakers. You are probably in the best position to know who the knowledgeable people are in your area; however, NEDIC may be able to make suggestions.
- If possible, arrange to have a few speakers with varying backgrounds. You may want to include therapists, activists, healthcare workers, writers, media personalities, women and men who have struggled with food and weight issues, etc. Have each person give a short presentation, followed by a question and answer period, or organize discussion in groups after the lecture. Be creative about the format.
- You may want to consider organizing a "Speak Out" or "Some Women/Men Speak" panel, specifically designed for individuals to talk about their struggles with food and weight, experiences with the mental health system, processes of resolving body-image problems, and experiences of fighting back.
- Plan a lecture series for the week targeting various groups: the public, healthcare workers, general practitioners, students, women with eating disorders, men with eating disorders, weight-preoccupied women, families and friends. Possible topics include:
- Weight obsession in society
- Body-image issues
- Prevention of eating disorders
- Gender and sex-role stereotyping
- Eating disorders as coping strategies
- Have a table at the forum for printed informational materials and a list of resources in the area.
- Pamphlets may be ordered from NEDIC. Inform people that they can receive additional information by contacting NEDIC.
- Contact libraries, colleges, community centres, women's centres or schools to provide a space free of charge.
- Prepare flyers and send to community centres, women's centres, health services, health clubs, diet centres, schools and libraries, or anywhere where there may be a bulletin board.
- Contact media.
- Form a coalition with other interested groups to increase resources.
Videos are an excellent tool for conveying information about food and weight issues, particularly if you cannot find knowledgeable people to speak at a forum. Some of the videos can easily lead into an interesting discussion, especially when used with a relatively small audience. See Information Resources for a list of videos.
Booths can be set up in shopping malls, schools, your local city hall, community centre or women's centre, in order to:
- Sell promotional materials (available from NEDIC).
- Hand out EDAW pamphlets (available from NEDIC).
- Put up posters (available from NEDIC).
- Put up a display regarding eating disorders and weight preoccupation. Possible themes include healthy lifestyles, cultural pressures to be thin, prejudice against fat, and the dangers of dieting. Have books available for browsing.
NOTE: In our experience, people are often reluctant to approach an eating disorder information booth. Consider naming your booth something that has a broader appeal. It may be helpful to attract attention by providing handouts and promotional materials, or having a contest for a prize.
- Have students write an essay, short story or poem on the theme of "Celebrating Our Natural Sizes" or other self-acceptance topic.
- Have students in art classes draw pictures of what this slogan or theme means to them, and display them within the school. If you want to make it a contest, solicit prizes from local merchants or clubs.
- Have students bring in magazines and make collages about the cultural pressures to be thin and/or misleading diet ads.
- Family studies and health classes can focus on "healthy lifestyles" (this has been found to increase anxiety about food and eating - too many 'shoulds', etc. The classes can also talk about coping skills, self-esteem, healthy exercise, the problems with restrictive eating, marketing commodities, etc.
- Numerous classes provide an appropriate setting for discussing the cultural context that contributes to the development of eating disorders - students should be encouraged to think seriously about their own relationships to these factors: cultural obsession with thinness, sex-role stereotyping, dieting, the biology of hunger, self-esteem, developmental stresses of adolescence, and positive and negative coping strategies.
- Our Information Resources section features a list of books and videos that are appropriate for different age groups. The school library may wish to obtain these books and display them, along with additional information on eating disorders (where age appropriate), non-dieting, weight acceptance, etc.
- NEDIC is compiling a list of individuals interested in speaking to classes on eating disorders. We can't guarantee that we will know of people in your community, but call us for suggestions.
- NEDIC may be available to do public speaking engagements depending on the location.
- Present lessons from age appropriate resources, e.g., From Every Body is a Somebody or other manuals (see Information Resources).
- Organize an eating disorder prevention workshop for teachers to incorporate prevention strategies into their curriculum.
Note: There is research to show that it can be harmful to teach about eating disorders to younger students as they may take away incorrect messages and learn unhealthy behaviours. Please consult NEDIC or an expert in your local area on what are age appropriate information and activities.
- Consider adding a class, or integrating information about eating disorders or related issues into some existing class; e.g., psychology, social work, medicine, nursing, dentistry, women's studies and education departments. Students in these fields should understand the social, familial and individual factors related to the development of an eating disorder, high-risk behaviours, connections between eating disorders and abuse, and treatment options.
- Design and present a workshop on eating disorders for students and/or staff. Suggested topics: high risk behaviours, how to intervene with persons you suspect of having an eating disorder, getting help and recovery issues (include local treatment providers), prevention of eating disorders, the continuum of food and weight issues, connections among eating disorders, addictions and childhood abuse, or other issues of particular interest to your local population.
- Develop a "Mass Media and Body Image" workshop to focus on images of women in the media, particularly advertising, in an effort to increase awareness of how these images affect women and men and how they alter and shape our relationships with our bodies.
- Present a series of lunch hour seminars on topics related to appearance issues. You may consider inviting different speakers (if possible) to discuss their area of specialization or interest. Suggested topics include: An overview of eating disorders, socio-cultural pressures to be thin, weight prejudice, healthy eating, healthy weights, self-esteem.
- Develop an in-service programme for counselling centre staff, health centre staff, and/or resident advisors, to update their knowledge of eating disorders, forms of intervention, high risk behaviours, weight prejudice, referral services, and providing ongoing support for individuals struggling with food, weight and shape preoccupation.
- Stage a play or organize a film night on eating disorders, weight obsession or any of the other topics discussed here.
- Contact local media (magazines, newspapers, radio, TV) to notify them of EDAW, INDD and other events, and their goals. Suggest that radio/TV stations with viewer call-in shows focus a programme on eating disorders and related issues.
- Contact local community centres, women's centres, schools, health clubs and health centres to make them aware of EDAW, INDD and other events. Provide (or let them know how to order) promotional materials.
- Hold a clothing exchange for large women in a safe, comfortable and fun environment. It is often difficult to find suitable, attractive clothing, and an exchange offers individuals the opportunity to swap amongst the "finds" of others.
- Celebrating Our Natural Sizes: Use the EDAW slogan to develop a programme based on the changing perceptions of beauty over the decades, on the current standards of thinness, and on fad diets designed to make profits from the impossible thinness craze. Stress the importance of developing a person's inner resources and qualities rather than focusing on the external shell, and focusing on strengths and attributes rather than appearance. Make connections between ideals of beauty and women's political, economic and social powerlessness and how pursuing beauty ideals like thinness function to dis-empower women.
Have a Fearless Friday
- Hand out anti-dieting buttons. These can be handed out or sold to members of the public or students. Particularly good places to promote non-dieting buttons are outside cafeterias, at health clubs and shopping malls, or during community events.
- Ask restaurants to participate with give-aways, or special deals: a free cookie with coffee, two-for-one specials, coupons to come back another time for a specially priced dinner, etc.
- To attract attention to the issue, take cookies or other treats to the radio stations in town (or on campus) with a news release on Fearless Friday. On-air personalities will likely talk about receiving the treats and explain what the day is about.
- Organize a draw for a gourmet dinner for two, coffee and dessert or a box of truffles, to celebrate "normal eating".
- Put up a display regarding images of women in advertising, healthy eating, the problems with dieting, the science of body-weight regulation, and/or why diets don't work.
- Start a campaign to encourage people to donate their "thin" jeans and other "thin" clothing to a shelter or charity. Dieters frequently hold on to small clothing with the hope of fitting into them in the future. This lowers self-esteem and sabotages any attempts at non-dieting and weight acceptance.
- Schools: Try to involve food services in promoting Fearless Friday. Ask cafeterias to provide a special menu, discounts, or a free cookie with purchases.