This week Augsburg’s Center for Counseling and Health Promotion presented a series of body image related programs for Body Peace week including a special night devoted to rediscovering healthy eating habits. A group of about 20 students met in the Marshall Room where Special guest Sarah Johnson of the Park Nicollet Eating Disorders Institute led the discussion on how Americans can develop a more healthy relationship with food.
Johnson mentioned a 2008 study suggesting that almost 75 percent of women in America report distorted eating, which is not synonymous with eating disorders, but is a habit that can lead to their development. In addition to bad habits, Johnson says 67 percent of women say they are trying to lose weight. She purported that men’s statistics were similar to women’s, but noted that men’s cases are often under-reported.
The nature of the dietary advice was mostly preventative. Johnson warned that ignoring physical and psychological signs of hunger (such as stomach growling, fatigue and mood change) can lead to obesity, but that developing conscious moderate eating habits will allow you to eat whatever you like with little to no impact on your weight. This is because the human body has an innate eating schedule that everyday culture systems teach us to ignore, says Johnson. She suggests that as babies we know when we are hungry or full, but as we enter daily schedules at school and work, we teach our bodies to ignore those natural cues.
The answer to solving this dilemma, Johnson suggests, is to eat consciously every time. Habits such as eating while doing homework can interfere with our ability to notice our stomach is full. If we keep track of what, when and how much we eat, Johnson says we can re-program our natural hunger cues and steer our body in a more healthy direction. She mentioned that jumpstarting this process may involve making yourself eat in the morning if you normally skip breakfast.
The major culprit for these rising eating disorder statistics, Johnson says, is the commercial media that creates mixed messages about proper eating habits. Growing serving sizes at restaurants were also blamed for over-eating trends. The Eating Disorders Institute advice is to ignore “left-over guilt” and quit eating when your body tells you it’s full.
Lastly, Johnson concluded that, contrary to popular media headlines, “There’s no food that is always bad.” She emphasized the importance of a well-rounded diet because the body needs a variety of nutrients to function, including fats and sugars. She presented statistics showing that when people restrict their diet to limit “bad” foods, it increases anxiety and preoccupation with those specific foods. By telling yourself not to eat certain foods, you can increase your chances of binge eating when you finally do eat them.
Park Nicollet’s number one principle of intuitive eating is to reject the diet mentality. They suggest that you throw out the diet books and eat whenever you want in moderation in order to achieve your body’s natural weight. They also suggest that you “make peace with food” by stopping the dissonance between what you want to eat and what you think you should eat. And of course, supplementing your food habits with exercise is also recommended.
Other Body Peace programs included a Monday night screening of the documentary “Killing Us Softly,” which deals with the portrayal of women in commercial media. Also, showing today, Mar. 6, from noon to 1 p.m. in the Century Room, is the documentary “Starved”, which shows the journey of 5 women in recovery from their eating disorders.
Making peace with your body can take longer than a week. The Center for Counseling and Health promotions offers counseling on these and other issues throughout the year. For more information about CCHP or to make an appointment with a counselor visit their website at www.augsburg.edu/cchp.