March is both Women’s History Month and National Nutrition Month.
As different as they might be, they’re topics that overlap a lot more than maybe we’d like to admit. According to an Ipsos poll done in 2018, 83% of women reported feeling dissatisfied with their bodies.
“Women, I think, especially become defined by their appearance,” said Anne Posey, the Regional Director of Behavioral Health at Cleveland Clinic Indian River.
Posey said the pressure to fit the mold of a “perfect woman” can impact women mentally.
“This focus on what this perfect woman is supposed to look like can definitely impact people psychologically,” she said. “[It] can cause depression, like ‘I can never get as thin as that supermodel.’”
The pressure to fit a certain body mold can become dangerous and even deadly. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, 9% of the world’s population will deal with disordered eating.
“Eating disorders, especially anorexia, is probably one of the most lethal mental. or behavioral health disorders we have,” Posey said. “Eating disorders are now second only to opioid overdoses [in terms of] harm.”
According to Registered Dietician Candace O’Neill with Cleveland Clinic Weston, a lot of people fall into unhealthy eating habits when they’re trying to lose weight, and end up doing more harm than good. She said that by calorie counting, or cutting out different food groups, people can end up hurting themselves.
“A calorie does not tell the nutritional value of a food, you may be missing essential nutrients if you’re only focused on calories,” O’Neill said. “When someone avoids carbohydrates or avoids eating fatty foods in an attempt to lose weight, they don’t learn portion sizes and they can be lacking nutrients in their diet.”
Those who try more restrictive approaches to weight loss may see short term success, but usually don’t see long term results, according to O’Neill.
“When someone goes on a very restrictive diet, they end up avoiding a bunch of foods, having short-term weight loss and they end up regaining it later on, and that can feed into a lot of negative self-talk,” she said.
People who choose to go on more restrictive diets should be aware of the signs of poor nutrition, which could mean they’re not eating enough:
- Low energy levels
- Feeling constantly hungry
- Feeling dizzy
- Poor sleep
- Feeling easily irritable
- Feeling anxious
- Feeling cold all the time.
O’Neill said some women’s desire to be smaller can result in women diminishing their own muscle mass, which can hinder their metabolism long-term, affect their bone mass and how their body stores fat.
“A lot of women don’t practice strength training because they’re afraid that it’s going to make them become bulky or bigger,” she said.
It’s important for people to know that every body is different, and will look differently at different weights.
“Even thought two people may have the same body weight, the same BMI, someone can have a very different pant size or body fat percentage if they have a different amount of muscle mass,” O’Neill said.
BMI or Body Mass Index is a ratio of your height to weight that is used by some doctors and health practitioners to assess body weight. However, O’Neill says BMI is not a flawless indicator of health.
“If you have a high amount of muscle mass, it may incorrectly categorize you as being overweight or obese when that isn’t true,” she said. “So sometimes people look at their weigh or their BMI alone and it gives a false sense of what their actual health is.”
Negative self-talk and body image does not just impact adult women, but teens and young girls. Posey said girls may watch their mothers obsess of their own weight and develop eating issues.
“Kids are like sponges, they absorb both positive and negative reinforcement,” Posey said. “Now, with social media, they’re seeing these perfect lives portrayed when in reality none of us lead perfect lives. And we see a lot of eating disorders when children have low self-esteem.”
Posey said it’s important for parents to be aware of these issues within themselves so they don’t possibly pass them on to their children.
“When people recognize that they’re struggling, they can reach out for some help and engage and that’s when recovery happens,” she said.
If you, or someone you know is suffering with disordered eating, recovery is possible. Call (800) 931-2237 or visit the National Eating Disorders Association website.