Let’s talk about Bob Harper, celebrity fitness trainer and host of NBC’s weight-loss reality television show “The Biggest Loser.” He recently suffered from a heart attack. Are you asking yourself, “How could someone so healthy have a heart attack?” Well, let me stop you right there. How do we know Bob is healthy?
Because he looks healthy?
Because he’s a vegetarian?
Because he’s an authority on health & fitness and seems to really know his stuff?
Because he trains celebrities and helps people lose weight on “The Biggest Loser?”
What else do we know about him? For most of us, the answer is, “Not much.” The truth is that we simply cannot assume that Bob (or anyone else for that matter) is healthy based on these factors alone. This all-too-common logic is fundamentally flawed, revealing a perfect opportunity to teach three important lessons about health.
So what is health? According to the World Health Organization, “health is a state of complete physical, mental & social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Leading health experts believe that a healthy lifestyle is actually determined by a combination of variables such as genetics, sleep, self-care & stress levels, social support, regular movement, and a balanced, flexible approach to nutrition that honors the body’s hunger & fullness signals.
Without knowing Bob personally or his medical history, we really can’t say with any real confidence that he’s a healthy guy. But that doesn’t stop us from assuming he is based a few factors that are not truly variables associated with health and following his lead when it comes to our own health choices and judgments about others’.
The lesson here? As a society, our definition of health and our logic used to determine whether or not someone is healthy, to evaluate our own health, and to dictate our own health choices is completelyflawed. This often leads us down a fruitless road to chasing health in the form of variables not truly linked to a healthy lifestyle.
by Jessica Betts, MS, RD, LD
Do a quick internet search for “eating disorder athlete story.” You’ll quickly stumble upon a long list of inspirational stories about young, Caucasian, female athletes who once suffered from an eating disorder but who have since recovered. I in no way want to diminish the struggles that these athletes have experienced and overcome, but in reading all of these stories, it would seem logical to conclude that eating disorders must be an issue that occurs exclusively in females. In reality, negative body image, disordered eating behaviors, and diagnosed eating disorders affect people across all ages, races, genders, sexual identities, socioeconomic statuses, as well as athletes and non-athletes alike.
When it comes to males, we tend to hear more about eating disorders occurring in homosexual males. So does being a heterosexual male make one immune to eating disorders? Definitely not. Studies show that the ratio of males to females who suffer from eating disorders is about 1 to 3. In addition, if you look across the entire population, there are more cases of eating disorders among heterosexual males than among homosexual males.
We also know that males often experience negative body dissatisfaction in different ways than their female counterparts. Males tend to idealize a stronger, leaner body type, causing them to obsessively exercise for hours at the gym, to waste excessive amounts of money on nutritional supplements, or to experiment with steroids. In addition, males are less likely to report disordered eating behavior or even to consider these behaviors as anything other than normal. Why? One, there’s a widespread misconception that eating disorders don’t occur in males. As a result, many males feel that coming forward as having an eating disorder will pull into question their masculinity.
Males also have higher rates of participation in weight-class sports such as wrestling, rowing, and some martial arts. In these sports, a particular pre-competition weight is required to qualify for participation. In these sports, weighing in one pound too many can mean facing a tougher opponent, or even outright disqualification. Manipulating body weight is often seen as a natural aspect of these sports, and behaviors such as calorie restriction, purging, use of laxatives, and extreme dehydration occur all too often. I see these behaviors all the time in my role as a college-level Athletic Trainer, and they’re certainly not limited to these sports. While recent studies suggest that these harmful behaviors do not tend to continue after the athlete retires, this is not always the case, and there have been many instances where athletes go too far, resulting in serious harm or even death.
In the end, there are a ton of eating disorder statistics, but the most important number is “one.” As in each person has his or her own unique story. Just as there is no perfect body, there is no cookie-cutter image of what an eating disorder looks like. It is important for all individuals to know how to spot disordered eating behaviors and when to seek help. I’m proud to lead a team dedicated to educating athletes and intervening when necessary. We need more of this in the world of high school, collegiate, and professional sports.
by Charlie Emerson MS, LAT, ATC
Charles is the the Head Athletic Trainer at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and leads the Eating Disorder Response Team within the Department of Athletics.
Visit the National Eating Disorders Association website to learn more about eating disorders in athletes.
To take a quick, confidential screening, click here.
I remember hearing a lot of different whispers when Ed (anorexia, my eating disorder) lived with me. Whispers like “No one will like you if you don’t lose more weight.” And like “You don’t really need to eat that.” These whispers played like a broken record in my head, rudely reminding me that I would never be good enough. And they became louder and louder until they were screams. Screams filled with lies. That’s what Ed does. He screams constantly until that’s all you can hear.
Ed made me give up everything to keep him. I lost a lot of things. I lost motivation. I lost joy. I lost relationships. My friends and family are the most important things in the world to me, and yet Ed made me choose him over them. I lost my ability to concentrate. I specifically remember a conversation with the secretary at my school and not being able to form cohesive sentences. Why? Because my brain was malnourished. That’s what Ed does. Ed made me lose self-respect. Because of that, he made me engage in self-harm. I was cutting myself. Why? Because I felt so unworthy and broken. That’s what Ed does. Another thing that Ed took from me is hope.
I feel like hope is ingrained in us. We grow up learning to hope. We feel hope for the little things and the big things in our lives. When that hope is taken away, life becomes confusing and a lot like a traffic jam. You’re stuck, and you can’t see a way out.
But as much as I believed that all hope was gone, that Ed had taken it from me and I’d never feel it again, I was wrong. I can promise you: HOPE IS REAL. Hope is real. Recovery is real. Self-love is real. Even at my worst, deep, deep inside there was a little flame of hope. And that hope led to a cry for help. Thankfully, people answered. I started to be able to hear the whispers of truth that my therapist, my friends, and my family members were speaking. Then those whispers became louder.
I was reminded that I was good enough. I was reminded that my worth was not based on my appearance, my weight, or the size of my jeans. I was good enough. Period. End of sentence. For a while, my life looked a little like a game of tug-of-war — my team of encouragement on one side and Ed on the other, fighting, pulling, straining to keep his hold on me. He was almost stronger than all of their strength combined. Almost.
Today, the whispers I hear are different. They’re both still there, but now Ed’s voice is quieter, and self-love is louder. Ed lost the game of tug-of-war.
NEDA’s Awareness Week fills me with a refreshed feeling of hope each year, but especially this year. The theme, It’s Time to Talk About It, pulls Ed from the shadows where he lives and sheds light on him. This theme allows messages filled with truth and hope to be spread far and wide, messages that link us together in the fight against Ed. Let’s beat Ed. How? We have to scream louder than him. Let’s scream — not whisper, but scream — messages of hope. Because even though it’s hidden, hope is there. Hope is real.
by Gabrielle Bridgeman
Oklahoma Christian University
We’ve been hearing for years about how the American fashion industry’s promotion of extreme thinness contributes to unhealthy weight control practices among models, right? Well, a study published recently in the International Journal of Eating Disorders shows that models do in fact feel pressured by their employers to lose weight and that this leads them to engage in not-so-healthy weight control practices that can be a catalyst for the development of an eating disorder.
In an open letter released just yesterday, the researchers, the National Eating Disorders Association, the Model Alliance, and more than 30 leading models are teaming together to challenge the American fashion industry to commit to promoting health as well as diversity on the runway during New York Fashion Week beginning on February 9th. They’re asking consumers to step up to the plate too to in support of these initiatives by signing an online petition.
Eating disorder advocates around the world are joining in, and REbeL is behind these efforts. Are you? We encourage you to read the letter below and to sign the petition by clicking here.
Dear Members of the American Fashion Industry,
As models, we care about each other’s health and wellbeing. As we look toward New York Fashion Week, we strongly urge you to prioritize health and celebrate diversity on the runway this season.
Concerns about the fashion industry’s promotion of extreme thinness are nothing new but a recent research study published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders confirms that unhealthy weight control practices are a serious problem in the industry. Too often, models are being pressured to jeopardize their health and safety as a prerequisite for employment.
Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental health concern and survivors often suffer irreversible damage to their health. That is why we have teamed up with the Model Alliance and the National Eating Disorders Association to address this issue.
Together, we are challenging you to make a serious commitment to promote health and diversity on the runway. Through our social media platforms, which collectively reach millions of people, we will recognize the industry leaders who step up to this challenge. Specifically, we will keep an eye out for diversity of race, size, age, and gender status, and we hope to see diversity within and across all of those categories.
No one likes the hassle or expense of increased regulations and paperwork. However, data shows that the American fashion industry has yet to prove that it is capable of following healthy practices on its own.
Now more than ever, we have an opportunity to send the message that diversity is what makes us strong. We sincerely hope that all of you – from designers and editors to agents and casting directors – will collectively harness the industry’s creative power to be forward thinking, inclusive, and do the right thing.
Ingrid Sophie Schram
Also supporting the models in the effort is the JAG Modeling Agency and the We Speak Agency.
Jessica Betts, MS, RD, LD
Our bodies are capable of amazing things. But when our perception of our bodies is clouded by our society’s unrealistic standards, we don’t see that. We see flaws. We see only what we want to change. We think in terms of CAN’Ts instead of CANs. Our inner critic holds us back — that constant whisper that has us convinced we’re not good enough. But guess what? Each of us has the power to shift our internal dialogue, to silence the whisper of our inner critic and to learn to see our bodies for the incredible vessels that they are. We CAN learn to love our bodies, every single one of us, but in a culture where that’s not the norm, we really do have to learn how to.
Join REbeL and Lindsay Smith, yoga extraordinaire, for our next FREE workshop to explore your internal dialogue and to examine your relationship with your body and what influences it. Through conversation, reflection, and yoga, Lindsay creates a healing space that will allow you to learn how to and to practice loving your body.
Our REbeL chapters spend some time doing yoga to help them to find peace in their bodies and to practice mindfulness, and now we’re extending this opportunity to the public. This event is open to everyone but is an especially fantastic opportunity for mothers and daughters to spark a positive conversation about body image.
When: Wednesday, Feb 8; 6:30pm
Where: Oxford Middle School Gym.
How much: FREE
Note: there will be a little yoga involved so wear something comfy. No need to bring a yoga mat.
Register: Join our Facebook event and/or email email@example.com to reserve your spot.
About Lindsay: Lindsay is a Wisconsin girl who landed in Kansas City after graduation with an Interior Architecture Degree from KU. Currently, she is employed at a job she loves as an Assistant Manager at lululemon athletica Leawood.
Her first exposure to yoga was at a young age, when she would imitate her mom in tree pose or downward dog while she was practicing to Rodney Yee on VHS. In high school, yoga empowered Lindsay to develop a new relationship with her body and perception of how to navigate her teenage years.
Lindsay’s mission is for you to discover new ways to be bold in your body on and off the mat.
“Yoga is cross training for my life. Yoga creates the space for me to be the best me. On the mat, I am able to create the space in my life to be with the now and get real with who and where I am not being real.”
2016 was a truly REbeLutionary year! While there were lots of fabulous moments, and while it was hard to choose just a few, we thought we’d share some of our favorites.
Our Ascension Catholic School chapter won the video challenge with an awesome video showcasing what being a “REbeL” means to them. Check out their inspirational video.
The 6th annual Walk to REbeL was a huge success! We can’t wait for the next one. Save the date. The next Walk to REbeL is on Saturday, April 29th, 2017!
We had the pleasure of hosting three wonderful and beauty-full interns this summer, Gabby, Nicole, and Brooke. They were an incredible help for us and we hope they learned some things along the way.
We were a part of several community events this year. One that we look forward to every year was the annual NEDA Walk hosted by the Missouri Eating Disorder Association of KC.
We had a blast and raised a record $44,000 at our 3rd annual Be You Bash, held at the beautiful Pennway Place at Studio Dan Meiners in September.
Our Program Director, Jessica, with yoga extraordinaire, Lindsay Smith, hosted a leadership training to kick off the school year at Sar Ko Par Trails Park.
Lastly, which is perhaps one of the MOST exciting moments, we were invited to present our research results on the efficacy of REbeL at the International Conference on Eating Disorders! During the 2015-2016 academic year REbeL partnered with the Department of Psychology at UMKC to successfully complete our first randomized, controlled research trial. The study compared the outcomes of students in two schools who participated in REbeL to students in a control school that did not have REbeL programming. Students enrolled in REbeL, compared to the control school students, had significantly better scores on measures of body image and disordered eating attitudes and behaviors at the end of the academic year. Our presentation is only one of a small number of oral presentations at this prestigious conference, so we are very pleased and excited that this presentation will help us spread the word about the effective great work that REbeL is doing on a global scale!
Recently I’ve been seeing a number of before and after photos of women on social media, but in reverse — where the before looks like an after and the after looks like a before, at least compared to what we’re used to seeing in advertisements for weight-loss programs or products. These images are often posted by women who admit to having struggled with an eating disorder. The posts are meant to be body-positive and to showcase progress in recovery, to celebrate that they’ve learned to love their “after,” flaws and all, and to inspire others that they too can break free of their eating disorder and love their healthy, recovered “after.” For those of you who have seen these posts, this is nothing new.
But here’s something you might not have considered. I’ve found myself wondering lately if these “after’s” are really body-positive. Let’s look at some pros & cons.
Are these reverse before and after’s broadening the definition of beauty by increasing acceptance of larger bodies & those that deviate from the thin-ideal? Yep. Pro.
Do these images promote the idea of embracing our imperfections and really loving ourselves unapologetically without conditions? Yes. Absolutely. Pro.
But. . .
By posting & applauding images like these, are we still focusing on our appearance above all else? Well, yeah, sort of. Con. Let’s talk about all of the other wonderful “after’s” in eating disorder recovery. A well-nourished, eating disorder behavior-free body yields incredible improvements in so many of our body’s functions — our bones are stronger and we have fewer aches and pains, our hair, nails, skin undergo repair, our oral & digestive health improves, our brain isn’t so starved so that mental “fog” lifts, and our hearts aren’t under so much stress — we aren’t so preoccupied with food and imprisoned by fear, shame, and rigidity, our mood stabilizes, we develop more meaningful relationships with others, we may perform better academically or at work, we are able to discover our true passions and interests outside of food and exercise, and so much more.
Aren’t these images inspiring to those suffering from eating disorders? Like, “You can love your body too. Trust me. I did it. Stay strong!” This one is a little tougher to dissect. You could argue both sides. Some might find these reverse before and after’s inspiring. I, for one, do not. So for me, con. And I know several other women in recovery that feel the same. I see these images as a dangerous catalyst for comparison. Every body is different, and recovery looks different on everyone too. Someone who is struggling, someone in a very black-and-white, this-or-that place, might see it this way: “That body, and only that body, is what a recovered body looks like.” But what if their recovered body looks different? I can tell you where that can lead: fear, doubt, distress, and shame. Furthermore, posts like this seem to promote the idea that eating disorder recovery has a clear-cut, wrapped-up-in-a-pretty-bow ending. Like “Hey, I made it. I’m recovered!” Though some might relate, the majority of those in eating disorder recovery do not. Eating disorder recovery is often a long, zig-zaggy path, and for many it’s a life-long struggle — even if all that remains is a nagging voice that pops up every now and again to remind you that you’re not good enough, thin enough, or eating “healthy” enough.
I will admit that captions along with these posts and images can shift the take-away message to some degree, but sometimes an image says more than words do. This certainly isn’t a black-and-white issue. How we interpret these reverse before and after photos has a lot to do with where we’ve been and our own relationship with our bodies. I’m curious. What do you think? Are these posts body-positive or not-so-much?
By Jessica L. Betts, MS, RD, LD
Around Thanksgiving, we tend to focus a lot on expressing gratitude. For the family members and friends who surround us, for the roof over our head, for the food on our table, for the clothes on our back. This is external gratitude — appreciating and being grateful for the blessings all around us. We hear how important it is not to take what we have for granted. While I agree, with all of this focus on external gratitude, we often find ourselves taking ourselves for granted.
One thing, one very important thing, we take for granted is our body. Have you stopped to consider lately all that your body has done for you? This is what I like to call turning gratitude inward.
We don’t often turn our gratitude inward and appreciate our bodies. Why? Because we spend so much of our time and energy at war with our bodies. Because we can’t see and many of us don’t understand all the hard work that our bodies do. Because we’ve been trained to distrust our bodies, to control them, to compare them to other bodies, and to value what our bodies look like over health our health.
I call for a ceasefire. Let’s throw up a figurative peace sign and take a moment to express a little gratitude for all that our bodies do.
Every cell in your body, every muscle fiber, every nook and cranny has a purpose that’s all part of a greater purpose to enable you to achieve yours.
Let’s give our bodies some credit. They’re pretty incredible! So incredible that most of their work goes unnoticed and happens without a hiccup. They forgive us if we mistreat them. And they certainly don’t give up on us easily. They love us unconditionally. So let’s not take our bodies for granted. While they’ll never ask for it and they may not expect it, they deserve a “thank you” too.
by Jessica L. Betts, MS, RD, LD
October is National Bullying Prevention Awareness Month.
By now, we’re all aware that bullying is a major issue among our youth, in our schools, on online. But for argument’s sake, let’s paint a picture of how bad it is. In the United States, 28% of students in grades 6-12 have experienced bullying, and over 70% of students have been witness to bullying in school. Suicide rates have skyrocketed in the past 3 decades, and research shows that bullying pays a role in at least 50% of them.
Did you know that appearance is the #1 reason kids are bullied? It makes sense. It is, after all, what is most noticeable about each of us. Let’s face it, we live in a culture where most aim to conform. And that’s especiallythe case among adolescents who want nothing other than to fit in and who tend to see different as weird, not cool.
So what’s the solution? Anti-bullying programs? Suicide awareness programs? Perhaps. But what about REbeL?
REbeL is creating “pockets of positivity” in the schools we’re in. We promote kindness, self-acceptance, and celebrating how each of us is different. REbeL is addressing some key factors that foster an environment where bullying is rampant. Our over-arching message is BE YOU. This seems simple enough, right? Well, it’s not. It takes an environment that sees being you as being enough. And to really be you, to be confidently you — not a you that depends on others’ approval or disapproval or a you that only feels secure if others rank lower in some way — takes courage. And practice. Lots of practice. If kids and teens invest in learning to accept themselves, they will quickly learn to embrace others too.
Insecurities, bullying, comparisons, pressures to conform, never feeling good enough. . . these issues continue to pollute the halls of our schools, Instagram feeds, and the minds of adolescents. Maybe it’s time for schools to adopt a new solution: REbeL.
Jessica L. Betts, MS, RD, LD
Today is the final day of Weight Stigma Awareness Week. Hosted by Binge Eating Disorder Association (BEDA), the theme of this year’s annual online event is Teaching Kids the Truth. Podcasts, blogs, and videos released this week have revolved around talking to kids about weight stigma, exploring their perceptions of weight bias and body image, and how we, as adults, can play an active role in combating weight stigma, starting with our kids. Here’s what we feel it’s important for parents to know:
What is weight stigma?
Weight stigma is discrimination or stereotyping based on one’s weight. What comes to mind when you hear the word “fat”? Perhaps mean, unhealthy, lazy, stupid, disgusting, unlovable, failure, something to be feared? These are words that come to mind for most people. Have you ever looked up the definition of “fat?” You don’t see any of these words. You see the definition when used as a noun and as an adjective. You also see some synonyms, and oh, who knew that it can also be used as a verb? What’s happened is that overtime, the word “fat” has become linked with these other things, all of which we can agree are unpleasant or bad. You could do the same with the word “thin.” If you strip away the associations we’ve made with the word — like pretty, healthy, desirable, successful, popular, happy, willpower, etc. — you find nothing more than an adjective and a verb. Yet we still overwhelming see “thin” as good. Weight stigma is what occurs when culturally-driven associations, negative attitudes, judgments, and emotions associated with certain body sizes affect the treatment of groups of people, mostly those who fall into the categories of “fat” and “thin” by our culture’s standards. And although skinny-shaming is definitely a thing, fat-shaming and weight bias among larger individuals is far more prevalent in our culture.
Where do we see weight stigma?
Weight stigma is perpetuated in our culture through media and advertising and through government and industry-driven campaigns aimed at children — like Play 60, Let’s Move, and Michelle Obama’s school lunch reform — that promote healthy behaviors while at the same time instill fear of fatness in children, well, and in all of us. These campaigns and the importance placed on combating the “obesity epidemic” (another hotly debated phenomenon) leave us more deeply entrenched in the notion that one cannot possibly be fat andhealthy, happy, popular, desirable, successful, pretty, etc. And at the same time, they reinforce that those should be our core values. What about happy? Okay. But not the others. We too are also perpetrators of perpetuating weight stigma. Through our conversations with others, through the way we talk about our own bodies and the food and exercise choices we make, and through unspoken prejudices.
How does weight stigma affect our kids?
All of this impacts our kids. Sadly, children soak up our culture’s distaste for fatness at a very early age, and they too become entrenched in the negative attitudes and judgments we associate with the word “fat.” Case in point: 50% of 3-6 year old’s are worried they’re fat. Kids of all shapes and sizes experience this fear of fatness, even those who we would not label as such, and they experience some of the same issues. But let’s consider how kids who are fat by our culture’s standards are impacted by not only targeted bias but also by the insidiousness of unspoken weight stigma and negative attitudes toward fatness. These kids exist in a world where everywhere they turn, they’re told that they’re disgusting, unlovable, lazy, stupid, and well, failing at life. Can you imagine? Maybe you can. Maybe you can because that was you. Well, here’s what we know about these kids:
Though taking on Michelle Obama and the NFL linebackers featured in the Play 60 ads might seem intimidating, we are not powerless in the fight against weight stigma. We can have a major impact on those around us, especially our kids, and this can create a ripple effect. The importance of raising our kids in a body-positive environment free of weight bias cannot be overstated. Why? Because they are our future. Planting these seeds early is key because weight bias becomes harder to change the longer we’re entrenched in it.
Parents, here you go — 10 ways you can combat weight stigma at home:
Awareness is the first step toward action. To learn more about weight stigma, check out the Weight Stigma Awareness Week website. Join the fight against weight stigma. You are not powerless. Every one of us can be a part of the movement. The first step is examining how we might be contributing to weight stigma, then choosing to make changes and to lead our children down a different path.
by Jessica L. Betts, MS, RD, LD
REbeL Program Director