Marina Abdel Malak writes: ‘Do no harm': ED Prevention Strategies in Schools
‘Do no harm': ED Prevention Strategies in Schools
Marina Abdel Malak
From my own school experiences, there is much emphasis on healthy eating and controlling weight. I am sure you can think back to your own (or your children’s, friends’, etc.) school experiences and pinpoint a time when ‘healthy eating’ and weight was discussed. In my case, the focus on weight and eliminating ‘junk’ food led me to become more entrenched in the eating disorder. So, how do schools ‘prevent’ ED through their education programs? One article focussed on just that: http://www.ocoped.ca/PDF/ODea_2000.pdf.
Not surprisingly, the authors found that programs that focussed on obesity were unsuccessful. This makes think when we think about it: if we are telling kids that they shouldn’t enjoy chocolate because they will become obese, what does this say about being overweight? It makes children feel that being overweight is equal to being inferior, lazy, or sinful. Furthermore, it makes students feel nervous about food and their weight, opening the door for negative thoughts and emotions to occur – about themselves, and about food. In addition, speaking negatively about certain foods (ex. chips, bread, juices, candy, etc) makes students think in an all-or-nothing manner: ‘if teachers say that candy is bad, I am bad if I eat candy. So, I cannot eat candy at all – not even a little bit’. Students fail to see that moderation and enjoying all foods is encouraged. To add to that, the emphasis on food and weight makes students become easily influenced by the media and other sources, and this makes them believe that eating is all about appearance:. For example, students will come to view eating not as a necessary component for health, bur rather, as a means of looking tall, beautiful, thin, attractive, sexy, etc. Instead of helping students understand that all food is needed and acceptable for a healthy body and mind, schools pressure students to see eating as a competitive activity, one in which the ‘best’ and ‘healthiest’ eater has the ‘best and fittest’ body. Without a doubt, this can lead to serious mental and emotional issues….and eating disorders.
I highly recommend that you read this article – it is easy to understand, and also has great information not only for schools, but also for us in our everyday lives. The authors note that rather than presenting food in a negative manner, schools (and you, as a member of society!) should speak about food in a more positive light. We need to acknowledge our dependence on food for energy and sustenance. We ought to be mindful that all foods are perfectly acceptable in a healthy lifestyle. We need to stop seeing weight and calories as dictators of health and happiness. We must not be swayed by images and media pressures that tell us that beauty is only a matter of weight and appearance. Focussing on strategies to improve self-esteem and confidence are essential, as this helps students understand that their self-esteem and appreciation for themselves should not be based on what foods they eat or what the scale says. Food and eating should be presented in a positive manner that allows students to feel safe and comfortable. Eating ought to be viewed as a fun experience that allows for creativity, adventures, social time, enjoyment, and even learning (ex. trying new foods, other cultures, nutrients and vitamins, body processes that depend on nutrients, etc.).
As a member of society, this article has implications for you too, not only teachers. If you are a parent, this article can help you understand how you can teach your children about food and health. In the workplace, at home, or even when you are out with family and friends – you can be a positive role model. You can approach food and health in a positive manner and you can demonstrate that food is to be enjoyed, celebrated – not despised or feared. You can illustrate that health comes in all sizes and is not dictated by a number on the scale. You can model that healthy eating means being able to eat a variety of foods, even sweets/desserts/salty chips/fats/carbohydrates (and other foods!) without
feeling guilty. If you can do this, you will see that others will learn from you. That will see your positive approach to food and health and they will adopt this in their lives as well. Soon enough, more and more people will begin to see the truth: that food ins a necessary, and not evil, part of life. And that beauty doesn’t come from a mirror, body shape, or clothes size. This will help you and others live happier, healthier lives…and will likely reduce the prevalence of eating disorders.
I challenge you today to look at how you view food and health, and to reflect on how you can change your actions and thoughts to model positive and healthy relationships with food. You will see and feel the difference – and others will, too. And you will be helping to spread a very important, but often neglected and hidden message: that health is more than just a number on the scale, that food is necessary and life-saving, and that we ought to focus on living HEALTHY, BALANCED, and HAPPY (not thin, muscular, miserable, etc) lives.