Steps

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR AN EATING DISORDER PROGRAM

The following recommendations can be integrated into current eating disorder programs. The underlying assumption of these principles is that power, pleasure and freedom are the product of being at peace with the body, not managing it according to external influences. The approach that this study advocates is a body-centred and experiential process. This process provides young women with the skills, insight and supports which will empower them to make choices about their bodies which are unique to them.

The challenge is two-fold: become aware of the body’s internal wisdom and then honour that knowledge by acting accordingly. Together these shift the focus of attention from externally derived social influences to internally derived guidelines unique to each individual. These principles are grouped into four main categories: re-normalize the body, make media manipulation visible, resist the thin imperative, and reclaim the feminine.

RE-NORMALIZE THE BODY:
• Attention to media images pulls attention to external influences and ignores the unique needs of the body;
• In order to re-normalize the body we need to flip the attention inward;
• to develop inner body wisdom one experiential psychotherapeutic technique is called Focusing;
[Sarah insert website] • Focusing involves turning your attention inward until the body’s own wisdom arises;
• it allows individuals to develop a body sense about an issue and eventually a felt shift which provides information about the direction the body needs most;
• any technique which facilitates identification of the body’s own wisdom and imparts an authentic sense of control can be used;

MAKE MEDIA MANIPULATION VISIBLE:
• eating disorder prevention programs must raise awareness of the dominant social influences which normalize the thin ideal;
• acknowledge that there is a lot of information about what is healthy;
• emphasize that healthy is different for everyone;
• the important part is to find out what is healthy for you;
• discuss the importance of talking positively about your body;
• this is particularly important and difficult in light of the fact that many people think that we are midst an obesity epidemic;
• facilitators can present the conflicting evidence to this mainstream point of view; for example, it may be healthier to carry more weight than experience the negative effects of yo-yo dieting;
• the process of body management must be made personal and conscious;

RESIST THE THIN IMPERATIVE:
• this aspect of prevention programs encourages resistance to the muscular thin ideal and a life preoccupied with food, weight and shape issues;
• research shows that we can be healthy at different sizes;
• there are numerous possibilities of resistance strategies and leaders/facilitators can help the young women develop a list and discuss the pros and cons of each strategy and how effective they would be;
• for example, other young women in this study expressed resistance in the following ways: prioritizing comfort over fashion, dressing to feel attractive despite being a larger size, wanting to be liked for more than appearance, working on projects, taking a yoga class or learning how to meditate, and wanting more media criticism in the schools; [sarah —link to photo shop—deconstruct media images]
• parents, teachers and group leaders can also assist in collective action which resists the thin ideal—for example, letter writing campaigns;

RECLAIM THE FEMININE:
• prevention programs need to identify and teach young women the value of all the possible expressions of femininity beyond acquiring a thin and muscular body;
• this doesn’t mean that you can’t be attractive or spend time being creative about your appearance; it just means your appearance can’t be a singular focus consuming all your time and energy;
• ask yourself how much time and energy are you willing to put into your appearance instead of other aspects of your life?
• one useful exercise might be to identify all the time spent on FSW issues and think what else they might do with that time;
• participants in this study imagined doing the following: accomplishing something, being creative, exploring spirituality and social action;
• leaders can explain that there are many positive and powerful characteristics that can be associated with femininity such as being creative, intuitive, sensitive, relational, nurturing, loving, emotionally aware, and emotionally expressive;
• our society focuses excessively on appearance, this has resulted in the lack of an internal experience of femininity because our attention is outside of us observing how we look; this leaves less time for developing character;