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“Stay in shape at home”: unwanted pressure for those with eating disorders

Written by on 22 avril 2020

On a base level, fitness initiatives seen in recent weeks to help us all stay in shape in confinement have nothing but positive intentions. However, those who have suffered or still suffer from eating disorders, to see such the pressure that they already put on themselves manifest everywhere online is a slightly more sinister and less talked about downside to these initiatives. Certainly something that Rebecca, an anorexia sufferer during most of 2019, has noticed due to this coronavirus crisis. 

I just fundamentally don’t think challenges that are ableist, that are totally focused on exercises do have this positive impact that everyone is speaking about because for people who have eating disorders or body dysmorphia it can be really negative. Things that existed implicitly before are now becoming things that people are talking about all the time – for instance newspapers telling you how to lose calories, or the obsession with the 5 km run, or people asking you what exercise you have been doing. This voice just existing in the background, to have that suddenly in the forefront in such an oppressive way is really difficult to deal with.

And so the dangers of social media have never been more apparent. Pictures, videos of people in fantastic shape and eating healthy clog up your feed, and create a pressure to do and look exactly the same. Although it may not be easy, Sara Klingstedt, a psychologist and expert on eating disorders for Therapy in Barcelona, encourages that where possible, it’s essential to limit this kind of content: “It is all about how you relate to it, if it is going to cause you suffering or not. If you feel like it is making your life more difficult to certain content on your social media, purge your social media of that kind of content.” 

“Stay in shape at home”, “cut down those quarantine calories”, “how to not get fat in confinement”. Just a smattering of headlines that have been seen in recent weeks, something that Sara considers to be incredibly detrimental to the mindset of those who suffer from eating disorders.

When it comes to telling people, ‘don’t get bad, you’re bad if you’re fat’, I think that is just incredibly inappropriate. If I ask someone if they have tried something, and I talk to them with an expectation that they should do it, then that is a very harmful way of communicating.

For both Sara and Rebecca, sensitivity is the key. Perhaps more important now than ever, certainly in the context of the social media era, think about what you are posting and what sort of message this may convey for whoever may hear or see it: “We cannot avoid stepping on each other’s toes in society. I don’t think we need to censor ourselves from saying things that are curious, open and warm, and doing things that excite us, as long as we are actually being compassionate, kind and understanding.

Just be really sensitive to the fact that body image issues are so real for so many people, and it is a really big struggle that is being exacerbated by the lockdown. What might feel completely fine for you to share can be someone else’s trigger or another road to obsessive and detrimental behaviours.


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