Staying body positive during the holidays is a battle many of us face every single year. Today, I saw my neighborhood’s first set of Christmas lights on my walk to my favorite local coffee shop, reminding me that the holidays are approaching.
At the coffee shop, I overheard a few women discussing their plans to avoid gaining ‘holiday weight’ this year, in reference to the upcoming holiday season. Suddenly, the uplifting feeling that gave me the warm fuzzies when I walked past the holiday lights, went away.
From an evolutionary standpoint, it’s expected to gain weight in the winter. It feels natural to gain weight in the colder months, since fat protects us from the cold. In other words, we fight so hard to avoid something that feels normal to do.
During the holidays, we’re commonly faced with the dilemma of wanting to look our best for annual reunions and holiday parties, while also being encouraged and tempted to indulge in the festive treats being served.
Ah, the irony of family members who feel close enough to us to comment on our weight at these gatherings, meanwhile enticing us with baked goods.
Some people, however, have bigger problems than this during during the holidays. For those suffering with eating disorders, holiday parties – and the food that comes along with them – are a serious trigger.
#DumpTheScales This Holiday Season
Eating disorder awareness communities have recently been advocating for better eating disorder treatment programs using various hashtags and ad campaigns. This concept is especially important during the holidays, when binge-eating is encouraged and eating disorder sufferers have a hard time staying on track.
Hope Virgo, an eating disorder awareness advocate and mental health advocate, had the scale to blame for being denied treatment for her eating disorder. Virgo started the #DumpTheScales campaign because the scale didn’t show a low enough number for her to be admitted into a treatment center. Her BMI was not low enough to get into the treatment program she needed, which her supporters agreed was a ridiculous reason.
Mental Health Should Be The Focus, Not BMI or Weight
Why should a number on a scale determine if you need treatment for your eating disorder or not? This seems especially absurd since eating disorders manifest in large part due to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, which can’t be weighed on a scale.
Eating disorder sufferers should be treated because of their mental state, not their weight or BMI. It’s common knowledge that an eating disorder is often a reflection of poor mental health. That should be the focus, not their BMI or weight.
According to the Center for Discovery, “Body Mass Index (BMI) is an outdated and weight-centric way to monitor an individual’s health.” They clarify that the math equation involved in calculating someone’s BMI does not take into account the variances in muscle and fat composition, making it a flawed tool. “Despite this fact, the BMI is still often used when determining whether or not someone qualifies as having an eating disorder, and by extension, is eligible for covered treatment. The eating disorder community is fighting back though with the new #DumpTheScales campaign.”
So far, nearly 100,000 people have signed Hope Virgo’s petition to dump the scales and reform eating disorder treatment programs.
Just as the feasts presented at holiday parties can be a trigger for some people, so can the scale itself. Health at Every Size and body positive professionals in the eating disorder community have been campaigning against keeping scales in the home for years, because it can create negative thoughts and cause a relapse. Center for Discovery points out that “Despite clear communication from treatment professionals that assigning numbers to bodies in any capacity is harmful, the healthcare industry still uses BMI–and by extension, weight–to determine whether an individual should receive eating disorder treatment.”
Awareness Changes Everything
The whole point of these hashtags, campaigns and articles is to spread awareness. Empathy is built on a foundation of awareness, and that combination changes everything. #DumpTheScales was one of the more popular campaigns of 2019, but all of the efforts from eating disorder communities and body positivity communities around the globe contribute to the main goal of spreading awareness.
Because there is currently a deficit of eating disorder treatment options, it’s important to go into the holiday season with empathy and understanding.
Since so many people with eating disorders are currently without treatment or can’t get into a treatment program, that means many of them are among you. They’re present at your holiday parties. They can hear your conversations in the bathroom stalls at restaurants, or at the coffee shop. They are impacted by you.
In summary, awareness and support is what we need if we suffer with body image issues or eating disorders. It’s also needed if we live or work in close proximity to someone who suffers from one of these disorders. You won’t always know whether or not someone you’re talking to has an eating disorder, so just be cognizant of that.
During the holidays, it’s important to be aware that the tray of brownies you brought to work might trigger a co-worker suffering with an eating disorder. Simply be mindful of that, and don’t shove the tray in everyone’s faces, encouraging them to take one, not leaving until they do. Don’t be that guy.
It’s also crucial to advocate for and support body positivity during the holidays, rather than bringing up ‘holiday weight gain’ as a talking point among peers. You never know what could trigger someone. This type of awareness should be carried with you into the holiday season. This type of awareness is for the greater good.