How to help a friend: Body image issues

February 25, 2014

By Mifa Kim, senior, peer educator with Counseling and Psychological Services

My name is Mifa Kim. I’m a senior studying psychology and a peer educator at CU-Boulder's Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS). I am spreading the word about the How to Help a Friend campaign, an online resource with information and advice on how CU community members can help friends or other people in their lives who may be encountering various challenges. This week is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week.

I think that this awareness week creates a great opportunity to discuss eating and body image issues, and helps us be more conscious of how we may unintentionally promote unhealthy attitudes and behaviors about eating and body image. It is challenging to live in a society where we are constantly bombarded by images of perfect bodies for males and females. Our campus is renowned for its focus on fitness and health, yet it can become unhealthy if that focus leads to an obsessive concern about body image. By acknowledging that body image is a prevalent issue on our campus, we create an open and safe environment to let people know that they can help and support their friends. We can be advocates for our friends. 

Common Myth About Body Image: Saying things such as “She lost so much weight, I wish I was that skinny”, “I wish I had prettier hair like that girl” or “I haven’t worked out this week, I am such a fatty” motivates you to be physically or mentally healthy.

Reality: Saying things like this can actually trigger unhealthy behaviors and thoughts, whether the comments are consciously processed or not—this is called “Fat Talk”. Fat talk is an internal dialogue or conversation with someone that overemphasizes one’s physical features rather then discussing his/her health. Additionally, even if you don’t "hear" your own fat talk, your friends and family members may, and it can harm them. Instead, try participating in more positive language about your own and others’ body image, such as “You/I have a pretty smile” or “Your/My body is as it was meant to be”. It can make you set a good example of positive affirmations to you and your friends.

Here are some ways we can help friends who may have eating or body image issues.

  • Learn as much as you can about eating disorders. Read books, articles and brochures. Know the difference between facts and myths about weight, nutrition and exercise. Knowing the facts will help you reason with your friend about any inaccurate ideas that may be fueling their disordered eating patterns.
  • Be honest. Talk openly and honestly about your concerns with the person who is struggling with eating or body image problems. Avoiding it or ignoring it won’t help.
  • Be caring, but be firm. Caring about your friend means communicating your concerns in a healthy matter. Your friend must be responsible for their actions and the consequences of those actions.
  • Avoid making rules, promises or expectations that you cannot or will not uphold. For example, “If you do this one more time, I’ll never talk to you again.”
  • Compliment your friend’s wonderful personality, successes or accomplishments. Remind your friend that “true beauty” is not skin-deep.
  • Be a good role model…in regard to sensible eating, exercise and self-acceptance.
  • Tell someone. It may seem difficult to know when to tell someone else about your concerns. Don’t wait. Addressing body image or eating problems in their beginning stages offers your friend the best chance for working through these issues and becoming healthy again. Don’t wait until the situation is so severe that your friend’s life is in danger. Your friend needs a great deal of support and understanding.
  • Remember that you cannot force someone to seek help to change their habits or adjust their attitudes. You can make important progress in honestly sharing your concerns, providing support and knowing where to go for more information. People struggling with anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorder do need professional help. There is help available and there is hope.

Resources:

How to Help a Friend  - Want more information on eating/body image or more topics? Worried about someone? This is a peer-to-peer resource to help students help each other.         

Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) - A free counseling resource for CU-Boulder students. CAPS offers six individual counseling sessions per academic year and unlimited workshops and groups. We have walk-in hours from M-F, 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. and we are located at the Center for Community (C4C) at S440, or 303-492-6766.     

National Eating Disorder Association - This is the leading non-profit organization in the United States advocating on behalf of and supporting individuals and families affected by eating disorders. They offer resources, information and a call line.

Free Events:

How To Help a Friend Get TogetherGet your tea and cookies on! We will have body positive arts and crafts as well - a great way to de-stress. Community Health will also be there to have a body positive photo booth. If you have questions about resources or just want to stop by to say hello, you can join me on March 3, 1:30 - 3:30 p.m. There is a HTHAF event every 1st Monday of the month from 1:30 - 3:30 p.m. at the Foyer (near the Norlin Commons information desk) at the Norlin Library.

Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) and our campus partners will host a series of events to enhance awareness around eating disorders and body image. Please join us :

Wednesday, Feb. 26, 11:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. at Darley Commons (WillVill) - Take a Body Health Quiz, play interactive games, and get information about healthy body image.

Wednesday, Feb. 26, 6 p.m. in the Center for Multicultural Affairs (CMA) Lounge, C4C N320 - "How Culture, Identity, & Our Environments Influence The Way We Treat Our Bodies." Get information about building a positive body image, and participate in this workshop led by CMA.  

Thursday, Feb. 27,  11 a.m. - 1 p.m. in the UMC - Take a Body Health Quiz, get information on healthy body Image, and play interactive games.

 

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