Mika Brzezinski’s new book, “Obsessed: America’s Food Addiction—and my Own” has reopened the periodic national conversation about eating disorders.
Mika, co-host of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” and a former Connecticut broadcast journalist, chronicles her ongoing bout with food addiction and eating disorders. In the book, Diane Smith, a former Connecticut broadcast journalist who is now a producer at the Connecticut Network (CT-N), also talks about her fight against overeating. The two recently discussed the book and their experiences on “Morning Joe.”
When two individuals with successful careers in the media can talk candidly about their personal but painful experiences, the hope is that those battling similar demons will feel a little less isolated, and perhaps will find a path to a healthier lifestyle.
Millions of Americans are estimated to have an eating disorder. Among the disorders are anorexia nervosa (losing weight to the point where it is unhealthy), bulimia nervosa (cycles of binge eating and purging, typically through forced vomiting) and binge eating disorder (pattern of eating in excessive amounts in a short period of time).
While eating disorders affect people across society’s demographic spectrum, females in their middle school, high school and college years are typically the most vulnerable, according to Patricia DeBarbieri, a professor of marriage and family therapy at Southern.
“Prevention is the big focus in eating disorder work right now,” DeBarbieri says. “Like the ‘great smoke out,’ it is the best protection.”
DeBarbieri says the development of a healthy sense of self – which includes solid doses of self-esteem, self-confidence and self-respect — is very important in that prevention effort. She notes that a healthy sense of self contributes significantly to a person’s social and emotional development. In turn, social and emotional development builds resiliency, which is kind of a psychological/emotional vaccine against developing eating disorders. Just like flu vaccines, it’s not a guarantee you won’t come down with an eating disorder, but you reduce your chances significantly. And if you do develop a disorder, it is likely to be less virulent.
Of note, she is not talking about the development of an inflated self-esteem or narcissism that many experts see as a growing phenomenon in society today.
DeBarbieri offers the following outlook for girls and young women to follow to build a healthy self-esteem and resiliency:
I am unique. Nobody else on the planet is quite like you, whether it is the way you think, act or proceed in life. It is important to help young people identify their uniqueness and celebrate their special qualities. This does not mean that everything you do is wonderful, nor are you always right, but nobody does it quite like you.
I am connected. A strong support network is important, especially in the formative years. This can be to your family, your school, your hometown or your place of worship. It can also be in a larger context, such as connection to your state or country.
I am comfortable in my body. The “beautiful people” tend to be the stars of TV, movies, advertisements and other forms of media. There is certainly nothing wrong with being beautiful, but the problem is that the images shown tend to be the exceptions, rather than the rule, within the population. Over time, that can negatively influence the way people view their own bodies since the large majority of the public can’t match up. It may be counterintuitive, but rather then encouraging people to eat healthier and exercise more, it can have the opposite effect as despair sets in at not being able to look like them.
I am lovable. Unconditional love is said to be the purest form of love on earth. There are no strings attached. That feeling of being accepted and loved is crucial to a healthy self-esteem.
I am capable. Self-confidence is an important quality to have when dealing with life’s twists and turns. That confidence – genuine self-confidence as opposed to false bravado – generally is developed through taking on age-appropriate responsibilities. (As we discussed in an earlier post, helicopter parenting can create problems, notably in the area of self-confidence.)
I assert my power to make choices. An important factor in developing a healthy self-esteem is being able to assert yourself in making your own choices. Allowing other people to consistently make your decisions can chip away at your self-esteem.
I have role models. Role models can fall into the category of people we know personally, as well as those who we don’t but admire from afar. They can also be fictional. But we have to be careful to choose positive role models whose values are similar.