Recently, there has been a wave of body empowerment within mainstream society. I’ve been witness to absolutely wonderful campaigns and ads that promote confidence and self-esteem. There have also been many videos and articles comparing men and women in the fashion industry and the manner in which males and females are portrayed. I’ve seen articles that show what the “average” male and female actually look like and how this would appear if the fashion industry showed realistic images of men and women. This has come as a strong reaction to the very real issue of Photoshop within virtually every magazine, billboard, and music video.
The question that has been raised is whether this promotion of confidence negates the value of health. For instance, now that I am recovered from an eating disorder, should I simply forego health consciousness? Should I eat whatever I want and replace all meals with desserts because I experience inner confidence not related to my body? Should I disregard my physical health because I don’t believe that my value should be placed on appearance?
The disparity is between body-esteem and self-esteem. Body-esteem refers to feeling confident in and about one’s body while self-esteem is more about inner confidence to who you are as a person. I generally believe that when a person feels true self-esteem, the body-esteem will follow. However, whether a person experiences body-esteem or self-esteem, should this inner confidence cause the person to disregard what he puts into his body?
The short answer to this question is no; one should not ignore his physical health simply because he feels confident about himself beyond his body. Oftentimes, when I speak in schools or to professionals, the question comes up as to what I eat now and whether or not I’m still on a meal plan. And I tell them: I eat what I want. However, this does not mean that my days consist of highly fatty foods and an array of desserts. When I want Fettucini Alfredo, I eat it. When I want a salad, I have that. If I’m in the mood for a doughnut or a piece of cheesecake, I don’t generally stop myself. Yet, I’m also mindful of what I eat and practice intuitive eating. This means that I generally eat when I’m hungry and stop when I’m full. I’m aware of my body while I’m eating and I also pay attention to what my body is craving. I may not mindlessly eat what may be considered “junk food” (a discussion on that phrase is for another time), but I also don’t deprive myself; I don’t believe that food is meant to be numerical or something that we tally, but instead it should be enjoyed. I have found that when people approach food as somewhat of a chore it is less of an enjoyable experience.
At the same time, this does not mean that people should simply eat whatever they want all the time. There is a value in taking care of one’s body; from a religious perspective we are actually commanded to do so. There is a fine line between taking care of one’s body and obsessing to the point of orthorexia. Orthorexia is a subtype of anorexia that refers to a preoccupation with health and exercise. For instance, some individuals who obsess over juice diets and gluten-free or organic foods may be considered orthorexic. This does not mean that everyone who does so has an eating disorder, but placing too much weight on this type of diet can lead to disordered eating.
There must be a middle ground between eating without limits and then avoiding foods because of a fear of gaining weight. Rather than thinking purely about weight gain or purely about enjoying food, we must remember that our bodies are the vessels that house our souls. We eat to enjoy food and to give fuel to our bodies. This food should both nourish us as well as be enjoyable. It is important to be mindful of eating in moderation and not to overeat in excess. Additionally, we must enjoy the full range of foods just as we should enjoy the full range of experiences that life has to offer.
By Temimah Zucker