In today’s media-driven society the desire to follow high beauty standards can make people feel pressured, and can even contribute towards the development of eating disorders.
Binge eating video produced by Brittany Willsie and Sadie Johnson
Kristen von Ranson, a psychology professor at the University of Calgary, says that eating disorders can come from societal pressures that make people feel like they have to look a certain way.
“There’s sort of this sensitivity to … physical appearance and how important that is in a person’s life and in terms of how they think of themselves, or how other people think of them,” von Ranson says.
“It's very specific to eating disorders. It has to do with an interface between the cultural depictions of beauty, which in our culture is very much toward women need to be thin and men [need to be] muscular. But people vary in how much they actually buy into that ideal.”
Things like personality and gender often play a role.
“Being female actually is a big part of the risk factor. Men and boys can and do have eating disorders, but women and girls do at much higher rates,” von Ranson says.
In some cases, genetics are also a factor.
“Eating disorders have been shown to have a pretty substantial genetic liability,” von Ranson says. “About half of the likelihood, the liability, to having a disorder like an eating disorder can be attributed to genes.”
The other half is attributed to environment, where someone who is sensitive to the pressure of being good-looking may find themselves dieting and exercising at an unhealthy pace.
Although social media platforms like Instagram often portray images of perfect-looking people, which can further affect the viewer’s self-esteem, some Instagrammers are using the platform to help others.
Amber Romaniuk is a certified holistic nutrition consultant. Her business, Amber Approved, helps people with issues surrounding emotional eating, hormone imbalances and weight struggles.
On Instagram, Romaniuk shares images of healthier food options and motivational advice. While one purpose is to promote her business and make money, Romaniuk has a more important purpose in mind — sharing her own story and helping those who are struggling the way she once did.
“In my early twenties I really [decided] I want to have the perfect body, [and that] having the perfect body is going to make me happy. So, I ate very little and exercised a lot and lost weight really quickly. And even though what I thought was the perfect body was coming to me, I was still very unhappy.”
One night, Romaniuk found herself unable to maintain her restrictive diet.
“Something in me flipped and I decided, ‘OK I’m just going to have a small piece of cake,’ and that turned into another piece and I was eating chocolate and all of the sudden I went home and just felt awful. It was like this flipped switch and then I started binge eating.”
Eating large amounts of sugary, carb-loaded foods caused Romaniuk to gain a noticeable amount of weight in a few months.
“I gained about 60 pounds in four months and was just in full-blown food addiction. To me, that food addiction is you have no control over food,” she says.
“I’d have a day or two where I stopped, but it was very difficult. If I went to parties … if any of my trigger foods were there I would lose control with them. I really battled with that for a few years.”
Romaniuk says she embarked on a personal journey to find out why she couldn’t stop binge eating and to overcome her food addiction.
That journey began in 2012 when Romaniuk realized she needed to break the cycle of restrictive dieting and binge eating. That fall, she attended the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition where her studies in the Holistic Nutrition program aided her on her path towards self-healing.
“The biggest part was I didn’t know how to love myself. I didn’t really know how to manage my stress. So, I was using food to numb myself from feeling fear and emotional things that can be really uncomfortable to feel,” Romaniuk says.
“I find that’s where a lot of women struggle with emotional eating because they’re too busy, their schedules are overbooked, they think that looking a certain way will make them perfect.”
Romaniuk says that eating styles, diet regimes and workouts fuelled her food addiction.
“None of that worked,” she says. “It was really learning how to respect my body and learning how to take care of myself that really helped me gain freedom.”
- By Brittany Willsie & Sadie Johnson