When does healthy living become an unhealthy obsession? The Prevention & Wellness Services along with the Body Empowerment Peer Health Educators hosted a panel to discuss this issue and the influence of the media on lifestyle.
The purpose of the event was to open up a dialogue between students and professionals about health, especially while in college.
Panelist Heather Paves, a dietitian at North Sound Nourishment & Recovery, began the talk by saying she hoped to offer some wisdom beyond being a dietitian about what the audience of college students was probably going through.
The panelists explained the term “orthorexia”, which means an obsession with righteous or pure eating.
Sarah Richey, the dietitian for Western Washington University, explained that signs for people with orthorexia include becoming socially isolated by their diet and caring more about the virtue of what they eat rather than enjoying it.
Anne Hammond-Meyer, PhD, is a clinical psychologist and said she does not like hearing the word “lifestyle.”
“The diet mentality of our culture has really taken that word,” Hammond-Meyer said. “It has become a language for ‘perfect’ eating and exercise and I find that so sad.”
Hammond-Meyer explained that when we talk about lifestyle we leave out love and relationship, resulting in a very narrow way to think about the meaning of a lifestyle.
“I think that we have gotten confused on what gives human beings meaning of life and it is not what you look like,” Hammond-Meyer said.
Marina Stoermer is a Western student as well as a personal trainer on campus.
Stoermer said the phrase “healthy lifestyle” could be confusing in college when you’re trying to figure out who you want to be.
“You have to ask how do these things make me feel and what influenced me to do those activities,” Stoermer said.
Richey explained that when it comes down to disordered eating; it is about the fear of what will happen that drives those behaviors.
“Even though it isn’t rational, it is very real to the person experiencing it,” Richey said.
All four of the panelists emphasized the need to expand out of the term “healthy lifestyle” and its negative connotations that are perpetuated by the media.
“Social media and popular health culture is a major dragging force behind our idea of healthy and advertisers aren’t necessarily concerned about our health,” Stoermer said. “The media’s idea of healthy is to sell things.”
Paves added that there is a lack of trust of the body going on in our culture, and that the truth doesn’t make advertisers money.
“If you invest in anything in your life, invest in the relationship with yourself and others, it will protect you in the world,” Hammond-Meyer said.
The panelists also stressed to not believe everything you read on social media regarding healthy living, dieting and lifestyle, emphasizing that the media tries to tell you what you need and want.
“You can’t make people buy things if they like who they are,” Richey said.
The discussion ended with questions from the audience. The panelists reminded the audience if they or someone they know is struggling with disordered eating, to seek help.