A-Z of Health U-Underweight

Yes, many of my A-Z of Health posts have pointed some blame on obesity (no, that isn’t me body shaming it’s a medical condition with a whole load of co-morbidities or diseases that are friends with obesity and they like to hang out together).  Today the focus is on the dangers of being underweight, of extreme dieting and an obsession with exercise.

We live in a strange world – obesity is normalised yet we know the numerous health conditions and yet at the same time our media flaunts images of skeletal (no, again I am not being rude, many of these are severely underweight) models and we have clothes sizes which frankly, should only fit children.  We have celebrities undergoing multiple surgeries to remove and enlarge various parts of themselves to fit a certain image.

What kind of body image mental health does this create?

As a nutritional therapist I will not work with anyone who has an eating disorder unless they are already under the care of a qualified psychiatrist but there are some clients who have issues with food without them necessarily being an eating disorder.

If you or anyone who know has any of the following issues, I can help – this isn’t a normal way to be and it will damage health.

  • Extreme dieter – restricts food but is already a healthy/low body weight
  • Feels compelled to exercise after eating or is an extreme exerciser (using exercise to have control over foods consumed)
  • Feels guilty over missing an exercise session, so guilty they feel they don’t deserve to eat
  • Feels guilty if eats something they feel they shouldn’t
  • Constantly weighs themselves (daily or more frequently)
  • Counts calories on all foods eaten
  • Denies themselves most foods
  • Has a very restrictive diet
  • Lives off diet products
  • Smokes as a food replacement
  • Avoids social situations involving food

All of these point to a damaged relationship with food but potentially not yet a full-blown eating disorder. Many people live their entire lifetime with this kind of relationship with food.  I work with people to understand the emotional relationship with food and the reasons why they may feel the way they do.  I also explain to them the biology of food and importance of nutrients.

Dieting often starts in childhood and surprisingly early on; –

Girls as young as six have been reported as suffering from the slimmers’ diseases. ‘We are seeing younger and younger children. The reason is we are obsessed with what we eat and how much we exercise.  ‘It appears to be affecting their overall wellbeing – they have high levels of emotional disorders. Many are unhappy and lacking in self-confidence.”

Dr Dawson Rhodes Farm Clinic, London

Whilst we are living in an obese society this can in itself create a range of problems if addressing obesity is handled badly.  We have a lot of overweight and obese children yet these are very impressionable and can be susceptible to media images of ‘perfect bodies’ if addressing food choices in these children is done so tactlessly, they can and often do resort to extreme dieting.  In the same way, if children constantly see a parent eating differently and ‘dieting’ they will think it is the norm to do so. 

In my nutrition work especially with families and children I never get a child to count calories or to view food numerically.  This creates warped ideas about food and health at a time when their eating patterns are being formed for adult life.

Many people who are underweight or extreme exercisers will also be malnourished – see blog post M – Malnourishment and this will hinder their immune system.  In particular teenage girls who cut out milk and dairy produce but fail to replace the nutrients are at an increased risk of osteoporosis in later life – see blog post W – Weak Bones.

If you are worried about a family member, friend or would like to change your own eating relationship please do get in touch.  You have a lifelong relationship with food, it’s best that it isn’t a battle.

About the author of this blog

Louise Mercieca is a multi award-winning author on children’s nutrition with her book ‘How Food Shapes Your Child’ winning the Parenting award in Janey Lee Grace’s Platinum awards.  Louise is the host of Early Years TV Food Channel – a channel dedicated to children’s health and nutrition. https://www.louisemercieca.co.uk/early-years-tv-food-channel

Louise has also won a SBS or Small Business Sunday award from Theo Paphitis and was recently crowned as Queen of Child Nutrition in the #Queenof Twitter awards.

Louise campaigns to improve health via nutrition

Louise has worked as a Nutritional Therapist for 8 years supporting hundreds of clients and does take on a limited number of personal coaching clients each month – contact Louise to discuss this. Louise has also created an accessible and affordable webinar schedule covering many topics discussed in this A-Z post series. https://www.louisemercieca.co.uk/webinar

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