There is a growing concern amoung youth regarding body image, whether it be height, weight, or attractiveness that can lead to body dysmorphia. Although not my area of expertise, I am seeing signs and symptoms of this emerging in my practice. To better understand these developments, I recently read a book by Jenna Hollenstein, called Eat to Love: A Mindful Guide to Transforming Your Relationship with Food, Body and Life; I think this quote nicely illustrates the current context:
Two young fish are swimming along when they happened to meet an older fish swimming in the opposite direction. The older fish nods at them and says “morning boys how’s the water”? The two young fish swim on for a bit until eventually one of them looks over at the other and says “what the hell is water”?
Jenna explains that this water that we are all swimming in is the current diet culture we are exposed to on a daily basis. We seem to be completely unaware of the impact diet culture has on who we are and perceive ourselves to be, even though we are literally eating, sleeping and breathing it. The book focusses on our relationship to food and highlights a range of mistaken approaches such as magical eating. The author describes this as follows:
Swimming in the diet culture gives rise to what I call magical eating: the search for the diet that will lead to peace, endless happiness and end to our suffering. Magical eating comes in many varieties: weight watchers, the health food junkie, the boot camp devotee, the vegan, the lifestyle changer or the fearful eater.
She further suggests there is a fat bias in our culture and that magical eating in the way of diet trends (i.e. paleo, keto), starts to trap us in a never ending cycle of wanting to be different than who we are. Seeing our body as a problem to be fixed can lead to confusion and suffering, especially for adolescents who may already feel awkward about themselves. With an increasing number of males coming into my practice expressing issues with their bodies, this book was a helpful resource to illuminate how our diet culture is impacting us all. My final thought on this book is best summed up by Hollenstein herself:
There are two different intentions behind anything we do for self improvement: we are either problems that need to be fixed or we accept ourselves as we are with compassion and the desire to do better.