Learn to love yourself this Valentine’s Day

University promotes body positivity and eating disorder awareness

With Valentine’s Day around the corner, romantic love takes centre stage. However, self-love is just as important, especially when it comes to relationships with food.

It’s Eating Disorders Awareness Week, and health and wellness peer educators are working with the University of Winnipeg (U of W) Jack.org chapter to promote it.

Danielle Sicotte is helping run the week’s events. She says many students struggle with eating disorders and body positivity, and it’s important to let everyone know that they’re not alone. 

“We did an event last year where we wrote body-positive quotes on the bathroom mirrors, and there was a huge response,” Sicotte says. “(Students) were saying, ‘Hey, that was a really nice quote I saw in the mirror today,’ so we want to continue to promote that.”

Throughout the week, there will be wellness and body positive events going on in Riddell Hall, including a “Love Your Body” photo booth and a Valentine's Day promotion where students can make valentines, whether they want to send them to someone or just keep them for themselves. 

Sicotte says that although eating disorders can affect anyone, students are especially vulnerable to these issues. 

“It’s important to be able to talk about subjects that make people uncomfortable, specifically in high school, before they come to university,” Sicotte says. “(It) is such a difficult and trying time for students, especially for students with anxiety and depression, or if you’re living on your own, away from friends and family.”

Lisa Naylor is a counsellor for the provincial eating disorder prevention and recovery program at Women’s Health Clinic. She says that in order to support someone dealing with an eating disorder, they need to seek out counselling if they feel the need to diet to curb their anxiety.

“If people notice that they have a lot of perfectionism tendencies, or anxiety or obsessive compulsive issues, it’s important to get help for that,” Naylor says. “The culture promises that if you just go on a diet or lose some weight you’ll feel better … Go and talk to a counsellor if you’re feeling really anxious about how things are going in school.”

According to Naylor, there are certain groups of people who are more susceptible to developing an eating disorder. If a student has a history of dieting, that is also a huge risk factor. 

“Dieting distracts people from their body’s natural cues for hunger and fullness … People become physiologically hungry whenever you’re reducing your energy intake,” Naylor says. “Your brain drives you to eat in order to meet that need.” 

According to Naylor, dieting often leads to people just regaining the weight they lost. Sometimes they gain even more than when they started. This leads to people going back on a diet, which then fails, and it’s a constant cycle that can be potentially harmful.

Sicotte says it’s important to love the body you have.

“I think there’s a lot of struggle with this, especially from the media’s standpoint … We’re really just trying to promote that loving your body can occur at any stage and any size.”

If you struggle with an eating disorder, visit eatingdisordersmanitoba.ca.

Published in Volume 71, Number 19 of The Uniter (February 9, 2017)

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