I've got a couple of friends who constantly call themselves fat and are obsessed with the imaginary belly they think they have. They're constantly going on about not being able to get rid of it, but honestly they look fine and there's nothing really to get rid of. I'm concerned their endless body shaming and discussion about diets and workout routines is leading these guys to an eating disorder, if they don't already have one. Anything I can do to help?
-Ears Are Burning
I know as much about where they're coming from as you do. And you only know what you hear on the surface. Also, while their behavior is the same in this instance, each is still an individual, so there's no one answer.
But I can say that in general eating disorders, while they play out on and in the body, are often more about control. And not simply a direct connection to control over how one looks. And eating disorders may not result in one getting the body of one's impossible dreams, certainly not in a healthy way.
If their talk somehow motivates what is an actually healthy diet and workout routine for each, it's not necessarily directly physically unhealthy. But the fact that they each always find something they label wrong with themselves and each other, and reinforce that, means they may not be reaping the psychological benefits of putting so much work into fitness and nutrition.
They may be all about physical appearance versus actual health. Because skinny doesn't automatically equal unhealthy and fat healthy. It's an individual thing with a lot of factors.
But clearly you're uncomfortable with their talk and have all sorts of associations with it and worries for them. So you could ask if they're serious. And encourage them to talk to their doctors about it as it's not a great idea for you to attempt to give medical advice. And even if they say they are not serious, you can confront them that it's body shaming and hateful and makes you uncomfortable and you don't want to hear it. No idea how they'll react, so possibly talk to each individually so they don't play off each other to figure out their shared response. One may be the ringleader.
You may also want to point out how many pictures they see are all about retouching (the Photoshop kind, not the fun kind of touch). And that the photos may be shot on certain peak days in someone's workout cycle and they may not normally look like that.
Also you may want to spend time with them doing other things that don't relate to how they look, like volunteering somewhere, to gently give them an opportunity to reset priorities, if in fact they would even agree their priorities are off. Or if you want to go all direct, ask them to judge your body the way they judge each other. And make them keep going until you cry. If they do this with gusto, then ditch them as friends. If they make the connection that words can hurt, including the person saying them, then that's a good step.
Just try not to get a boner while they're judging your naked body. That could throw a lot of things off in the situation.
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