Supporting Healthy Bodies at UNC: Navigating Obesity, Eating Disorders, and Weight Bias

When discussing health, you’ll notice a trend between two approaches – weight normative and weight inclusive.

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Screenshot from American Heart Association, 1/25/2015

The weight-normative approach includes the many principles and practices that emphasize achieving a “normal” weight when defining health and well-being. This approach rests on the assumption that weight and disease are related in a linear fashion, with disease and weight increasing in tandem. Under the weight-normative approach, personal responsibility to make “healthy lifestyle choices” and maintain “healthy weights” are emphasized.  The approach prioritizes weight as a main determinant of health and as such, weight management (calories in/calories out) as a central component of health improvement and health care recommendations.

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Photo Credit: Prevention Magazine

Instead of imagining that well-being is only possible at a specific weight, a weight-inclusive approach includes research-informed practices that enhance people’s health regardless of where they fall on the weight spectrum. Under this paradigm, weight is not a focal point of treatment or intervention. Instead the weight-inclusive approach focuses on health behaviors that can be made more accessible to all people. These are behaviors such as exercising for pleasure, eating when hungry and stopping when full.

So is one better than the other? We’ll look at three questions to figure that out:

  1. What happens when people believe that everyone should reside within a certain body size / weight range?’
  2. What happens when people try to reach that certain body size / weight range?
  3. Does higher body weight / larger body size cause poorer health?

What are the effects of the belief that all people should reside in a “healthy” body size / weight range?

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Photo credit: Words over Pixels

Bad things happen – weight bias, weight stigma, microaggressions and more.

The emphasis on achieving a “healthy” weight implies that there is a healthy or normal weight that each of us should be striving to attain and maintain, which gives credibility to cultural messages prizing leanness and weight loss. These socially prescribed ideals can become internalized – and when that happens, it’s connected to body shame, body dissatisfaction, eating disorders, and potentially harmful muscle-enhancing behaviors.

Emphasizing “good weights” and “bad weights” produces the opportunity for weight bias.

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An image from Georgia’s problematic anti-obesity campaign, Stop Sugar-Coating It

Weight bias and weight stigma refer to negative weight-related attitudes and beliefs that manifest as discrimination, stereotypes, rejection and prejudice toward individuals of any size. Common negative stereotypes about higher-weight people include ideas that they are lazy, stupid or worthless – and this results in behaviors targeting them including bullying, harrassment, pressure to lose weight, and weight related microaggressions.

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Photo Credit: More Bad News About Weight Stigma in Health Professionals

Microaggressions are intentional or unintentional verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities that communicate hostility or negativity toward people who hold less power in society. For example, a doctor recommending a diet for a patient who presented with an issue unrelated to weight would be a weight-related microaggression.

Complimentary weightism is another type of microagression. Some examples include an anorexic student hearing that she “looks healthy” after disclosing that she has an eating disorder. And really – anyone being told they are “looking good” puts the focus and importance on appearance. The compliment could unknowingly congratulate someone who is using problematic behaviors like vomiting or restricting calories to control their weight.

Another example of complimentary weightism is when thinner people are “hated” for their thinness –  “I hate you because you can eat whatever you want.”

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Photo Credit: Some eCards

Research shows that weight stigma is associated with increased calorie consumption, a pattern that challenges the common wisdom that pressure to lose weight will motivate overweight individuals to lose weight.

Instead…

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Photo credit: I Stand Against Weight Bullying

When people believe that folks of all sizes and weights can be healthy, it results in less shame, increase trust and rapport, improved outcomes such as pro-health lifestyle changes and improved psychological well-being.

What happens when people attempt to reach a “healthy” or “normal” weight to improve their health?

Bad things – weight cycling, disordered eating and emotional distress.

The literature says that attempts to reach a healthy or normal weight rarely work. Research has repeatedly shown that dieting is not an effective means of weight management. No weight-loss initiatives have generated long-term results for the majority of participants. In fact, there are serious risks of dieting, including weight cycling, disordered eating, and emotional distress.

weightcyclingWeight cycling, or the repeated loss and gain of weight, is an almost inevitable result of dieting. Nutrition and fitness education interventions that focus on weight management are rarely effective long-term, as clients often lose weight and then gain it back.

Weight cycling alone may be enough of a reason not to recommend weight management because it is linked to adverse physical health and psychological well-being, including higher mortality, higher risk of osteoporotic fractures and gallstone attacks, loss of muscle tissue, hypertension, chronic inflammation, and various forms of cancer.

In order to maintain lost weight, formerly overweight dieters may need to consume fewer calories than their same-weight counterparts who were never overweight. During calorie restriction and weight loss, metabolic rate is often lowered, and folks may need to employ more rigid dietary habits or excessive exercise routines that may be deemed disordered.

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Photo Credit: Unite Virginia

“The best-known contributor to the development of eating disorders is body dissatisfaction.”- National Eating Disorders Association

Dieters are 12 times more likely to binge eat. A third of  “normal dieters” become pathological dieters, and of those, 1/5 – 1/4 develop eating disorders.

The weight-normative approach promotes the view that weight can be controlled easily through willpower and reduction of poor lifestyle habits. But there is ample scientific evidence that people have little choice about what they weigh due to the interplay between involuntary genetic and environmental factors. Recently, 97 regions of the human genome were identified as playing a role in the development of obesity, including the control of appetite and energy use.

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Photo Credit: American Nutrition Association

Plus, multiple uncontrollable external factors impact weight. Socioeconomic status influences weight in numerous, complex ways. America’s obesogenic environment leaves many Americans with little access to high quality fruits and vegetables and ample access to addictive, engineered, intensely marketed processed foods.

People who are focused on achieving a “healthy weight” may struggle to reach their weight-based goals, in large part due to the external factors mentioned above. This struggle often results in a sense of learned helplessness. Any adopted healthy behaviors like being more physically active, getting better sleep, or eating more mindfully may be seen as futile if attempts to reach and maintain a specific weight continually fail.

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Photo credit: I Stand Against Weight Bullying Tumblr

Weight loss promotion and achieving a “healthy weight” may instill a sense of learned helplessness in the majority of people who are unable to achieve weight-based goals. If attempts to reach and maintain a “healthy weight” continually fail or are seen as impossible given available resources, the practice of healthy behaviors may be seen as futile. If I go to the gym for a week or two regularly and see no change in my goal of reaching a desired weight, I will likely learn that nothing I do helps.

Finally, it’s important to remember that when we attribute weight-related stereotypes to each other, it affects the well-being of ALL OF US. It makes even students who are at a normal weight terrified of gaining weight. The negative effects reach across the weight spectrum.

Instead…

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Photo credit: I Stand Against Weight Bullying Tumblr

The weight-inclusive approach focuses on the PROCESS – being active because it’s fun, and eating when hungry / stopping when full. In doing so, it results in reduction of risk factors (like sedentary lifestyle) and improved physiological measures (like blood pressure or blood glucose) in lieu of pounds or BMI. There are four decades of research proving the positive impact of weight-inclusive interventions. One study looked at folks over a 2 year span and included a “diet group” and a health-at-every-size group. Over the 2 years, 41% of the diet group left the study versus only 8% of the weight inclusive group. In the same study, the researchers offered 6 months of weekly interventions and 6 months of aftercare group support to a diet group and a weigh-inclusive group. The health at every size group members maintained their weight, improved in all outcome variables, and sustained improvements. Diet group participants lost weight and showed initial improvement in many variables but by the end of the study, the lost weight was regained and little improvement was sustained.

Longitudinal studies repeatedly indicate that freedom from weight bias along with body satisfaction correlate with reduced risk for all of the following: unhealthy dieting behaviors, sedentary behaviors, eating disturbances, and weight gain. These findings hold regardless of the participant’s actual weight. 

Does higher body mass index cause poor health?

Nope.

The weight-normative approach rests on the assumption that weight and disease are related in a linear fashion with weight and disease increasing in tandem. The belief is that to be healthy and avoid disease means achieving or being in pursuit of a lower weight if overweight or obese. A weight-normative approach believes that recommending weight loss to these individuals is not a function of weight bias but of health imperative.

But data does not support that a higher BMI causes poor health. correlationA higher BMI is associated with various diseases, but causality is not well-established. Interestingly enough, when accounting for socioeconomic status, nutrition, physical activity levels, and weight bias, even the correlation between a higher BMI and disease is vastly reduced or disappears. The risk for all-cause mortality is lowest for people in the overweight category and highest in the underweight BMI range.

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Flegal’s U-shaped Curve

In 2013, Flegal’s very well-known and very-debated meta-analysis showed that the risk for all-cause mortality is lowest for people in the overweight category with the highest risk in the underweight BMI range. The U-shaped curve is a well-known image used to describe the obesity paradox.

Instead… fat-and-fitStudents can be fat and fit. A 2011 study found that metabolically healthy obese individuals had a lower risk of heart failure than normal-weight people who were insulin resistant. And what does “metabolically healthy” mean? Certain characteristics exist in people who were both obese and metabolically healthy: normal BP, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels, normal insulin sensitivity and good physical fitness.

Many studies show that obesity and healthy are not mutually exclusive. And culture is starting to agree. Joni Edelman, a registered nurse and writer, recently blogged about her own experience of losing weight and truly becoming obsessed with the calorie counting and incessant exercise necessary for her to achieve a BMI in the normal/healthy range. She is an example of someone who feels healthier and happier at a higher weight.

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“There is a cultural belief that people have to be dissatisfied with their weight (or any aspect of their appearance) to be motivated to improve it. This belief has not found general support in the literature; in fact, the reverse is supported:  people are more likely to take care of their bodies when they appreciate and hold positive feelings toward their bodies.” Tylka et al, 2014

What should we do?

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Emphasize self-compassion

Help your loved ones shift away from habitual appearance monitoring, which is associated with lower self-care and ignoring physical health, to attending to their bodies in more positive ways that emphasize self-care. People are more likely to take care of their bodies when they appreciate and hold positive feelings toward their bodies.

Remind your friends that you’re perfect just the way you are! That unconditional positive regard goes a long way in helping people feel supported and confident in their ability to make changes when THEY are ready.

Reframe body blame and shame as internalized weight bias that has little to with someone’s actual weight or size.

“What does your body provide your life that you enjoy?”

“Be gentle with yourself! You’re amazing!”

“I love you just the way you are. No matter what.”

Appreciate all bodies – don’t compliment them, just appreciate them.

Placing a focus on appearances is problematic. Avoid: “You look great!” “Have you lost weight?” “I can tell you’ve been working out!” “You look really strong!” Again – you don’t know what behaviors your comment is supporting. And on the flip side, negative comments just make people feel bad about themselves.

Some alternatives? If you can’t stop talking about how people look – focus on how they did their hair that day or compliment their shoes. But even better? Tell them what you’re feeling – or ask about their self-care.

Instead:

“I’m really glad I ran into you.”

“What’s new with you?”

“I could use some new ideas. What do you do to take care of yourself?” and then, “how does it make you feel? Has it impacted your sleep?”

Focus on behaviors

Instead of encouraging a friend to work out more or eat differently, do it with them and make it fun and easy!

“Do you want to go for a run with me?”

“Wouldn’t it be fun to bike to the quarry and go swimming this weekend?”

“Can I make you dinner?”

“Let’s go to bed early tonight so we can play outside all day tomorrow!”

Make it sustainable

Sustainable change means that the behavior is supported, easy, and fun. One easy way to incorporate more physical activity is to move as a part of other activities. If you’re running errands, actually run them (or walk, or bike). If you have to drive, park a few blocks away so you get to move a bit more. Try to eat intuitively and encourage your friends to do the same.

“What if you and I walked to dinner instead of taking the bus?”

“Will you be my lunch buddy?”

“Hey, I got you this water bottle! I’ve noticed how much more water I drink when I carry it with me and fill it up at each water fountain I go by. I feel so much better when I’m hydrated!”

“How can I help you reach your health goals?”

Encourage quality of life as an end goal

Avoid focusing on how exercise makes bodies look, or exercise as a way to “make up for” food choices. And avoid focusing on calorie counting. Help your loved ones reconnect with their bodies –  focus on internal body awareness rather than engage in external appearance monitoring. Consider how healthy behaviors make you and your friends feel.

“It feels so good to be outside, doesn’t it?”

“Endorphins are amazing!”

“I love how good I feel after eating a meal like that.”

“Whoa, I’m full. I love this yummy food but I know if I eat more I’m going to be uncomfortable. Let’s save some leftovers to eat for lunch tomorrow.”

Critically evaluate the evidence for weight loss treatments and communicate them

Reading this blog is a good start. Question what you see and hear about health. You’re going to see body-focused health messages everywhere! Start talking about them and actively work to change the culture.

“Did you see that article about achieving a “spring break body”? What a crock! All bodies are beach bodies! And it’s not possible to do something that is healthy and sustainable but changes someone’s body over the next two weeks. I wrote a letter to the editor to ask them not to publish misleading and body-shaming articles like that anymore.”

Work to increase access, autonomy and justice for individuals of all sizes

There are several body-positive groups at UNC and lots of simple steps you can take to advocate for more weight-inclusive practices on campus.

“I’m taking the Embody: Carolina training next month. Want to do it with me?”

“I noticed that my department’s offices don’t have chairs that would fit people of all sizes, so I asked the office manager to add a wider chair to the room. The next time I went in, there was a new, larger chair!”

Trust that people move toward greater health when given access to stigma-free health opportunities

UNC is a great place for this. Campus Rec, Campus Health, and Student Wellness staff have all been trained on body-positive principles. And our community offers so many ways to stay healthy!

Want to learn more?

What do you think about this article? What ideas do you have to support health at every size on campus?

Sara Stahlman, MA, is a marketing and communication coordinator at the Campus Health Services at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is also a member of the ACHA Healthy Campus Coalition and the ACHA Health Promotion Section.

Toni Hartley, MPH, RD, LDN, is a clinical nutritionist with Lutz, Alexander Nutrition Therapy. Antonia specializes in medical nutrition therapy for people with disordered eating patterns. She promotes Health At Every Size® principles both in her office and in her speaking engagements and practices a non-diet approach.

References

Bacon, L., Stern, J. S., Van Loan, M. D., & Keim, N. L. (2005). Size acceptance and intuitive eating improve health for obese, female, female chronic dieters. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 105(6), 929-936, L., Stern, J. S., Van Loan, M. D., & Keim, N. L. (2005).

Bacon, L. (2010). Health at every size: The surprise truth about your weight. Dallas, TX: BenBella.Health at every size: The surprising truth about your weight. Dallas, TX: BenBella.

Flegal, K. M., Kit, B. K., Orpana, H., & Graubard, B. I. (2013). Association of allcause mortality with overweight and obesity using standard body mass index categories: a systemic review and meta-analysis. Journal of American Medical Association, 309(1), 71-82.

Leibel, R. L., & Hirsch, J. (1984). Diminished energy requirements in reduced-obese patients. Metabolism: Clinical and Experiential, 33(2), 164-170.

Locke, A. E. et al. (2015). Genetic studies of body mass index yield new insights for obesity biology. Nature, 518(7538) 197-206.

Mann T., Tomiyama J., Westling E., et al. (2007). Medicare’s search for effective obesity treatments: Diets are not the answer. American Psychology, 62, 220-233.

Neumark-Sztainer, D. (2005). Can we simultaneously work toward the prevention of obesity and eating disorders in children and adolescents? International Journal of Eating Disorders, 38(3), 220-227.

Puhl, R. M., & Brownell, K. D. (2006). Confronting and coping with weight stigma: an investigation of overweight and obese adults. Obesity, 14(10), 1802-1815.

Schvey, N. A., Puhl, R. M., & Brownell, K. D. (2011). The impact of weight stigma on caloric consumption. Obesity, 19(10), 1957-1962. impact of weight stigma on caloric consumption. Obesity, 19(10), 1957-1962.

Shisslak, C. M., Crago, M., & Estes, L. S. (1995). The spectrum of eating disturbances. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 18(3), 209-219. 

Tylka, T. L., Annunziato, R.W., Burgard, D., Danielsdottir, S., Shuman, E., Davis, C., & Calogero, R.M. (2014). The weight-inclusive versus weight-normative approach to health: evaluating the evidence for prioritizing well-being over weight-loss. Journal of Obesity, 2014(2014), 18 pages.

We’re hiring!

searsteambuildingDo you have what it takes to be a paid Healthy Heel? We are seeking 2 undergraduate student employees with creative experience for 10 hours per week of paid work from May 2017 – May 2018 or August 2017 – May 2018. If you are fun, engaged, collaborative and ready to gain experience spreading health on campus, click below to learn more.

Videography / Photography Intern

Graphic Design Intern

 

How You Can Have a Healthier Relationship…with Food!

A healthy relationship… with food?

You’ve probably heard of a “healthy relationship” with family, with friends, or with a partner, but we talk less often about our relationships with food in terms of their health — beyond simply what we consume and when. A relationship with food is psychological, financial, social, and cultural as well as physical. Like any other healthy relationship, a healthy relationship with food is free of fear or the feeling of being controlled or out of control.

What impacts our relationship with food?

Our relationships with food are impacted by our life experiences and the systems around us. For example, the fad diet industry often uses body-shaming tactics and capitalizes on our desire to be “good” or “healthy” people in its mission to sell more products. These techniques often also promote the idea that some foods are inherently “good” and others are inherently “bad.” You’ve probably heard a friend say, “I’ve been so bad today — I ate (fill in the blank).”

However, there are no “good” or “bad” foods — and furthermore, what we consume can’t make us “good” or “bad” people! Just like eating kale all the time doesn’t make you somehow better or more moral, a bag of chips doesn’t suddenly make you a “bad” or “unhealthy” person. A healthy relationship with food involves knowing that your morality or value as a person is not determined by what you consume.

Our relationships with food can also be shaped by a desire to attain an (often unrealistic) “ideal” as portrayed on TV, in movies, or through other media. This ideal of “health” or “fitness” often depends on visible body shape/size, and provides a very narrow window of “healthy” shapes/sizes. However, research tells us that we cannot tell how healthy a person is — or how healthy his/her/their relationship with food is — by the size or shape of her/his/their body.

Overall, our bodies need different things at different times. Only you can determine what’s best for you based on your body, access to resources, and belief systems. One rule or set of guidelines does not apply to everyone in regards to diet, and people have many different ways of getting the nutrients we need.

Image from Pinterest

What can I do to have a healthier relationship with food?

  • Remind yourself that your value does not depend on what you eat, and that there are many more ways to be healthy than are shown in the media.
  • Listen to your body. To the extent that you are able, try to eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full. Don’t wait for your hunger or your fullness to “yell” at you – keep in touch with what your body needs to the best of your abilities based on your access to resources. This can take practice!
  • Don’t be so hard on yourself! Being rigid and restrictive about what foods you “allow” yourself to eat can be harmful to your body and your mind. Focusing excessively on what foods you have eaten, or counting calories obsessively, are often a sign of an unhealthy relationship with food.
  • Pick the foods that give you the energy to do what you do during the day. After all, that’s what calories are — energy! The more nutrients that come along with that energy, the better.

Find more information:

Balanced eating as a vegan or vegetarian

Finding balanced and nutritious foods on a budget

Eating intuitively

Nutrition resources at UNC

If you feel concerned for yourself or a friend, or want to talk more about your relationship with food, you can find more information and contact options here.

This article was originally published September 4, 2014, by Mary Koenig, a program assistant for Student Wellness. She was in the school of Social Work and Public Health at UNC Chapel Hill.

Creating a Sleep Sanctuary

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“Sleeping” by Shannon Kokoska. Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons.

Sleep. Wonderful, elusive sleep. Sleep provides us time to rest and restore our bodies after the wear and tear of everyday life. People who get 8-10 hours of sleep a night have been found to run faster, have lower stress levels, avoid accidents, and live an overall happier life. But what happens when our commitments interfere with our sleep schedule?

Being in school can–unfortunately for many–mean sacrificing getting a proper night’s sleep in order to balance academics, extracurriculars, and a fulfilling social life. The negative effects of sleep deprivation are well documented, and can range from impaired memory and critical thinking skills, weight gain, and even severe health problems like heart disease over time. Paying special attention to your sleep hygiene is one way to combat that.

What is sleep hygiene?

Sleep hygiene, contrary to what the name may lead you to believe, is not about making sure that your body and bed is clean and nicely made every day. According to the National Sleep Foundation, sleep hygiene is simply a “variety of different practices that are necessary to have normal, quality nighttime sleep and full daytime alertness.” One fun way to enhance your sleep hygiene is to create a “sleep sanctuary” for yourself to promote healthy sleep habits and a soothing sleep environment.

How can I make my own “sleep sanctuary”?

One simple step to start with is to be conscious of the light in your bedroom. Blue light from phones, computers, TVs, and even LED lights can disrupt the body’s sleep cycle and interrupt the production of melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate your sleep patterns. Sometimes, though, late night homework and phone usage happens. Apps like f.lux can help minimize the amount of blue light coming from your screen, so late night study sessions (or Netflix) won’t impact your sleep quite as much.

Reducing your anxiety and stress is also key to getting a good night’s sleep. Although exercise during the day can help reduce anxiety and stress, intense exercise soon before bedtime can actually provide a boost of energy that will keep you up longer, so try and focus on yoga, meditation, and breathing exercises to help you bring down your stress and anxiety in a sleep friendly way. Alarm clocks can also be a serious detriment to sleep. Looking at the clock while trying to fall asleep can increase anxiety, making it harder for people to fall asleep and stay asleep throughout the night. Researchers suggest even turning your clock away from you or keeping it far enough away so you can’t see the time when you wake up in the middle of the night.

And last, but certainly not least, make your bed a sacred space. Sitting in bed watching TV, working on your laptop, or playing video games is both comfy and convenient, but it could be putting a good night’s sleep at risk. Try to use your bed only for sleep and self-care, like stretching and reading – if you start to bring stressful things into your bed, you may start to associate those feelings with sleep!

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“Empty Bed” by Lillie Kate. Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

What are some things you’d want in your sleep sanctuary? Let us know in the comments!

Kristan is a Program Assistant for Health & Wellness at UNC Student Wellness. Read their bio here.

Sorting Hat Quiz: Is your Relationship Healthy?

Unfortunately, determining if your relationship is healthy isn’t as easy as finding out if you’re a Gryffindor. If only!  After all, relationships, whether romantic or any other kind of sexual connection, are complex interplays between people, and it can be hard to gain clarity on people and situations closest to us. This is why it’s important to regularly reflect on how your relationship is going and check in with yourself and your partner. Nonetheless, Loveisrespect.org has some great resources including quizzes on whether your relationship is healthy, unhealthy, or abusive that can help you identify  your own behaviors as well as those of your partner(s).

After you check out the quizzes, consider:

  • People in all relationships (healthy, unhealthy, or abusive) can feel love, care, and affection for each other, and enjoy each other’s company.
  • But people in abusive relationships, or what UNC refers to as interpersonal violence, also use a wide range of abusive behaviors against their partner, including physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological actions or threats of actions that cause the partner to feel intimidated, frightened, terrorized or threatened.
  • This abuse may happen during the relationship or after the relationship is over.  
  • These abusive behaviors are rooted in a need to maintain power and control.
  • Often, one partner has and seeks to maintain power and control.  It may also be possible that all partners may be engaged in a power struggle, with the person who has the power changing over time.  Researchers are still arguing about this.
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Photo “Devious Question” by Zita, Flickr Creative Commons

What we do know is that, since abusive behaviors are about exerting power and control, they can be practiced both by those who are granted privilege in society and by those who have been made to feel out-of-control in their lives for some other reason—such as past trauma or oppression—and are seeking to regain a sense of power. Nothing—including past trauma—justifies abusive behavior.  But knowing more about who practices abuse can prompt us to be vigilant about our own behavior in relationships and ensure they’re healthy.
To learn more about how to develop healthy relationships, please see the LGBTQ Healthy Relationship curriculum, regardless of your sexual orientation or gender identity.  If you think you are in an abusive relationship, or are wondering if you are, please see the resources at safe.unc.edu.

Anole Halper is a graduate intern with Student Wellness. They are getting a dual Masters in social work and public health. Their research interests include sexual violence prevention and LGBTQ health equity issues.

Supporting Friends Who Experience Interpersonal Violence

Most of us know someone who has experienced interpersonal violence (sexual assault, abusive relationships, stalking, or harassment), and supporting that person can be difficult work.  Watching people who we love and care about suffer is never easy, and we often want to do anything that we can to help them feel better.  This is a wonderful impulse!  It can give us energy to provide lasting and meaningful support to others.  However, it can also encourage us to set up unhealthy boundaries as friends and allies.

The most powerful and generous gestures we can make to individuals who have experienced interpersonal violence are to

1) Listen to the experiences and emotions that they are sharing

2) Validate and Believe what they share and

3) Connect them to reporting and support resources that they feel comfortable seeking

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“Talk” by Matus Laslofi, courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

Folks often underestimate how meaningful these seemingly simple actions can be.  They worry that being “just a friend” or “just an ally” isn’t enough and sometimes take it upon themselves to “save” their friend and “fix” their problems for them.

When we feel this impulse to fix or solve, it can be helpful to think about how we are reacting to what is being shared with us.  It’s normal to feel overwhelmed, sad, anxious, afraid, angry or disheartened when our friends talk with us about their experiences with interpersonal violence.  We want to be cautious that we are not taking control of someone else’s experience because we feel out of control in the face of it.

When we take charge of other people’s experiences of interpersonal violence we:

1) Remove their power and control

2) Compromise their healing process

3) Make the situation about us and not about them

4) Force them to rely on us for support we cannot give

Listening, believing, and, sometimes, saying “I may not be the best person to help you with this, but I know someone else who can,” are often the most effective ways to empower our friends as they heal.

Being a helpful friend and ally means setting boundaries with our friends even when they ask us to support them in ways that make us feel uncomfortable or that seem unhealthy.  We cannot support others if we feel exhausted, anxious, angry or resentful.  We simply burn out.  When we are aware of our emotions, acknowledge our limitations, seek support for ourselves, and set boundaries, we ensure that the care that we offer to others is more meaningful and sustainable.  Being an ally doesn’t mean stopping our lives to “save” someone. It means guiding and supporting a friend to the resources they want in order to heal.

For more information about how to respond to and support folks who have experienced interpersonal violence sign up for a HAVEN training or visit the safe.unc.edu website.

This post was originally published October 2013. It has been edited for clarity. 

What is RVAM, and what does my roommate have to do with it?

Ya’ll may have heard (and if you haven’t, scroll on down to the next post) that October is RVAM! Also known as DVAM, RVAM celebrates RV/ DV/ IPV/ FV Awareness Month… basically all of the letters all the time. So what’s going on with this alphabet soup?

  • Relationship Violence: between people in relationships—friends, coworkers, acquaintances, students, professors, roommates, intimate-partners, family members, etc.
  • Domestic Violence: between family members or intimate-partners
  • InterPersonal Violence: between people/ communities
  • Intimate-Partner Violence: between intimate-partners
  • Family Violence: between family members

Here at UNC, we choose to use the term “relationship violence” because it best describes the people between whom violence exists at UNC. However, when you go to the Safe at UNC website to check out the incredible list of RVAM events occurring on and off campus this month, you may notice that our dearly beloved (and sometimes not so beloved) roomies aren’t being discussed in this slew of events. So what’s the deal?

Roommates: an Important Part of the “R” in RVAM

RVAM is motivated by the idea that everyone deserves a safe and healthy relationship- and roommates are an important part of that!

Now, we’ve all had that roommate who did some uncool bad-roommatethings and made our life miserable for a semester or two.

But at the same time, roommates can also be kinda great. In any roommate relationship, like in all relationships, there will be conflict.How you choose to handle that conflict is what will make the roommate relationship healthy or unhealthy.

So, how do you handle roommate conflict in a healthy way? Well, remember that long awkward roommate agreement you had to do at the beginning of the year in university housing? Turns out they had a smart thing going there. Communication and setting expectations is key to resolving good-roommateconflict in a healthy way. There are tons of resources available online to help improve you communication skills – even though some might be focused on romantic relationships, those same skills can be used in any setting!

It’s also important to remember that conflict is a normal and natural part of any relationship. However, if you’re constantly fighting with your roommate, and you feel that they have power and control over you, you might be experiencing relationship abuse. It’s never ok for someone to put you down, call you names, humiliate you, threaten you, coerce you, minimize you, or treat you disrespectfully.

Not sure what’s going on in your relationship with your roommate? There are quizzes online, like this one from loveisrespect.org, that can give you some insight. While these tests are geared towards romantic relationships and should only be used as a starting point, they’re a good way to help you get a better picture of what’s going on and start a conversation.

Want to learn more about healthy relationships? Take Sustaining Healthy Relationships, a free online module created by the UNC LGTBQ Center and Student Wellness!

Looking for help/ support on or off campus? Check out safe.unc.edu.

Linda C is a Program Assistant for Violence Prevention at UNC Student Wellness. Read their bio here.

 

In My Words: Getting an IUD at UNC Chapel Hill

by Abby Kaufmann, guest blogger and UNC student

After 3 years at UNC-Chapel Hill, I have become very familiar with the general clinic at Campus Health Services but I had never really utilized their Women’s Health Services until this October when I got an intrauterine device (IUD). I am currently interning in a position where 10 hours of my week involves researching articles about reproductive justice issues, many of which are about birth control access and affordability. At the time I began the internship, however, I was not on birth control. The risk I was taking really started to nag at me, making anything intimate seem extra nerve-wracking and less enjoyable until I finally decided to do something about it.

A few weeks prior to making the decision to get an IUD, I had to go to campus health multiple times for a cold that just wouldn’t go away. Each time I was there, I couldn’t help but appreciate the free condoms throughout the building and the pamphlets on safe sex that included tips for queer people. But what really caught my attention were the charts on birth control in every exam room I visited, like this one:

I saw that with condoms, my go-to method of birth-control at the time, there was still anywhere between a 2%-18% chance of getting pregnant (depending upon whether or not they are used correctly).  I had tried things like the pill and the NuvaRing in the past but I was always forgetting when to take the pill or when to replace the ring which I knew made them less effective. I decided that an IUD would be the best way to go; not only are IUDs more effective than birth-control pills and the NuvaRing, they last for years.

The first time I heard about an IUD was in a magazine article in 2012. Even then, I recognized the benefits and expressed interest in getting one to my gynecologist in Cary at the time. She didn’t think it was a good idea and successfully scared me into changing my mind. She told me that, since I had never given birth, it would be painful and that this pain was too much for most of her younger clients so she often had to remove their IUDs. She said that the NuvaRing would be my best option since it would be easier to remember and that it was just as effective as an IUD (I now know that both of these statements were false). I expected a similar reaction at Campus Health but was pleasantly surprised to find a wealth of resources about IUDs and to feel supported by both the nurses and the doctors.

I thought I would be able to just show up, have the procedure, and then go about my business for the next 3 years but this was not the case. When you make an appointment to get an IUD at Campus Health Services, you are required to have a brief consultation first so that you can discuss the various types of IUDs and what to expect during the procedure. After that, I also had to make an appointment for a well woman exam so they could check for STDs, do a pap smear, perform a breast exam, and assess my health in general. While it was a little annoying to have to come back so many times, I realized that it was all because Campus Health actually cared about my overall wellbeing. It also provided a good opportunity to get to know the doctor before the procedure.

Usually, CHS prefers to do the procedure when you are menstruating so that they can rule out any chance of pregnancy (even though they do a pregnancy test anyways) because of the life-threatening risks associated with getting an IUD while pregnant. Because of this, some students may have to wait longer than they would like to before they can get their IUD but in the end, it’s really for their own good.

To say that I was impressed with UNC Campus Health Women’s Services would be an understatement. They made sure I felt comfortable about the procedure not only during the procedure itself but before and after it as well. Never once did I feel judged or discouraged from making my decision.

I would encourage my peers to utilize UNC Campus Health’s birth control resources If you attend a different university, don’t be afraid to contact campus health on your campus to see what services they provide. Also, be sure to check out Bedsider for ways to bring birth control to your campus and to compare methods side-by-side.

I’m thankful for birth control. And I’m thankful that Campus Health Services at UNC understands that, as college students, we already have so many things to worry about and that getting pregnant doesn’t have to be one. #ThxBirthControl

Abby originally posted this content during her internship and agreed to let us re-post here with slight modifications as a guest blog. View the original blog post here. 

RVAM 2016

October is Relationship Violence Awareness Month (RVAM). There are a lot of events and ways to get involved at UNC! The overall theme is love empowers and here are some ways that you can be involved to learn more information about Relationship Violence.

Participate in the Social Media Campaign:

  • Post the RVAM image above to your social love-empowersmedia account to spread the word!
  • Take a photo of your hands in a heart shape and post it to any of your social media accounts. Write “My #loveempowers by *insert your response here* #rvamunc”.
    • Example: “My #loveempowers by making my roommates feel heard. #rvamunc”
    • Another Example: “My #loveempowers by encouraging my friends to follow their dreams. #rvamunc”

Compass Center DVAM Event

Tuesday, October 4 from 4 pm to 7 pm at the Crunkleton

Dos and Donuts of Healthy relationships

Thursday, October 6 from 11 am to 1 pm in the Pit

  • Heels United for a Safe Carolina campaign in partnership with the RVAM committee to hand out information/resource cards and “Love Empowers” buttons!

Ammunitions for Change: Explaining the Surprising Adoption of Domestic Violence and Gun Control Policies Across the United States from 2009 – 2015

Thursday, October 6 from 12 pm to 1 pm in Michael Hooker Research Center, room 3100

  • Lecture by Gender-Based Violence Speaker: Sierra Smucker, MSc, PhD Candidate, Duke University
  • The availability of firearms continues to threaten the lives of American citizens on a daily basis. However, a persistent political narrative suggests that calls for policy change are futile; that any legislation at the national level will be killed by the powerful gun lobby; and because of our permissive gun laws, the United States will continue to have more gun violence than any other developed country in the world. While this narrative is supported by the failure of federal policies that regulate firearms, a significant number of state legislatures have passed gun reforms that protect women in abusive relationships. Since 2013, 18 states, including historically pro-gun states like Louisiana, Tennessee, and Washington, have passed new laws to protect victims of domestic violence from firearms. In a time of deep political polarization, particularly around the issue of firearms, why are some state legislators passing these policies while rejecting other types of gun control policies? Is the change we are seeing in DV and firearms policy evidence of a transformative change in American politics or is it an outlier? Using an in-depth case study approach, this study begins to unravel the puzzle of DV and firearms policy by investigating the passage of domestic violence and firearm policy at the state level.

Film Screening and Panel Discussion: “Behind Closed Doors”

Thursday, October 13 at 6:30 pm (doors open at 6 pm) at the Varsity Theatre.

  • Compass Center for Women and Families is partnering with the Carolina Women’s Center and the Beacon Program to host a screening of the BBC documentary “Behind Closed Doors.” Learn more and view the trailer at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07472y8.
  • The screening will begin at 6:30 pm, with doors opening at 6 pm. A panel discussion will follow.

Safetoberfest

Monday, October 24 from 1 pm to 4 pm at Granville Towers or Thursday October 27 from 1pm – 4pm at SASB Plaza

  • Students will “trick-or-treat” their way around to the different stations, picking up candy and other treats as they interact with various organizations and offices.

These are some of the ways that you can get involved, if you would like to know more about these events or want to check out other events, visit the website: http://safe.unc.edu/rvam-2016/.

Olivia Bass is a Program Assistant for Violence Prevention with Student Wellness.

Where Do You Draw the Digital Line in Your Relationship?

When you’re dating someone or generally boo’d up, it’s natural to want to share things with your partner. Whether you share a lot of personal things about your past or you’re that couple who eats off of each other’s plates at dinner, sharing things with your boo can be a way to show your partner you care about them and is often a positive sign of comfort in a relationship.

Find Love
“Dating Online” by whybealone1, Flickr Creative Commons

There is such a thing as too much sharing however, especially when it comes to your digital privacy. Sharing your Facebook or email password with your partner may be tempting, especially if they are someone you really trust, but that information is not as simple as letting them have a fry off of your plate at dinner. Sharing your password to private accounts gives the person access not only to information you send other people, but also information they share with you. This puts your privacy, as well as the privacy of your friends and family that communicate with you online, at risk. If a partner or hook up buddy pressures you to email or text them super-hot pictures of yourself, take a minute to think about what may happen down the line and how much control that person will have by owning private pictures of you. If your boo is constantly texting you wanting to know where you are or who you’re with, or gets unnecessarily frustrated if you don’t respond to a text or IM within .15 seconds, it may be time to have a real in the flesh talk about digital boundaries.

A healthy relationship allows all people involved to retain some space and independence outside of the relationship. Authentic trust between people does not necessitate constantly checking up on someone or having access to all their digital interactions with others. Even if these kinds of requests come off as concern, trust your instincts if the vibe you’re getting is more one of control than affection. Be clear with your boo about what you are and are not comfortable with when it comes to digital privacy, and hopefully you’ll be able to have an honest discussion about their true concerns and move to a healthy place of resolution.

The bottom line is, if someone is pressuring you to give up your digital privacy in a way that you’re uncomfortable with, you have a right to stand your ground and retain whatever boundaries you’re comfortable with. Your online and mobile accounts are all a part of you, and if a partner is controlling, pressuring, or disrespecting you in those spaces, you have a right to feel violated.

If you’d like to explore issues of digital privacy more in order to assess your relationship, check out www.thatsnotcool.com. If you or a friend is experiencing digital pressure from their partner and you’re worried it may a sign of an abusive relationship, the Compass Center for Women and Families has an anonymous hotline available 24/7 where you can chat with a trained advocate at 919-929-7122. You can also use your digital communication skills to get more information by checking out www.loveisrespect.organd chatting online with a trained representative from 5pm-1am EST.

 

This post was originally published June 2012. It has been edited for clarity.