I thought a lot about whether I should talk about this and I have decided that it is important to give another perception particularly from an eating disorder lens on the cancer council BANuary month.
Now I want to make this completely clear I fully support cancer council I have fundraised for them before, donated money to them countless times and think they do great work for cancer. I have had numerous relatives who have suffered from cancer, so I think they do a great job.
Recently Cancer council have come up with a campaign to help raise money for cancer called BANuary where you “ban” a bad habit for a month and have people send you donations through it. They include on their website ideas that people can give up which includes alcohol, chocolate, coffee or sugar etc. My concern with this new campaign is the idea of banning foods. I noticed chocolate (we all know my love) and sugar was mentioned, sugar also wasn’t explicitly defined either, sugar is in many things, there is even sugar in fruits and vegetables, and this is where my concerns grow someone can take this innocent campaign and go too far with it. To mean the banning of particular foods for a month if not first discussed with a qualified health professional becomes a restrictive diet which is not at all healthy for someone to undertake. When we restrict foods, we crave that craving grows stronger and thus can lead to binge eating episodes and overeating rather than eating the amount you originally wanted.
While browsing the website, I also saw that they had a picture of a girl holding a piece of pizza and doughnut and a cross against those foods. I found this imaginary very interesting although innocent can send the message that eating those foods is shameful and I feel as though diet culture is creeping in there into those pictures. The website also has quotes such as “give your body a break this January “again I can really feel diet culture creeping in with these quotes that pin the idea that we haven’t been taking care of ourselves and we ate “too much” in the holiday period, this simple quote can really impact someone who is vulnerable. The promotion gives the idea that this will help you to become a healthier you while raising money thus implying you were not already healthy, and I can see the diet culture words popping up there
This campaign is creative and a great idea to raise money to have people give up something for a month, I have seen some people do alcohol, smoking and ubers for this fundraiser. However the way it is promoted sends the message to give up something that is a bad habit this stating that what someone is eating is a bad habit, and when we begin to label foods we then internalise them and when we eat those “bad foods” we see ourselves as bad and then the guilty and shame floods through.
My issue is that people can take this too far mainly when it involves food and their diet, a whole month without something may seem simple and harmless enough, but some people may take it too far or see this as a chance to start afresh and begin to restrict in their diet. Particularly with the word sugar which is so broad someone may attempt to ban all kinds of sugar for a whole month, and our brain does need some sugar to function
I do know it is for a good cause however I would expect cancer council who are a health organisation to consider the health problems with this campaign, particularly considering eating disorders in Australia and remembering that eating disorders have the highest rate of mortality out of any other mental illness in Australia. There are impressionable and vulnerable people out there who will take this as a chance to start a diet and of course it may start of harmless but as I have already stated restriction is never healthy and leads to unhealthy consequences and further health problems. From my personal experience I know if I were still sick and were how I was this time last year I would have jumped at the chance to be part of it to start a new diet and ban all those “bad foods” I thought were making me “fat”.
I am in complete support of raising money for cancer and always will be. However, I do think there need to be some adjustments to this campaign/fundraiser to ensure people’s wellbeing are being considered and protected in the process, mainly when it involves diet and health.