Are you exhausted from battling disordered eating? Maybe you’ve spent your entire life trying to lose those “last five pounds.” Or your weight has gone dramatically up and down as you’ve weight cycled. Maybe your weight is stable, but you still struggle with disordered eating. In fact- what you weigh actually shows nothing about your eating.
Yes it’s true- people of all shapes and sizes struggle with disordered eating.
Sometimes disordered eating is obvious. Other times, it’s sneakier. In her book Anti-Diet: Reclaim Your Time, Money, Well-being, and Happiness Through Intuitive Eating, Christy Harrison talks about how diet culture has shape shifted over time. She writes, “Clean eating, Whole30, Paleo, intermittent fasting, detoxing… I refer to diets like these collectively as the Wellness Diet, to highlight the fact that they are diets cloaking themselves as wellness.”
Though the names may differ, disordered eating is the common denomenator. Marked by rigid food rules, obsessing over every bite, and anxiety at meals, it steals our abiity to be present, to enjoy food, and to live freely.
So what IS disordered eating?
Instead of living in synch with our bodies, disordered eating demands we go to war with them. Counting, tracking, and labeling every bite, step walked, calorie “burned.” In our diet health and weight obsessed culture, it’s normal to label foods as good or bad.
We’ve completely lost touch with the truth that our bodies are inherently wise.
Designed to keep us alive. That we’re born knowing how to eat intuitively, if we just tune in to the signals our bodies constantly send us.
Unfortunately disordered eating is the norm today. We bond over diet tips. Start conversations by sharing how much we loathe our bodies. And attach our worthiness and ability to be loved to food choices. Obsessing over reaching a goal or target weight is common – even among treatment for the most severe disordered eating – in clinical eating disorder settings.
Most people have heard of eating disorders. But the way they are portrayed in the media is NOT the typical experience of one.
The spectrum of disordered eating
Rather than thinking of disordered eating as something you have or don’t have consider this. Your eating experiences fall somewhere on a continuum. At one end are people who have an intuitive, instinctive, and peaceful relationship with food. They don’t spend a lot of time thinking about food. When they’re hungry or preparing food is likely the only time. They enjoy eating, are in tune with their bodies’ signals, and don’t stress about the the shape or size of their body. Most importantly- the way they feel about themselves as humans is NOT tied to what or how they eat. Or their weight, shape, or size.
On the other end of this spectrum falls a clinical eating disorder. Someone on this end is consumed with thoughts about food and weight most of the time. They engage in self-harming behaviors such as starvation, purging, and excessive exercise. They may or may not have been diagnosed by a professional. Ematiated folks with these syptoms are readily disagnosed with eating disorders. While folks in larger bodies are often praised for these danger behaviors. Sadly fatphobia abounds even in the eating disorder treatment world.
Most people today fall somewhere in the middle spectrum. Between a clinical eating disorder and a completely free and peaceful relationship with food. The further down the spectrum you move, the more disordered your eating.
Disordered eating can start for many reasons. Whether your goal is to promote health or to just “look better” in a smaller size, one thing is consistent. Disordered eating attempts to control our intake of food based on outside factors. (ie- diets, wellness plans, clenses, etc).
Rather than listening to internal cues, a disordered eater bases their food intake on outside rules, formulas, and plans. Thus ignoring a body’s needs and signals.
When is disordered eating a problem?
This is a question only you can answer. Dig deep and ask yourself some questions, to determine if disordered eating is a problem for you.
- How much time do you spend thinking about food?
- Are certain foods “off limits” to you? If so, do you completely abstain from them or do you end up eating them in large quantities after holding yourself back from them?
- Do you feel shame or guilt after eating certain foods or amounts of food?
- Are you able to go out to eat at a restaurant without knowing what’s on the menu ahead of time? Is eating food someone else prepared stressful for you?
- Do you feel better about yourself if you eat in a certain way? Conversly, do you feel awful about yourself for eating a different way?
- Is your self esteem tied to the way you eat?
- Do family members, friends, or medical professionals express concern regarding the way you eat?
- During meals are you calm and present? Do you enjoy conversations with others, or are you constantly worrying and thinking about food, calories, and weight?
- Do you miss out on social activites to avoid certain foods?
- Is your identity wrapped up in being the “healthy” one? Do your friends know you are always on a new diet?
- Is food, your diet, and weight the first thing you think of in the morning? Is it the last thing you think of at night?
People are amazingly diverse and unique. If the way you’re eating now is not causing any distress in your life- awesome.
If, however, you notice stress, tension, shame, and anxiety around your food choices, disordered eating may be affecting your overall well being.
Disordered Eating Affects Many Things
Ironically, we often begin trying to control our food in an attempt to beome “healthier.” Yet, disordered eating negatively affects our health. Weight cycling is worse for health outcomes than living in a larger body. Disordered eating causes stress, which again takes its toll on health. The act of dieting itself puts our nervous system into a stress response, causing cortisol to flare and anxiety levels to increase.
In addition to our health and wellbeing, disordered eating also negatively impacts our social connections. Turning down brunch with friends to eat a carefully measured meal alone is isolating. Constantly prioritizing workout sessions over connection with loved ones can be more damaging than “healthy.”
But perhaps the most harmful part of disordered eating happens when we put our physical health ahead of all other forms of health. Ignoring mental, emotional, and spiritual health has negative impacts all around.
Is it possible to recover from disordered eating?
So now that we’ve identified many problems with disordered eating… here’s the big question. Can we heal from it? Absolutely!
The beautiful thing about recovering from disordered eating is the freedom you gain when letting go of trying to control your body size.
Our bodies are amazing- when trusted they regulate themselves. Cuts heal on their own. Drives and desires have evolved over hundreds of thousands of years to survive. When we get out of our own way, and allow our bodies to thrive, we can live free of food and weight obsessions.
The very first step to healing from disordered eating is to recognize when it’s happening. Today start paying attention to what drives your decisions around eating and movement. Are you considering things like satisfaction, satiation, and how your body feels? Does your sense of being “ok” come from choosing the “right” foods?
Learning to relax around food and let go of rigid rules is a process. Check out this free resource to get started. And if you’re serious about learning to let go of disordered eating and want support finding freedom, check out my coaching program here.
Because even though disordered eating is the norm in today’s society- it doesn’t have to be your norm. After all- you deserve better.