Disordered Eating and Dieting – A Thin Line

I participate on the forums of a few different weight loss sites.  I also follow several blogs about eating disorders or written by people with eating disorders.  The similarities between people who is “diet” and people who suffers from an ED are many.

Just for the record, I am morally opposed to diets in every form, although I do find myself using the d-word on occasion.  Telling people about your “healthy lifestyle change” can become rather burdensome after awhile.  And they don’t believe you anyway.

It is quite disturbing to realize how many people believe “dieting” means eating as little as possible.  Some dieters eat as little as an anorexic person, but apparently it’s okay as long as they’re fat.  Or at least that seems to be the way the world feels about it.  How thin do you have to get before it isn’t okay to starve yourself?

I believe that obesity is caused by disordered eating as well.  Just as some people restrict what they eat to the point of starvation, others eat uncontrollably to the point of morbid obesity.  Here, I want to be clear that I am not talking about people who are a few pounds overweight by societal standards.  I’m talking about being extremely obese.  Model-thin is way too thin for most people.  I look through a fashion magazine and I see nothing by starvation.  Emaciated is the new normal, normal is the new fat, and fat is the new obese.  We are bigger than ever, and our expectations are smaller than ever.  Both ends of the spectrum represent disordered eating, sometimes with surprisingly similar symptoms.

Starving yourself is not an effective way to maintain a healthy body.  You can certainly starve away the pounds but it is unsustainable because your body needs food to live.  You wouldn’t just stop breathing, would you?  It simply doesn’t work that way.  This is not about will-power, it’s about a physical need.  Yet this idea, that you can temporarily drastically alter your eating habits in order to lose weight, then once you lose the weight everything will just be perfect, is exactly what the diet industry pressures us to do every single day.

Diet forums attract people with eating disorders.  You can usually tell which people they are, even though sometimes they seem to be unaware that there is a problem.  One thing all EDs have in common is self-hatred and self-inflicted feelings of failure.  Whether it’s the obese person who gave in and ate the whole chocolate cake or the anorexic person who gave in and had an apple during a liquid fast, the words they write are unmistakable.  They call themselves worthless, they feel out of control, they self-flagellate for their perceived short-comings and they focus on the number on the scale like a hawk.  This isn’t really something people either have or don’t have.  I believe there are levels of disordered eating and a lot more people suffer from milder forms than anyone realizes.  Some days it feels like all women have an unhealthy relationship with food and our bodies.

My experience has taught me that I was eating in a disordered way.  I binged.  I ate for a plethora of reasons, none of which had anything to do with feeding my body the fuel it needs.  I know exactly what led me to weigh almost 300 pounds.  Many obese people are not aware of how they got that way.  It’s like having blinders on.  You can’t see what you’re doing any more than an anorexic can see that she is starving to death.

And the first time I lost my weight, I did it by eating one meal a day.  Over time, I gained it all back.  Replacing one disordered way of eating with another is not the solution.  Unfortunately, if you are heavy and you lose weight, people will congratulate you no matter how extreme you method.  This feels pretty crappy.  It makes you feel like your weight is the most important thing about you and because of it you deserve to suffer.  This is not helpful.

This time, I’ve put all my focus into losing weight the right way.  So I’ll leave you with a few suggestions if you find yourself with disordered eating and you are truly overweight and need to lose weight.

  • focus on what you should eat, not on what you shouldn’t
  • make sure you eat enough
  • get into a reasonable exercise routine that you enjoy but don’t expect yourself to perform perfectly every time
  • focus on losing weight permanently, not quickly
  • set a reasonable goal, seeking a doctor’s help if needed
  • do not set a timeline
  • remember, your number one goal should be your health
  • cut back on the scale or get rid of it altogether and go by how your clothes fit
  • love yourself now.  don’t wait for the next 10 pounds, or 20 or 100.  life is about now.  if you are waiting to live it until you are perfect, you will find yourself waiting forever.

4 thoughts on “Disordered Eating and Dieting – A Thin Line

  1. If only I had read this before… Of course, I may not have believed what you’ve written here. I’m pretty sure that eating disorder issues I have now were half(or mostly) due to me trying to “diet” and lose weight. The more weight I lost, the worse I got.

    I know now that the potential and the mentality was always there. A message to anyone who has an addictive or obsessive personality about things should NOT try yo tdiet”. It will eat you alive…

  2. I think a lot of people end up with an eating disorder after starting to diet. It isn’t that dieting causes eating disorders, it’s that people who are predisposed to being obsessive, like you say, have a bad reaction to the control issues dieting brings up.
    There’s also some evidence that dieting itself, especially extremely restrictive dieting, has physical effects on the brain and may actually make a person more likely to end up suffering from ED.

  3. Wow, this was written over three years ago, and you say that your views have evolved since then, but I think this post is still spot on. Obviously even then, still during your weight loss journey, you were definitely in a better frame of mind than most of us! This was a great post. I wish I could somehow communicate these things to the women in my life, but they simply don’t listen (I can’t blame them; I didn’t either for a long, long time). Anyway, thanks for a great post!

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