You’ve been dieting since you were 12 years old. The thought of leaving it behind is terrifying. You don’t really know anything else, dieting has become your normal, it is just The Way Things Are. Surely without the rules and restriction your weight will spiral out of control?
Let me preface this post by saying that if what you are doing is working for you, keep doing it. If you are on a diet and it makes you healthy and happy, that’s fantastic! Go on with your bad self. This post isn’t for you. This post is for those for whom dieting isn’t working.
Now that that’s out of the way, who IS this series of posts for? Anyone who is tired of the eternal struggle with eating and weight. Anyone who has bounced from diet to diet, hoping that this one will be the Magic Diet, the one that solves all your weight and health problems once and for all. Anyone who feels great on a new diet for a few weeks or even months, but then starts to see their weight creeping up again, their health problems getting worse again. Anyone who is hungry all the time. Anyone who fantasizes about the foods their diet forbids, and who feels ashamed for having those fantasies, and who may even secretly eat them, hiding the evidence and heaping shame and guilt upon themselves for their ‘weakness’. Anyone who has a history of restricting and bingeing in an endless cycle. Anyone who has grown terrified of food. Who feels anxiety in the face of a simple meal. Who has ended friendships over food choices. Who’s life has come to revolve around food and eating…or not eating.
First Things First
The first and most important question to ask yourself is: do you have an eating disorder? Eating disorders often go unrecognized, even by the people suffering from them, because the symptoms can come on so insidiously and be so different from the stereotypes we’ve come to believe about them. Diet Culture has normalized behaviors that are pathological, so that we don’t recognize them as such. Many people believe eating disorders are confined to the young female demographic, and that if a person isn’t underweight or making themselves throw up they don’t have a ‘real’ eating disorder. Disordered eating is becoming more and more prevalent among men and older adults, and the symptoms are far more varied than pop culture makes them out to be. A person doesn’t even need to be underweight to have an eating disorder, in fact MANY people with disordered eating are overweight or obese. So I’m going to begin this post by having you give some honest thought to the symptoms I’m going to list. Do you see yourself here?
● Skipping meals
● Making excuses for not eating
● Eating only a few certain “safe” foods
● Adopting rigid meal or eating rituals
● Cooking elaborate meals for others, but refusing to eat them yourself
● Collecting recipes
● Withdrawing from normal social activities
● Persistent worry about being fat or gaining weight
● A distorted body image, such as feeling fat despite being normal- or underweight
● Not wanting to eat in public
● Frequent checking in the mirror for perceived flaws
● Repeatedly eating large amounts of sweet or high fat foods
● Use of syrup of ipecac, laxatives, the over the counter weightloss drug orlistat (Alli), or over the counter drugs that can cause fluid loss, such as menstrual symptom relief medications, or excessive exercising or fasting after eating
● Use of dietary supplements or herbal products for weight loss
● Food hoarding
● Eating in secret
These are signs of Binge Eating Disorder, which is frequently brushed off as ‘sugar addiction’:
eating to excess, even when already full
a feeling of loss of control over food intake, inability to stop eating
a sense of guilt and shame over your eating
never feeling satiated
stockpiling high reward food and eating it in secret
feelings of stress and anxiety that are relieved by eating
Here are some other, even more insidious, signs I often see hand-in-hand with those listed above:
You make fun of, or hang out with people who make fun of, people who make different dietary choices than you do.
You use your valuable free time to visit other people’s blogs and argue with them about their dietary choices.
You’ve completely eliminated foods from your diet that you enjoy eating, and that you have no intolerance to, because your guru has told you they aren’t ‘optimal’.
You experience stress, shame or guilt when you eat (or WANT to eat) something forbidden by your diet.
You’ve alienated your real life friends and family by constantly criticizing their dietary choices, and you are ok with that because your ‘real’ family is your group of online friends who share your dietary philosophy.
You believe that your diet is the one true ‘optimal’ human diet, and that anyone who makes different dietary choices than you simply hasn’t heard the ‘truth’ yet.
You focus on diet to the exclusion of other healthy lifestyle choices like regular exercise, proper sleep, stress management and sunlight, and believe that eating the ‘right’ diet can make up for not practicing those other lifestyle choices.
You believe that if you just eat ‘right’ all your health problems will go away, and that if someone is still experiencing health problems on your diet they just aren’t ‘doing it right’.
You believe that the entire medical establishment is out to get you.
When your diet is not producing results you keep on doing it because you’ve convinced yourself that you can’t eat any other way.
If you’re dealing with any of these symptoms, seek professional treatment. I’ll list some internet resources below. An eating disorder professional can help guide you through refeeding (which I will discuss further in the next installment in this series), and have the resources to help you tackle these issues properly. While the things I discuss here can help you know what to expect, they are NOT an adequate substitute for proper medical treatment. Please don’t take this subject lightly, eating disorders can be fatal.