Common knowledge on eating disorders will lead you to believe there are only a few: Anorexia ("very, very skinny, eats nothing"). and Bulimia: ("throws up food"). And sometimes there are people who have Exercise Bulimia, too, ("but what even is that? Exercise is always GOOD! Right? So that is probably like... a helpful disorder").
Oh, and all those people with "no self-control" who have Compulsive Overeating Disorder, also be called Binge Eating disorder...
But the truth is, that there's much more to it than that. And Disordered Eating affects a hell of a lot of people, thanks to our cultural fixation on being thin, our "war on obesity", and the messages we get on a daily basis that tell us "Dieting is GOOD" so "Diet MORE and BETTERER".
There is an eating disorder labeled "Eating Disorder: Not Otherwise Specified" or EDNOS. So that is the rest of us? I guess.
Do you have disordered eating? Here are some markers:
- Any over-thinking or stress involved in choosing what to eat. Seriously, if you think about what you should eat today, or tomorrow, or for your upcoming meal, for any more than a few stress-free minutes, it is not healthy. ***If you are joyfully planning what to buy and cook for yourself or your family, that is absolutely wonderful! The stress and obsession and guilt is the issue. Not joy and nourishment.
- Fear of a specific food or food group. There are two times when this is not disordered: a legit allergy or genuine intolerance, or a general easy-going avoidance of a food because of a dislike or intuitive sense that it isn't best for you at the time. But as soon as it becomes a fear, or something you think a lot or worry about, you have officially been brainwashed by "well-intentioned" diet gurus and a society that fears the moral failure of weight gain. If you are avoiding a food or food group because of an orthorexic-level desire to be pure and healthy, you are building your own cage. ***Sure, we should care about ourselves and want to eat well and treat ourselves like a temple, but when fear and fixation get involved, that is a manifestation of control issues. And it is not a normal, healthy, or sustainable way to live or eat.
- Any exercise that is in direct correlation to something eaten. Food is not burned off like gasoline in a car. Your body is more freaking complex than a car. And you can quote me on that. And, you can eat a rich, delicious meal without gaining any weight even if you don't run it off "right afterward". Also, on the flip side, and just for good measure: you can gain weight, for any reason, and still maintain your dignity, because you were not put on this earth to be as small as humanly possible. And you can quote me on that too. *** Exercise is SO GOOD FOR YOU. Do it for your soul, your lungs, your heart. Do it to feel good. Don't do it to punish yourself, because it will backfire. And you deserve more love than that.
- Starving yourself now so you can eat a lot later. This is just bad practice. And there is a difference between saying: "nah, I'm not gonna eat that cookie now because I really want to enjoy my dinner" or "nah, I'm hungry but I really don't feel like a cookie now, I'd rather wait for dinner" as opposed to: "Omg I'm starving, but I promised I woudn't eat in between meals. I might pass out, but I will thank myself later when _________"... You know what I mean.
- Any preoccupation on what other peoples' bodies look like and/or comparing them to your own. Technically this can be separate from eating, but I am adding it in here, because it also can be very linked with disordered eating. If you do that, then you are hyper-focusing on things that don't really make life all that much better. Go out. Hang with your friends. Play. Dance. Sleep. Create Something. Go for a nature walk. Enjoy your life.
- Judging foods by their calories and/or counting up your calories as you go through the day. Maybe this is hard to unlearn for you, but unlearn as well as you can. Because, again, it is not healthy or joyful or life-affirming to a: eat according to calories. Because calories know nothing about your body's hunger. Or b: Eat the Smallest Amount possible. It is just not logical. Think about appetite and life and family and eating through the ages, up until very recently. nobody would eat as little as you do, with as much stress as you do about it. They had other problems, and thank god we don't have them! Don't replace their real problems with thinking that you ate too many Weight Watchers Bars. Your ancestors would be very upset with you.
- Thinking and preaching that you have found "THE WAY TO EAT". Whatever that may be, a diet plan, a "diet lifestyle", a great cultish CSA, simple marathon training, goji berries and hoodia and green coffee extract, WHATEVER YOU THINK YOU HAVE FOUND... you probably haven't. The closer your diet resembles a religion... or a cult, the more disordered it probably is.
- Fear or fixation or guilt after you eat something "Bad". Never fear, people will experience this a lot for a while after they start intuitively or mindfully eating, and moving away from disordered eating. There is a learning curve, and the more times you eat said food without ill effect or the rapture happening, the easier it will be to eat it without fear or fixation or guilt. But, in general, if eating certain food causes guilt or constant thinking about it, or the need to talk about it constantly "guys I just ate a whole bag of chips"... it's disordered! Fear, control, feelings of losing control, black and white, good and bad, all or nothing. Not. the. way. to. live.
- Bingeing. Often a reaction to periods of restricted eating, or a general restricted mindset, sometimes as an emotional pacifier. Sometimes strictly emotional... but rarer.
- Substituting Fake/Low/No calorie foods.
- Believing "Without a diet I would __________". Balloon up. Lose control. Have a breakdown. Lose my job. Eat the World. Never stop eating. It is not true.
- LIST YOUR OWN! Let me know of any more markers of disordered eating in the comments.
I am not listing these things to shame people. I am not listing these things because suffering from them is a huge moral failing. What else are we to do in a world that values thin above almost all else? A world that seems to spew out constant diet tips with varying degrees of absurdity? Or a world that openly fat shames and doesn't even realize it is doing it?
It's ok. We are all just doing the best we can do with the best information we have at the time.
Nobody is perfect. Some people have eating disorders. Some people will never know they have one. Some people do know, but are too afraid to do anything about it because the result seems like dying or failing or losing all control.
But some people do see a light at the end of the tunnel of disorder... and they want to learn to focus on other things besides how many ounces of fish to eat. And those are the people I am writing for. We can all learn to say: