As far as common knowledge is concerned, eating disorders are limited to only: Anorexia (very, very skinny, eats nothing) and Bulimia (throws up food). And sometimes there are people who have Exercise Bulimia, too (but what? Who? Because Exercise is always GOOD! Right? So that is like a helpful disorder. Or something.) Oh, and like a million people with no self-control have Compulsive Overeating Disorder, which might also be called Binge Eating disorder, but WHO knows about that, right?
Well, the truth is, that there is 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” “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. So let’s go into what that means. Here are some things that define disordered eating:
- 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 1 minute, it is not normal* or healthy. *Well it might be NORMAL, because so many people do it for the Noble Cause of “Weight Management”, but it shouldn’t be. If you spend any extended amount of time thinking about, planning, or worrying about what to put in your mouth for fear that a wrong choice will ruin “something” (health, your hot bod, “the world”, whatever), then you are dealing with some disordered eating. Eating is not supposed to be this hard.
- 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 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 way to live or eat. *Again I refer to the definition above for “normal”.
- Any exercise that is in direct correlation to something eaten. Food is not burned off like gasoline in a car. Well, I guess at times it is, but 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.
- 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, ever, for more than a split second, than 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. Don’t focus on anybody else’s body or your own, because it won’t bring you any of the happiness you hope it will. Unless they are your lover I guess… again, you know what I meant.
- 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 NORMAL* or healthy or joyful or life-affirming to a. eat according to calories. Because calories know nothing about your body’s hunger hunger. And 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 if they could be!
- 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. Not 100% of the time disordered, but enough it is an indicator.
- 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.
- And probably many more….
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 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 so 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 want to focus on other things besides how many ounces of fish to eat. And those people are lucky to learn to say…