Yesterday was the last day of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week (#NEDAwareness Week), 2016. As we embark onto the holy two day long odyssey that is the weekend (TGIS) I’d like to offer my own perspective on the incredibly relevant topic that is disordered eating, and encourage readers everywhere to continue to be cognizant of this issue tomorrow, next week, and long into the future.
This year, for #NEDAwareness week, the National Eating Disorders Association decided to focus on the importance of early intervention. Their website states, “If someone is exhibiting signs or thoughts of struggling with an eating disorder, intervening during the early stages of development can significantly increase the likelihood of preventing the onset of a full-blown eating disorder. It also leads to greater chances of a full recovery. It can prevent years of struggle and can even save lives” (NEDA).
So what does an eating disorder look like in its early stages?
Just flip the words, and you’ll have your answer. Disordered eating refers to a wide range of abnormal eating behaviors, many of which are shared with diagnosed eating disorders. The main difference between disordered eating and an eating disorder is the level of severity and frequency of behaviors (EDV). You can find a list of these abnormal eating behaviors here.
Pinpointing disordered eating is exceedingly difficult. Many of the symptoms are characteristic of individuals who simply enjoy healthy eating and being physically fit! And because we tend to praise our friends and family who demonstrate these healthy lifestyle choices, we sometimes accidentally praise those struggling on a psychological level with diet and exercise.
Now, in a country where the more than one-third of adults are obese (CDC), I firmly believe that we ought to encourage behavior that goes against this harmful norm. But delivered the wrong way, this encouragement can breed harmful thought processes that become the foundation of a disordered eating mindset. When we praise individuals for their commitment to their health on the basis of their physical appearance, for example, we tell them, “You are more valuable now because you physically appear a different, better way.” With messages like the dialogue surrounding physical fitness and diet, it doesn’t take long for a perfectly healthy individual to accidentally cross the line that separates healthy living and disordered eating.
Important takeaway #1: Diet and fitness has nothing to do with your physical appearance. It’s all about how being healthy makes you feel.
Here’s the crux of it: In reality, diet and fitness should have as little to do with physical appearance as possible. (I mean that!) Leading a healthy lifestyle is about FEELING great, regardless of how we look. So what we ought to tell our friends is: “I am happy for you because you feel happier, healthier, and stronger.”
On that note, I’d like to throw out two fat middle fingers to all the fitness gurus and professional trainers who have ever said, “You can get your body to look like mine, you just gotta work hard enough!” *clears throat* Unless by working “hard enough” you mean eating nothing but a leaf of kale for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and then exercising to the point of near exhaustion for six months straight, then NO, there is no possible way in Hell I could ever achieve your exact body type. Why? Because I got FAT on my butt that doesn’t wanna go anywhere and it WON’T go anywhere unless I go over to the labs in the Stanford Medical Center and they start swapping my genomes around. So that’s important takeaway #2: Body types are GENETIC. We cannot expect our bodies to replicate exactly what we see on other people. It’s unhealthy because it’s impossible.
Important takeaway #2: Body types are genetic. We cannot and should not expect our bodies to look like anyone else’s. We can only work to make our bodies the sexiest versions of themselves.
In my experience, disordered eating comes down to intention. There could exist two people who really love salads and don’t fux with white bread, and one can have disordered eating while the other does not. If my intention to eat mega healthy was truly, one hundred percent coming from a place of “this food is excellent fuel for my body,” I believe I never would have had to meet with a doctor. I would have been fine. But the truth is– and I would have denied this to the ends of the earth at the time– I was doing it because I felt like something terrible would happen if I didn’t. THAT’S the unhealthy part. I was eating right because I was afraid of what would happen– what I would look like– if I ate wrong.
Important takeaway #3: Disordered eating comes down to intention. Is your desire to eat right coming from a place of health and well-being, or a place of fear?
I took a very logical approach to seeing a doctor. I figured I had nothing to lose. Either I’d meet with a them and they’d tell me I’m fine and have nothing to worry about (phew!) or they’d tell me something’s wrong, and they’d help me get better. Win-win. I view the day I first picked up the phone to call schedule an appointment as a victory. It was the day I decided that I would no longer let something as lame as a slice of cake make me, a fully functioning rational human, feel trapped. (Like you know there’s a problem when you’re Deadpool vibin’ at a veggie tray then you see muffins (slenderman) and just…
Ringing a bell?
So for anyone who’s ever felt more than a slight twang of guilt at eating a bag of potato chips between meals,
for anyone who’s afraid to eat the food at late night but also afraid of not going to late night because then your friends might question why you won’t go to late night,
for anyone who’s stood in front of the mirror for more than a few seconds and pinched and pulled at your lower belly (You know that pesky area right below the belly button that is PHYSICALLY IMPOSSIBLE TO TARGET),
for anyone who’s ever felt even slightly good about being hungry,
for anyone who eats great during the day but then can’t help but binge at night,
for anyone who drinks on an empty stomach on purpose,
for anyone who doesn’t eat before a beach day or formal,
I have this to say:
You don’t have to feel trapped by food. You don’t have to feel like you have to annihilate every cubic centimeter of flub on your body. (#Luvtheflub) You can feel GOOD about eating well and working out without feeling BAD about NOT eating well and NOT working out. For me, all it took was one conversation with a medical professional to instantly feel better. If you identify with these feelings, the same may be true for you.
Food is delicious and working out can make you feel great. But if eating or exercising no longer enriches your life, and instead burdens it, tell someone. I can promise you– having that conversation feels better than a cold shower after a long run 🙂
Strength, Support, and Sea Salt and Vinegar chips,
Catherine “We Got This” Götze
@Stanford students! CAPS is here to help. Give my homies a call: 650-723-3785.
Cold showers after runs #betterthansex
— Catherine Goetze (@CatherineGoetze) January 22, 2016