The Thin Line Between Diets and Eating Disorders
Have you noted how many publications make health a weight problem? As a person with a body that gets sick from time to time, it really concerns me how the only solutions I can find to better my health are related to exercise and diet. Don’t believe me? Try typing “health tips” in Google: what do you find? Is it something along the lines of eating a variety of foods, replacing saturated with unsaturated fats, control the portions, exercise regularly…?
That’s what I’m talking about. Is controlling the portions going to help me with my tendency to catch a cold every month? Probably not. But this is what is considered “health”.
We live in a Diet Culture
Do you know the term Diet Culture? It is the name given to a system of beliefs (unfortunately, extremely common these days) that considers being thin the ideal shape of any kind of body and it makes it equal to moral and health virtue.
It goes far beyond self-care and health concerns, promoting weight loss as a way of obtaining social status, wealth and pleasure. As opposed to the greatness of being thin, being ‘fat’ becomes a stigma to the point that even health specialists prescribe for fat people what they would consider eating disorders behaviors in thin people. However, overweight people are as much or more likely to develop eating disorders than thin people. Does that sound strange to you? Well, I think it makes total sense!
We live in a society that glorifies thin, muscular bodies, and everyone knows that. Yes, we live in a Diet Culture, despite the proven fact that diets don’t work. The pressure of losing weight is so high, that people tend to jump from one diet to another, trying to find the one that will finally make them look like society expects of them.
What is an eating disorder?
An eating disorder is an unhealthy eating pattern, that is usually related to the person’s psychological state.
You have probably heard about anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, two of the most (if not THE most) known eating disorders that have been studied and treated for decades. However, disorder eating can include other behaviors that don’t appear to be as dangerous or are less known than anorexia and bulimia. Fasting, binge eating, restrictive dieting or restricting the intake of a particular group of foods (carbs, fats, sugar? Anybody? No?).
When does permanent dieting become an eating disorder?
Let’s not go too crazy here. Just because you started a diet after Christmas, have chosen to cut off your fat or carb intake, or have started to work out three or four times a week doesn’t mean you are developing an eating disorder. The same goes for those who may have changed their eating patterns because of some changes in their lives (changes in the eating patterns usually happen when young adults start an independent life).
However, the undeniable truth is that dieting way too often results in an eating disorder, especially when there are feelings involved. If binge eating, dieting or overexercising becomes a way of escaping your reality, or you feel food is the only thing in your life that you can control, you might be starting to develop an eating disorder.
What should you do if you think you are developing an eating disorder?
The best way of stopping or avoiding the consequences both physical and psychological of eating disorders is catching them in the early stages. If you are concerned about your relationship with food and/or your self-image, you must see a specialist. Please note that I’m not suggesting that you only ‘think’ about speaking to a doctor: eating disorders don’t go away just because you recognize them, you will need help to overcome the situation.
I know it’s already hard enough to admit that you may be suffering from an eating disorder. Your GP is usually the best person to talk to, but you could also get advice from your school nurse or a teacher, or a therapist if you are already seeing one.
Lastly, do not forget that you are not alone in this. There are lots of resources for people dealing with eating disorders and I’m sure you already know someone from your support network that has some experience with these kinds of issues. Never be afraid to ask for help.