You might have an eating disorder. Yes, you.

I didn’t know I had a problem. Everyone at school, on TV, in magazines talked about weight all the time. It didn’t seem odd that it was all I thought about.

I didn’t know that dieting could be a bad thing. Every time I skipped a meal or dropped some weight, all I heard was “Good for you.”

I didn’t know food restriction would take over my life. I didn’t know that the more I restricted my eating, the more I would feel compelled to binge.

I didn’t know that binge eating was a physical response to real hunger caused by diets. It wasn’t all in my head. All I ever heard about was will power, which I clearly didn’t have. I thought it was a default in my character.

I didn’t know I was selling my life short. But as I got older, a realization started to awaken somewhere deep in my subconscious: “Is this really my life? Is this really all there is?”

Let me speak directly to that little voice deep in your subconscious: This does not have to be your life. This does not have to be all there is.

In light of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, I want to take a moment to look at all the things that our society normalizes, even glorifies, that can be serious signs of a clinical eating disorder or subclinical disordered eating. These warning signs are from the National Eating Disorders Association:

  • Preoccupation with weight, food, calories, carbohydrates, fat grams, and dieting
  • Refusal to eat certain foods, progressing to restrictions against whole categories of food (e.g., no carbohydrates, etc.)
  • Any new practices with food or fad diets, including cutting out entire food groups (no sugar, no carbs, no dairy, vegetarianism/veganism) (I will also add slippery slopes like Paleo, keto, and Whole30)
  • Frequent checking in the mirror for perceived flaws in appearance
  • Frequent dieting
  • Withdrawal from usual friends and activities
  • Spending hours per day thinking about what food might be served at upcoming events
  • An increase in concern about the health of ingredients; an inability to eat anything but a narrow group of foods that are deemed ‘healthy’ or ‘pure’

If these symptoms are affecting your ability to perform in school or at work, maintain relationships, or engage in everyday pursuits, I hope you’ll give yourself the gift of healing, whether that’s through professional eating disorder support, a non-diet nutritionist, or simply daring to reject that what is normalized isn’t normal. Just because you don’t need in-patient hospitalization, doesn’t mean that your life isn’t being driven by the forces of disordered eating. Just because this is the way your life has been, doesn’t mean it’s the way your life has to be.

Our society reveres dieting, restriction, weight manipulation, and a collective sense of body dissatisfaction. This shared experience is woven into the fabric of our culture. As more generations are born into and steeped in these values, the more we will lose sight of how bizarre, depressing, and ultimately self-defeating this preoccupation really is. Now I can see that I had a problem — and our culture of dieting is still really, really sick.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Beth Ann Perrone says:

    I am an ethical vegan. Ethical veganism should not be categorized as an eating disorder.

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    1. I couldn’t agree more, thank you for the callout! Veganism is not an eating disorder. I think the reason why NEDA includes it on their list of possible symptoms (in addition to something like dairy-free diets, which is also a very legitimate need for folks with allergies or digestive issues, for ethical reasons, etc.) is because people who are struggling with eating disorders seek out food restrictions in order to maintain a sense of “control.” Because there are many things that vegans don’t eat, it can provide an excuse to avoid foods in social situations and maintain that feeling of “control,” even during those dreaded moments where food will be served. A person with an eating disorder could also feign a gluten or dairy allergy to accomplish the same thing. So I believe the intention of NEDA’s bullet point is not about veganism or gluten or anything else specifically — it’s about creating new ways for food avoidance generally. I believe we all have the power and intuition to know our bodies and minds better than anyone else can, and if we listen carefully to that inner voice we all have, we can know when our food choices feel authentic, wellness-driven, rooted in self-nourishment, etc. vs. when they feel “off” in a scary, out-of-control, or disordered way.

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