By Lisa Hayim, MS, RDN, NLC
Do you think about the consequence of a meal far after it’s over? Do you weigh yourself at least once a day, thrown off by the slightest change in the number? Do you restrict foods or entire food groups that limit the amount of food you consume? Do you skip meals, use laxatives, or attempt to fast?
If any of this sounds familiar, you may be suffering from what’s known as disordered eating.
Disordered eating includes a wide range of thoughts and behaviors that, according to the DSM-IV (a fancy diagnostic classification tool used by the medical community) don’t warrant a diagnosis of a specific eating disorder, like anorexia nervosa or bulimia.
However, it should in no way be minimized or thought of as less destructive or mentally invasive. Both eating disorders and disordered eating carry harmful consequences.
Because disordered eating is less “extreme” than anorexia or bulimia in terms of endangerment to life, many people, including those suffering, don’t realize the impact it has on their mental and physical health.
People may begin to socially withdraw, often saying no to dinners/dates. Sometimes the suffering can manifest itself in anxiety or depression. Often, constant denial that there’s anything wrong exists.
The symptoms are harder to detect than a traditional eating disorder. Because this condition is more “silent” than a traditional eating disorder, it’s less likely to picked up by family and friends.
Many people suffer for far too long before realizing that the inner pain and conflict they feel isn’t “normal”. Others consider their feelings of guilt and shame to be completely normal, and live their entire lives without getting the help that is available.
The Signs and Symptoms of Disordered Eating
- Rigidity around food and exercise regimen
- Feelings of guilt and shame when making what’s considered to be “poor” eating decisions
- Emotionally driven eating
- Preoccupation with food, body, and working that causes stress and negatively impacts other areas of life
- Misusing laxatives/diuretics/colon cleansers
- Denial of physical hunger and satiety, usually for the sake of losing weight
How Did Disordered Eating Happen?
In my opinion, disordered eating is the result of the messages we see and hear in magazines, commercials, and television that have left men and women suffering.
1200 calorie diets have been drilled into our head for years. Home economics, health class, and the science courses have failed to fully teach the science of food and relay the importance of individualized needs.
We live in an “Eat this food, don’t eat that food” society, which frequently contradicts itself. Ever been told avocados are healthy, but then told they make you fat?
We make 200-300 food choices per day. Without a clear understanding of what a food will do to our bodies, our perplexity intensifies.
How to Recover From Disordered Eating
First, you must identify that you’re living in pain, and that the pain isn’t normal. Whether that be negative self worth, obsession with food, binging, or a refusal to eat in restaurants or outside of your home.
Second, accept that you’re not to blame. This is 100% not your fault. These feelings are so abundant that they can pass as the norm for many people. Social media has become a part of our routine, and with millions of messages flooding our brains daily, we’ve become more susceptible to eating disorders and disordered eating.
Third, understand that it’s possible for you to improve your relationship with food and your body. If you want to get out of the messed up relationship you have with food, the power is yours.
Fourth, seek help. Whether from a psychologist or a Registered Dietitian, make a plan with a health professional who can steer you in the right direction.
The process of recovery may take anywhere from a month to a few years. Be patient with yourself and the process and know that you’ll soon be able to focus on the important things in life.
Lisa Hayim, MS, RD is a Registered Dietitian and Mindful Eating Expert in New York. She holds her Master’s in Nutrition and Exercise Physiology from Columbia University. She works in private practice, helping clients and patients learn to eat real food and make choices mindfully. Lisa believes that healthy is a complete state of physical, mental, and social well being. When we nourish our bodies with whole foods and learn to be mindful, we are not only preventing and combating disease, but effortlessly learning to appreciate our bodies. Follow Lisa on Instagram @TheWellNecessities, or head to TheWellNecessities.com or plant based recipes that are 5 or less ingredients!