I wanted to title this post “Why Everyone Has an Eating Disorder.” But I realised that would be inaccurate since an eating disorder is defined as any of a range of psychological disorders characterized by abnormal or disturbed eating habits. Eating disorders are not a choice. A more appropriate title would have been “Why Everyone is a Disordered Eater” but that doesn’t have a very nice ring to it, so I decided on a more straightforward, no frills attached title: ‘Disordered eating”
Disordered eating is defined as a wide range of irregular eating behaviors that do not warrant a diagnosis of a specific eating disorder such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa. There is a fine line between disordered eating and eating disorders, since eating disorders encompass disordered eating. But you could be a disordered eater without having an eating disorder. Gosh, this is quite a tongue-twister.
Let me explain further.
As a disordered eater, you face similar struggles and preoccupation with food and weight, albeit to a less extreme extent as eating disorder sufferers (ie extreme starvation/exercise/purging which causes much harm to their bodies and sometimes even leads to death).
When was the last time you were unhappy with your body? When was the last time you commented on the food you ate? (Cue #fatdieme #glutton #pig) When was the last time you let your body size determine your self-worth?
I say that we are a nation of disordered eaters because of the rise of fitspo and healthspo which pushes healthy eating and exercise to extremes. I say that we are a nation of disordered eaters because we feel guilty or compelled to skip a meal or compensate by exercising, if we had dessert. I say that we are a nation of disordered eaters because we’ve grown up thinking that carbs and fat are bad, and have cut out certain types of food from our diet at various points in our lives because of what we hear.
I know you’ve heard this so many times, but you are more than your body size. God made us all different and unique in our own ways. Can you imagine a world where everyone looked the same? *shudders*
I’ve been meaning to write a post on this topic for the longest time ever, and I’ve finally gotten down to it.
I know that I am touching an extremely sensitive topic, but I think that the media has influenced so many of us, knowingly or unknowingly, with regard to our relationships with food, and it’s time we stopped listening to media, and start listening to our bodies.
I’m not a nutritionist or a doctor or medically certified in any way, but these are just my own personal thoughts, so do take what I say with a pinch of salt. Everyone is entitled their own takes on things, and I’d love to hear your opinions, after all, to each his own.
Like it or not, the media has an influence over our thoughts and actions. Reading magazines or online articles about the latest fad diets or celebrity diets are bound to have an influence over us readers. It is not uncommon to see young teenage girls going on similar diets as their idols in a bid to look like them. The media’s influence extends beyond celebrities and the Hollywood ideal… With the strong influence of peer pressure, teenagers are pressured to conform to eat how society deems appropriate, or to eat like their friends.
Girls are expected to eat little carbs or opt for salads, guys are expected to eat big meals and burgers and the like. Deviate from the norm, and suddenly everyone’s asking why you eat so much or so little, or why you eat the way you do. This has resulted in a society of disordered eaters, trying to conform to various eating styles that are deemed acceptable, rather than what is best for yourself.
Of course I’m not putting the blame on anyone here, Media is just one of the factors in shaping the disordered eating habits of our society. In fact I think the main reason why we are disordered eaters is because we’ve lost, or become less attuned to our bodies, that we don’t know how to respond to our body’s hunger cues and cravings. Media just plays a major role in shaping our habits since we learn from what we see and hear daily.
One day you hear that fat is bad, the next day you hear that eating fat does not make you fat. One article insists that skim milk is the way to go, while another article debunks the facts with studies of its own, promoting whole milk instead. Your friend tells you about how light and energetic she feels after going vegan, while another swears by the Paleo diet.
There are so many diets and health information out there that it gets confusing and overwhelming at times to choose the best thing for yourself. Information that contradicts one study, supports another, and we end up reaching no conclusion.
Many poor souls end up going on one diet, and then trying another when the media promotes the newest and best diet. (Lose 10 pounds in 30 days!) Superfoods, 10 foods that boost your metabolism and burn fat, 10 foods to eat to burn muscle… the lists are endless. No wonder our eating habits have gone haywire.
Another reason for disordered eating could be due to the labelling of food as either ‘Good’ or ‘Bad’, which creates unnecessary guilt for eating a so-called ‘bad’ food, or feelings of righteousness for eating something ‘good’. There are no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ foods, it’s about moderation, and about choosing what your body needs at that moment.
Placing such labels on food indirectly places labels on people as well. If I eat a ‘bad’ food, then I’m ‘bad’, if I eat something ‘good’ then I must be ‘good’! Food ought to be looked at as something to nourish and fuel our bodies, rather than a representation of whether we are a ‘good healthy person’ or a ‘bad unhealthy person’.
With all the diets out there (Eat Clean diet, Atkins, High-Fat Low-Carb, Low-fat etc), there is no wonder why we struggle with eating normally. Media creates this sense of a one-size fits all diet; an ideal that we should all follow to achieve optimal health. The food pyramid, MyPlate, five-a-day are all examples of this one-size fits all approach. While these are useful as guidelines, we should do what is best for us, rather than trying to follow a central set of rules. After all, we are all built differently.
Even when given freedom of choice, we don’t eat what we want when we want, we do what society wants, what the people want. The friends we dine with influence what and when we eat. Its part of human nature, we want to fit in.
Earlier, I mentioned that we are pressured to conform to various types of eating styles. I suppose, in a sense, some people want to have a sense of belonging through the way they eat. By belonging to a certain group of people with similar eating habits, you get a sense of support and understanding from these people. Paleo, Vegetarian, Vegan, Flexitarian… you name it, we’ve got it! When we were created, I don’t think we were meant to follow such strict dietary regimes, and over the years, as we have developed over the years, our dietary requirements have probably changed quite a bit. We’re just supposed to eat when we are hungry, and stop when we’re full. There isn’t a right way to eat, or a certain food you’re supposed to eat, or certain foods you’re not supposed to eat.
While it’s great to have friends who have the common beliefs as you, but it’s not necessary for you to have to be placed under a certain label for you to feel like you have an identity. While your eating style is part of your lifestyle, it shouldn’t take precedence in your identity. I see so many people putting their ‘eating styles’ as the first thing on their profile descriptions. (i.e. 23 | Vegan ) To me, the first thing people would want to know about you is something unique about you, not what kind of eating habits you have!
Disordered eating can sway to the extremes, with people who overeat to the extent of obesity, and people who struggle with eating disorders and starve their bodies of vital nutrients. There are people who are emotional eaters, and others who have absolutely no interest in food.
It saddens me to see people calling themselves ‘pigs’ or ‘whales’ for eating. Why put such labels on yourself? Would you call a little girl a ‘pig’ for eating ice cream? Why would you talk to yourself that way then?
Even if people hashtag #fatdieme in humour, after eating a big meal or so-called sinful food, it just goes to show what media has instilled in our minds.
Parents are every child’s greatest role models. Children learn from what they see and hear. They model our behaviours. We don’t want to pass our disordered eating to the next generation right? Remember when we were young? When everything was much more carefree, and we were in tune with our body’s needs? You can’t force a baby to eat when he’s not hungry, and when he’s hungry he’ll eat. Simple.
Now, our lives look a little more like this – No dessert. No rice. No chocolate. I had a big lunch with dessert, I better skip dinner.
I’ve heard a father telling his 3 year old daughter that she would be fat if she sat down in her stroller after a meal. Is that the kind of thinking you want to instil in your child? That they should do anything to be thin in future, because being fat is ‘bad’? That being fat means you won’t be accepted?
People look at your character, not how you look. Be comfortable in your own skin, and be proud of how God made you, whether you are tall or short, skinny or curvy, you’re beautiful in your own unique way. It’s the inside that counts.
The dreaded numbers that everyone hates to hear. Well, here’s my opinion. Calories don’t matter, nutrition does. By putting a numerical value on what we eat creates an unhealthy obsession of eating as low a number as possible, rather than what is healthy for you. Something low in calories may not offer many nutrients, while an avocado may be high in calories, but is chockfull of nutrients! Eating more than a certain number of calories doesn’t make you a failure, every day is a different day. Some days you eat more, some days you eat less. Some days you have a slice of cake and ice cream, other days you have a salad. You don’t have to follow a rigid schedule or eat from a certain list of food to keep to your calorie goal.
What is normal you may ask? Well, the picture above pretty much sums it up.
Normal is what comes naturally to you. You shouldn’t be reading a book on how to eat intuitively, since going by the book means its not intuitive anymore!
We have over-complicated things. We should listen to our bodies rather than read articles or books…There is no right way, everyone is different, so do what is right for you. There is no ideal!
I know that there are some people out there who have a very healthy relationship with food, one where they can eat normally without having to give thought to what and how much they are eating, they just follow their body, rather than following rules imposed on us by society. I’m not saying we should go all out and eat junk food to defy all the healthy eating rules, but we should strive to nourish and treat our bodies which God has blessed us with.
Feed your inner child, don’t over-think food and calories. Adopt your childlike attitude towards food again, eating what you want when you want…Fruits and veggies like your mum always insisted. Be kind to yourself, don’t use derogatory terms on yourself, imagine yourself as a child. Would you treat yourself the same way?
Your body is smart, it knows what it needs, you just need to listen.