’Tis the season for New Year's resolutions… a time notorious for reactivated gym memberships, updated diet plans, and renewed determination to reach that “goal weight” we’ve been promising ourselves for months.
Seeking to develop healthy eating and lifestyle habits can be, in itself, a really positive goal. Much like any good thing, it has the potential of being taken to an unhealthy extreme. And if done with the wrong motivations, we run the risk of developing relationships with food, exercise, and our bodies which can be problematic (and even detrimental).
In a later blog, I plan to dispel some of the myths about disordered eating. For now though, I thought I’d take the opportunity to outline some of the signs and symptoms that a relationship with food and/or exercise has gotten unhealthy, and may be treading in “Eating Disorder” territory. (As adapted from “The Eating Disorder Recovery Podcast” with Dr. Janean Anderson).
The three major signs of disordered eating include:
- Restricting behaviors, including: drastically limiting caloric intake, consuming small portion sizes, eliminating certain foods or entire food groups.
- Overeating/Binging: consuming food beyond the point of physical fullness.
- Purging behaviors: vomiting, abusing laxatives, or excessively exercising to “erase” or “make up for” food that was consumed.
There are also some signs you may have developed an unhealthy relationship with food which are arguably less obvious. These include, but are not limited to:
- Rigid rules and rituals around food: limiting the number of meals per day (even if you’re still hungry), becoming irritable, anxious, or significantly uncomfortable if food is not prepared or eaten a certain way (e.g. in a certain order, a certain number of bites, lowest calorie foods first, etc).
- Weight loss or gain: sometimes, not always indicative of disordered eating. It’s important to note that just because you may be a "normal" or “healthy" weight for your height and gender does not preclude you from potentially having an eating disorder - it is more about the behaviors around food and exercise than the number on the scale.
- Food, exercise, and/or body image take up a significant amount of your mental energy: perhaps you notice yourself thinking about these things often, if not constantly.
- Frequent weigh-ins: do you weigh yourself often (daily, or even multiple times per day)? Does the number on the scale dictate how you feel about yourself?
- Shame and secrecy: Fear of eating in front of others/the potential “judgement” for what you eat or don’t eat, sneaking food, hiding evidence of food consumption, preoccupation with what will be on the menu at social events (to a point it distracts you from the company you're with, the fun you're going to have, or even discourages you from attending the event all together), eating in secret.
- Exercise: Do you view exercise as a way to care for your body, or has it become a chore/source of punishment? Do you feel distressed or guilty for skipping a workout (even if you're sick or injured)? Do you skip out on special social gatherings for the sake of a work out, view yourself as more attractive or worthy only when you exercise, “feel fat” if you don’t do it, or use it as a means of avoiding interactions with others?
If any of these statements sound like you, don’t panic - this blog isn’t meant to “diagnose” you. However, if you do find yourself resonating with some of these things, it may be a good idea to reach out to a mental health professional for a more formal assessment, and for some guidance in reestablishing a healthy relationship with food, exercise, and ultimately yourself.