Thursday, February 2, 2012

disordered eating.

Last night I finally got around to read this Runner's World article, which talks about disordered eating. And while a majority of the article discusses runners and their relationship with food, there was one statistic I found particularly sad:
It's estimated that three out of four American women between ages 25 and 45 practice disordered eating, according to a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill study.
Three out of four? That's actually a huge number, if you're like me and a majority of your friends are in that 25-45 age range. This got me thinking about my own relationship with food, and how there are so many different ways for people to approach nutrition. (Note: I'm obviously not a nutritionist or a dietitian or anything like that. So don't think I'm trying to give advice. I'm just thinking "out loud" here.)

There are about a million diets and ways to approach food. Some of them just seem plain crazy (no, I'm not going to forgo food to only ingest homemade juice for a month, sorry), and some of them seem more reasonable. I've mentioned before that I've tried Weight Watchers, and while it works for some, it absolutely does not work for me for a few reasons. I don't like the idea of having a certain number of points each day, because it makes me think too much about food. Plus, I personally don't believe that packaged, processed, low-fat foods are all that healthy. Maybe in moderation? But when you're relying on points to get you through the day, those are like a crutch.

Plus, there are healthy fats. Nuts and avocados and things that are actually good for your body, but because they have a higher fat content, people choose to avoid them. Like this nutrition counselor says, fat doesn't make you fat. At least, not the good ones. And a lot of times, low-fat or fat-free foods are higher in carbs and lower in protein, which is not helping your body to get what it needs to power you through the day.

Part of it is this perceived image of what we should look like. We want to look like movie stars or singers or Barbie or something outrageous. The media touts these people as the most beautiful, so why wouldn't we want to emulate them? And that's where this problem can start, when we think we need to fit a cookie cutter mold of what's "beautiful" to other people.

Disordered eating is not talked about nearly as much as eating disorders. If you're not sure what disordered eating is, it is explained here (this whole article is worth a read, by the way):

Disordered eaters may engage in excessive dieting, eating when not hungry, eating in secret, skipping meals and primarily eating fattening, over-processed, "comfort" or convenience foods. This can result in low energy, trouble concentrating, anxiety, depression and/or being moderately overweight or underweight. Although disordered eating is considered less serious than eating disorders or obesity, it can lead to both.

And like that Runner's World article said, people will run more to "make up" for the fact that they ate a burger or a piece of cake. People cut foods out completely. People skip meals just to get the number on a scale down to a number on a scale.

What about feeling good in our own skin? What about being healthy because of the exercise we do because we like it, and eating in moderation?

I get it. I'm pretty sure that in some form, I am a disordered eater myself. It's actually pretty likely, given the statistics for someone my age. I mean, I have wanted to look good because of a special event. I have wanted to fit into pants that I used to wear 5+ years ago. I have wanted to be better looking so a guy might notice me. I don't want to be thought of as someone's fat friend. I promise, I get it.

But I also want to eat the vegetables I like (which, for the record, is anything but celery) and a hamburger. I want to enjoy the life I am living, because of the people I am spending it with and the adventures I have, not because of how I might look in a two-piece or because of the attention a stranger is giving me. I want to focus on being healthy, not on being thin. Because being thin doesn't automatically make you healthy.

For me, eating whole foods or foods that are minimally processed is important. And I like to eat meat and cheese sometimes. Running makes my heart and my brain feel good, when I can do it. Swimming makes me feel even better. We are free to make our own choices, but really, the most important thing we can choose to do is be happy with who we are, even if we realize we are a work in progress.

Having negative body image and a poor relationship with food isn't going to make us happy. From that HuffPo article:
Mimi Francis, behavioral health therapist at Green Mountain residential weight loss center, asks, "How well has not liking yourself worked so far? The truth is, it hasn't. In fact, if you dislike your body, it's that much easier to abuse it."
People who truly love and accept themselves will not settle for overeating or starving themselves.
They will do what is necessary to be healthy.
So what is healthy for you? What steps do you take to make sure you are healthy? How do you encourage others to be healthy? I'd love to hear about it.

** Like I said above, I'm not a dietitian or a nutritionist. These are my opinions (along with some articles from people who work on this kind of thing for a living) and they are not meant to imply that I am some sort of expert in anything. But thanks for reading anyway.

1 comment:

  1. When I was a teenager I had an eating disorder, and I've always had a really negative body image. I've tried a number of different diets, but they never work for me. The thing for me is the logic behind it. I can't understand how drinking only juice and never eating would be GOOD for me.

    I'm doing Paleo now, and I think the reason why it works for me, and why I'm able to do it is because I understand the science behind the recommendations that are being made. I can understand the WHY behind not eating certain foods.

    And when I slip up or choose to deviate from the guidelines for Paleo, I don't berate myself. I accept it, and move on. So far, it's working swimmingly, and I feel a lot better.