Sunday, August 3, 2008

What I've Learned About Disordered Eating

     The UNC/Self Magazine survey that I posted last night found the following alarming statistics:
  • 75 percent of women report disordered eating behaviors or symptoms consistent with eating disorders
  • 67 percent of women (excluding those with actual eating disorders) are trying to lose weight
  • 53 percent of dieters are at a healthy weight and are still trying to lose weight
  • 39 percent of women say concerns about what they eat or weigh interfere with their happiness
  • 37 percent regularly skip meals to try to lose weight
  • 31 percent of women in the survey reported that in an attempt to lose weight they had induced vomiting or had taken laxatives, diuretics or diet pills at some point in their life.
  • 27 percent would be “extremely upset” if they gained just five pounds
  • 26 percent cut out entire food groups
  • 16 percent have dieted on 1,000 calories a day or fewer
  • 13 percent smoke to lose weight
  • 12 percent often eat when they’re not hungry; 49 percent sometimes do
This survey is a cry for help. It's worrisome and saddening that women in our culture have let weight issues become so important to them that we resort to such extreme measures. Each one of these behaviors is not only damaging to your body and mind, but they don't even work. Trust me, I've tried them all, and my body not only looks better and feels better now, but my mental health is improved. If you've toyed with any of these methods, you know they mess with your mind. Let's discuss.

Banishing a Food Group: Whether it's carbs, fat, sugar, we seem to like attaching "good" and "bad" labels to everything. Maybe it seems like it will be easier that way. We can eat this and not that, no more thinking required. But here's what happens. You know how if you try not to think about something, you can't stop thinking about it? It's the same with food. It's healthier to allow yourself a little bit of everything, but in moderation. Leaving out a food group causes some nasty side effects in your body as well. If leaving out carbs causes headaches, muscle weakeness, and diarrhea, is it really something you want to do to your body? Maybe they'll work, but following more traditional weight-loss advice works too.

Skipping Meals: There are mixed views about skipping meals. One study of overweight people lost weight if they only skipped one meal every other day, equalling a reduction of about 400 or 500 calories. Another study, in which the participants didn't eat during the day and ate all their calories at dinner, resulted in harmful metabolic changes. The researchers concluded that skipping an infrequent meal as part of a calorie-reduction plan could work, but fasting during the day and binging at night is bad for your body.

But we already know that reducing calories=weight loss. Skipping meals makes you ravenously hungry. Even if you're counting your calories and make sure not to eat more at the next meal, it's still preferable to eat two small meals instead of skipping one, since skipping meals lowers your metabolism, decreases your energy level and makes you grouchy.

Restrictive Dieting: Eating less than 1,000 calories a day is how I tried to diet in high school. Eventually, I got to the point where I could no longer recognize true hunger, started binge eating and ended up with bulimia. Don't do it. Your body will never be the same.

Chronic Dieting: Constant dieting implies that you are never truly happy with yourself. If you're constantly hungry, but you're no longer losing weight, you have less energy, trouble sleeping and you probably don't look that great. It's hard to allow yourself to eat more calories when you've been eating so little for a long time, I know. But if you gradually increase your calories, your energy level will increase as well. Use that extra energy to exercise, and you'll be fine.

Being a Prisoner to Calorie Counting: I've talked about this before. It's extremely tedious. Use FitDay to determine the calories in foods you normally eat, and keep a general tally in your head, but there's no need to keep a food journal or become obsessive. Even if you write everything out or enter it online, you won't be exact. It makes more sense with a busy schedule to round the number in your head, because it will be close enough to fit your purposes. A few calories here and there are not worth calculating because sometimes you will over-estimate a little, and sometimes you will under-estimate, and it will even out. 

Also, constant calorie-counting encourages you to eat when you're not even hungry. Say you allow yourself 2,000 calories a day but you're full at 1,800. If you're keeping close track, you'll be tempted to eat more because you can. Your body's natural hunger pangs are a much better indicator of how much you should eat than a random number.

Purging: Some women binge-eat and purge, and some vomit after normal-size meals. You've probably heard all about the horrible things it does to your body, but if you're desperate enough to do it, maybe you don't care. But know that it does not work. After I recovered from bulimia, I actually lost weight.

If you are a binger, your body will retain approximately 1,200 calories after purging. If you ate a normal-size meal, most of the calories will be retained. And not only that, but your body also produces insulin when you eat. If you vomit afterwards, the excess insulin remains in your system, lowering your blood sugar and making you hungry. This is part of the reason why occasional purging can become so addictive and lead to bulimia. 

Please, just don't do it. 

Laxatives: The idea behind abusing laxatives is similar to purging, wanting to rid your body of excess calories as speedily as possible. But 100% of ingested calories are absorbed this way. All they do is disrupt the normal functioning of your digestive system, cause electrolyte imbalance and make you dehydrated.

Diet Pills: At my most desperate hour, I tried Zantrex-3. I then turned into the most horrible witch in the world. My hunger level was unchanged. 

Whether or not they lead to weight loss, they do cause the following: nervousness, restlessness, insomnia, high blood pressure, fatigue and hyperactivity, heart arrhythmias and palpitations, congestive heart failure or heart attack, stroke, headaches, dry mouth, vomitting and diarrhea or constipation, intestinal disturbances, tightness in chest, tingling in extremities, excessive persperation, dizziness, disruption in mentrual cycle, change in sex drive, hair loss, blurred vision, fever and urinary tract problems. Overdoses can cause tremors, confusion, hallucinations, shallow breathing, renal failure, heart attack and convulsions. 

If it still seems worth it, ponder the question "What happens when I stop taking them?"

Secretive Eating: This was a big one for me. In middle and high school, girls would be barely picking at their lunch, and I felt like if I ate mine, I looked like a "pig". Later, when I started to gain weight, I felt like they were looking at me and thinking, "see, that's why."It was a ridiculously self-absorbed view, and it contributed to my binge-eating, because by the time I allowed myself to eat, it had been hours. In college, you are going to have to eat in public. You will be gone a lot during the day, and if you wait until night to eat, you will be tempted to eat too much. Not eating isn't going to make anyone think that you just don't eat at all any more than eating is going to make them think you're a pig. Really, they're probably not thinking anything at all. Prepare healthy snacks like mixed nuts and trail mix and bring it with you to eat between class. Your friends are more likely to wish they had thought of that then think anything negative.

Over-Exercising: Yeah, I've done this one too. Again, it just makes you more hungry. If you feel like you've over-indulged, going for a walk is definitely helpful, but going and exercising for 5 hours usually just made me feel like eating again. If you are able to keep from eating more, you will be tempted to at your next meal. It has been more beneficial, to me, to either 1)work out 10 or 15 minutes extra on each work-out for the next week or 2)eat extra healthy the next day. 

Letting Weight Affect Your Happiness: This one is tied up in all the others, isn't it? You're not happy about how much you ate, and then you think you'll feel better if you exercise it off.... alll of it off. You let how many calories you consumed in a day affect your mood and your relationships with others

I admit I still have to work on this one. I have made some progress though. It helped when my therapist recommended I draw a pie chart of the important things in my life, and weight was right up there with family and friends. That's a real eye-opener.

When I am tempted to let my mood be affected by my body image, I remind myself of this: when happiness depends on human error, it means I will never truly be happy. I will always make at least one little "mistake." And then, I draw an imaginary line in my head representing a new beginning, and try to let the past stay there.

Not Listening to Your Body: Disordered eating can be summed up as this. It is when, for the sake of physical appearance and societal expectations, you purposely hurt your body. It is when you start letting the clock, calories, scale or size dictate when and what you eat, rather than health, energy, hunger and taste. It is when you have been feeling so bad about yourself, for so long, that the harmful side effects these practices have on your body start sounding worth it. if you would not feel comfortable talking to others about something you're doing as part of a "diet," then it's because you know they would be worried about you. And if they would be worried about you, shouldn't you be?

Listen to your body. It doesn't want to be fat or skinny. Your body wants to have a little extra padding, just in case you need it later. It wants to be lean enough to climb, but curvy enough to carry a child. If you eat according to its signals, and eat what makes it feel good, (not in the form of a temporary sugar high either, but strong and capable), then your health will be displayed in your appearance. 


Jill said...

Oh, wow! What an awesome blog! Thank you, thank you, thank you for the comment. I added your blog as a link on that entry.
I also added a link to the "College Sites & Blogs" links. I think a lot of my readers would be interested in reading it.
Thanks again! :D

Anonymous said...

I wanted to clear up a misconeption...I have suffered from Bulimia Nervosa for over a year now, and since it started I went from normal weight, to underweight. I have been a chronic binge purger, sometimes eating upwards of 100,000 calories in a day, and purging more than twenty times ( a day). It can indeed make you lose weight, but at a high cost - cardiac arrhythmia, terrible shaking, constant weakness, naseua, muscle cramping, esophageal tears...

Yes - it can make you lose weight. Yes - it will kill you.

Erin said...

I guess I should clarify my statements. Bulimics are of all sizes; underweight, normal weight and overweight. My intention was to let people who are not bulimic, but engaging in disordered eating habits, know that it is not the magic weight loss bullet they may imagine.

Thanks so much for adding to the base of knowledge available on the site. I hope you won't hesitate to start discussions about these issues again.