In a diet driven world, where the industry for dieting is worth $6.6 billion every year in Australia alone, it can be difficult to comprehend and understand where the line between an eating disorder and a diet is. I was 13 and looking up every diet under the sun, from atkins to briefly believing there was such thing as “negative calories” (before you do a search; they’re not real!) and I genuinely thought I was trying to do the right thing. In the beginning. I’d always seen the women around me on diets and 13 year old me was starting to notice the extra kilos from puberty. So where is the line? Or is there a line at all?
A personal belief of mine is that any dieting and disconnect from a healthy eating pattern is unhealthy. That can strongly be argued both ways and I get it, but hear me out.
Firstly, food is fuel and nourishment. When the association with food is positive, it can be for enjoyment, too. It’s when the association with food becomes negative that there’s a problem. Now, I won’t say that being on a diet instantly results in an eating disorder, because most people, mostly women, can fall in and out of diets freely, with some guilt but able to let it go and enjoy what they’re eating in the end. It’s when the diet or unhealthy/abnormal food patterns don’t stop and the individual has lost sight of happiness with their bodies and food. This is generally associated with inner conflict and emotions.
This is where the problem starts. When it is used as a mental blocker. This can be overeating to feel enjoyment where they’re lacking happiness in their life, or in the opposite effect depriving oneself of food as a form of self-punishment. Yes, there are phases that teenage girls especially will go through as they figure out their bodies and food and hopefully fight against social expectation to look and be a certain way, but if it becomes more and a noticeable emotional and mental shift is visible; it’s time to act.
(I had reservations about putting in photos of me when I was unwell, but I think its important. How sad I look hurts more than the state of my body)
My diet started by wanting to burn off as many calories as I could and decreasing how much I was eating. Instantly the weight started to fall off and instead of finding joy in this I started to use food as punishment where I was failing to live up to my self-set goals. Early on my parents pulled me up on it, but pushing it aside meant they let it go too. I gave them no choice. Eventually I was barely eating and I developed bulimia 6 months into my eating disorders. Thus, being easier to hide. For the following 5 years I could eat. To my parents and anyone I spent time with, it looked as though food was going from the pantry and it appeared as though I was “trying” at the very least. But as weight continued to drop, my health became irrelevant and it was more about keeping me alive. And this is what I want to get across. They can be hidden as something we perceive to be healthy. They can be so well hidden that I scared myself sometimes as a 15-year-old girl doing the things I was doing.
Eating disorders aren’t as simple as falling into the two categories; anorexia and bulimia. Binge eating disorder, ortherexia and excessive exercising are just a few others. Eating Disorders Otherwise Unspecified (EDNOS) is the most common, where the disorder itself falls in and out of the main kinds and in turn can’t specifically be identified. This is mostly what I fell into. The dangerous part of this diagnosis… Is most people won’t be diagnosed with it. It isn’t taken as seriously and unless you are a certain weight it doesn’t matter what the state of your mind is it won’t be reflected in how professionals see you.
I was 15 when I went to a doctor because I was worried about the damage bulimia was having on my heart. Instead of being met with concern he asked me how much more weight I wanted to lose and said that wasn’t “too bad”. The lack of awareness is dangerous. Eating disorders have the HIGHEST mortality rate of all mental disorders.
So what are they and what are they not?
There are a few things eating disorders aren’t… But the main thing I want to get across is that they aren’t a choice, a cry for attention, a phase or a trend. I had lost 20 kilos by the time people around me finally stopped complimenting me and instead started expressing their concern. 20 kilos too late. And that’s not their fault, it’s the lack of awareness and the lack of conversation about eating disorders going on.
We need to know they are an emotional blocker. Trauma, abuse, neglect, bullying, etc. can be linked to the beginning of an eating disorder and once this is unraveled it can be the beautiful start to recovery. My amazing counseling teacher, Sol, told our class that disorders are things unprocessed. I think this is so important. Further, it’s also important to note that “fat” isn’t a feeling. Sometimes we need to delve a little bit further. If I can’t feel fat… What could it be? Anxious, sad, scared, angry, etc?
And most importantly they can eventually stop having complete control of your life. With self-love, time, patience and determination. So over the few weeks I’ll be delving into the disorder itself and recovery so those going through an eating disorder or loved ones of someone with an eating disorder can find comfort and clarity in the journey to health and happiness.
Feel free to share your experience with us or ask any questions. This is a heavy topic but together we can make it lighter.