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  • Signs Your Diet Could be Disordered Eating

    Signs Your Diet Could be Disordered Eating

    Is It More Than Just a Diet?

    People often initiate diets to lose weight, better fit into the societal definition of beauty, and mitigate health concerns. Today’s ideas of beauty are toxic, leading to dangerous consequences for those who try to fit their narrow standards. Many people do not realize how harmful diets can be to their physical and mental health.  Diets can also act as a means of control. People on diets are controlling their calories, macronutrients, and the types of foods they eat, all as a way to control their weight. 

    It is a common societal belief that one’s weight is an indicator of one’s health, but you cannot tell how healthy someone is by looking at their body size. For example, less than 6% of people diagnosed with an eating disorder are medically “underweight”. The truth is, weight is just a number. It’s also not a reflection of how much or how little a person eats or the contents of their diet. If we make assumptions about someone’s health based only on their body size, we miss a lot. There are so many other health data points to take into account such as hormones, genetics, access to healthcare, sleep, stress, environmental influences and more. Weight is a small piece of the puzzle when it comes to a person’s health. Improving health requires a holistic approach that looks at the big picture, not just one data point.

    Dieting does not always lead to eating disorders, but it is a common stepping stone. 35% of “normal dieters” progress to pathological dieting and  20-25% of those individuals develop eating disorders. Eating disorders involve restricting food, which is the backbone of dieting. Dieting requires deprivation, and deprivation can lead to behaviors such as binging because restriction is a signal to the body that it is starving. Binging then acts as a protective mechanism to protect the body from further trauma due to lack of nourishment. When dieter’s then either binge or “break” their diet, feelings of failure, guilt, and shame, leading the dieter to double down or try a different diet, causing the cycle to repeat. 

    Dieting can lead to eating disorders because they keep the dieter trapped in a loop. 97% of dieter’s fail to maintain weight loss longer than 3 years, and many gain that weight back a lot sooner than in 3 years time. Bodies have set points where they are most comfortable in the same way we have homeostasis with our temperature. Trying to move that set point weight is stressful on the body because it is moving it away from it’s “happy place” and on the mind because it can feel like a personal failure when the scale doesn’t move or the diet is not sustainable. When a person diet’s often their body’s set point weight increases as a means of protection. This often times leads to more dieting. Chronic dieting can lead to issues with appetite, digestion, mood, energy, and mental health.

    If you are a chronic dieter and are concerned that your eating mindset maybe be more than “just” a diet, consider if you identify with any of these behaviors:

    • Rigidity with mealtimes and food choices that may become more limited over time
    • Cutting out certain food groups
    • Increasing concern about health and impact of ingredients in foods
    • a rigidity with movement and exercise
    • Frequent or constant thoughts about food, body, and exercise
    • Compensating for food eating by using laxatives, diet pills, diuretics, or purging
    •  feelings of guilt or shame when unable to maintain diet and or/exercise regime
    • Frequent body checking by looking in the mirror, touching body, or measuring body parts 
    • Body image being the most important factor in self esteem

    These behaviors have physical detrimental effects as well such as:

    • Intense anxiety, depression and/or distress if unable to exercise or eat “safe” foods
    • Dry skin and hair, and brittle nails
    • Fine hair on body (lanugo)
    • Muscle weakness and joint pain
    • Difficulties concentrating/brain fog
    • Feeling cold all the time
    • Self-isolation

    Eating disorders are not a choice and genetics and brain chemistry play a large factor in the likelihood of someone developing an eating disorder. There are so many options of intentions to set to improve health, wellness, and happiness in the new year. The best part is, weight loss does not have to be part of the plan. If you have a loved one who is struggling with an eating disorder or disordered thoughts and is not yet in treatment, please get them help. There is no such thing as not being “sick enough”. Eating disorders are treated with a combination of therapy, nutrition education, and medical care. Reach out to and learn more about our dietitian Grace, who wrote this blog!

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