According to the May 2008 issue of SELF magazine, more than 6 in 10 women are disordered eaters, and another 1 in 10 have actual eating disorders.
That statistic floored me. So I read on.
SELF magazine identified the following types:
* The calorie prisoner: 38% of women eat tiny portions, obsessively count calories and eat only a few "safe" foods (often nonfat, low-carb) to keep from gaining.
* The secret eater: 35% of women will eat well in public, but once they're alone, they binge. They may even lie and say they've already eaten to avoid dining with others, and then overeat alone later.
* The food addict: 13% of women binge when they're sad...or happy, using food as their drug. They think about food every hour or more and are more likely than other types to eat when they're not hungry.
* The career dieter: 14% of women have dieted for more than 3/4 of their adult life. 6% have dieted nearly full-time. Many of these women were overweight as children.
* The purger: 33% of women have vomited or used laxatives or diuretics at least once to fight weight gain. Some purge regularly.
* The extreme exerciser: Less than 1% of women work out too hard and too often in the name of weight control. They feel extremely guilty if they miss a workout and will exercise even when injured.
27% of women surveyed by SELF said that they would be "extremely upset" if they gained just five pounds. Most specialists will tell you that this is not a healthy reaction.
And while this survery focused on disordered eating as opposed to eating disorders, more than 10% of women aged 25-45 have a true eating disorder, such as anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating.
I will admit that when I was a teenager pursuing my dance dream, I picked up some very unhealthy habits that I kept secret from my parents. Yet, I didn't realize it was a problem. But you know what? The fact that I knew I needed to keep this behavior away from my parents, was probably a big giant clue that it was unhealthy. I guess I just didn't want to acknowledge that.
As a preteen and teen, we had weekly weigh-ins at my dance studio. I never had to worry about this, as I was very tiny. But I saw girls who were even just 1 pound above my dance teacher's "ideal chart" (which looking back on it, was nowhere near the weight ranges that are considered healthy...we're talking 20 pounds or so below that) being put on various restrictions. So even though I never had to worry about it, I'm convinced I internalized bad behaviors and a believe that this was normal.
Of course we would eat carrots and drink water and consider ourselves full. We didn't want to be pulled out of the front line of a piece and stuck into the back, or worse yet, pulled out of the piece entirely. Because they'd been known to do that. Who wants to showcase the fat girl? (Please note that the last sentence should be read in a sarcastic tone of voice...none of these girls were even anywhere close to being fat. We lived in a skewed reality.)
I would often tell my mom I wasn't hungry or that I'd already eaten, just because I was worried I might gain weight. I never threw up, but I would eat secretly, when nobody was watching. You know that old adage about how if a tree fell in the forest and nobody saw it...well, if nobody saw me eat, then those calories wouldn't count. When my mom wasn't looking, I would scarf whole bags of cookies and candy, and then blame the missing snacks on my brother. And then I would feel guilty about my binge, so I would push myself even harder the next day.
I guess I should have known this behavior wasn't healthy when, at age 13, I got to actually dance in the ballet I was understudying...because a 16-year-old from the company was hospitalized with bulimia. But I wasn't like her at all. Sarah (name changed) was sick. She made herself throw up. I didn't do that.
I was fine. Besides, everyone else did it, too.
I don't think I realized my problem until college, when I was faced with several sorority sisters who were recovering anorexics and bulimics. But even still, they were sick. I was healthy.
I was normal.
Except that sometimes I would forget to eat. Not on purpose, mind you. It really only happened when I was exceedingly stressed out with studying and other activities. But when I passed out after a particularly strenuous swing dancing class, following a period of three days during which I inadvertantly drank only water and didn't eat anything except maybe a bagel one of the mornings, I realized that maybe I had a problem. Not an eating disorder, but I was definitely a disordered eater.
Anyway, if you have any of the behaviors identified at the start of this blog, how can you get and stay healthy again? (List taken from SELF magazine, May 2008.)
Even out your eating.
Disordered eating is all about extremes (too few or too many calories, hating your body when it's big and loving it when it's skinny), so a moderate approach can head of unhealthy choices. First step is to always eat breakfast every day.
Separate mood from food.
The next time a bad day sends you to the cookie jar, walk into another room and set a timer for five minutes. While it ticks, talk to yourself and figure out what's bothering you and whether there is a better way to deal with it. Even if you go back to the snacks, you'll at least have begun exmaining how your feelings drive your eating.
Focus on whether you're getting nine small servings of veggies and fruit every day rather than what you think you need to cut out of your diet.
Take it slowly.
If you do need to lose weight, make doable changes one day at a time: add a veggie to dinner, take a walk after lunch.
Instead of trying to reclaim the thighs of your youth with brutal workouts, buy clothes that make you look amazing right now.
Find relatable role models.
As a body type to emulate, choose someone who reflects your values, such as a friend or a down-to-earth celeb.
Do it for the girls in your life.
Don't announce in front of children how fat you feel unless you want them to hate their body, too. Kids pick up on everything, and you can be a positive role model. If you're confident, you will send the message that it's possible to love your body at any size.