Thursday, June 12, 2008

Disordered Eating...It's Not Just for Teenagers

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.

More statistics:

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.

Think differently.
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.

Embrace change.
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.


  1. Wow. Bless your heart...this made me tear up. :( It's so sad how body image is warped in girls...

    ((hugs)) thank you for sharing. I struggle with eating guilt and problems, too. It's awful that I'm far, far from alone.

  2. I am occasionally a secret eater. But I'm also an out in the open eater too. I have a big appetite, always have. I adore food. Probably too much. I also know I could be better about my eating habits. It's a struggle I think most women face.

    Hugs to all those who battle with these issues!

  3. I've become an out-in-the-open eater, Kristen, but I still have secret eater tendencies. Like for example, after Mr. Brice has gone upstairs to bed, sometimes I will eat an entire bag of shredded cheese. Right out of the bag. Standing over the sink so my clean-up job is easier. (I guess I kinda think that if I don't use a plate, it doesn't really count.)

    I really do try not to revert to these behaviors. But it's hard.

  4. This is such a great post, Amanda. So true and so sad. And it's still a huge problem today for both young and old. I struggle all the time with my weight, too, and my feelings about it. Again, fantastic post.

  5. I don't eat too many calories...I eat all the wrong calories. I am a junk foodie person. It's a struggle. Even if I bring good stuff with me to work, I don't eat it. I like Cheetos vs fruit.

    That said, I'm not going to finish my pop tart and go eat a banana.

  6. Great post, Amanda!
    Sadly, this doesn't just affect girls. either. I heard an 8 year old boy yesterday in the grocery store begging his mom for diet soda because he thought he "looked fat yesterday". I think it's WAY too easy for kids to pick up on the "fat is bad, skinny is good" mentality, when really it should be about what is healthy. There are tons of unhealthy skinny people out there and tons of healthy, active people who fall outside of the "normal" weight range.

    (P.S. Yes, I've eaten a whole bag of cookies before, too. Those little animal shaped ones are so good!)

  7. I agree this is an issue that sadly so many women and children face. And Gemma, I've read articles on how anorexia is not just a 'girls disease'.

    I had an anorexic roommate in college, who wore a size zero and thought she was fat. the girl left half of everything on her plate and even halved a donut hole! I didn't know how to relate so I called her sister. I remember being so angry because they totally blew it off! by the time we graduated she had several health issues and a family who was still in denial. I tried to get through to her and I remember finally distancing myself. I've often wondered what became of her.

    Her field of study: Medical assistant. (were we reaching out for help or what?)

    VERY moving post Amanda.

  8. Anonymous3:15 PM

    Wow, Amanda! Fantastic post and very brave of you to write about. I agree with the other posters that this is a problem for both boys and girls, though much more prevalent in girls due to the skewed demands society places on women to have perfect bodies. I have been lucky to not deal with this issue myself, although I have experience dealing with it, like you, through problems friends developed in high school and college. Learning to love your body and who you are as a person goes a long way in helping people overcome these issues. So I echo the Hugs to all comment made by others!


    That's all I can say. You said eveerything else, and so very well, too.

    Important information.

  10. And just pick up so many women's magazines: half the articles and ads are for weight-loss things, and half are for great recipes or yummy new junk food... :-(

    I think the saddest story I heard was when one of the bridesmaids at my brother's wedding was telling us about her six-year-old daughter: "I told her she should eat more, that she did NOT need to lose weight...and she said I don't want to lose weight, mommy, I just want to stay the weight I am."

    (Monkey see, monkey do, sadly enough.)


  11. Anonymous3:44 PM

    This is so sad.

    These are actually issues I'm dealing with with the help of my psychiatrist. I binge eat, purge (sometimes) and am an extreme exerciser.

    It's not something I usually discuss. In fact, my therapist is the only one I ever talk about it with.

    So there you go. Not everyone is perfect.

  12. Amanda, I am so glad you wrote about this. This subject is very dear to my heart. I have an eating disorder and have spent the last four years dealing with it in a positive way.

    I would overeat for emotional reasons, as well as binge eat. All was done in secret since I was a little girl. As an adult, I spent all my time dieting and trying to lose it. I would...and then gain it all right back. You can't fix an emotional problem with a physical remedy. Not that dieting is fixing anything. They simply don't work.

    The main thing I learned, and most important, is that an eating disorder or disordered eating is NEVER about your weight actually. It's always emotional issues. Instead, of dealing with the fact that we're afraid we'll do badly on a test (speaking to the younger audience), we'll instead make a disparaging comment like, "I'm so fat".

    It's not about the outside, always the inside. And the greatest thing is there is a way out. With help from a very special group, I no longer binge and am working on eating only when hungry and stopping when full (something I never learned as a child). With this, I'm dealing with my feelings and gaining more confidence than I've ever had.

    I'm a long way from reversing the 30+ years of negative behavior and thoughts, but it's so empowering to know I'm making a life for myself that I truly deserve. :)

    {{{Hugs}}} to everyone who is and has ever suffered through all (any) of this. :)

  13. Thanks so much to everyone who has commented. It's so inspiring to hear how we're working to overcome our issues.

    And extra special *hug* to anonymous and Jennifer. Knowing is half the battle.

  14. Anonymous5:47 AM

    Very important topic, Amanda. I'm half-way through a wip where the focal character, Pauline, is a recovering anorexic caught up in the murder of a department store guard. She is also diabetic, a common combination I've been told, and not a good one either.

    I've linked to your posting from my blog,

  15. Thank you so much for posting this! I am a disordered eater and am working on recovery. Just started blogging about it here:

    Your post was really helpful to me. I am hoping I can beat my disordered eating for good.