What is the difference between a diet and an eating disorder? How does the diet industry affect eating disorders? When does a diet become an eating disorder? With this post I plan to address the answers to those questions, or at least try to.
Let me start by saying that I don’t ‘diet’. When in an unhealthy state, I restrict my calories, my food options, and I over-exercise, but I don’t diet. I know that for someone without an eating disorder, that may be a hard distinction to understand, so I’ll try to explain it. For me, when in the grips of my eating disorder, it’s mostly about the numbers. It’s about trying to keep my caloric intake at least 1000 under my TDEE, which means not going over 800, and that is without taking in to account the amount I burn through exercise. When in the grips of my eating disorder, I eat the same groups of food everyday with very little variation. During periods of recovery, I still eat mostly the same groups of food everyday, but with a little more variety. During early recovery, most eating disorder sufferers feel overwhelmed by having to make food choices again, so it’s important to maintain a certain level of consistency. During periods of recovery, I try to eat at least my TDEE, maybe even a little more. During actual healthy periods, I still don’t truly eat like a normal person, but that is just because I am incredibly picky. I don’t follow a prescribed diet plan during any of those periods, instead I just eat or don’t eat.
The diet industry makes about $20 billion every year by continuing to come up with new ways to lose weight, get fit, cleanse our bodies. With the amount of options out there, it is no big surprise that so many people end up yo-yo dieting, or that obese people can have such a hard time losing weight. Every new fad diet, every new cleanse, every new workout trend promise to help you lose unnatural amounts weight in a very short time period. Even if those diets work initially, the results won’t last unless you change your lifestyle also. The food industry doesn’t help people know how to eat properly either, not with ads talking about how there are only 100 calories in a serving, but not clearly telling people what those serving sizes are. The other problem with advertising 100 calories in a serving is that it can make people think that 100 calories is enough. 100 calories is a snack, or part of a healthy meal, not enough for a meal. The main problem with those ads is that for impressionable people or people desperate to lose weight can start to believe that 100 calories a meal is enough, and once you start to believe that you might start to believe that 800 calories a day is enough.
So does that mean that the diet industry causes or increases eating disorders? The answer to that question is very complicated. Eating disorders are mental illnesses, not just diets gone wrong, but they can start because of a simple diet. There does appear to be evidence that eating disorders have a genetic connection. There is also potential evidence that the eating disorder mind can be influenced by an extended period of malnutrition. The genetic connection does not necessarily mean that you will get an eating disorder though. The eating disorder like thoughts that someone has after going through an extended period of malnutrition don’t always continue once the malnutrition is corrected either. Those who do end up with eating disorders have a very hard time getting rid of those thoughts though, some of them never do. People with eating disorders vary in the amounts of food that they eat, the amount they exercise, their levels of restricting, binging, or purging. There are some things that all eating disorder sufferers have in common though. We all have what we call safe foods, and unsafe foods, and despite what people might think the reasons that foods are safe or not safe are not always connected to whether they are good for you or not, they are connected to our thoughts and emotions. All eating disorder sufferers have voices in our heads that tell us whether we are good or not, whether we are worthy of love, of life, of food, of anything. It is partly that voice that separates us from people who are just on a diet. For someone without an eating disorder on a diet, messing up one day and eating the wrong thing isn’t the end of the world, it just means that they start over the next day. For an eating disorder sufferer, eating the wrong thing can seem like the end of the world, and lead to binging, purging, excessive exercising, or true starvation. The reason that eating disorders are so hard to treat is that you can’t just treat the mind or the body, you have to treat them both. The part we don’t know yet is whether to treat them at the same time, or whether we have to treat the mind or body first, and honestly, it is different for every sufferer.
alimentos no es el enemigo