6 Real Signs of Disordered Eating
(as defined by something other than the Lifetime Channel)
Eating Disorders– how many times have we seen it on a Lifetime movie or scrutinized it in the Tabloids? Kei$ha, Demi Lovato– we know what bones look like, but do we actually understand how to define the thoughts and actions of “disordered eating” in the people we hold close? Or even within ourselves?
So often we are still fed a “dumbed down” version of the signs that are involved. We stereotype it solely as an underweight girl isolating themselves or pushing food around the plate for everyone to notice and because of this we so often wait until one has reached a society defined “rock bottom” (skeletal looking) before intervening. What we fail to take into account is that eating disorders, especially that of anorexia, are so much more than weighing 80lbs. Just because you look and appear of normal weight (as I did at times throughout my 10+ years) does not mean you’re healthy- and does not mean your life is balanced.
While every disorder is specific, these are 6 real signs of an eating disorder written in collaboration with women fighting ED recovery.
Ritualistic Behaviors are a trait that every disordered patient has their own version of. In rehab I remember there was a big sign over the cafeteria door that listed the behaviors we were either allowed or not allowed to exhibit while eating. These included limits on the amount of liquid we were allowed to consume throughout a meal, and which food groups we were allowed to combine with others. (We could put peanut butter on our bananas. However, we could not put it into our yogurt.)
Rituals vary depending on which cycle of the eating disorder is the most prevalent at the time. We often don’t recognize that eating disorders, as with alcohol and drugs, fluctuate. For a drug addiction, it might be Cocaine to Heroin, or Vodka to Whiskey. For an eating disorder it can phase from exercise bulimia to binge eating, from binge eating to restriction, and/or from exercise bulimia to bulimia.
In months of restriction, you cut and minimize food. While this is a fairly obviously ED trait, people are often naïve to just what lengths people will go to in order to reconstruct their rations because they cannot, and will not, eat anything as it was originally prepared- including healthy food groups. For example, I cut grapes in half- bananas down the middle- ate veggie burgers without the bun- picked cheese off my salad with my fingers- ripped off excess tortilla- pushed avocado out of my sushi roll with the chopsticks, etc., etc., etc. To me, everything could be reconstructed. Nothing could be eaten as it was prepared. There was zero flexibility in my eating, zero idea of the concept that, in moderation, it’s okay to eat a few extra carbs, a couple more grams of fat, a few mg more of sodium.
On the other hand, for binging cycles it was methodically picking out the food. It was scaling the store– eyebrows furrowed– trying to decide which food meant more to me; which food was worth the guilt that would ensue– and then eating it frantically, from one item to the other and back. Ice cream to a cookie. Donut to the Ice cream. Cookie to the Donut– until all was gone and the only thing I could think about was purging it first through the toilet, and secondly through the gym.
Singling yourself out in a group is a top sign for disordered eating, and no, I’m not talking about instances where you’re the one mate that’s all like “No, I don’t want Sushi- I want Mexican” (cause’ there’s always that Mate). I’m talking about the times you’re on a road trip and there’s six of you hauled up in a car on your way out to go camping. It’s breezy, the window’s are down, the mood is jovial, you and your friends are content- seated in the back of the car listening-but-pretending-to-hate the new Taylor Swift song- when someone suggests you stop and eat.
“Popeye’s!” The group shouts unanimously– while your heart deflates in the back left seat.
Where you were once relaxed; now you are tense. Where you were once singing along; now you are quiet. You will not let go of your fast food embargo. You can’t stand the idea of eating a Chicken Finger from Popeyes, A Cheesy Gordito from Taco Bell, Mashed potatoes from KFC, or whatever a “Slider” is at White Castle (Shudder).
Eating in public has become increasingly difficult, not only because you can’t be flexible due to the sodium content at a Fast Food joint (or, really, anywhere…), but more so because of the pressure to remain “sociable” in a group while also meticulously counting and observing every shred of food to make sure the cook didn’t douse it with an excess of olive oil, butter, or salt. You’re consumed by the food in front of you- terrified to eat it. Imagining what it will do to your body if you allow yourself to eat it even once. You’ve forgotten the conversation at the table- forgotten to laugh at someone’s joke. You leave and in 10 minutes all you’ll remember from that meal was what you did or did not eat.
You’ve forgotten that a balanced life comes with mindfulness- not control. Should you eat fast food on a daily basis? Hell no. It’s terrible, and it’s still hard for me to consider it “food” for the body. Is a Gordito Crunch really what we’re craving? No, but there are times in your life that you realize you’re outnumbered by other’s request, or just the day-to-day strife in your life and while most healthy-minded people can conform to a McDonalds Hamburger every now and then, you would rather starve, obsess, mutilate, and punish yourself for even being around it.
Because of this, you are the person that always has an excuse as to why you’re not eating a full meal. Oftentimes you’ll show up 20 minutes late to avoid the appetizers or take it a step farther and go about meticulously stuffing fries in you bra– almonds in your sweatshirt pocket– or say, chicken down the toilet (of which, I witnessed all while I was in rehab– despite having to remove our jackets at the door).
You are not someone who will split a meal. To you, sharing food is like when your roommate invades your closet and wears your favorite dress without asking. You need control over what you’ve chosen to eat. You need the ability to choose however little or much you wish to put in your mouth. You need to organize, move, strip, and search through your food.
You cannot accidentally eat a piece of lettuce with too much dressing. You cannot take a bite of your wrap without making sure all the excess tortilla has been picked off, and you cannot stand sharing with the person next to you as they dirty, combine, and toss around your food.
MINE, you’re thinking– like that pigeon in Finding Nemo. MINE. BACK OFF.
And, to be fair, it’s not always just because you want to separate and divide it to satisfy your personal, anorexic-themed game. It can be quite the opposite. We talked about this a lot in rehab– the irrational irritation that festers every time you’re out to eat with a group of people; when a plate of pita bread and a bowl of hummus is placed in front of you and you watch as 5 other greedy hands at the table move to snag their piece of bread, and their spoonful of Hummus.
The feeling you have that grows within you screaming that someone is taking something from you. This is part of the eating disorder cycle. You deprive– deprive yourself of cheat days, of bread, of snacks, of Christmas pie– But eventually you snap. You “allow” yourself to have a piece of pie, and once you’ve opened Pandora’s Box, you find it’s hard to close again– like an animal being set free. You’ve snapped because you felt trapped and taunted by everyone dangling their bad food habits in front of you.
As if to say: “Here- look- you poor, sad lil’ girl– I can eat ALL this and tomorrow look the same– but you, you will wear it on you like the Scarlett Letter.”
That’s what the cycle feels like. It’s frantic–impulsive– and you lose yourself because you’re so irrationally mad that you’ve felt taunted for so long by everyone that can “snag a cookie or two” off the dessert tray.
You have an increasingly hard time adjusting to events that involve or are encased around food and beverage. July 4th is a nightmare. Thanksgiving is hell. You do not enjoy buffets; the mass amounts of food set out on tables for everyone to ‘’have a bite.’’
This, in turn, becomes the reason why no one will call you and say “Hey, can you pick up something from the store?” Someone trusts it to you and you’ll come back with Laughing Cow Cheese instead of Blocked, Cherry-Limeade Ice Water instead of Lemonade- and Kettle-Corn instead of Buttered Popcorn.
MINE! The binging side tells you, while the anorexic side of you is terrified because it’s out of control and there’s no way of measuring how much of fat, sodium level, or carb intake when you’re piling different foods onto a plastic plate.
You’re afraid that by eating it once- by allowing yourself to forego your “Fast Food Prohibition,” you’ll never get back to that same mental spot that whispers “You’re a better person than all them for holding out.”There is a majestic amount of pride when you can sit in a group full of 6 people and observe the self-control that you have in only eating one Tortilla chip while the rest eat 10. There is a feeling like you can hold your head up higher than ever before and it becomes everything you base your entire worth around.
DEFINING FOOD AS “BAD” AND “GOOD”
To you, every food is black and white. Fast food- bad. Veggies- good– that’s obvious. But when you’ve spent 8 years standing in grocery stores with your hand on your hip comparing the nutrition label between the Pepperidge Farm Whole Wheat bread and the Nature’s Own brand to the left- (29g of carb vs 27g), “Good” and “Bad” has taken on a whole new meaning.
You’ve learned not only to group food items, but food brands as well (Morningstar Sausages- SOY. You don’t really know what “soy” means… but it’s “disgusting.”) Food is your number one enemy. Your country and the FDA are your number two.
You trust nothing. You’re even cutting your bananas in half because you read somewhere that bananas are being grown bigger than ever before.
Cereal, however, was a “safe food” for me because cereal gave a straight answer. It can be measured and defined. You can eat this or that much and know what you’re consuming (unless the FDA isn’t telling you something. There was always the fear of this.)
Typically, “safe foods” are as such. They often have defined calorie counts and are small in nature.
WebMD states “diet soda” as the staple drink of eating disorders but mate, please. It’s 2015 and I’m assuming that most of those struggling with the anorexic cycle have read of the horrors of diet soft drinks.
Coffee, on the other hand, is the real culprit. Coffee, an aging sage with its social acceptance and availability at every street corner. Coffee is the true friend of an eating disorder. It gives you energy when you’re malnourished, fills up your stomach when you’re hungry, and naturally, comes with a side of a cig and a bathroom break.
There were girls in rehab who had been drinking up to 9 cups a day. When is anyone ever going to discount you for sipping an afternoon brew? It’s such a social staple of our culture that it’s often overlooked how much you’re drinking.
This goes for alcohol as well, although I specify this exceedingly depends on each person. I drank to not eat, drank to forget I was hungry– drank to forget I was sick. I had a nice way of disregarding the calories in alcohol so long as it gave me the nurturing taste of feeling full, and I’ve found this a more and more common warning in other women of my 20-30 age group.
So much of the damage of an eating disorder, disregarding health, is that it prevents a person from ever fully feeling engaged to any event. It’s like when you’re talking to someone and you can see them eyeing the television screen from behind you– you never feel attached to anything else longer than an hour or two except your disorder.
While I’m not naïve to the severity and trickery of an eating disorder being far past what I’ve mentioned today, the more candid those of us in recovery become about the games, the more we can help society comprehend the obsessiveness that goes into it. Perhaps then, we will have a better means of fighting it within ourselves and as a community, accepting that ED masks itself in all different ways– and for all different people.