As per the norm, I sat down to begin writing an essay for college and was distracted by thoughts of blogging. I haven’t been doing a great deal lately (which I suspect is because my eating disorder doesn’t have a role in defining who I am these days) but I’ve reached a new milestone just this weekend – 6 months bulimia free, at last! Bring on the next 6 months. It shall be exciting to see what God has in store.
In the last few days I have been thinking about the notion of dieting – and thus this blog post is relevant not only for those who may have eating disorders or who are in recovery, but also for parents and friends and grandparents and young people and boy and girls and adolescents and anyone else I have forgotten. Because (and forgive me if I’m wrong) dieting is something that affects all of us in one way or another and if we haven’t toyed with the idea of it ourselves, then our wife or child or aunty or friend or father probably has. So yes. Shall we proceed?
It is my belief that people generally diet due to a low self-esteem or a poor body image – and that one who diets places themselves at a higher risk of developing an eating disorder. Let me make it very clear that eating disorders don’t just occur in individuals who have experienced trauma – sometimes, they can be a diet gone horribly, horribly wrong. 45% of women and 23% of men within their healthy weight range perceive themselves as overweight and at least 20% of women who are underweight perceive themselves as overweight and are thus dieting to lose weight. Australians also spend up to 1 million dollars a day on fad diets that have little to no effect on their weight and even one who remains on a weight loss program is likely to regain 1 to 2 thirds of the weight back within a year, and nearly all of (and sometimes even more than) the weight back within 5 years. Dieting can lead to eating disordered behaviour – obsessiveness with the scales perhaps, measuring food or overexercising. It’s easy to push these things aside and pretend that they aren’t a problem, but being obsessed about anything really is not ideal – and anything that interferes with how one functions on a day-to-day basis is an issue that needs to be addressed.
I once had a young woman in recovery from Bulimia Nervosa ask me if I thought it was appropriate if she went on a “diet”. She told me it was a pretty normal thing, according to society’s standards anyway, and that she only wanted to lose a few kilos. I was quite adamant that one who was in recovery from an eating disorder would only be setting themselves up for a relapse if they began dieting and advised that she chose not to do so – but reminded her that the choice, as always, was hers. I also told the woman that for me, a full recovery from Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa meant that I came to an acceptance of my body’s natural weight and shape – I ate intuitively and mindfully, every 2-3 hours and did not manipulate my food intake or indulge in copious amounts of exercise. So in that context, I strongly believe that one who is recovery from an eating disorder would really be unwise to engage with the dieting industry, and to keep their focus on shape, weight and rules around food.
To those who genuinely have a desire to lose weight (AND their doctor was all A-OK about this) – I’d still like to discourage “dieting”. I think that it is unhelpful to create “rules” around food and cut specific food groups out of one’s diet altogether. It is this focus on food and doing the “right thing”, and these rules that we create that lead to eating disorders. Don’t be fooled and think you would never fall into eating disordered behaviour or an eating disorder – we’re all pretty vulnerable to becoming obsessed with the number on the scales or thinking rather constantly about what we’re eating and our shape and weight. Eat mindfully and cleverly and intuitively – but don’t create rules for yourself, because in the end it’s just going to be destructive and unhelpful.
We hold this belief that we can lose weight, and still be the exact same person. This is untrue. It is impossible to change your weight without also changing the way your brain thinks. Life is about so, so much more than our external appearance. There is much more to be thinking about, and there are many more precious things to be doing with our time. There are greater things to be spending our money on than diet foods and diet pills and appetite suppressants and weight loss programs. Coming to a full acceptance of our body means not engaging with dieting. It means not manipulating our food intake, or overexercising. It means providing our body with the essentials that it needs to get through the day. It means not beating ourselves up if we missed our usual walk for the day. It means trusting our body’s hunger signals and cues. And it means having a healthy relationship with our body and thereby being an example to those around us in the way we relate with ourselves and our body.
So I guess that’s my challenge for you today, with or without eating disorder. Dare to be different, and dare to be an example to those around you.