In our society, different eating patterns are prescribed depending on body size that may lead to more harm than good. Let’s find out more on how this fuels disordered eating.
Disordered eating is difficult to define. Often disguised as a ‘diet’ or masked by the skewed perception of what a disordered body should look like, it often goes undetected. Whether it is restricting food or reactive eating that develops from deprivation, these behaviors are our body’s way of trying to signal that something is wrong.
Ironically, instead of seeing these as red flags, they are normalized and praised by society as a means to control body size.
It’s important to realize that restrictive behaviors such as dieting look exactly the same as a restrictive eating disorder: counting or tracking calories, skipping meals, depriving the body of nutrients, and checking weight obsessively.
Depending on the person’s body size, we perceive these behaviors differently. If a person appears emaciated, then the behaviors are deemed disordered. If a person appears any other size, then the behaviors are labeled as “dieting.” This is especially problematic for people recovering from a restrictive eating disorder, such as anorexia nervosa, when the message becomes, “heal and gain weight, but not too much weight.”
Let’s take a look at the 2 most common eating behaviors, and how they unfairly discriminate against certain body sizes.
For those who are in a larger frame, restrictive eating often becomes the method of choice in an attempt to obtain a smaller size. Through restriction, the problem arises in which the autonomic processes of the body are manipulated in an attempt to control body size. However, if you turn off these signals, the body can’t function properly. Imagine walking outside in 95 degree weather and not being able to sweat or if your body couldn’t tell you when your bladder is full. Hunger is no different, yet there are prescriptions for appetite suppressants. Turning off someone’s ability to recognize hunger doesn’t make them healthier. Rather, it starves their cells of nutrients, which then interrupts necessary signals from the gut to the brain, and continues the domino effect of disordered behaviors.
Bingeing, or reactive eating, is sometimes encouraged in those recovering from a restrictive eating disorder who are severely underweight as a means for weight restoration. What most fail to realize is that bingeing is a defensive mechanism of the body and is itself a disordered behavior. Ignoring this or any other disordered behavior can lead to persistence of the eating disorder instead of a full recovery.
Bingeing can be independent of weight or size. When the body feels it has been deprived, either physically or mentally, reactive eating is almost inevitable. Even if the body is being fed, if part of the brain still feels that some foods are off limits or is emotionally deprived, there is the potential to binge. Disordered eating comes full circle when bingeing encourages the same restrictive behavior that you are trying to eradicate. For many, a hangover day of restriction follows a night of bingeing.
What’s clear is that disordered behaviors, or even prescribing them to manipulate body size, doesn’t equal health or recovery.
We can’t dismiss one disordered behavior to “gain weight,” just as we can’t use a disordered behavior to justify “losing weight.” Instead, it is critical to address the underlying contributor factors rather than prescribing a process to control weight. By cultivating a better relationship with food and working toward body acceptance, the body will find its natural ability to heal and find a stable set-point.
This is absolutely possible for anyone, no matter what their size.
Adapted from the original article.
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Haley Goodrich, RD, LDN is a private practice Registered Dietitian based in Pittsburgh, PA inspiring others to have a healthy relationship with food. Specializing in disordered eating, intuitive eating, and digestive health, Haley’s mission is to show that healthy doesn’t have to be restrictive or defined by how you compare to others. To stay inspired to be your healthiest you, visit Haley at INSPIRD Nutrition.