I’ve silently struggled with disordered eating behaviors since I was a teenager. My ongoing issues with body dysmorphia and undiagnosed endometriosis created a pretty toxic relationship with food. Struggling with food intolerances that triggered IBS-like symptoms. And, the pressure I felt to change my body made it easy for me to fall down the rabbit hole of diet culture and body shaming. And while I wasn’t diagnosed with an eating disorder, many of the patterns, rituals, and behaviors I practiced were unhealthy and hurting my health and well-being.
Here’s a shocker for you; at least 50% of Americans show signs of disordered eating. But, society’s obsession with thinness and perfect bodies fuels diet culture. Diet culture focuses on teaching us that real bodies aren’t good enough. We have marketed a lie continuously via social media and entertainment. We can’t be happy unless we’re fit, thin, and “healthy.”
Furthermore, the only way to accomplish a “perfect body” is through restrictive dieting and exercise. These behaviors quickly become normalized and taught as the only acceptable way to maintain health and wellness. To not fall into these paradigms means you’re labeled unhealthy, lazy, irresponsible, and shamed for your body’s appearance.
In my case, I didn’t realize how unhealthy I was until I began studying to become a wellness coach. Learning that nutrition involved more than just the nutrient density of specific foods. Nutrition also includes the mental and emotional relationship we have with the foods we consume. Being introduced to intuitive, mindful eating and living life beyond calorie counting and macro tracking was mind-blowing. Indeed, learning how to create a healthy lifestyle that wasn’t focused on aesthetics helps me navigate my disordered eating behaviors.
Disordered Eating Is…
One of the most important things to understand about disordered eating is that it’s not a medical term. It’s not a “diagnosis.” It’s not considered an eating disorder. Generally, there are specific criteria involved with diagnosing an eating disorder such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa. Anything that falls outside of that criteria will land it in the grey area of an eating disorder not otherwise specified. Which is the category various disordered eating behaviors fall under.
However, disordered eating is a descriptive term that highlights eating patterns or practices linked with an unhealthy relationship with food and doesn’t necessarily require a diagnosis. The most important thing to understand is that disordered eating is an unhealthy fixation on food contributing to restrictive dieting, excessive exercise, and body image issues.
Unhealthy Behavior Towards Food & Exercise
So, what does disordered eating look like? When it comes to health and wellness—especially for those with chronic illness, dietary restrictions, and food intolerances, it’s complicated. Sometimes nutritional changes ease symptoms for inflamed bodies in constant pain. Eating the wrong thing contributes to flares, increased pain, and digestive distress. Additionally, the desire to achieve a perfect, healthy body is strong for chronic illness patients. Thus, giving birth to disordered eating tendencies focused on fixing all that’s wrong with the body.
Please don’t get me wrong. I believe that proper nutrition is the gateway to managing chronic illness and health in general. But, becoming obsessed with doing so can be problematic, such as frequent dieting, food anxiety, especially with specific food groups, skipping meals, rigid rituals surrounding food and exercise, preoccupation with diet, weight, and body image. And, struggling with compulsive eating habits, feeling a loss of control around food, abusing exercise or restrictive dieting, fasting or purging tactics to make up for eating “bad foods.”
Disordered Eating Behaviors I Struggle With
Many of the behaviors I shared before are habits I practiced since I was in my late teens. Mostly because I was taught that doing so was considered proactive in preserving my health. Furthermore, these behaviors were deemed to be normal. I was praised when I lost weight and became smaller or gained weight in the “approved” areas such as bigger boobs and bigger butt. However, gaining too much weight or not having a “trending” figure didn’t garner the same reactions. I was told to “watch it” and make sure I didn’t gain too much. Or, casual jokes and slurs referencing my change in body composition were made.
The combination of stomach distention from cysts, bloating from endo belly, food intolerances, and body dysmorphia increased my body image issues. Hence why I struggled with food anxiety, emotional eating, caloric restriction, restrictive dieting, demonizing food, overeating, macro tracking, and obsessively measuring food. As for my body image, I felt compelled to weigh myself daily and compare my body to others to see if I measured up and struggled to create the “perfect body.”
Decreasing My Disordered Eating Triggers
Honestly, I thought that I was over my obsession with my body image and weight obsession. Through intuitive eating, I’ve worked hard at unlearning diet mentality and developing a pretty good relationship with food. After my surgery last year, I’ve found myself struggling with these issues in a new way. The post-surgery scarring really affected me, and the extreme weight loss and super fast weight gain impacted my body image. I’ve noticed over the past few months how many of these triggers have been resurfacing, and it’s been tough to navigate. But, here’s what I’ve been working on so far.
One of the hardest things for me to conquer is the all-or-nothing mindset I have towards nutrition. If I’m not 100% perfect, I feel like a complete failure, and I start to pick apart my body and tear myself down mentally. Additionally, this increases my anxiety about properly managing my endometriosis, and I become super anxious about the foods that I’m eating.
I’m really working hard to implement being flexible with food and nutrition and just trusting my body. This means prioritizing the basics of a healthy balanced diet that focuses on fruits and veggies, whole grains, healthy fats, lean protein, and tons of water. I avoid counting calories and focus on making sure I get enough from each of the main food groups. Furthermore, I don’t weigh food portions I eyeball and estimate and emphasize eating until I’m satisfied.
Getting Inspired in the Kitchen
I struggle with compulsive eating—especially when it’s processed foods. So, learning how to cook tasty dishes and treats helps me curtail my overeating habit. I like trying to recreate recipes from my favorite restaurants, and planning out my meals for the month so I have a plan of attack when I go grocery shopping. Since it’s the summer and it’s so hot here in south Texas, I prefer to prep my meals in the morning. Doing so means I don’t have to worry about cooking in the evening when it’s super hot. Additionally, I try to keep breakfast and lunch super simple, so I don’t feel overwhelmed.
These habits help prevent me from ordering takeout excessively and purchasing a bunch of pre-made processed foods. Now don’t get me wrong part of the balance for me includes getting take out once a week and including fun treats with my groceries. But, I don’t want to surround myself with too many processed treats that encourage binge sessions, which is something I struggle with. The goal is to nourish my body while enjoying foods I love within reason.
Honor My Body
Since I do have endometriosis and ADHD, it’s essential that I nourish my body with nutrient-dense foods to decrease inflammation, and optimize cognitive function. Making sure I listen to my body and remove food intolerances as needed. Furthermore, I’m working to become better at mindful eating. Doing so is a challenge for my ADHD brain because I’m always trying to do a million things. But, when I do slow down and actually focus on enjoying my meal, I have better digestion, I’m better satisfied, and I don’t overeat.
Another part of honoring my body is to find healthy alternatives to deal with my emotions aside from eating. If I’m feeling stressed or anxious, I try to do something physical or participate in a fun hobby. This way I’m not tempted to sit on the couch and mindlessly eat.
Move My Body
Once upon a time, working out was only about making my body fit a certain aesthetic. Because that was what was considered to be acceptable and beautiful. I never celebrated my body for its own unique beauty and felt intense pressure to assimilate and fit the norm. I would push myself in unhealthy ways during my workouts. I had to “feel the burn” and “feel pain” for it to be effective. So, often I would cause flare-ups because I was pushing my body to the limit.
However, post-surgery recovery taught me that you don’t need to push yourself to the edge to achieve a good workout. Indeed with a chronic illness, you’re doing more harm than good with that approach. Instead, I’ve learned to match my exercise to my body’s current needs. And I’ve created an intuitive, personalized approach to fitness. I focus on training that I love and enjoy while increasing my health and fitness instead of trying to force my body to look a certain way. This is helping me heal my relationship with my body.
Monitor My Consumption
I’m not talking about food consumption quite the contrary. I’m talking about auditing my media consumption, people, ideas, thoughts, and opinions. How do I allow it to impact my relationship with my body and my diet? What damage does consuming specific types of media cause me mentally, emotionally? I’ve discovered that much of the content I consume has an impact on how I see, think, and feel about myself—especially social media. There are so many accounts, people, programs, and opinions online built on the foundation of diet culture. Whether you know it or not, you are always being “sold” that you aren’t good enough, and you’re lacking. Marketing agencies advertise the lie of perfection hoping you’ll purchase what they’re selling and fit the mold to fatten their profit. It’s the adult version of peer pressure.
Hence, I decided to stop consuming triggering content from social media, entertainment, and various other mediums. Anything that increased my food anxiety made me question my body and fall into a comparison trap. Or, tempted me into restrictive dieting tactics, and pushed an all or nothing mindset had to go. Additionally, I replaced triggering media with content promoting body-positive health, balanced, flexible nutrition, real bodies, and lifestyle wellness. All of this encourages me to continue rejecting diet culture and creating a healthy lifestyle that supports my individual needs.
Work In Progress
I’m still working to heal my disordered eating tendencies, and I don’t think it’s something that I’ll 100% conquer. Because my body and my health are changing and evolving each day. So, I may have to re-evaluate my mindset in a few years and make some improvements to continue on my journey. But for right now this works, this helps. Slowly I’m getting better and unpacking the lies, the strongholds, and the limiting beliefs pushed on me by a society that rejects individuality and imperfection. And, If I can find healing and peace amidst the storm, so can you.