We live in a society today that revolves around food. Celebrating graduation? Let’s go out to eat. Holidays? Which family member is making cookies and who’s bringing the buffalo chicken dip? Want to meet up with a friend? Let’s go grab coffee at Starbucks and hey maybe grab a cake pop or a cookie while we are at it.
I am by no means criticizing this world that we live in. I’ll be the first person to admit that the best part about the holidays (besides spending time with friends and family, of course) is the food. The best part of traveling? Eating and trying new foods. I LOVE FOOD. Who doesn’t, right?
As a female, i have gone through various yoyo dieting phases in my life, even before i got involved with bodybuilding. Then when i started competing, i became even more aware of my relationship habits with food-both healthy and not. Competing requires you to put an extra emphasis on your training and nutrition which can often times sway us even further away from what is “normal”.
This post is to (hopefully) give you a little bit more insight into what is “normal” eating and give you an opportunity to reflect on yourself personally and your relationship with food. In recent studies, close to 50% of the population demonstrated a disordered relationship with food, their body, and exercise. I think that statistic in itself goes to show the importance of this issue which is another reason why i chose to write this post. I have done a previous blog post on Disordered Eating: Food Guilt so go check that out if you haven’t already.
*I want to preface this by saying that i am by no means a psychiatrist and am no means claiming to be. I am just sharing with you all what i have learned in my nutrition classes as well as sharing with you my experiences as a female and a competitor. Eating habits and eating disorders are one area of the nutrition field that i am really passionate about which is why i am sharing this all with you*
Lets get to it…..
“NORMAL” EATING ——> DISORDERED EATING ——> EATING DISORDERS
What is “Normal” Eating?
Normal eating is just that- “normal” eating. Mind blowing right? Normal eating is flexible. It is eating a balanced, varied, and moderate diet. If someone is eating “normally”, they are “enjoying” their food. They are eating foods that they like and want to eat. Some days that may mean they over eat but some days they may under eat as well. There may be some constraint in their food choices, maybe choosing baked chicken over fried chicken, but their food choices are not overly restricted or rigid. They eat when they are hungry and stop when they are full. It means going out to eat with their family without a care in the world or a second thought. These individuals’ eating habits vary based on their emotions, schedule, hunger levels, and their proximity to food. This is the “ideal”. This is what nutritionists and dietitians preach as the “Total Diet Approach”. The Total Diet Approach basically states that all foods can fit into a healthy diet. By watching portion sizes and enjoying treats, in moderation, we are all capable of living a happy and healthy life. And isn’t that what we all want? To be happy, healthy, and able to enjoy that piece of cheesecake from Cheesecake Factory every once in a while?
What is “Disordered” Eating?
“Disordered” eating is a deviation from the norm but is not considered to be to the extreme of an eating disorder (per say). The DSM-5 defines disordered eating as “a wide range of irregular eating behaviors that do not warrant a diagnosis of a specific eating disorder.” Disordered Eating is not necessarily easily recognizable. Some of the symptoms associated with disordered eating is chronic yoyo dieting, frequent weight fluctuations, extremely rigid/unhealthy food and exercise regimen, feelings of guilt when unable to maintain food/exercise habits, preoccupation with food/body image/exercise which can lead to feelings of anxiety that cause a negative impact on ones’ quality of life, compulsive/emotionally driven eating, and/or compensatory measures such as exercise, food restriction,fasting, purging, or laxatives to make up for over indulging.
As i have mentioned in past blog posts, i have definitely gone through my phases with disordered eating. What did this look like for me? Prior to competing, at Cal, i went through disordered eating where i meticulously tracked everything i ate and worked out obsessively. I remember going to Ohio State, for the weekend, with my then boyfriend and being so upset because i couldn’t workout and i couldn’t eat my normal foods. I was so upset when i returned to Cal and saw that i gained 2 lbs that weekend. (Wow, its amazing that i can even remember that. Crazy.) Fast forward a year or two….After my first competition, i definitely experienced even more disordered eating. I binged hard post competition. (*HUGE difference between binge eating and overeating – I plan on doing a different post on binge eating in the future- please let me know if this is something you would be interested in and what you would like me to address in that post). I ate past the point of full and ate until i felt overly full and guilty. Fast forward a full year. After my most recent competition season, i started to obsess over numbers. I was obsessing over the number on the scale and i let that number determine my mood for the day. I started to feel guilt over whether or not i hit my macros. I felt guilt for gaining weight post show and not staying “stage lean”. I placed too much emphasis on my appearance and the foods i was not able to eat because they didn’t “fit” my macros. I chose not to go out to eat with my boyfriend, friends, family, because i didn’t want to risk not hitting my macros spot on. None of these habits were healthy…and eventually i recognized that. I took a brief, 3-4 month break with weighing myself, tracking macros, and focused on other areas of life besides numbers. I started “intuitively eating” and ate foods that i hadn’t allowed myself to have for a long time. I enjoyed froyo without the anxiety of knowing i had to weigh myself the next day, and ate triscuits straight out of the box.. I found this time to be really beneficial, for me personally, in improving my relationship with food and improving my mental health.
Eating Disorders are the extreme on the spectrum of eating. While Disordered Eating is slightly deviated from normal eating behaviors, Eating Disorders have a much greater deviation from the norm. Eating disorders are clinically diagnosed using the DSM-5 because they are a psychological illness. There are deeper more complex issues, i.e. emotional and psychological issues, than simply food and nutrition. Eating Disorders that are recognized by the DSM-5 include Anorexia, Bulimia, Binge Eating Disorder, and Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified. To meet the criteria for one of these disorders, the individual must meet a strict set of criteria. Accompanying these disorders often times include a high frequency of said behaviors, for example binging and purging over and over x amount of times in a month span, usually in secret, and typically with emotions, of some kind, attached. I am not going to go into specifics about each ED, but as i said above, i do plan on doing another blog post on BED. Eating Disorders are an extreme and they are more than just a control issue… An eating disorder doesn’t just “go away” because you switch from a meal plan to IIFYM, or go from “prep” to “off season”. My advice if you are reading this and you are struggling with an eating disorder, please reach out and talk to someone who can help you, such as a psychiatrist, therapist, and/or someone who specializes in eating disorders. It is important to know that you are not alone and that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
As you would expect, Disordered Eating is more prevalent than Eating Disorders because of strict ED criteria. Both are more prevalent in females (more so than males–that may also have something to do with the fact that a lot of men do not come forward with their EDs but that’s besides the point) and athletes. Athletes who are involved in sports involving weight classes or aesthetics are especially at risk to develop some type of disordered eating… HELLOOOOO I can especially relate to this because bodybuilding is ALL about aesthetics…how you look, how lean you are, how “shredded” you are…you get my point.
So where do you fall on this Spectrum of Eating? It is important to be able to look at yourself and your relationship with food and objectively determine where you stand. It took me some time but eventually i was able to look at myself, and my relationship with food, and realize that i was not happy or healthy. I was tired of feeling guilty, stressing about hitting my macros 100% of the time-25/8, and tired of placing too much emphasis on my appearance and the number on the scale. By doing so, i was able to make a change and work towards improving my mental health and my relationship with food. Luckily, i have never suffered from an ED. But there are many individuals out there who have, and are suffering. There is so much more to an ED than just eating too much or eating too little. Reach out to someone who can help you move forward.
I really hope that i was able to get my point across to someone when writing this blog. Sometimes i feel like i get super passionate about a topic and it can come across as random word vomit all over the page lol. PLEASE like/share/subscribe if you can relate to this post in any way or know someone who could benefit from reading.
Comment below if you have any thoughts or ideas for future posts (about BED or in general) and keep checking back for more,