I had an eating disorder for far longer than I realized. When I finally came to grips with my disease and got help, I walked quite a ways back down amnesia lane with my therapist and dietitian. I was 30 years old at the time, and found my disorder started about age 10 while my disordered eating behaviors started about age 5. This is no exaggeration. My parents missed the signs; they didn’t know these were warnings that my negative relationship with food tied together with my low sense of worth and was a precursor to a horrible eating disorder in making.
So let’s talk about some signs of disordered eating that very well may portend an eating disorder.
- Skipping meal: it started out for me as being too tired to eat breakfast and just going to school. I was starving by lunch and binged, often eating the leftovers from others’ lunches. Then I hated myself, which led to a need to emotionally eat later to deal with that self-loathing. Horrible cycle.
- Counting calories: little calorie counting books came first, then Weight Watchers points, then frozen Jenny Craig meals. Next were web site like Livestrong followed by all the apps for iPads, phones, and the like. My need to know if I ate too much became like a game, to see how close I could get to the perfect number. Not being perfect was yet another source for proof of my loathsomeness.
- Avoiding “bad” foods: Cutting out sugar was one attempt at controlling my calories. But the more I cut it out, the more I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Every diet out there was yet another way for me to cut something else yummy out of my life. The obsession to eat “right” and “good” took over, at one point finally leading to anorexia for me.
- Eating in secret due to shame: my anorexic behavior lasted about a year, and morphed back into binge-regret-repent-restrict behavior yet again. Because I could never predict my behavior or my ability to control my urges, I isolated away which only reinforced my social anxiety and depression. Not much else was left except to keep falling back into the damned cycle over and over again.
- Eating with special utensils and plate: I tried specialized plates with markings for how much food to put on it (e.g. potatoes go in this little red circle, and meat, if red, goes in this little spot here, etc.). I tried forks and spoons that had a red light to tell you to put the utensil down and a green one to give you permission to eat the next bite. Can you imagine trying to eat with someone while you use these things? Me either. So I remained quite alone.
- Working out to eat: at times I only allowed myself to eat if I had exercised enough. Other times my exercise was a form of purging out my food, calculating the exact number of calories I ate and only getting off the machines at the gym when I burned that amount or more off. This led to serious joint damage I’m still dealing with today.
- Fixating on what you’re going to eat when you’re not eating: planning the where, what, and how much of my food intake was a constant source of anxiety. I had to have it calculated and pre-determined. I craved to go on liquid diets just so I wouldn’t have to think about food any more. It also meant rigidity in social options, and I chose to be alone more than not to avoid having to break from my planned routine.
This is just a sample of behaviors to look out for. There are more. But the thread that ties them all together is the belief that if I can just control my food and my body then my life will be better and I will be better. That’s a fallacy. You are worthy of eating, enjoying food, and feeling the positive emotions that come with shared meals and how they people together. Food is a major part of life. We can’t avoid it. To do so is just plain disordered.
By Andrew Walen, LCSW-C, LICSW, CEDS - Founder and CEO at The Body Image Therapy Center. If you would like to get in touch with Andrew please call 877-674-2843 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.