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Blurring the Lines: Eating Disorders and Disordered Eating

Posted Nov 10 2008 9:25pm

photoshop-windy-colored-wavy-shear-wind When I began blogging, I always considered being a disordered eater a separate entity from having an eating disorder.

After all, every woman seems to be a “disordered eater” in one way or another.

And since I never truly binged; never binged and purged (I cry when I throw up; last time was alcohol-induced, at a Dave Matthews Band concert back in 1999); and never starved myself, I was “in the clear,” so to speak … at least in my own little head.

I didn’t classify myself with the girls who threw up their lunches or worked out for four hours a day and lived on lettuce leaves.

I had a complex, thinking, “Well, I’d do anything but that …” as though that made me less culpable or something.

In my head, I wasn’t one of “them”. I just exercised a lot and watched every morsel that went into my mouth.

But I mean, really, who was I kidding? I still had a big, undeniable problem. What might sound admirable (being a militant exerciser and keeping a meticulous food journal) was hurting me –and those I love and who love me — in more ways than one.

Accepting my obsession (my disordered eating behaviors) as a problem was half the battle. Healing through blogging and professional therapy would be the second.

In truth, for well over a year I sat in my car chewing and spitting up chocolate, or home-made cookies at home.

I’d wake in the middle of the night on auto-pilot and eat (but still know enough to journal).

I’d skip social functions if food was involved, or find ways to only go to “safe” places.

I would double-up on workouts, to “counter-act” an indulgence.

I didn’t believe in rest days, and would exercise even when ill, or build my day around my workout.

I’d judge my food as “good” or “bad,” instead of thinking in moderate terms for everything — and subsequently, the foods I’d often eat during a midnight incident or a chew-and-spit session would be “bad.”

I’d keep spreadsheets in addition to journaling on Sparkpeople and Weight Watchers. I journaled my own wedding day, every vacation or holiday with my family — never skipping a day, never taking a break. Going, going, going.

(I tried so hard not to journal our wedding day — I ate whatever I wanted, which wasn’t much given our excitement levels, but I’m ashamed to admit I still added it all up the next day; you can’t unlearn these things and I have a ridiculously good memory).

I was thinking about food and exercise 24/7; it was consuming me. And I was restrictive to the point of not being fun anymore.

My obsession was taking its toll on my personal and even professional life.

Fortunately, I’m in a healing phase where I’ve curbed so, so, so many of these obsessive-compulsive, anxious behaviors over the past year or so (and especially since I began blogging and had my own awareness-awakening in therapy).

Though I have really livened up a bit lately, I’m not out of the woods yet, and might never be 100% “free”. That said, it doesn’t mean I’ll give up trying.

At the meet-and-greet at Panera on Sunday, I got into a great discussion (that I wish I had had more time for!) with MamaV from MamaVision and Steph from Back in Skinny Jeans.

Both women have overcome eating disorders and speak openly on their blogs about them as they promote healthy living. They serve, in my mind, as beacons of hope for millions of young women out there struggling with eating disorders with their wisdom and insight.

And through our chat, I learned that both Steph and MamaV think disordered eating is no different than having an eating disorder; in their minds, disordered eating isn’t a separate tree, but rather as a branch off the same tree.

In fact, they seemed surprised that I didn’t lump disordered eating into the big category of eating disorders like they did. But in the moment, I couldn’t really verbalize my argument of why they are different to me.

What I had wanted to say was that while most women would be classified as being disordered eaters to some extent, they don’t all binge, purge, or starve themselves; we just have a funny relationship with food.

But I couldn’t convey my thoughts.

In my mind, disordered eating behaviors were just that: behaviors; behaviors that could be changed once we got to the root of the problem, and not as serious as a full-fledged disease.

I guess I didn’t view it as a way of life: like anorexia, bulimia and binge eating. But in reality, these behaviors I engage(d) in could easily be precursors or the equivalent of a gate-way drug … leading to more severe and dangerous behaviors down the road.

And so the more we talked about it, the more I realized just how blurred the lines had, indeed, become. I conceded that maybe they were right; maybe they are, after all, one and the same — and all fall under the umbrella of eating disorders.

Maybe disordered eating is just a more vague term coined to describe a wide range of behaviors … a nicer way of saying, “Houston, we have a problem.”

From everything I’ve read (and please know I don’t claim to be an expert of any kind here), eating disorders are not about food, but rather about control, feeling empowered.

They are often deep-rooted, and driven by anxiety, perfectionism. Augmented by fear of failure; fear of fat. It goes on, each woman bearing her own background history.

And because these traits fit both eating disorders and disordered eating behavior, there was truly no differentiator when I really thought about it — except that you could die from anorexia or bulimia and probably not from, say, chewing-and-spitting or midnight eating (my two scarlet letters).

I thank Steph and MamaV for their input; it really helped me see things differently. In fact, I thought a lot about this on my way home … where did my disordered eating begin?

I know for me, it wasn’t something I struggled with all my life. It literally began after I had lost weight and was maintaining, just a more slender version of myself. I was a “success story,” still me, just 35 lbs. lighter … but with a whole lot of baggage I didn’t have when I began my weight loss journey.

On the other side of the coin, MamaV was a model in Paris at the tender age of 16, and that is where her eating disorder began. It’s different for everyone.

Through counseling and therapy, many people come to attribute their eating disorder to a form of trauma, psychological issues, perfectionist tendencies/control issues, etc — perhaps one of those or a combination of several.

For other girls, as MamaV noted, it’s a temporary phase, a vanity crisis of sorts. They see airbrushed celebs with 24/7 live-in chefs and personal trainers and envy that, however unrealistic it is. For them, it’s a “how low can I go” thing. Or an “I want to indulge but I don’t want the bulge” (so they purge).

The truth is, no matter where the disease or behaviors stem from, and no matter what we call them, they all carry risks.

But with proper professional help - be it counseling, therapy, in-patient or out-patient care … we can make great strides toward recovery and healing.

That’s why I’m doing this: blogging about my experiences — for better or for worse — coupled with seeking professional help. Not only to help myself, but also to help others who might be going through similar challenges.

We’re worth it.

How about you? Do you see a clear or fuzzy distinction between eating disorders and disordered eating?

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