Diets almost always begin with the best of intentions. But did you know that 25% of dieters later develop eating disorders? The diet world sucks you in and takes you down a slippery slope. For some, dieting may end. However, for many diets become never-ending. So when does dieting become disordered?
Most diets begin with one goal: to lose weight. Some dieters may want to improve their overall diet and obtain better health status. Others may just wish to reach a specific goal weight. Many dieters stop once their objective is achieved. However, the restriction, calorie counting, black and white thinking, and food obsession that comes with dieting sets individuals up for problems further down the road. Almost all eating disorders begin with an innocent diet. But this diet never stops.
A fine line separates dieting from eating disorders. Eating disorders are all consuming, whereas diets are an aspect of life that can be put aside when necessary. Dieters may be able to stop their diet any time they choose. They do not constantly think about food, plan meals to perfectly fit their calorie and macronutrient counts, or weigh themselves religiously. Those with eating disorders often show these symptoms. They are obsessed with food and may even spend hours researching recipes or cooking food that they do not eat. Also, they struggle with distorted body image. Dieters often see their body weight as undesirable, but their perception of their weight is not morphed. Those with eating disorders have body dysmorphia, meaning that they see themselves differently than others see them.
A common misconception among the public, as well as untrained health professionals, is that eating disorders are merely defined by physical symptoms. However, the DSM-5 guidelines have changed so that the emphasis is on the psychological symptoms that define these disorders. Just because someone has lost a significant amount of weight does not mean that they are struggling with disordered eating. Similarly, just because someone has not lost weight does not mean that they may be free from disordered eating.
So what does this mean for you? If you are a dieter, ask yourself these simple questions to evaluate if your diet may be an eating disorder:
- Do I feel preoccupied with food and calories?
- Would I be able to stop dieting at a given time or put my diet aside for a special event, such as a birthday? Or do I feel the need to rigidly control my food intake and exercise regimen?
- Do I relentlessly pursue thinness and feel that I cannot maintain a normal body weight?
- Do I have an intense fear of gaining weight?
- Do I see my body differently than the way others see it?
For more information on the specific symptoms of eating disorders, visit the National Institute of Health website at http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/eating-disorders/index.shtml. If you think that you may be suffering from disordered eating, please view the resources listed on the “Useful Resources” tab.