Diets, Eating Disorders, and Learning to Be Kind to Your Body
America is the dieting nation. We’re obsessed. Everything is fiber this, calorie that, skinny jeans now and mini skirt later. We are, however, also the fattest nation on earth. How does that figure?
The same way you figure this: What happens when you tell a kid to not take a cookie from a cookie jar? She takes three (or ten).
Diet to Disorder
That’s what happened to me. When I arrived at college, I was new not only to the campus but to the whole country (I was born in Japan, another diet-crazed country). I didn’t feel secure or in control so I took control of the one thing I’d never had control over before: my diet. I wanted to be pretty more than I wanted to eat, so I stopped eating “bad” foods like cookies, bread, pasta, and chocolate. Pretty soon, my daily food intake consisted of whole grains and veggies. That sounds good, but not at 1,200 to 800 calories a day. I quickly went from being 5’4” and 120 lbs to 5’4 and 90 lbs.
I was anorexic for over a year, but it never occurred to me that I was unhealthy. I looked down at girls with eating disorders and assumed they were dumb bimbos with plastic bodies. What I was doing wasn’t an eating disorder or even a diet, I told myself. I was just being healthy.
Then, toward the end of my sophomore year in college, I started bingeing alone on Sunday mornings on all the bad foods I’d denied myself for years. I couldn’t help it. It started with one whole chocolate bar. Weeks later, I was eating two or three in the space of thirty minutes. I would purge into a trash can and go on about my day as if it had never happened. I would cry those nights, but I still couldn’t figure out why I was sad all the time.
Why Diets Fail
Let’s get back to the kid and the cookie jar. When you swear off something, you want it more, especially when it’s all around you and the only reason you’re not allowed to have it is that you’re not good enough (pretty enough) to risk the caloric damage. Dieting is like living in a cookie jar and forced to eat what you don’t want every day.
That’s why it doesn’t work. Almost 50% of dieters suffer from binge-eating disorder. According to Renfrew, an eating disorder research center, 95-98% of dieters gain the weight back (and more) within 3 years. No matter how strong you are inside and no matter how determined you are to lose weight for whatever reason, you will eventually break down.
Diets fail. Worse, they’re the number one cause of eating disorders. People who don’t like to fail—straight A students, perfectionists, people whose families have high standards, and “well-behaved children”—don’t like to gain back the weight they lost. That’s why they resort to extreme measures, like I did.
Being Kind to Your Body
It took years for me to realize I had a problem. I took a hint from Geneen Roth, a former disordered eater and current Good Housekeeping columnist: eat what your body wants.
For the first few months after I stopped starving myself, all I wanted was “bad” food. That’s the mind, not the body talking. It’s no surprise I gained weight, but that process also helped me realize that my weight wasn’t the be-all, end-all of my life. My friends still liked me. People continued to hit on me at bars. I very, very slowly stopped relying on others’ opinions of me in determining how much I liked myself.
Eventually, I stopped reading Self Magazine’s latest dieting trend and looked away from the yummy bakery and tuned into my body’s wavelength. Instead, I listened to my body. Even if my nose and mouth wanted chocolate truffles, my body usually wanted something more nutritious. Sometimes, it wanted eggs in the morning. Other times, it wanted something sweet, like blueberry pancakes a la mode.
Your body is amazing, no matter its shape or size. It knows what nutrients it needs and it’s telling you, albeit very quietly. If you’re kind to your body and yourself the way you’re kind to your friends and family, you body will love you back.
Bio: Maria Rainier is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She is currently a resident blogger at First in Education where she writes about education, online degrees, and what it takes to succeed as a student taking a masters degree program remotely from home. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.