Food, Weight, and Dieting- Oh My!

September 30th, 2012 by Sara Upson

People like to talk about food, weight and dieting.  It’s accepted.  It’s easy.  It kind of creates a bonding experience when you share battle stories of previous diets or when you start a new diet and a friend or co-worker joins you.  What happens though when that diet goes too far, or when things get out of hand?  There are some things attached to dieting that nobody likes to talk about.  Things that are difficult and uncomfortable and very personal.  It’s much easier to focus on the surface issues and not consider the deeper issues.  However, this week three individuals decided it was time to talk about it.  What do these individuals: Stacy London, Lady Gaga, and Katie Couric all have in common?

This week Stacy London, Lady Gaga, and Katie Couric all admitted that they had struggled with an eating disorder in their past.  Eating disorders are serious illnesses and in the United States 10 million females and 1 million males are struggling with anorexia or bulimia.  Millions more are struggling with binge eating disorder.1   For a variety of reasons many individuals with eating disorders suffer alone and do not get the treatment they need.  One study found that only 6% of people with bulimia received mental health care.1  Many cases go unreported and many individuals struggle by themselves with body dissatisfaction and sub-clinical eating disorder attitudes and behaviors.
While eating disorders are most common in teen and young adult women, their prevalence is on the rise in adult women, children, and men.  Eating disorders do not discriminate and affect men and women of all ages.  People with eating disorders can be underweight, normal weight, or overweight so you cannot tell if a person has an eating disorder just by looking at them.  All forms of eating disorders can be fatal, and one in ten people with an eating disorder will die as a direct result of the illness.1
The disturbing thing about eating disorders is that nobody likes to talk about them.  Not talking about them, however, does not make the problem go away or mean that the problem does not exist.  Ironically, people love to talk about food, weight, and dieting all day long and dieting is the number one trigger for an eating disorder.  35% of normal dieters progress to pathological dieting and of those, 20-25% progress to partial or full-syndrome eating disorders.   Even when dieting does not progress to a full-blown eating disorder there are still many psychological repercussions from the diet itself.  Whether it is body dissatisfaction, feeling out of control with food, guilt after eating, thinking about food an exorbitant amount of time, or never feeling “good enough” about what you eat or your body– nobody likes to talk about these issues because they are hard and uncomfortable and it could mean that there is a much deeper underlying issue.  Now, just to be clear, I am not saying that because you diet there is a problem or that all diets lead to eating disorders.  What I am saying is that our culture’s obsession with food, weight, and dieting creates an environment that perpetuates the problem and not very many people want to address the real issue.  Typically another diet and more control with food and eating is the solution.   In reality the solution is working to create a healthy relationship with food.  To do this though, we must first admit that problems with food, weight, and dieting exist and then take time to talk about the real issue.

Three celebrities did just that this week. Whether it is a public ploy for media attention or a true concern to address the deeper issue, we don’t know.   Either way, celebrity eating disorder confessions do help raise awareness about eating disorders.  The more people who talk about them, the more awareness it generates.  In addition, celebrity confessions help to reduce the negative stigma associated with eating disorders, which could encourage more people to seek help from a professional.  (Eating disorders are treatable, especially when they are caught early.)  It is important to note that there is a double-sided sword when it comes to eating disorder celebrity confessions.  On one hand celebrity eating disorder confessions can help to bring about awareness, however on the other hand celebrity talk about eating disorders can be a slippery slope.  Media outlets like to sensationalize and glamorize eating disorders making them seem more interesting and appealing.  In reality, they are very serious illnesses.  Media coverage with personal information and anecdotal experiences can actually promote eating disorders and contribute to their development.   Increased awareness for eating disorders is needed as well as sensitive and careful coverage of this topic.  I do think it is time to talk about eating disorders and disordered eating, however it must be done in sensible manner that promotes positive body image- not guilt and shame.

Instead of continuing the talk about dieting and body dissatisfaction lets switch the topic of the conversation to one of care and self-acceptance that enables individuals to reach out for help in a positive and supportive manner.  It’s time to go beyond the surface and talk about the real issues.
The following questions are a simple screen that you can use to find out if you (or someone you care about) may be struggling with an eating disorder.  Please note: These questions are not intended to diagnose eating disorders or any other disorder.  They are designed for initial screening purposes only.

  •  Do you make yourself sick because you feel uncomfortably full?
  • Do you worry you have lost control over how much you eat?
  • Have you recently lost more than 14 pounds in a three-month period
  • Do you believe yourself to be fat when others say you are thin?
  • Would you say that food dominates your life?

If you answered yes to two or more of these questions it is possible you have an eating disorder or a deeper issue related to food, dieting, and weight that needs attention.

  1. National Eating Disorder Association Fact Sheet on Eating Disorders.  National Eating Disorder Association.  September 2011.  <http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/index.php>

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My Signature Nutrition provides nutrition education and counseling to the people of Tyler, Texas (East Texas) and is proud to be the first nutrition private practice in this area.  Nutrition services include medical nutrition therapy, sports nutrition, weight management, and eating disorders.  In fact, My Signature Nutrition, LLC is the only nutrition provider in East Texas who specializes in Eating Disorder treatment.   Previously, East Texans suffering from an eating disorder had to travel to Dallas or Houston to get the necessary specialized nutrition care from a registered dietitian.

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