A young woman shared a brilliant insight into what she perceives as a long term eating disorder. She said, “I think I eat until I am so full that I want to burst, because I don’t feel fulfilled in my life.” She is talented, caring, devoted to family and friends, intelligent, creative and loving… to everyone but the woman in the mirror. As she said this, I was astounded since it so perfectly illustrates what for many is the doorway to food intake patterns that are unhealthy.
Over the years, she has binged and purged, as well as restricted food in an attempt to “have a perfect body.” There was a time when she felt she had come close, but just like her emotional state, it would morph to fit the expectations of those around her.
She is not alone. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, she is one of 20 million women and 10 million men in the United States who “suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder at some time in their life, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, or an eating disorder not other specified (EDNOS). (EDNOS is now recognized as OSFED, other specified feeding or eating disorder, per the DSM-5.)
Some have no working mechanism that signals approaching fullness when eating. Others are painfully aware of being sated but continue eating. I recall watching an episode of the Dr. Phil show several years ago, that featured a woman who would gorge on massive quantities of food, acknowledge that her body felt full beyond capacity, but then repressed the physical sensations as surely as she repressed the emotional triggers that over-eating was meant to quell. She admitted to not even enjoying the taste of the food as she ate. For her, as is so for many with addictions, the anticipation, the shopping, or ordering fast food, the setting it out before indulging, was part of the ritual behaviors and once the food was before her, all systems were go and all holds or restraints were off.
One wellness blogger speaks of the full feeling as her body’s way of thanking her for fueling it and asking that she wait until the food does its job and she is truly hungry again before eating more. It may mean having a conversation with yourself and ask if you are needing food or wanting it. It is the same question I asked myself today as I walked down the aisle of a local supermarket. I glimpsed a dark chocolate bar that had the name Moser Roth inscribed on the label, from a German company. I justified considering it since Moser was my married last name. Then I looked on the back and read that one small portion was 17 grams of fat and a few hundred calories. No thank you. I was proud of myself for putting it back and walking away from it.
Although I wouldn’t say I have a full blown eating disorder, I do acknowledge that I have disordered eating. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-Text Revision), disordered eating is defined as “a wide range of irregular eating behaviors that do not warrant a diagnosis of a specific eating disorder.”
In my case, it takes the form of emotional eating. I notice that in times of moderate to extreme stress, my food intake is greater, I eat more rapidly and I am unconscious of how much I eat. My portion control mechanism is off line. I justify it by telling myself that I go to the gym regularly and intensely work out. The formula of calories in-calories burned is not in alignment. My body weight is above what I want it to be and far beyond what it was in my itsy bitsy 20’s. Some I attribute to aging, some hormonal and the lion’s share is intake vs. outflow. I have begun to ask myself if I want something or need something. I further inquire what need eating meets, like I would ask a client who had a budding or full-blown addiction. Generally, the answer is that I want a particular taste of something, but sometimes lack the control to stop. Think Lays potato chips and the tagline, “Bet you can’t eat just one.” I also hold in mind that if I want to shed weight, I need to refrain from behaviors that take me in the opposite direction.
Today at a family gathering to celebrate the 90th birthday of my uncle, a table was laid out with many food options that included salad, crudité, fruit, wraps, baked cauliflower and fried chicken. I carefully selected the first few and avoided the last one, tempted though I was. Once I felt a sense of approaching fullness, I stopped and drank two cups of water. I spent time talking to family and friends. I snuggled with my four-year-old great niece, and chatted with the “birthday boy,” so as to not overindulge. When the birthday cake was sliced, I had a small piece and avoided the red velvet cupcakes that were nearby.
To feel fulfilled, it is important to recognize one’s intention or goal.
- What is it that feeds your soul and not just your body? In my case, it is creativity, primarily in the form of writing. When I am in “the zone,” I am less likely to eat as much, since my fingers are so busy typing that they are not available to pick up a fork or spoon.
- I have also come to learn that the state of fulfillment can be fleeting and I am looking for the next emotional high, so I dig into my ideas with that same sense of gusto.
- I notice that when I pay attention to my needs and not just those of others, I can self-praise and therefore, self-regulate.
- I allow myself to be flexible amid chaos and challenge. There are days when I am mindful and days when I am mind-full, like a sink filled with dishes.
- In addition, I have discovered that living in the moment, with its unexpected twists and turns, brings with it sweet rewards, far more lasting than the food that is used to self-medicate emotions.
Get the facts on eating disorders. (2016) Retrieved from https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/get-facts-eating-disorders
Wade, T. D., Keski-Rahkonen, A. & Hudson, J. I. (2011). Epidemiology of Eating Disorders, in Textbook of Psychiatric Epidemiology, Third Edition (eds M. T. Tsuang, M. Tohen and P. B. Jones), John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, Chichester, UK. doi: 10.1002/9780470976739.ch20
Anderson, M. (2015, February 25). What is disordered eating?. Retrieved from http://www.eatright.org/resource/health/diseases-and-conditions/eating-disorders/what-is-disordered-eating