I’ve written in the past about my obsession with exercise. I think it boils down to the fact that I like the way it feels when I’ve had a good workout, and it has helped prevent the weight gain that most of my relatives have experienced in their adult years. I love having a goal, like a marathon, a century, or a triathlon, and training to see the completion of that goal. I also enjoy cooking, eating, and having an occasional glass of wine or two. So, is my “obsession” with exercise, and eating well actually “disordered eating”?
Sixty-five percent of American women who responded to a national survey by SELF are disordered eaters. Eating habits that women think are normal—such as banishing carbs, skipping meals and, in some cases, even dieting itself—may actually be symptoms of the syndrome. Although disordered eating doesn’t have the lethal potential of anorexia or bulimia, it can wreck your emotional and physical health, says Cynthia Bulik, Ph.D., director of the eating disorders program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The online SELF survey garnered responses from 4,000 women ages 25 to 45 to a detailed questionnaire about their eating habits and found that most disordered eaters fall into one or more of six categories. Calorie prisoners are terrified of gaining weight, tend to see food as good or bad and feel extremely guilty if they indulge in something that’s off-limits. Secret eaters binge on junk food at home, in the car—wherever they won’t be found out. Career dieters may not know what to eat without a plan to follow; despite their efforts, they’re more likely than other types to be overweight or obese. Purgers are obsessed with ridding their body of unwanted calories and bloat by using laxatives, diuretics or occasional vomiting. Food addicts eat to soothe stress, deal with anger, even celebrate a happy event; they think about food nearly all the time. Extreme exercisers work out despite illness, injury or exhaustion and solely for weight loss; they are devastated if they miss a session.
Like me, who Bulik might describe as a calorie prisoner and an exercise addict, many “disordered eaters” piece together a mix of “destructive” habits. Others may shift between categories over the years, ricocheting from restricting to bingeing to purging, for instance.
So if I didn’t exercise 6-7 days a week, or if I ate full portions of desserts, or fast food, would I be considered “healthier” because I wasn’t preoccupied with my diet or physical fitness? I don’t think about it constantly, I just know that if I get up a little bit earlier to fit in exercise, or eat only a bite or two of a food that is caloric, (instead of the whole thing), or avoid fried foods, that I feel better and fit into my clothes. I do realize that living this way can get out of hand, and it also makes people uncomfortable if they don’t exercise or eat well, but why is it that everything has to be diagnosed away as some kind of psychological mumbo-jumbo?