8 Signs You May Have an Eating Disorder
I remember when I used to research this stuff! Of course the reason I was researching was because intuitively I already knew I had an eating disorder, but still, I needed to know for sure. Unfortunately, I could not find anything convincing enough. Nothing spoke to me. Most of the documented eating disorder information I found was solely medically based and overly generalized. It was impersonal, and I could not identify with it. No, I did not think I was fat at 67 pounds. When I looked in the mirror, I saw a skeleton. Not a fat person. No one seemed to understand how trapped I felt (and actually was), and how no matter what anyone told me, any therapist, any healer, any relative, even my own logical knowing of the severe implications of my lifestyle, I was not able to change… until I was. The reason I am sharing this list with you is because I have been through it. I healed myself of something I did not even see coming. We do not choose eating disorders. They choose us. With this seemingly instinctive knowledge, I chose to let it run its course. And just like a tornado leaves its trail of destruction, I opted to rebuild. Eating disorders are in dire need of an empathetic and informed voice. The fact that I survived is a sheer miracle, which has helped direct my path and purpose in this world.
- Avoidance of social situations.
…Especially social situations involving food. If a person does not trust him or herself around food, it’s likely that person falls in the category of disordered eating. Avoiding social situations and choosing isolation allows a person with an eating disorder to feel he or she is ‘in control’ of his or her food choices, as opposed to the possibility of temptation. Also, fear of others’ judgment around their food choices can cause a person with an eating disorder to hibernate. Alone time here and there is wonderful and necessary. Yes. There’s a limit though, and the reason for reclusion must be addressed. Relating is a vital component of health, the the more one actively cuts them off from contact with others in this way, the more he or she is cutting him or herself off from a balanced life. Lack of self trust is the root of much suffering.
- Thinking about food all the time.
Of course many people get excited to eat. It is exciting, and a delightfully necessary experience. It is a true gift to the senses. But… if more than twenty percent of your day involves the preparation, thought, or eating of food, there’s a possibility there is too much emphasis on it and the relationship may not be a healthy one. Of course, if a person pays no attention to their food intake whatsoever, it would benefit that person to commit more time to food shopping, preparation, and the like. There is a fine line between organizing a weekly meal plan and micromanaging and fantasizing to the point of stress. Eating is a natural phenomenon, and the more it becomes an obligation or some sort of strict regimen, the more dangerous the act becomes. I remember I used to be thinking about lunch during breakfast, and dinner during lunch. During dinner, I would already be planning out the next morning’s breakfast. I was not present. Presence is where healing starts. In the present moment. Right now.
- Measuring food.
If you only saw my fancy schmancy collection of scales, measuring cups, measuring spoons, and other tools that helped me cling to the illusion of feeling ‘safe’. This goes hand in hand with micromanaging food. If a person tends to over eat, in order to slowly break the habit, it can be beneficial to start measuring food in order to keep track of intake, but if it becomes an obsession, it becomes a disease. Think about that. For one person, measuring food can be helpful. For another person, it can be hazardous. Our bodies are innately designed to send signals of satiety. When we lose touch with our natural rhythm is when we need measurements to tell us when to stop eating, how much to have, etc. It comes from the mind, not the body. Simply numbers. Listening to our bodies is the only way to sustainable mental and physical balance.
- Weighing in daily (or more than once per day).
Again, weighing oneself with an open and flexible mind can be harmless, but if there is stress associated with a number on a scale, it may be a signal of an eating disorder. In addition, if a person feels anxious regarding minimal increments on the scale, that is a sign of an eating disorder as well. I used to weigh my self at the same exact time every morning and every night. If my weight were .2 pounds (1/5 of a pound) heavier than the previous day, I would compensate by limiting my food intake the next day. Please re-read that sentence. That sentence clearly describes an eating disorder. When we are attached to a number on a scale (or anything else for that matter), we lose our power. We give our power to the scale. We become powerless.
- Hiding food.
I didn’t even know why I was hiding food, but I did. I had piles of cookies in my bedroom at one point. They were these low carb cardboard tasting cookies. I would take one bite of one cookie, and that was my dessert. I did it by myself. No one saw. I did not want anyone else to be around them. I became the cookie monster. Literally. Food under the bed, food in the drawers, food where food shouldn’t be. All signs. It’s all good. But clear signs nonetheless. Pay attention.
- Chewing and spitting.
I remember witnessing myself chewing and spitting sprouted Ezekiel bread with almond butter into the trash, and in the moment I caught myself thinking ‘Wow, I can’t believe I’m doing this right now.’ Seriously. I couldn’t believe what I was doing. I was observing myself performing an act I had previously judged to be crazy. I don’t even now how it got to that point, but boy did I secretly feel good about it. My ego felt completely high if I was able to receive the pleasure of taste and chewing and then spit the food out so I didn’t have a chance of gaining weight by swallowing it! I don’t think any more has to be said on this subject. If a person is chewing their food and not swallowing it, this is a tremendously clear sign of an advanced eating disorder.
- Anger at others for being fat or thin.
This is such an interesting aspect of eating disorders. A person with an eating disorder tends to judge others for being too thin or too fat. For example, a person who has an eating disorder that keeps them thin may exude a ‘holier than thou’ attitude towards people who are overweight or who can’t control their food intake. It makes their ego feel good. It makes that person feel more powerful. It is a false sense of power. A person who has an eating disorder that keeps weight on may judge or condemn people for being too thin. The truth is, all eating disorders are the same. When I was going through my eating disorder, I had a good friend who was also going through one, however she was overweight. We used to sit at Starbucks and talk about life. Each time we met, I ordered a hot water and she enjoyed a coffee cake, a chocolate chip cookie, and a strawberry Frappuccino. We didn’t even talk about it. It was just normal. I saw myself in her. I saw her fear and her struggle. And she saw mine too. We were direct reflections of each other. I am grateful for this opportunity, as it taught me to be gentler with others and, in turn, with myself. Again, overemphasis on physical appearance and judgment of others based on their food choices and body is a sign of disordered eating. It is all ego. No love. Just ego.
- Weakness and soreness.
Occasional weakness is normal and natural for many people, but chronic weakness isn’t. And, if you over exercise, which accompanies many eating disorders, it’s likely you will feel weak. Same goes for soreness. After a good workout, it’s actually a good sign to be sore. It shows that muscle fibers are rebuilding and a person is gaining strength. I used to consider myself ‘lazy’ if I didn’t feel sore every day. I exercised for nearly six hours per day (my eating disorder took up all of my time). I was always weak due to my excessive workouts, and it was difficult for me to walk up a flight of stairs. Alternatively, a person who overeats and under exercises (which I feel is nearly an epidemic in our culture) may experience weakness and soreness in muscles and joints due to under-use. The body is made to move. Not to move beyond one’s limits for hours on end as if being chased by a wild animal. But to move naturally. We have legs for a reason, and that reason is not to sit all day on the couch eating, nor is it to force ourselves to run ten miles per day when we would actually rather be having a romantic dinner with a loved one. Our bodies are constantly sending us signals of imbalance, and it is our responsibility to pay attention and honor the only place we have to live.
It’s important to point out that eating disorders come in many shapes and sizes. In fact, no two eating disorders are the same, even though the signs and symptoms may be comparable. Just as many trees look alike, no two trees are exactly the same. Each person is unique, and so is his or her situation. I encourage self-love, compassion, and non-judgment to be practiced when we are dealing with others and ourselves around this subject. I don’t particularly enjoy using the term ‘eating disorder’, but I haven’t come up with an alternative yet. Eating disorders may include overeating and under eating. Overall, they portray an unhealthy relationship with food. The physical appearance of a person with an eating disorder is secondary. It is a by-product of a deep inner turmoil. In fact, many people with eating disorders look completely normal and proportional weight-wise. But they are suffering inside. Eating disorders involve over emphasis on food and usually are an outward expression of an inner need for other forms of nourishment in one’s personal life.