- Anorexia – eating very little to maintain a weight less than 85% of what is considered a healthy BMI, and being terrified of weight gain
- Bulimia – binging, or eating a lot in one sitting, to later purge, or burn off via exercise
- Binge Eating Disorder (BED) – having recurrent episodes of eating an unusually large amount while feeling like you can’t stop, and feeling intense guilt or shame about it (Note: eating four cookies is not binging; that’s good for the soul)
- Orthorexia – eating only foods considered “healthy,” “clean” and/or “safe,” with or without the intention of weight loss.
There is also an eating disorder called ED-NOS, or Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified. This applies to individuals who engage in disordered behaviors, but might not fit the criteria of any one disorder listed above. Eating disorders don’t discriminate by sex, size, age or race.
While you may not identify with one of the eating disorders described above, we can all agree that it can be tough maintaining a healthy outlook in today’s society. All we ever hear is: “low carb,” “no fat,” “healthy fats,” “do cardio,” “lift weights,” “eat less,” “gluten free,” “vegan,” “Paleo,” etc. It’s hard NOT to be affected by these messages when the celebrities we see in the media are praised for being thin and toned (even though all most of them do is work out). Reporters to advertisers to fitness gurus make it seem like this is an ideal that can be easily attained by anyone if only you are motivated enough. But not only is that unrealistic, it’s completely unhealthy for your mind and body. Besides, you are already enough!
One Size Doesn’t Fit All
Have you heard the expression health at every size? It’s a pretty cool concept. Basically, ::cue Lady Gaga:: “Baby, you were born this way.” The size you are has been, in part, genetically predetermined. Does your body look like one of your parent’s? That’s why! We all have a natural set point, a weight your body’s systems function at optimally and will fight to stay at. If you try to lose weight or body fat, or just get a bit more toned, you might think the solution is to eat less or work out a ton without properly fueling yourself. This isn’t necessarily the case. You’re going to lose weight initially, yes, but you could also experience a slew of negative side effects: being hungry and angry (a.k.a. “hangry”) all the time, dry skin, thin hair or possible hair loss, irregular or absent periods, constipation, fatigue, weakness and/or fainting and eventually stalled weight loss or gaining easily.
That probably isn’t what you want, and if you continue a lifestyle of under-eating and/or over-exercising, over time you could experience fractures caused by low bone density, fertility issues, organ failure, a slowed heart rate or even a heart attack–the same consequences of eating disorders. Why? Because when you try to maintain a weight lower than your unique set point, your metabolism will decrease accordingly. This allows your body to conserve the energy it does have coming in to fuel more important functions, such as breathing and blood circulation, which are required to, oh yeah, keep you alive. So, even though you might not think you have a full-blown eating disorder, any time you actively choose to eat less or over-exercise without compensating for that extra energy expenditure, you are engaging in disordered behaviors and setting yourself up for health issues. The effects might happen slowly over time, but can be just as severe as anorexia or bulimia. In fact, the effects could be more severe since you are less likely to get help when you or your loved ones don’t notice immediate physical or behavioral changes.
Speed Up That Metabolism
Despite what you’ve heard or read, even 1200-1500 calories per day is not enough for most people, especially when working out. That number is not recommended long-term for most individuals, and will most definitely slow your metabolism over time as your body learns to adjust to what you are feeding it. If you eat more, your body will also adjust, while having sufficient energy to provide all your bodily systems and keep them running efficiently again.
So, do what makes you feel good. Or, just do what you feel like doing! Eat the cookie, take a rest day and be easy on yourself. We know rationally that it’s not the size of your pants or the number on the scale that determines your health or happiness. It is when your body feels good and is functioning as a healthy individual’s should that you give yourself the opportunity to be the healthiest.
Talk to Someone
If you think you or a loved one might have issues with food and/or exercise despite not fitting the “typical criteria” of eating disorders, please tell somebody you trust. Eating disorders are very common and will affect more than 30 million people in the U.S. at some point during their lives. There are many professionals willing to help.
The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) is an organization that seeks a world without eating disorders and is helping to fund prevention programs, research for cures and access to quality care. A helpline (1-800-931-2237) and online chatroom are available Monday through Friday. NEDA also offers in-person support groups and can provide the contact information of specialists and treatment centers in your area.
Additionally, I’m getting involved in the annual New York City NEDA Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge on Sunday, October 5, 2014 to help raise awareness about the dangers surrounding eating disorders and the need for early intervention and treatment. Check out walks happening in other areas of the country throughout the year. E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interesting in joining my team or form your own! Register here today.
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