What I’m about to write is no doubt going to be somewhat controversial. Which is why, of course, I’m hesitant to write it. But, frankly, I think it’s something that needs to be said–and something that we have to drag, kicking and screaming, out of the closet so that we can start owning it:
We are all disordered eaters.
I’m not talking about full-on eating disorders, which are very serious, often deadly mental and physical diseases that affect only a portion of the population (and are not diagnosed enough due to the restrictive nature of clinical diagnosis).
I’m talking about the disconnected, dysfunctional relationship that we, as modern-day Americans,* have with our bodies and the way we fuel them. We are constantly bombarded with information about the “right” ways to eat and look and perform, and we have almost unlimited access to processed foods and processed marketing messages, and yet we’re also a nation of chronic dieters, over- and under-exercisers, sugar-addicted binge eaters, and more.
For so many years, I “didn’t have an eating disorder.” I knew that the way that my relationship with food and my body was twisted, but according to the doctors, I wasn’t sick. Even as an “Eat-Clean” devotee, carefully preparing my fat-free turkey breast and protein powder, even as a vegan, dutifully throwing back serving after serving of heart-healthy whole grains and soy, I felt like my relationship with food and my body was out of control.
And I know I’m not the only one. So many of the conversations I have had with friends, family, acquaintances, strangers in line at Starbucks…so many conversations seem to revolve around this complete mystery that is our bodies and the amount of pain our inability to solve that mystery causes us.
- Every “I really shouldn’t” spoken as you reach for a stale cookie in the office break room that you don’t really even want to eat.
- Every reluctant, no-pain-no-gain, two-hour treadmill run that is just as painful and boring as it is ineffective.
- Every promise of “I”m going on a diet, tomorrow” that lasts only as long as tomorrow.
- Every unexplained desire to hop in the car and pick up a soda/dessert/trigger food that is impossible to resist.
- Every successful miracle diet/weight loss pill/fitness program that has ever found its way to the Today Show and Twitter and which you and I have either considered or used.
- The use of the words “comfort food.”
- The existence of modern grocery stores and the fact that people still buy packaged goods…and the list goes on.
Last weekend, when I was in Austin, I was amazed by how many people had come to the Paleo lifestyle not just out of some aesthetic/athletic performance goal, but out of a hit-rock-bottom desire to heal their disordered relationships with food.
Whether we were leaving behind overweight or obesity, healing a sugar or wheat addiction, fixing a health issue, putting an end to chronic dieting, or trying to work past a clinical eating disorder….so many of us were there because we recognized that there was something harmful about the relationships we’d been taught to cultivate with the food we put into our bodies.
And there was a range with the level of healing. Most of us are still on our journeys back to health, and many of us are still fighting the battle with ED and his little brother, Disordered Eating. From my own experience with this 13+ year battle with anorexic/orthorexic/compulsive food behavior, I’ve come to believe that healing–from the inside out, physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally, has to start with the proper nutrition. You don’t even have to believe that you’re going to change your relationship with food–just start doing it, and the behaviors and the belief will follow.
But for those who are still in the process of processing the psychological piece of the puzzle (from orthorexia to an over-reliance on mixed media messages, etc.)…there are mechanisms for beginning to heal:
The first–and most important in my opinion: community. The fact that communities like Paleo/ancestral health exist (both online and in the real world), where people can go to support one another, argue with one another, learn from one another, make mistakes with one another, and ultimately grow past their disorders with one another, means that there are people willing to have the tough conversation about what’s really going on, both with themselves and with others.
The second, nutrition. I honestly believe that, as Hippocrates said, “our food should be our medicine and our medicine should be our food.” I’ve overcome crippling depression and anxiety without drugs–a depression and anxiety that fed my ED and helped me lose weight, sure, but also 13+ years of growth and happiness, and I fully attribute that to the fact that I started eating healing foods and stopped eating the food that was harming me. Am I 100% healed and inoculated against negative body image and compulsive food behavior? Certainly not; however I believe that my food choices have helped me balance my brain chemicals enough to start breaking the habits and treating myself right.
The third, fitness. And I’m not talking about performance athletics, body building, or competition. I’m also not talking about burning calories out or gym memberships or fasted, pre-dawn cardio sessions. I’m talking about natural movement, cardiovascular health, long walks with your dog, hikes through the mountains, playing in the park. I’m talking about movements like MovNat and Parkour. I’m talking about yoga and fartleks and doing what feels good, not because it’s been prescribed, but because it’s what your body wants and needs. Maybe I’m biased after this past weekend, but I see a future in which circuits with 3 sets of 12 reps or high intensity interval training aren’t considered the only true paths to healthy bodies.
I think it’s worth looking more in depth at how our standard American diets have helped breed disorder, but I feel like I’ve rambled on enough for one blog post…In the next post or two, I am hoping to take a look at more of the science and cultural factors behind healing disordered eating, compulsive behavior, and the like with nutrition…
Until next time,
*And I’m not trying to limit this to Americans–I think we’re facing a global epidemic of disordered eating, but, speaking/writing as an American, that’s about as far as I can extrapolate from personal experience without having to start finding statistics to back up my claims. Which, sadly, I’m sure I could do.