“Dieting for weight loss alone, destroys our relationship with food.”
Why Diet is a Difficult Topic
Discussions in Health Psychology involve accounting for the bio-psycho-social and spiritual nature of problems we face. The practice of dieting is the most challenging category to discuss, especially when diet becomes disorder.
Our relationship with food is deeply tied into biological drives, our social circle, cultural definitions of what – how – and when to eat, the media, etc. Furthermore, there is no doubt that the power of advertising contributes to problems with food. In fact, research indicates that advertising and eating disorders go hand-in-hand (Perloff, 2014; Tiggemann & Slatter, 2013).
How To Know when Diet Becomes Disorder
So, your relationship with food has become complicated. How do you know whether or not you have a problem? We use the following ten (10) warning signs to identify when diet becomes disorder.
- First Morning Thoughts: When you wake up, the first thing you think about is food. This is often followed by guilt and/or fear about the calories you are about to consume, and the impact that has throughout your day.
- Serial Dieting: You find yourself falling into the emerging diet fad of the day. Cutting sugar to improve how you feel is one thing. You take it the next step further by subscribing to diet fads, often leading to significant financial impact (prepared meals, powdered mixes, etc.). Looking back, you notice that you have always been on a diet.
- Extreme Calorie Counting: Using MyFitnessPal to estimate what you eat per meal is one thing. You take it a step further by weighing food down to the gram. In your mind, accuracy equals weight loss.
- Exercise as Counterbalance: You have calculated how many calories you can eat for each meal. If you indulge, guilt takes over. You counter this through exercise. In fact, on bad days, you find yourself at the gym two or three times a day in an effort to burn calories.
- Avoiding The Mirror: Your head immediately goes down when you enter a wash room. Moreover, you avoid looking at your reflection when walking by store windows. Seeing your body will destroy your day.
- Body Image Mood Lability: Thinking about your body causes you to ossilate between feelings of joy (when you have lost weight), and self-hatred when you have put it on. You have no sense of peace about what your body looks like.
- All-or-Nothing Food Categories (Good vs. Bad): You start to view foods as either, ‘good,’ or ‘bad’. You do not see the continuum of choices that you have. Unfortunately, over time, most foods are eventually categorized as, ‘bad’.
- Extreme Dieting: You are willing to experience discomfort and take major health risks for weight loss (long water fasts). When you leave such a diet plan, you put back any weight lost in the process. This approach over time starts to cause health problems (hair loss, teeth decay, etc.). Health problems do not deter you from the next extreme bout.
- Scale Obsession: You think the scale is your friend. You weigh yourself at least once a day. More typically, you step on the scale to relieve anxiety about weight gain.
- Discounting Health Outcomes: The health effects of your approach to food has caused significant health outcomes that you choose to ignore. Concerns are easy to discount with a strong sense of confirmation bias through articles you find on the internet.
- *(Extra) Excessive Guilt: Guilt has taken over your life. Eating always leads to feeling self-hatred and regret. Momentary relief comes from success on the scale.
The above ten items (plus one), are clues that your relationship with food has become problematic. It is important to understand that problems with food stem from both familial and cultural experiences. This complicated dynamic makes understanding the aetiology and treatment of eating disorders challenging.
Do I Have an Eating Disorder?
This is a difficult question to answer. Those presenting with eating problems often have very complex symptoms. This is often accompanied by complex relationships at home, or trauma.
It is critical that you do not diagnose yourself. If you think you have an eating disorder, reach out to a mental health professional. This provides you with an opportunity for a complete assessment. You will also learn about treatment options available in your community.
For a broad overview, we are providing you with a list of standard diagnostic categories. The primary diagnoses falling under the DSM criteria for Eating Disorder are as follows (when diet becomes disorder):
- Anorexia Nervoas
- Bulimia Nervosa
- Binge Eating Disorder
- Rumination Disorder
- Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)
- Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED)
- Unspecified Feeding or Eating Disorder (UFED)
The above list has expanded in the most recent iteration of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. This is a clear indication of our understanding of the complexities individuals face.