(Thank you to BetterHelp.com for sponsoring this post, with their link on anxiety included in the final paragraph. I received compensation as a thank-you for my participation, and believe offering links to resources like this may be of help to some.)
Let’s say a friend chooses to order a salad while the rest of your friends order pizza. Is this friend restricting calories to lose weight? Or does he want a salad right now because pizza doesn’t sound appetizing at the moment?
Some people may eat in a way that makes others think, eating disorder.
But you can’t point to every raw foodist and claim they have an eating disorder. You can’t claim every vegan is masking a bigger problem. And you don’t want to assume that just because someone eats a seemingly balanced diet that they don’t have disordered eating. Some may eat in restrictive ways to avoid food allergies or find that they feel better eating this way, while others use “gluten intolerance” or “raw food diet” as an excuse to carry out their eating disorder behaviors in a more convincing way.
There is a difference between eating healthy to feel better physically and mentally and eating healthy out of intense fear of weight gain or being “poisoned” by “bad” food (orthorexia).
Eating disorders are difficult to identify in others–and sometimes even within ourselves–due to shame, denial, and fear. And when most of us hear “eating disorder,” we may automatically think of the skin-and-bones white girl in the hospital hooked up to an IV. We may feel even more ashamed to try to identify ourselves with the label of an eating disorder, even though we are bingeing, restricting, or only allowing ourselves to eat certain foods at certain times, or chewing and spitting behind closed doors.
We can’t see inside someone’s head. Eating disorders are based on the mental perceptions and anxiety surrounding food. And any of us who are not medical or eating disorder professionals are not in a spot to diagnose anyone.
In the case of the pizza-salad scenario, one way of eating doesn’t necessarily indicate an eating disorder:
Possible orthorexia: This person refuses to eat a bite of pizza and instead orders the salad. He may want to taste the pizza badly, but he feels it will poison or cause fat weight gain. He sticks with the salad and eats it, while perhaps telling everyone about why he shouldn’t be eating it.
Healthy attitude: This eater decides to have a slice of pizza with friends because it sounds good, and it’s what everyone else is eating. Or this person might not feel like pizza that night, so this person may happily order the salad without thinking twice about eating any pizza–just because the salad sounded more appetizing.
Possible anorexia: This person may refuse to eat dinner with friends, or only sits down to the salad. They may choose to eat large amounts of the lowest-calorie foods so that it looks like they are still eating (and eating large amounts at that). Or they could have eaten very little or nothing all day, and limit themselves to one slice of pizza they are slowly eating.
Healthy attitude She may not feel hungry, likely due to a large lunch earlier that afternoon (no guilt associated with that). So she just orders the salad and doesn’t eat much that evening with friends. She might have a few bites of pizza. She might eat more later when she gets home if she starts to feel hungry.
Binge/Purge: This person may indulge in the pizza with friends and look seemingly okay with it all. But he will feel the guilt consume him and possibly purge it through vomiting or exercise. Or the binger may order a salad, only to binge on their own pizza later, and possibly purge.
Healthy attitude: She has had a long day at work without much food and she comes back home to eat more food than her stomach may be comfortable with. She may feel a little bloated. She knows she ate more than she should, but she doesn’t feel guilty about it. She carries on with the night knowing that this happens once in a while–it’s part of normal eating.
Eating disorders vary between people (how it starts, what works for recovery, and what their “rules” or “safe foods” may be). If food comes to the point of obsession (you avoid social situations, you are constantly thinking about food, and feel anxiety about what or how much you have eaten), it’s time to look closer at your “healthy” eating habits and consult with an eating disorder professional (the NEDA hotline is a great place to start). We always want to raise awareness and catch possible eating disorder behaviors sooner rather than later, but also understand that it’s not as easy as looking at how much someone eats or what they weigh.