TW: Eating disorders
Last week, we talked about the importance of setting a routine to achieve our New Year’s resolutions. Part of routine setting can involve creating a weekly meal plan to keep you from making last minute or lazy food decisions. Some people use an app to track their meals and/or calories as well. These things are okay when used correctly, but like everything else in life require a level of balance.
There are a lot of diets out there that claim if you cut out “just this one food group” you’ll be able to drop weight fast. Sometimes, this can help you get on track to healthy eating (looking at you, paleo and keto). But there are risks that come with restrictive eating, and you need to understand the risks before you dive head first into only eating chicken and kale every day.
Overly restrictive diets make a person 5 times more likely to develop an eating disorder. The more you cut out of your diet, the greater chance you have of binge eating later on down the road. Restrictive dieting may feel good or give you quick results but rarely offer healthy, long-term solutions.
Normally in the Weighting For Warriors blog, we speak as a unit because our whole team believes in the content we are putting out. However, since this is a sensitive topic it should be treated as such and I would like to address you, the reader, directly.
I’m Ashlyn, the Marketing Manager here at W4W. I love my job, I love Samantha, and I love the team. But my relationship with health and fitness has been, well, less than loving at times. Samantha and I met doing a show together and have been friends ever since. When I first heard about Samantha’s ideals and goals for Weighting For Warriors, I was absolutely in awe. This is the kind of company we need more of—fitness companies that focus on mental and physical well-being instead of shredding pounds or inches.
Before we continue, please know I am not a therapist. I am not a scientist. All the information I am sharing with you either comes from research or personal experience. And the personal information is a bit dark, so if you need to skip to the end, feel free.
I received my BFA in Musical Theater in 2017. Towards the beginning of the second semester of my sophomore year of college, my parents came out to see the show I was in that semester. After the show, the director pulled my mom aside and told her that I was talented, but if I really wanted to make it in the industry, I needed to lose 20 pounds.
I was 19 at the time and had already been through a lengthy pattern of weight cycling. I had recently made a commitment to getting into better shape, but when my mom relayed the message the director had given her, I knew I had to step it up.
Thus began my “20 pounds by 20” mission. I gave myself 8 months to get rid of twenty pounds by the time I turned twenty. I got a scale and placed it in the bathroom. I was at 153, so the goal was to get to 133. I vowed I would do it the right way—the healthy way.
I downloaded MyFitnessPal. (I’m not slamming this app, but it was not a good choice for me personally.) They recommended that I eat 1200 calories a day, and that number went up if you logged your exercise. The issue was that I never logged my exercise on the app and for the next few months I never exceeded 1200 calories. In fact, I rarely ate above 1000.
It took me a long time and a fair amount of therapy to realize that the obsessiveness and fervor I put towards my calorie counter was not healthy. Refusing to make the adjustments for the calories I was burning was not healthy.
Every morning I would use the bathroom and then stand on the scale. The number on the little blue screen would impact the rest of my day. If the number was smaller than the day before, I floated through my day feeling confident. If the number was larger than the day before, I would work extra hard in the gym and not exceed 1000 calories.
Eight months later, I had made it. I had surpassed my goal and was at 131. I thought what I had done was totally healthy. My mom helped me celebrate by buying me new pairs of jeans. I ate what I wanted on my birthday, something I hadn’t really done in a while.
But then I felt guilty. After my birthday celebration I decided to do a three-day fruit, salad, and protein shake for every meal cleanse. In my mind, I had mitigated the damage. But maintaining that weight proved to get harder and harder. That cleanse began to happen more frequently and after one of these cleanses, I was overjoyed to find out that I weighed 129 pounds.
One day, I went to a pot-luck party with my friends and the kitchen counter was filled with food I hadn’t eaten in a looooooong time. If you’ve ever seen Teletubbies and know the cookie vacuum, you can guess what happened next. When I got home, I felt so awful I began to cry.
People had been complimenting my physical appearance and telling me how good I looked, and now I was going to ruin it all over a party. I was in too full to go to the gym, but I wanted the feeling to go away. I knelt down in front of my toilet.
I won’t get more graphic than that. I began a cycle where I would restrict my diet most of the time, lose control and pig out, and throw it all up. I would have “no bread” unless there was a party that same night where I could drink to the point of retching. In medical terms, this is called bingeing and purging.
I knew it was bulimia, but I didn’t tell anyone what was going on until my voice teacher pointed out that my voice sounded strained. She said I needed to be checked to see if my acid reflux was acting up, but I knew what the real issue was. I scheduled my first appointment to talk to a therapist about it shortly after.
I wonder all the time how much longer I would have continued purging if my voice hadn’t been affected. I didn’t tell anyone about it for a long time because I was ashamed. I relapsed for a little bit a year later but was able to stop again because of my voice. I’m 25 now, and it’s been nearly four years since I last purged.
Not everyone is ready to get help in the way I was, but if you or someone you know is struggling with what has the potential to be an eating disorder, please take the time to talk to someone. You can talk to me or anyone else on the Weighting For Warriors team. These are things that are so incredibly hard to talk about or sometimes put a name to. I understand and you are not alone.
Circling back to the title of the article, there are risks to restrictive eating. This does not mean that if you count your calories you will have bulimia. What it does mean is that you have to check in with yourself to make sure what you’re doing is actually helping you instead of hurting you.
Warning signs that restrictive eating is beginning to turn into something more dangerous include but are definitely not limited to: an obsessiveness with intake, self-punishment by going to the gym or further restrictions after a slip-up, skipping meals or eating next to nothing for the sake of weight loss, and binge eating after periods of restrictive eating.
One of the books my ED therapist recommended to me was called The Rules of "Normal" Eating. To sum it up, the rules are: eat when you’re hungry, eat what you feel like eating, and stop when you’ve had enough.
While you probably shouldn’t have donuts for every meal, it’s okay to occasionally have a donut when they’re brought into the break room. You don’t have to punish yourself for it or work extra hard to work it off. Find recipes and meals you love, then grab a friend or your partner and cook at home.
If you place a hard limit on yourself on what you can and can’t eat, the chances of you binge eating later increase significantly. (There are more eating disorders than anorexia and bulimia, and if there’s interest we can do another article breaking those down.)
It’s estimated that 8 million Americans have an eating disorder, and eating disorders are more common in professions that are heavily based on looks. I couldn’t find a stat on actors, but it’s estimated that 12% of all dancers have an eating disorder. That number goes up to 16% when the sample pool is narrowed down to ballet dancers. While mostly women develop eating disorders, men are also susceptible to developing one.
Studies have shown that approximately 30% of women in the military suffer from an eating disorder. The National Eating Disorder Association did an in-depth survey of 3,000 women in the military and discovered that “over 60% of respondents had an eating disorder, and in the Marine Corps alone, 97.5% met the criteria for an eating disorder.”
This is why we need to talk about it. Bridging the gap between “meeting the criteria” for an eating disorder and realizing you need treatment for an eating disorder can be hard when you don’t know who to talk to. At the bottom of this article, I’ve attached multiple links to websites and numbers to hotlines if you want to talk to a professional. And of course, you can always reach out to us.
Being the best version of yourself does not mean being the skinniest version of yourself. Loving your body includes giving your body what it needs.
Eating Disorder Hotline: 800-931-2237 or 855-900-5765
To message or chat with a professional: https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/help-support/contact-helpline
Links used/For Further Research: