What To Do When Diet And Exercise Gets Scary
Have you ever considered the dangers of diet and exercise?
Yeah, that’s right, put down that Diet Coke, take off your running shoes and listen up. Yeah, you.
I was once a professional dieter – gold-medal-winning, Women’s Dieting Olympics, starve-yourself-for-days-on-end professional. I don’t think I need to list my qualifications on this matter, but in April of 2010 I was hospitalized for anorexia nervosa.
Everyone knows the dangers associated with eating disorders, but I don’t think anyone really understands how something that is purportedly healthy and desirable (weight loss) can morph and spiral into something unhealthy and potentially fatal (I’m talking really fatal here — 20% of cases over the course of 20 years have been fatal).
Dieting, in moderation, is fine for most people. However, it’s easy to see where things can go off-track. Choose a salad over a Big Mac and you’re golden. Choose nothing over something and there’s a problem.
When I was admitted to my ED-specific hospital 2 years ago, I was told that my heart rate had been affected by my self-starvation. So affected, in fact, that when my heart rate slowed during sleep, it was in danger of stopping. I am able to perfectly visualize that moment in my mind — the nurse’s apprehension, my own ambivalence (“Just let me freakin’ starve myself, yo!”), and, most of all, my dad’s terror.
More of my qualifications for you.
I took dieting to that level, the level no one wants to talk about, but everyone knows is out there. About 10 million women and 1 million men are currently battling the deadly effects of anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder. I was one of them.
Exercise is where the territory gets murky. Not many people are going to tout the dangers of exercise, so for this one, you need to trust your own instincts — how much is too much? There is no magic number here, but it’s important for people to recognize and accept that over-exercising is an eating disorder in the same way that under-eating is an eating disorder.
I was never one to over-exercise, thank goodness, but I had roommates at anorexia camp (as it was sometimes called) that would pace, run, do jumping jacks at all hours, just to shed a few calories. This was, of course, strictly prohibited, which probably encouraged them to do it all the more.
Here are some warning signs that I’ve learned that are hallmarks of overexercising and unhealthy attempts to lose weight (some of these are very general and others are very specific):
1. Focusing on burning calories instead of getting fit.
2. Overemphasizing the importance of the fat content of foods.
3. Constant motion with the intent of burning calories (if you’re looking up workouts that you can do on an airplane or at your desk… yeah, probably not a good sign unless you LIVE on an airplane or at a desk).
4. Preoccupation with the number on the scale (as in, recording it down to the nearest .x pounds/kilograms).
5. Eating off of small plates, from small beverage containers, and with small utensils to carefully limit food intake.
6. Exercising past the point when you are tired and worn out.
7. Constantly seeking out diet or low-fat versions of food and beverages.
If you see these traits in yourself or your friends, they are not necessarily indicators of a life-threatening illness, but you should consider seeking help. If you see yourself exhibiting some of these traits, have an earnest talk with your doctor and let them know how you’re feeling. If you see these traits in a friend, gently talk to them and keep an eye on the situation.
I had some friends confront me about my eating disorder, or talk to me about it when I admitted to getting treatment. Here are some things you can do that are useful (or, in some cases, incredibly un-useful):
1. Be on that person’s team. Show them that you’re a supporter of them, not their illness.
2. Try to avoid statements that begin with “you,” especially if you’re confronting a friend about trends you’ve noticed. Try, instead, to begin trends with “I” (example, instead of “You are unhealthy,” try “I’m concerned that you’re showing signs of heading in a direction that may not be good for you,” etc).
3. NEVER EVER EVER ask/say/exclaim, “Why don’t you just eat?” or “Just eat.” Eating disorders are never that simple.
Please note that Feminspire is not a medical authority and recommends that if you are unsure or confused, you consult a doctor. I’ll be monitoring the comments and am quite happy to answer any and all questions you have. Thanks for reading, and be on the lookout for more articles on similar topics as well as my personal journey in coming weeks.
Written by Kate Rayes