Mirror, mirror on the wall
One in 200 American women suffers from anorexia. Three in 100 American women suffer from bulimia. Eight million individuals, representing approximately three percent of the American population, suffer from eating disorders.
Not to sound cynical, but if this was before last summer, these statistics would be sentences I’d skim over while reading. But this summer, while on my journey to eat healthier and lose weight, I realized the importance of mental health, particularly relating to body image and eating tendencies.
First, we have to realize that, although it may not seem like it, eating disorders are widely prevalent. Personally speaking, when I set a calorie-deficit diet, I counted my macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein, and fat) like a madman. Food became numbers. And I’ll admit, this madman lifestyle gave me the results I wanted when I wanted them– it “worked.” Within a month, I had lost fifteen pounds, was eating healthily, and was going religiously to the gym. I thought I felt better than ever. But, in reality, I was doing more harm than help to my body.
And no, I never considered anything I was doing as unhealthy– I’m here to shed light on lesser-known conditions that I feel many students may be experiencing without even knowing it.
The Female Athlete Triad Syndrome (ironically called FAT syndrome) is extremely common among teenage girls. It’s composed of energy deficiency with or without disordered eating, amenorrhea (hormonal disturbances), and increased risk of osteoporosis (bone density loss). Side effects include increased fatigue, decreased attention span, hair loss, indigestion, and mood swings. Basically, it’s overworking yourself during exercise, burning off too many calories, and not eating enough to replenish your body. I thought I was eating enough– it’s not like I was starving myself. My stomach had adapted to my extreme calorie-deficit diet, tricking my mind to think I was full and satiated. When I realized I had FAT syndrome, I was distraught. I had only been eating superfoods, why was my body paying me back with health issues? Girls with FAT syndrome are more prone to falling into other disorders such as anorexia and bulimia. It’s scary to think where I would be both physically and mentally if I had continued my summer lifestyle thinking all was well with my body and diet.
Another lesser-known eating disorder is the binge-eating disorder (BED). According to Healthline.com, BED affects roughly 2.8 million people in the United States and is most common among women. People who have calorie-deficit disorders tend to overeat on their “cheat” days or weekends, eating without portion control until they are disgusted with themselves afterwards. Binge-eating leads to extreme guilt, which then triggers one to go back to their restrictive dieting or possibly even fasting. This is what I’ve realized and now consider an unhealthy relationship with food. It should not be a constant cycle of overindulging, then restricting, overindulging, then restricting.
I’m not saying that recovering is easy– it’s not. It both amazes and terrifies me when I hear my conscious estimate the calories of my meal or suggesting I just skip it entirely. In my opinion, recovery is the hardest part; I was aware I had a problem, but I prioritized how I looked on the exterior over what was going on in my body on the interior. Mental health and eating disorders should not be taken lightly. The scary thing is that it’s a battle against yourself. But I’m getting better. We all can get better. Now that I’ve learned the importance of nutrition and the power of one’s mental conscious, I’m taking it day-by-day to ditch my unhealthy relationship with food. I constantly remind myself that it’s better to let myself enjoy little treats during the week than restricting any “unhealthy” food throughout the week and eating full-on cheat meals on the weekends. No, one Oreo will not make me gain any pounds. No, I don’t have to head straight to the gym if I lapse during the week. No, there’s no reason to freak out and skip meals if my calorie-tracking app can’t figure out the numbers.
Food should be pleasurable, not stressful. If you are going through the same thing I went through, or any other form of eating disorder, please let down your walls and confide in someone. Admitting you have a problem is the first step to overcoming the problem. Tell a friend, tell a parent, tell a doctor. The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) helpline (1-800-931-2237) is available Monday through Friday.