It doesn't feel like it. And I wasn't sure why. But I think it's because for binge eaters, there IS no balance. Just as an alcoholic can't have "just one drink", there are some foods which I can't have just a little of. There is no such thing as "just one bite" when you're not able to stop, so cheat meals or occasional indulgences don't work the way they do for most people. Which, y'know, could be fine except that I can't stop eating altogether and go "dry" to sober up.
But maybe I'm not as alone as I thought. Diet talk is everywhere. Mixed messages are everywhere. Confusion is, well, everywhere. An article I've been holding on to brought the point to the forefront: Diet talk has become inescapable. "Many of the behaviors that today’s diet books and food trends promote are straight out of the DSM Diagnostic Criteria for Eating Disorders. Preoccupation with food and eating, making excuses for not eating, elimination of large categories of food, rigid food rules and rituals, guilt and shame associated with food and eating, avoidance of social activities because of anxiety about food, isolating oneself from friends and loved ones because of dietary ideology, the list goes on. These are not normal or healthy behaviors, they are hallmarks of disordered eating, and they are PROMOTED in diet books and blogs and between friends, with distressing and escalating regularity."
She concludes that we are, as a culture, developing a collective eating disorder. What started as a desire to improve the quality of our diets has turned into a national obsession.
It makes it pretty difficult to distinguish between truly disordered eating habits, and healthy habits. Where do you draw the line? How do we recognize in ourselves or others when it has become a problem? Another recent article attempts to shed light on "the most common eating disorder you've never heard of." The problem is that they've taken the designation of Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder - which is a catch-all category used to diagnose anything other than anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder - and called it "the most common." That part doesn't make sense, but what is striking from the article are the statistics. It sheds light on how many people fall on the eating disorder spectrum. Most often, the focus is only on those who are at the farthest end.
Consider some of these statistics:
- One in 68 adults will develop clinical anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder, but at least one in 20 have demonstrated symptoms of these disorders.
- 74.5 percent of women said concerns related to shape and weight interfered with their happiness.
- In one study on adolescent boys and young men, 17.9 percent reported becoming “extremely concerned” with their weight and physique by adulthood.
- One in 20 adults exhibits symptoms of an eating disorder, and the prevalence of dieting and disordered eating behaviors among male and female young adults is particularly high.
- Among women ages 25 to 45 without a history of anorexia nervosa or binge eating, 31 percent reported having purged as a means of weight control.
Dieting and poor body image don't mean you have an eating disorder. But your behaviour doesn't have to be extreme in order to have one, either. The best way to consider whether there's a problem to address is to ask whether your relationship with food, shape, and weight is truly interfering with your life. Ultimately “the main feature that cuts across all eating disorders… is feeling like your shape and weight is one of the most important factors that determines how worthwhile you are as a person,” Dr. Thomas says.
When I lived out west, I met the clinical criteria for Binge Eating Disorder: "eating much more rapidly than normal; eating until feeling uncomfortably full; eating large amounts of food when not feeling physically hungry; eating alone because of being embarrassed by how much one is eating; feeling disgusted with oneself, depressed, or very guilty after overeating; a sense of lack of control over eating during the episode; at least two days a week for six months."
I no longer meet that criteria. The work I've been doing, on my own, with Mat, with doctors, by blogging, has helped tremendously. But I will probably always call myself a binge eater. I don't know what "recovery" looks like, or if there is such a thing. I really do think of it in terms of an alcoholic. It's always going to be there, under the surface. As evidenced by this weekend's near-binge, moments of relapse can happen without warning, at times that aren't obvious. That's kind of scary to me.
Which brings me back to my conundrum. All-or-nothing thinking is a big part of the problem that got me into this mess in the first place. If I can't be perfect at eating all the time, why bother? If I mess up a diet, then I give in and go overboard the other way. If I'm not good at an activity right away, then I must not be able to do it at all. You see where I'm going with this? All-or-Nothing is the hallmark of a lot of eating disorders. That's why I'm striving for balance. And, yet, I'm not sure that balance is really, truly, possible when it comes to eating. There ARE whole categories of foods I have to mentally eliminate and take off the table. I DO need to track what I'm eating and weigh myself and account for it all. There still is fear, for me, around food: there's something "bad" about everything, so nothing feels "safe"! And certain foods will likely always be triggers. Not exactly the definition of balanced.
It tells me that there's still a long way to go. But also that it's possible and there is hope, even if that hope is to inch along the spectrum back towards the middle. I think I believed that I could jump from one end to the other - all-or-nothing - and that it could be like flicking a switch. Make the lifestyle changes, lose weight, get into shape, you're done, move on. It's not like that, at all. I don't know why I thought it would be. Like much of the population, I'm living in the grey areas, the always moving grey areas between the ends of the disordered eating spectrum.
When 1 out of 20 are also living there, at least I know I'm in good company.