Who the Frag Am I?

February 14, 2010

On Disordered Eating

Filed under: Fat Acceptance — wtfmi @ 10:27 pm

For many people, fat acceptance means leaving behind their patterns of disordered eating.

Disordered eating is not the same as an eating disorder. Disordered eating is very common; it includes the behaviors we think of as being indicative of eating disorders, like extreme restriction and binging, but it also covers less extreme behaviors such as chronically restrained eating (aka dieting), a strong fixation on ‘healthy’ or ‘moral’ eating (i.e. “carbs are BAD“, “sugar is BAD“), irregular or chaotic eating habits, and ignoring feelings of hunger or fullness.

(As I type this, for example, I am ignoring rather pointed feelings of hunger because I do want want to leave my thoughts for even so long as it would take to grab a bowl of cereal.)

Disordered eating becomes part of an eating disorder when it is backed up with the particular brain biology that enforces disordered eating. People with eating disorders usually need help to break themselves out of their behaviors just as much as people with bipolar disorder need help to break out of theirs.

But let’s set aside eating disorders for the moment and return to disordered eating. Disordered eating is very common in the US, and a huge chunk of that we can lay squarely on the doormat of dieting. More specifically, people believe that thin is better (healthier, sexier) and that they can use dieting to become thin — or at least thinner. Fat acceptance isn’t about accepting your fat; it’s about accepting that neither of those two propositions is intrinsically and simplistically true. For most people, then, fat acceptance means leaving behind their patterns of disordered eating, especially dieting.

So what does this have to do with me? (Because this blog is all about me. You knew that, right?)

(Shoot. Those hunger pains have gotten quite annoying. In fact, I’m beginning to get dizzy. I’ll have to get some food. I just hope I remember my train of thought when I get back. If I don’t, you know what to blame: biology.)

When I became interested in fat acceptance, I first changed my beliefs about thinness. This was pretty easy: I didn’t have beliefs so much as unexamined assumptions, and applying some basic research and examination to those assumptions cleared them right up. But I was also expecting to change my behaviors to some extent, and that just didn’t happen.

I couldn’t stop dieting because I have never dieted in my life. Okay, so there are some minor exceptions. At the urging of a boyfriend, I once followed the Atkins diet — for about four hours. (I was excited by the notion of all the bacon I could eat, but a few hours later I was really wanting a tomato — so I had one.) There have also been several times that I have tried to cut down on my Pepsi intake (because caffeine and high-fructose corn syrup are BAD), which inevitable fails the first time I get stressed. Or, you know, thirsty. So let’s just say that I have never successfully dieted for more than a day or two, which hardly counts.

Before fat acceptance, I was ashamed of my lack of control. After fat acceptance, I was proud of my intuitive knowledge that all that dieting stuff is bunk. Neither is true, of course. But more to the point, I eventually realized that my eating still is, and always has been, disordered — diets or no. I have chaotic and irregular eating habits and I often ignore my feelings of hunger (and, rarely, fullness).

On any given day, I may or may not have breakfast when I wake up, depending on whether I feel hungry or vaguely sick to my stomach. (Those are my only two gustatory waking-up states.) Most likely, however, is that I feel hungry but get involved with some project and forgot to eat for four or five hours, until the dizziness kicks in reminds me. Then I force myself to take a break and grab something — and then eat it in front of the computer or a book, like as not. This isn’t because I am too busy, but because I am too easily bored. Eating, like showering and sleeping, is boring. I’d rather be doing something else.

(One way that I can tell when I am depressed is because those activities no longer bore me.)

My much-delayed breakfast will often line up with my husband’s lunch, but if it doesn’t he will sometimes convince me to go to lunch with him, and so my breakfast and lunch are only about an hour apart. Otherwise, I’ll just skip lunch. I’ll either snack a lot during the afternoon (if I am reading) or eat nothing at all (if I am working or playing), and then at some point before we go to bed, my husband will remember to cook dinner. He likes actual meals, and big ones, which often leaves me with way too much food at dinner. But I’ve gotten into the habit of only taking about a quarter of what he makes and leaving the rest for him (for dinner or his lunch the next day). Note, however, that how much I take and how much I eat has almost nothing to do with my level of hunger.

So. To sum up: Although I don’t diet and I am no longer interested in losing weight or fixated on some sort of artificial dietary health, my eating is nevertheless disordered — and it turns out that I don’t care to do anything about that. Like my disordered sleep patterns or my unattractive appearance, it’s just not worth it to me to spend the time trying to fix it. And I accept that.


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