Dr. Jenna Daku
Is Diet-Culture Preventing You From Seeking Support For Disordered Eating?
Are you struggling with your relationship with food and your body, but unsure what to do about it? Or whether you are 'unwell enough' to seek support?
You're definitely not alone.
We've got a big problem in our society whereby disordered eating is under recognised, thanks to the normalisation of these behaviours in diet-culture. In my clinical experience, this directly impacts how folks feel about seeking support for disordered eating and how long they wait before they try to get it.
So, if you are questioning whether your relationship with food is problematic, I really I would urge you to sit with all of this for a little while. Instead of questioning whether you are 'sick enough' to seek support, I encourage you to reflect on the following statements and see how many of tor you:for you:or you:r you: you:you:ou:u:f dedication rather than self-harm. Engaging in restrictive behaviours around food and disengaging socially in order to adhere to our 'lifestyle' plan and not be 'tempted' by so-called 'bad' or 'sinful' food, results in praise rather than concern.
The problem is that these behaviours then go unrecognised and therefore untreated. They may not have started off as being problematic, and for very few people they don't end up interfering with daily life in a way that becomes problematic. However, for the vast majority of us they are a slippery slope in to obsessive and disordered thinking and behaviours around food and exercise that consume our minds and lives.
I think this is part of the reason why so many of the folks I've worked with have, at some point, voiced concerns about 'taking up' my time when there's 'so many other people who are more unwell'. While it's true that disordered eating exists on a spectrum, with dieting on one end and clinical eating disorders on the other, it is dangerous to assume that one of these is more deserving of support than the other. And yet, many of my clients have voiced feeling as though they are less deserving of support if they have not been diagnosed with an eating disorder.
Sure, it is true that not every person who goes on a diet (or "lifestyle change" / "wellness program" / whatever new BS name for a diet in disguise) will go on to develop an eating disorder. But almost every single person I've ever met with a clinical or subclinical eating disorder has a history of dieting and attempted weight loss. Diet-culture and its inherent fat-phobia plays a major role in the development and maintenance of eating disorders, and the normalisation of certain behaviours around food and exercise does not mean that they aren't dangerous or problematic.
There is a range of behaviours and thoughts about food and exercise that exists on the spectrum between dieting and eating disorders. These include calorie and macro counting, fasting (aka starvation), juice cleanses, cutting out entire food groups, extreme exercise regimes, consumption of unregulated supplements and 'meal replacements', purging through exercise, laxatives or vomiting, hiding and consuming large quantities of foods, feeling unable to miss a scheduled workout, feeling anxious and fearful of certain foods.... to name just a few. Every one of these has the potential to derail lives and cause significant distress. Sadly though, diet-culture and its normalisation of these thoughts and behaviours prevents many folks from seeking the support they deserve and need. Or, it results in folks waiting until they believe that they are 'sick enough' to receive support.
Unfortunately, the medical community doesn't help this situation. I've heard too many stories about folks who have gone to see their GP because they feel out of control around food or exercise and unhappy with how much it controls their lives, only to leave with either a prescription for weight loss (if they are in a larger body) or a pat on the back (if they have lost weight or are straight sized). This is unsurprising given that the majority of medical programs only have 2 hours of training on eating disorders and the medical community itself is hugely saturated in anti-fat bias. Research conducted by B-EAT estimates that 1 in 5 medical schools don't provide any training at all for eating disorders. So it's unsurprising that they also report that 58% of patients feel that their GP's don't understand eating disorders and 53% of patients would have sought support sooner if they had more confidence in their GP. This is why EDAW's 2022 theme is increasing medical training for eating disorders.
So, it's really no wonder why so many of us questioning whether our relationship with food is problematic. If you're reading this right now and it sounds like you, I would urge you to sit with all of this for a little while. Instead of questioning whether you are 'sick enough' to seek support, I encourage you to reflect on the following statements and see how many of them are true for you:
My relationship with food / exercise / my body is preventing me from engaging in meaningful activities or relationships that I once enjoyed.
My thoughts about food / exercise / my body interfering with my ability to concentrate on the things that matter to me.
My thoughts about food / exercise / my body are causing me to feel distressed, anxious, fearful, or depressed a lot of the time.
I feel the need to exercise even when I am feeling tired or unwell.
My feelings about what I have eaten and / or how much I have exercised dictate how I feel that my day has gone.
Guilt, stress, anxiety, and shame dominate my thoughts about myself in relation to food / exercise / my body.
Choosing what to eat often fills me with dread and anxiety.
I frequently avoid eating in social situations because I worry about what / how much I will eat or how I will 'make up for it later'.
I need to know how many calories or macros are in everything that I eat.
I feel guilt and shame when I eat foods that I believe to be 'unhealthy' / 'unclean' / 'sinful'/ or 'bad'.
Disordered eating is a slippery slope, and thanks to diet-culture it can be challenging to know when to seek support. But you know yourself and your experience better than anyone. No matter where you are on the spectrum of disordered eating, you are 100% deserving of support.
What matters most is that you want to change your relationship with food x