I think we all have an idea of what clinical eating disorders look like. We hear anorexia and we think 80lb young woman on a feeding tube. We hear bulimia and think of a woman eating an entire package of Oreos and then escaping to the bathroom. Of course these are just extreme, stereotypical examples but people have a knowledge base about eating disorders.
But what does disordered eating look like? Wikipedia says it's "wide range of irregular eating behaviors that do not warrant a diagnosis of a specific eating disorder". That, to me, begs the question of what's "regular" but that's another entry all its own. One study found that 4 out of 5 women engage in some form of disordered eating. So what are these 80% of women doing? Some of the behaviors are the same as with clinical eating disorders, though generally to lesser degrees. Restricting, binging, obsessive exercise. I would also say that the woman who will only touch fat-free dairy products is a disordered eater. So is the woman who can't eat anything until she sees the nutrition facts. (And I say woman because that's what I am. This, of course, applies to males as well.)
I know for a fact my own eating is disordered, has been for almost as long as I can remember. (I guess this would be a weird blog name if it wasn't, huh?) I eat the same 3 things for lunch 95% of the time because it makes me more comfortable. If I'm home by myself for long stretches of time I will eat all the chocolate in the house because I'm lonely or bored. In my past I've lied about what I've eaten, in both directions, and not known how to eat if I wasn't following some sort of diet plan. The thing is I've also had a clinical eating disorder. And all of these behaviors were present there as well.
So what makes disordered eating different from eating disorders? I think a very important distinction is the genetic factor. Twin studies have shown that clinical eating disorders have a very strong genetic link. A lifetime of weight and food obsession might trigger an eating disorder, but only if you already have the right genetic makeup. Disordered eating on the other hand needs no genetic link. Basically all you need to do is live in our society today.
And that brings me to MTV. Next week they'll be airing a new show called "I Used to be Fat". There's a trailer here. Basically high school kids spend the summer before college dieting to be skinny for school. Pretty much "Biggest Loser" but the horrific thing to me is that these are teenagers. I saw a promo with a friend while we watched "16 and Pregnant" (horrific in its own special way) and we were both shocked into silence. Way to go MTV. Don't make a show about body acceptance or people doing awesome volunteer work their summer before college or anything else. Tell teenagers that the best thing they could do with their life for a summer is cultivate disordered eating habits. Spending hours a day working out or aiming to lose 6lbs a week are 100% completely disordered eating behaviors. They might be more glamorous or TV-worthy than the previous binging episodes the teenagers describe in the trailer, but they're equally disordered. To me this is just an awful sign of how encouraging our society is of disordered eating. Believe me, I get it. I was overweight in high school but being skinnier didn't fix it. I'm just as disordered an eater now as I was back then.
The worst thing? In the TV promo a mom says about her daughter (which is somehow missing from these delightful videos- the first one is heart-breaking) "I want her to be happy. Only thinner." I nearly died. Um, WHAT? My friend commented that that's an awesome way to give your daughter an eating disorder. I would disagree, and say only if she already was genetically susceptible, but disordered eating? Hell yes. Never mind that this girl clearly already has disordered eating behaviors but way to go. Awesome job on sending your daughter into the adult world with all the disordered eating behaviors and mindsets she needs to fit right in.
My point in all of this is that disordered eating and eating disorders are two separate issues but are both something we really need to take seriously. Disordered eating possibly even more so at the moment because it's so clearly the norm in our society, but doesn't garner anywhere near as much attention. I'll try to be clear in my distinctions between the two in the future, though obviously there are overlaps in my own life. In the meantime I don't know what else to do except try and work on my own disordered eating and steer very clear of this show.