Diet may as well be a synonym for woman, at least in America. If the editorials, comics, and magazines are accurate, apparently every woman in America is on or has tried a diet. Whether a crash diet or a long term diet, obsessions with weight loss seems to have swept the nation within the past decade. Another trend is the increase in the number of eating disorders, namely anorexia, self starvation, and bulimia, binging on food and purging.
The increase in the number of eating disorders and the prevalence of diets got me to thinking. What is the difference between a diet and eating disorders, particularly anorexia nervosa. The number of similarities between these two methods of weight loss is shockingly disturbing. Take a look at how similar diets and anorexia really are…
*Both consist of restricting one’s food intake
Yes, eating disorders and a diet starve the body of calories and nutrition by self imposed starvation.
*Both have forbidden foods, foods a person is not allowed to eat
A conventional diet doesn’t allow a dieter to eat sweets, high fat foods, high carbohydrate foods, etc. A person suffering from an eating disorder has these same guidelines. The only difference is, a weight loss diet was designed by someone else. A person with an eating disorder named the forbidden foods themselves and has emblazoned the rules in their own mind.
*Both can lead to unhealthy weight loss
A healthy diet will lead to healthy weight loss. Too often, though, a dieter falls for gimmicks like “lose 30 lbs. in 30 days!” That is an unhealthy amount of weight to lose in the time span. Anorexia has the same effect. Massive amounts of weight loss in a short amount of time. Both will ruin the bodies state of balance.
*Both make a person suffer through hunger
Diets aren’t fun. Going throughout the day hungry isn’t natural. Unfortunately, whether the hunger stems from a self imposed diet or the mental illness of an eating disorder, hunger is always present. Granted, the hunger from an eating disorder is more severe, but a diet still causes hunger as well.
*Both create an obsession with food
It’s the bodies natural response to hunger and starvation. When it is robbed of energy and nutrients, the brain, reverting to primal instincts, focuses on its need for nutrition. For an in depth look at the effects of starvation on the body, check out the Minnesota Starvation Experiment.
*Both have food rules
“No food between lunch and dinner.” “Food after 8 pm is a no-no.” Wait, were those rules to your diet or the rules established in the mind of an anorexic? Its hard to differentiate.
When a person looks at diets and eating disorders at the same time, far too many similarities are present. According to Carolyn Costin, an MD who established the Monte Nido eating disorder treatment center, the only real difference between a diet and an eating disorder is the mental state of the individual. Those on a diet are able to stop once the weight loss goal has been achieved. A person with an eating disorder can’t stop very easily. The starving has become an obsession, a coping technique for life.
The line between a diet and a full blown eating disorder is disturbingly thin. Many eating disorders start out as innocent diets that spiral out of control. Dieter, beware! Diets and eating disorders are far too similar. Make sure you keep yourself in check, and don’t become obsessed with weight loss. You may fall victim to the world’s most deadly mental illness if you do.
McGraw Hill, 2007, The Eating Disorder Sourcebook 3rd Edition, Carolyn Costin