December 4th, 2023
In today’s world, many people strive for a healthy lifestyle and an ideal body. However, the pursuit of these goals can sometimes lead to problems. Dieting is a popular way for people to feel as though they are achieving a healthy lifestyle, but there are some circumstances where dieting could become a complex issue that can border on obsession.
Today’s blog will explore the links between dieting and eating disorders to shed light on people’s challenges when dealing with diet culture.
The allure of dieting
Dieting often shines as a guiding light toward a healthier and more physically fit lifestyle. Yet, comprehending the profound allure of dieting is essential to grasp why it can become enticing, sometimes blurring the distinction between the pursuit of well-being and the slippery slope of obsession.
- Dieting promises rapid physical transformation, enticing individuals with the allure of achieving their desired body shape or weight quickly.
- Societal pressure to conform to beauty standards through media and social platforms intensifies the appeal of dieting.
- Diets are promoted as a path to improved health, reducing the risk of chronic diseases and enhancing overall well-being, making them seem responsible and necessary.
- Dieting provides a sense of control and achievement, temporarily boosting self-esteem for some individuals.
- External validation from others noticing weight loss or improved appearance reinforces the belief that dieting is the right choice.
- Diets offer clear rules and structure, providing comfort to those seeking order in their lives.
- Initial dieting success, such as rapid weight loss, can be addictive, blinding individuals to potential long-term risks.
However, it’s essential to recognise that the allure of dieting can mask potential pitfalls. While dieting may offer short-term benefits, it often fails to provide sustainable, long-term solutions for health and well-being. Moreover, the pursuit of dietary perfection can lead to disordered eating patterns and mental health challenges.
In the following sections, we will delve deeper into the psychological and emotional triggers that can push individuals from the allure of dieting into disordered eating, highlighting the importance of finding a balanced approach to nutrition and wellness.
Emotional and psychological triggers in disordered eating
It’s important to note that not everyone who goes on a diet will develop disordered eating, but there could be a link between dieting, psychological factors and the development of disordered eating patterns.
Let’s take a look at some of these potentials:
Stress and coping mechanisms: Some individuals turn to diets as a way to cope with stress and emotional turmoil. The discipline and structure of dieting may provide a sense of control in chaotic times. However, when this becomes the primary coping mechanism, it could lead to an unhealthy obsession with food and body image.
Low self-esteem: Negative self-image and diminished self-esteem often serve as motivating factors behind dieting, particularly among women. Individuals grappling with self-worth issues may believe that altering their bodies through dieting will pave the way for enhanced self-acceptance and societal validation. It’s important to note that further research in this area is warranted to deepen our understanding of these complex dynamics.
Perfectionism: Perfectionism can drive individuals to pursue the ‘perfect’ diet or body, often setting unattainable standards. The fear of not meeting these high expectations can lead to extreme dieting behaviours.
Social pressures: The influence of friends, family, or peers can significantly influence dieting decisions. Pressure to conform to certain body standards or to participate in group dieting challenges can push individuals to engage in unhealthy eating patterns.
Body dysmorphic tendencies: Some individuals have a distorted perception of their bodies, leading to an obsession with perceived flaws. This can drive relentless dieting and exercise in an attempt to ‘fix’ these perceived imperfections.
Body comparison: Constant comparison to others, especially through social media, can fuel dissatisfaction with one’s own body and drive a desire to diet excessively to achieve a perceived ‘ideal’ body shape.
Social media and dieting
In recent years, social media platforms like Instagram have played a significant role in shaping how we perceive ourselves and our attitudes towards dieting and body image. Instagram could both fuel the allure of dieting and exacerbate the risk of unhealthy obsessions.
Notable case study
Ashlee Thomas shared her story on Australia’s version of the ‘60 Minutes’ programme, revealing how her obsession with Instagram influencers led her down a dangerous path of extreme dietary restrictions and excessive exercise. Initially inspired to get fit and healthy, Ashlee started with green juices and short workouts but soon developed orthorexia nervosa. Orthorexia is an unhealthy obsession with eating only “healthy” or “pure” foods, to the extent that it can negatively impact a person’s physical and mental well-being.
Eventually, Ashlee stopped eating altogether due to an unhealthy fixation on clean eating.
She described how compliments and social media validation fueled her disease, making her believe that her restrictive behaviours were right. At her lowest point, Ashlee’s parents had to resort to force-feeding her through a tube because she refused to eat. She had reached a dangerously low weight of 40kg.
Orthorexia nervosa has become more prevalent with the rise of social media and the promotion of “wellness warriors.” Dr. Berelowitz from the Royal Free Hospital in London expressed concerns about the lack of scientific basis behind many wellness trends on social media, emphasising the importance of evidence-based health practices. Ashlee’s parents shared their story to raise awareness about the dangers of social media and eating disorders, urging parents to be vigilant about their children’s online influences.
When is it time to reassess dieting?
Although dieting, if done correctly, can be beneficial for your body and health, there is the potential for it to become problematic. Recognising when a dietary pursuit transforms into something more dangerous is crucial. Here are some key indicators to help you identify when dieting has crossed that fine line:
Fixation on numbers
When you find yourself obsessively tracking every calorie, gram of fat, or minute of exercise, it may indicate an unhealthy fixation. Constantly measuring and quantifying your food and exercise can lead to anxiety and an inability to enjoy meals or physical activity.
Extreme dietary restrictions
While some diets involve sensible adjustments, extreme and restrictive diets can be a red flag. When you start eliminating entire food groups, drastically reducing calorie intake, or engaging in prolonged fasting, it can indicate an unhealthy relationship with food.
Preoccupation with body image
Constantly comparing yourself to unattainable beauty standards and feeling dissatisfied with your body, regardless of your actual size, can be a manifestation of body dysmorphic tendencies. This can drive an unrelenting pursuit of thinness or an ideal physique.
If your dietary habits cause you to withdraw from social gatherings or disrupt your relationships, it’s a concerning sign. Isolation and secrecy often accompany disordered eating patterns, as individuals may feel ashamed or guilty about their behaviours.
Disordered eating is often intertwined with emotional distress. If your dieting efforts are causing heightened anxiety, depression, or feelings of guilt and shame, it’s time to reassess your approach.
Physical health deterioration
Extreme dieting can take a toll on your physical health. Signs like extreme fatigue, dizziness, hair loss, irregular menstruation (in females), or weakened immunity may indicate that your dieting habits are causing harm.
Rigidity and Inflexibility
When you become inflexible with your diet, unable to adapt to different circumstances or enjoy occasional indulgences, it suggests an unhealthy fixation. Healthy eating should allow for flexibility and enjoyment of food.
How can I tell if dieting has turned into an eating disorder?
Studies exploring treatments for eating disorders demonstrate that early detection and intervention contribute to a quicker and more successful recovery. With this in mind, if you feel something’s not quite right with your eating habits whilst dieting, it’s essential to address your gut feeling. Below, we have devised six questions that could be worth answering:
- Are you preoccupied with thoughts about food, weight, or body image on a daily basis, to the point where it interferes with your daily life and activities?
- Have you recently experienced significant changes in your eating habits, such as avoiding meals, restricting certain food groups, or eating unusually large amounts of food in a short period?
- Do you frequently engage in strict dieting, calorie counting, or extreme exercise routines with the primary goal of losing weight or changing your body shape?
- Have you noticed significant fluctuations in your weight (either rapid loss or gain) without a medical explanation, or have others expressed concerns about your weight changes?
- Do you often feel dissatisfied with your body image, regardless of your actual size or shape?
- Do you engage in secretive behaviours around food, such as hiding or hoarding it, eating in isolation, or engaging in specific rituals related to eating?
If you or someone you know answers “yes” to several of these questions, it may indicate the early signs of an eating disorder.
If you find yourself in need of support with your eating habits, remember that UKAT is here to assist you. You don’t have to endure this journey alone. Reach out for help today at UKAT and take that crucial first step towards recovery. Your path to healing starts with us. Contact Banbury Lodge now to find out more.