The Thin Line Between Eating Disorders and Fitness
What differentiates someone who is a gym rat from someone with an eating disorder?
I want you to picture a guy in front of you. The first thing you notice about this guy is that he cannot stop talking about food, calories, and working out. He goes to the gym 6 times a week because he just loves working out. ''Fitness is his passion''. When asked about his diet, he talks about how he eats ''clean foods'' only but also mentions a cheat day where he indulges in burgers, fries, milkshakes the whole day. Then he does ''depletion workouts'' to get rid of all the carbohydrates he has eaten from the other day. And during the week, he fasts for a day or two because it burns fat. He goes on to explain the benefits of fasting for his health. When it's closer to the summer months, he follows a ''cutting diet'' which helps him drop a few pounds quickly and gets him shredded. His phone is filled with ''progress pictures'' and looks at himself on every reflective surface. He adds that he cannot skip gym more than two days in a row, otherwise he would lose all his progress.
Now I want you to imagine a girl in front of you. The first thing you notice about this girl is how she finds it difficult to talk about something that does not involve food, calories, or her weight. She is always on some kind of restriction to lose weight; maybe a cleanse, a low-carb diet, or intermittent fasting. When asked about what she eats; she mentions eating ''whole foods'' and avoiding certain food categories. At night, she finds it difficult to stop eating and is not happy with herself the next day. She then runs on the treadmill for two hours to burn off all the calories she has consumed the previous day. If she does not go to the gym, she feels extremely guilty. She takes pictures of her figure from different angles and does body checks on every reflective surface. During spring, you will find her following new diet trends to get her bikini body ready.
When thinking of the guy, most would say that he is dedicated and that he is ''taking good care of himself''. Some would be fascinated with his willpower and they would describe him as a healthy guy who is simply into fitness.
When imagining the girl, everyone would almost immediately think that her behavior is problematic. They would find it typical that she is like that and label her as another girl with an eating disorder, who needs help.
Sadly, while she is getting judged; people like the gym guy are praised for being ''healthy'' and ''strong will-powered'', despite the fact that all of their behaviors are identical to those of people with eating disorders: working out compulsively every day, inflexibility around food and workouts, obsession with eating well, guilt over skipping a workout and doing body checks. Isn't ''cheat day'' another name for planned binges? How is a fad diet different than a meal plan for ''cutting''? What distinguishes depletion workouts from purging behavior? What separates fasting for health from fasting for weight loss? What is the difference between these two individuals? What makes you call one a ''dedicated bodybuilder'' and the other ''sick person who needs help''?
Let's not praise unhealthy behavior that is disguised as fitness or self-care.
There is a very thin line between an eating disorder and fitness.
Flexibility is what draws the line between the healthy and unhealthy. We know that we physically feel better when we eat more natural and unprocessed foods. You may naturally want to feel more comfortable in your body. It is a fact that being active and exercising significantly improves our mood. However, the moment you find yourself being rigid around your diet, feeling guilty about enjoying a cookie or two, start seeing working out only as a way to burn calories; that is where an eating disorder starts.
Sometimes you will wake up craving avocado toast with eggs but you will also have days where you just want a whole pizza to yourself. You will have times when you will not be able to get enough of your favorite cookies but you will also want to eat a big bowl of nutritious salad with your favorite toppings. There will be times when you feel euphoric after a run but you will also miss some workouts.
Being flexible while keeping your balance is key here.
For a long time - and after educating myself about Eating Disorders - I was ruminating over "Bodybuilding", as I think that it is a sort of disorder behaviour.
Because, what is the difference between two people both of them are obsessing with food, body shape, losing weight, but one of them has big muscles and the other is extremely thin?
The only different is their appearance, their outward appearance -
This appearance prompts others to say that the one who has the muscles is healthy, and the other one is sick.
All of this is happening because we used to treat Eds as they are only about thinness
- we kept judging patients according to their physical appearance regardless of their behaviors.
I am convinced that bodybuilding is a sort of Eating Disorder (maybe Bigorexia).. Which could open the door for the controversial topic of, "I am not sick enough to deserve help".
Thanks a lot for highlighting this important side.