About three percent of the U.S. population meets the criteria to be diagnosed with an eating disorder. Many more people have disordered eating patterns. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the signs and symptoms of disordered eating may include, but are not limited to:
- chronic yo-yo dieting
- frequent weight fluctuations
- extremely rigid and unhealthy food and exercise regime
- feelings of guilt and shame when unable to maintain food and exercise habits
- preoccupation with food, body and exercise that causes distress and has a negative impact on quality of life
- compulsive or emotionally driven eating
- use of compensatory measures such as exercise, food restriction, fasting and even purging or laxative use to "make up for" food consumed
Decisions about eating must be made frequently throughout the day. The "eat this, not that" list that has been pounded into your head by social media can lead to feelings of anxiety, guilt and poor body image.
Instead, the goal should be for a normalized eating pattern: To start eating when you are hungry and to stop eating when you are full. To eat without regretting it immediately. To think about food far less often and to not crave foods constantly. To love yourself, to want to feed yourself the best food for your body and to eat the foods that make you feel your best. To have the highest quality of life possible.
Make this goal a reality by challenging yourself now to give up a disordered eating pattern and bring more mindfulness to your meals and snacks. The first step I recommend is to start eating all meals and snacks at a dining table. Eating in front of the TV, at your desk or in the car only distracts from what you're eating and, furthermore, creates a psychological association that will make you crave foods the next time you plop down on the couch or are behind the wheel.
Next, ask yourself one question before consuming any food and drink: "Why?" Your reasons may include the clock indicating it's a meal time, your stomach growling wildly, a need to stay awake while studying, or that it just sounds delicious. Whatever the reason, this exercise is an attempt to bring more awareness to your appetite and the other cues to eat.
Finally, make a conscious decision to eat and own your decision. Eat if you would like to eat, or pass if you would rather not.
You may feel less guilty when you give yourself permission to eat. Eating is one of your rights!