How Your Fitness Diet Can Lead to Disordered Eating
When you focus on fitness, one of the most important aspects to consider is your current diet. This is because your physical and mental health is deeply intertwined with what, and how, you eat. Healthy foods, like whole grains, fruits and vegetables, energize your body and invigorate your mind. Highly processed meals, sugary drinks and fast food can drain your mental and physical energy, slow you down and negatively affect your moods.
Since what’s on your plate greatly influences your overall health, your diet is a huge part of getting, and staying, in shape. However, many fitness diets can be extremely restrictive in terms of what you can and can’t eat, and without healthy intentions, fitness dieting can be detrimental to your physical and mental well-being.
Your Fitness Diet Can Spiral Into an Obsession
When you resolve to get in shape and exercise regularly, what you eat matters. To burn fat and build muscle, your body needs a good blend of nutrients, which can include a mix of carbohydrates, healthy fats and protein. Unhealthy foods rarely have a place in diet plans, other than as occasional treats. Developing and following a healthy eating plan is key to see the results you want in the gym.
However, it’s all too easy to become obsessive about a diet, even a healthy one designed to help you lose weight or tone muscle. This is because following a diet can force you to make drastic changes to your everyday eating style and be wary of every ingredient in everything you eat. Depending on your fitness plan, a diet may require you to eat more, less or different foods than you normally would to achieve the results you want, but certain eating plans can be much more complex.
Many diet plans require participants to stop eating certain foods, like sugar in the ketogenic diet. Given that sugar is in the majority of food items, finding and eating foods without any sugar can be a difficult undertaking. Other diets may stress the importance of counting calories to reach your fitness goals.
When you follow a restrictive diet plan, cutting out nutrients and continuously counting calories can consume most of your time, energy and focus. For intensive fitness dieting to be beneficial, it’s important that you diet with a healthy perspective: What you eat enhances the body that you already have and love. Extreme fitness dieting combined with an unhealthy body image, or the perspective of altering your body because you don’t like it, can easily become a dangerous obsession.
Healthy Intentions: How Body Image Influences Fitness Dieting
With the right mindset, following an intense fitness diet can be a healthy lifestyle change and can help you reach your physical fitness goals. For fitness dieting to be sustainable, you must first have a healthy sense of self and body image. For example, you may diet to better your mental and physical health and make your body stronger. Even if you follow a restrictive diet, you also allow yourself to eat varied foods in moderation. Most importantly, you don’t allow what you eat to dictate your sense of self-worth.
Being obsessed with fitness and dieting without a healthy self-image can have detrimental consequences for your well-being. Extreme fitness dieting for the wrong reasons, like to punish yourself for being overweight or to change how people see you, can drastically change your relationship with food in negative ways.
When a Fitness Diet Becomes Disordered Eating
In some cases, disordered eating habits can develop out of obsessive, or unhealthy, fitness dieting. This is because how you see yourself can greatly influence what, and how, you eat. To people who diet out of disdain for their body, eating can become less of necessity and more of an unhealthy obsession. Important meals and snacks may be seen as a reward or withholding food can be a form of self-punishment.
These behaviors can be indicative of disordered eating. While eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia are diagnosed according to specific criteria, disordered eating describes unhealthy or irregular eating habits, many of which can lead to a serious eating disorder. An obsession with fitness dieting can contribute to the development of disordered eating habits, the symptoms of which can include:
- Preoccupation with exercise, food and body image.
- Rigid and unhealthy exercise regimens.
- Use of exercise to compensate for food eaten.
- Weight fluctuations.
- Restricting food or fasting.
- Compulsory purging, or vomiting, after eating.
- Use of laxatives in the absence of constipation.
Even though disordered eating habits may not receive as much attention as eating disorders, these behaviors can be harmful and should not be ignored. Sadly, many people brush off disordered eating behaviors if they occur once or twice, or make excuses for repeated instances of purging or laxative use. However, many disordered eating habits are a reflection of an unhealthy mindset and can be physically and psychologically harmful. For example, a preoccupation with body image can be a sign of emotional and mental distress. Additionally, compulsory purging can damage the lining of the esophagus and restricting food, even occasionally, can lead to digestion issues.
If you struggle with disordered eating, you may not experience all the symptoms of an eating disorder, but it is still a serious condition. Since the presence of one or more of these symptoms can lead to an eating disorder, it’s important to be mindful of disordered eating habits in yourself or someone you love. Don’t be afraid to speak up about what you notice and know that it’s better to ask for help than to suffer in silence.
Getting Help for Disordered Eating
If you struggle with disordered eating habits because of fitness dieting, know that your worth as a person can’t be measured in calories counted. Your identity isn’t tied to the number on the weight scale. Even if you don’t believe it now, you can change your relationship with food and you deserve to regain a healthy sense of well-being.
To speak with someone who understands disordered eating and different types of eating disorders, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline at 800-931-2237. This line is available Monday through Thursday, from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. EST. If you’d rather not talk over the telephone, you can text HOME to 741741 to be instantly connected to a trained counselor on the Crisis Text Line.