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Why I'm So Over the Topic of Disordered Eating

Okay, so this title might not be 100% accurate. I’m not exactly over disordered eating – it’s one of the main reasons why I went into nutrition. I always wanted to help show people that in order to be truly healthy, you need to eat *enough* and *allow* all foods. Lately though, I’ve been noticing the topic of disordered eating getting thrown around a little too casually and a little too often. And while I’m pumped that disordered eating is getting well-deserved attention, I’m also starting to get a little concerned by some of the ways it’s being portrayed.

What is disordered eating?

Unlike an eating disorder that is a psychological disorder defined by diagnosable behavior, disordered eating is that gray, less diagnosed area. It often refers more to our relationship with food. It’s when we don’t feel comfortable with food, our bodies, or ourselves in relation to what we eat, the way we look, and the way those make us feel. (Note that no one is invincible to ever feeling these thoughts, but in a non-disordered eating situation, you’re able to manage the thoughts and feelings so that they don’t play a large or interfering role in your life.)

Disordered eating falls on a spectrum of any feelings or behaviors that might make your relationship with food unhealthy. It could mean stressing out before a party with food or dinner at a restaurant with friends. It might be feeling uncomfortable in your body and feeling like you need to “eat clean” before being in a bathing suit. It could mean unnecessarily cutting out complete food groups, or not being okay with different people choosing different foods than you. Maybe it’s feeling self-conscious when eating with other people, or feeling guilty when you eat foods you feel like you “shouldn’t” eat. No matter how it presents itself, suffice to say none of these feelings are super fun to deal with.

Why I’m over it

As a dietitian, it’s my job to teach about healthy eating. While many dietitians will have different philosophies about food, in general, we all teach the same healthy eating principles. A healthy diet should contain plenty of variety in each food group: fruit, vegetables, whole grains, dairy (unless vegan or lactose intolerant), and protein. Aside from this, there are no rules.

Lately I’ve seen dietitians, health coaches, and food bloggers, etc. tell their audience things they “shouldn’t” do to in order to have a healthy relationship with food, or behaviors that are considered disordered eating. For example, in a chart a few months ago, someone wrote that if you use exercise to temporarily mask your stress, it’s a disordered behavior. How crazy is that?! You should exercise for reasons that make YOU feel good. If it makes you feel good to take a 45-minute reprieve from stress during a spin class, then you should do exactly that.

I’ve seen posts on social media that say “if you load up on veggies,” that’s disordered eating. Or, “if you count calories,” that’s a disordered behavior. There is no wrong or right way to eat, and it is irresponsible of us to tell people otherwise. If you truly enjoy loading up on veggies, by all means, please do it! If you’re someone who likes counting calories, then please, continue. Everyone is different. We are doing a disservice to our audiences by telling them that there is only one single way to have a healthy relationship with food.

"We are doing a disservice to our audiences by telling them that there is only one single way to have a healthy relationship with food."

So, what is a healthy relationship with food?

A healthy relationship with food is one that you feel the most comfortable with. It is when you feel at peace with what you eat; when you feel no pressure making food decisions; when you allow all foods into your diet and forget about unnecessary food restrictions; and when you feel comfortable in your body and confident in your own skin. Everyone has the capacity to reach this freeing feeling – but everyone’s behavior leading up to this feeling will be different. There is no one, single “right” way to reach this healthy relationship.

My friend and fellow dietitian, Val Kallen, MS, RD posted something on Instagram that will forever resonate with me and sums this up so beautifully. THERE ARE NO RULES. Your own healthy relationship with food is the one makes YOU feel best. If an eating behavior is one that you are comfortable with, don’t let anyone ever make you feel like it’s disordered eating or that it’s an unhealthy behavior. A healthy diet itself does have some guidelines – it’s important to eat foods that nourish our body, and to allow the ones that nourish our soul. But, when it comes a healthy relationship with food, your unique behaviors are entirely up to you.

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