Thursday, November 6, 2014

Let's Take This Seriously: Eating Disorders on IG

I've been using Instagram (IG) for about two years. It started out as a way for me to post pictures of food I made, and to draw traffic to my new blog. I learned all the popular hashtags to use, and started to discover other people on IG who loved food and fitness just as much as me. I just wanted to share some observations I've made over the past two years, and hopefully give some insight to those in need.

When I first started using IG, "clean eating" was all the craze. People with shredded bodies would claim the only way to a six-pack was to "eat clean" and there was no room for anything but lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, sweet potatoes, oatmeal, and brown rice. Of course, you had to watch out how much fruit you had since the sugar from fruit turned to fat (so NOT true!!). Low carbs, high protein, long hours in the gym. This information was misleading and wrong. Most of these people did not have degrees in nutrition or fitness, yet they were some sort of celebrity that people looked up to on IG.

Over time, I noticed many of these "clean eaters" came out about their struggle with food, eating disorder, and/or exercise addiction. They talked about their decision to reverse diet in order to slowly build up their metabolism again. They talked about their decision to start lifting heavy, do less cardio, and slowly increase their caloric intake. 

Next came macro counting, or IIFYM. The idea that all foods fit, as long as you hit your macro-nutrient goals (carbohydrates, protein, fat). Everyone was suddenly eating pop-tarts and ice cream and using #IFFYM (if it fits your macros). Every so often they justified these choices by uploading a picture of a salad with grilled chicken "See! I get my healthy foods and micro-nutrients in too!". Still working out. Claiming that squats will give you your dream body. Seemingly happier. Many even claimed that IIFYM saved them from their eating disorders.

My only issue with all of this, is that if you are suffering from an eating disorder, working out and counting macros is just another avenue for your eating disorder to control you. You are still caught up obsessing over your body, crunching numbers, and working out to justify eating. Food and exercise are still your way of feeling "worthy" and good about yourself.  What happens if you get injured and can't work out? Or you go over your macros, or don't have a scale to weigh your food? Weighing and recording food everyday for the rest of your life is NOT NORMAL. Judging yourself on how much you can squat or how defined your muscles become is still eating disorder mentality.

Everyone seems to be skipping a step here: You must learn to love and nourish yourself no matter what your body looks like. You body still needs to be nourished and well-fed whether or not you go to the gym. Self-love must come first.

Eating disorders are serious psychological disorders. They include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa,binge eating disorder, and EDNOS (Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified). There is SO much to be said about each individual disorder that I could literally write for hours. But to keep it short and to the point for this post, here are some common states of being for people suffering from any of the listed eating disorders as listed in The Eating Disorder Sourcebook by Carolyn Costin:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Diminished self-worth
  • Need for distraction
  • Feelings of emptiness
  • Need to be in control
  • "All or Nothing" mentality
  • Difficulty expressing feelings
  • Need for escape or safe place to go
  • Lack of coping skills

What most people don't discuss on IG are the serious medical complications associated with eating disorders. This is not just a game of weight loss and weight restoration. Complications from anorexia nervosa include:

  • Low blood pressure
  • Low body temperature
  • Kidney and Cardiac Disorders
  • Slow pulse rate
  • Bloating
  • Dry skin
  • Electrolyte imbalances
  • Dehydration
  • Loss of menstrual cycle
  • Depression

Let's talk about this for a minute. First off, I want to say that severe malnutrition leads to muscle wasting which can leave your body weak and susceptible to injury. YOUR HEART IS A MUSCLE. As your heart muscle fibers begin to thin due to lack of nutrition, it decreases its work rate which leads to a dangerously low heart beat and low blood pressure. This can lead to heart attacks. For girls that think that fitness is the answer, exercising under these conditions can be extremely dangerous. 

When someone restricts and has inadequate body fat, they are at risk for amenorrhea (lack of menstruation). This puts them at risk for stress fractures and osteoporosis. It also makes it harder to get pregnant, or they may have high-risk pregnancies. 

Overall, if someone is suffering from medical complications of an eating disorder, they need to be addressed before any type of exercise program is in place. A therapist, doctor, and a dietitian should be part of a great treatment team.

This is not to bash anyone on IG. I am SO happy for anyone who has found a way to overcome his or her eating disorder. But please- seek medical help from professionals first!

For anyone suffering from any type of eating disorder, here are a few resources:

I also recommend the book,  Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole, MS, RD and Elyse Resch, MS, RDN, CEDRD.