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Chowhounds and Eating Disorders

Disclaimer: This is a very personal thread, and may be triggering or difficult for some people depending on their personal backgrounds/experiences. Onward...

For a variety of reasons, I've grown curious about this over the past several months. I'm sure some 'Hounds (me included) have struggled with eating disorders themselves - and those who haven't, have likely known a friend or loved one who has.

What, if any, is your perception of eating disorders? How (if at all) has your experience with eating disorders shaped your experience of food, eating, and nutrition?

For me, exploring food, cooking, nutrition, and diet (and others' opinions, experiences, and ideas about such things), have been tremendously helpful in my recovery. Sometimes, it encourages me to try a new food, or a former "fear" food. Sometimes, it helps me adjust my perspective on "normal" with regard to eating (including treats).

What's your perception of these things?

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  1. Eating disorders usually have nothing to do with food, but rather addictions and mental health. They're separate entities that only overlap in an incidental sense.

    There's nothing wrong with enjoying food, re-living good memories about meals, and being proactive in seeking delicious, well-prepared food. Sometimes there's an unspoken air of shame directed at those who enjoy food, eating disorder or not, due to the "diet" culture that reinforces self-loathing.

    2 Replies
    1. re: alkonost

      I would agree about there sometimes being an unspoken air of shame directed at those who enjoy food. I love talking about food, tasting food, trying new recipes, and cooking. While I can overindulge at times,for the most part, I cook things that are wholesome, from scratch, and have lots of vegetables, but sometimes get scorn from people who eat to live about my love of food, cuisine, and cooking. The scorn from those that eat to live, though, is usually said while the eat highly processed foods because they don't care to cook.

      1. re: aasg

        I get that a lot, too. My rule of "if it's delicious, it will be eaten." has earned me some scorn, especially when I run into people who have bought into the popular notion that fat (and flavor) is the devil.

        I went to a cooking class once taught by Chef Peter Berley, and my heart just sank when the other students were making quips over butter being on the list of ingredients for some of the recipes. "Butter is delicious, it's not bad for you." he'd reply gently "But you can substitute with olive oil if you'd like when making the dish at home." . It seemed like every other word out of the student's mouths was about making low calorie substitutions to make it "healthy", as if prosciutto wrapped brook trout stuffed with mushrooms and bit of tarragon butter was going to send them into cardiac arrest. Chef Berley had the patience of a saint.

    2. my cousins who everytime they reach for a cookie at family party get " that is bad for you" growled at them. SO I have seen them sneak pockets full into the 'kids' room and hide them under their pillow. I on the other hand I grew up hearing " what else have you eaten today? Is that a good choice? Make sure you are staying in balance" Food was/is never refered to as good or bad (unless taste). Mom would sometimes say you are out ballance if we were constapated or feeling tired. If I thought about it I would realize I had been eating more junk food than normal. Meanwhile my cousins feel like they have to hide and eat "forbidden foods" they binge when they are at freinds houses and away from home they cant share eating habits with their parents and food is a source of shame to them. I think there will be problems later on.

      12 Replies
      1. re: girloftheworld

        My heart goes out to your cousins. It's actually very dangerous to play emotional blackmail games on children regarding the natural reflex of hunger. It's natural to feel hungry, but if you condition them to feel shame whenever they eat eventually they're going to associate food with negative feelings and start punishing themselves for feeling hungry in the first place. Sure, kids lack intuition on what they're supposed to eat to stay healthy (that's to be expected because they're kids!), but there's better ways to steer them into good eating habits that don't include emotional torture.

        1. re: girloftheworld

          This reminds me of the comments such as "I was so bad today" when people reference what they ate. I hate that we have this natural association of foods with good and bad.

          1. re: fldhkybnva

            I know, right? When someone starts " I was so bad today" I want to hear they called in sick to drive 300 miles to a restaurant's opening... or spent their share of the rent on truffles

            1. re: girloftheworld

              Yea, I also have to top myself from saying it. The other comment which always makes me frustrated is when people grab a plate of food at a conference for example and remark "oh don't worry, it's not all for me" or "oh, don't worry I haven't had a cookie yet." My response is always, eat to your heart's desire, there is no judgement to be made. It's unfortunate that our society has turned food into something to be judged either bad or good, processed or not and that those judgements are often then passed on to the eater.

              1. re: fldhkybnva

                yep while the country is busy fat shaming the two chuby kids in the class there are four girls sitting there with bodies that everyone would hold up as "ideal" who are developing a more unhealthy realtionship with food and have more body image problems than those two.

                1. re: girloftheworld

                  Girloftheworld, I gather from previous posts that you are a young'un, but you are far wiser than your years.

            2. re: fldhkybnva

              Re: "I was so bad today" comments.
              When DH and I attended Weight Watchers meetings for two years, that was a regular comment by some of the women there. I just wanted to shake them and say, "You are NEVER bad. You may make poor choices, but that doesn't make you bad!"
              Those were usually the ones who struggled the most at developing good eating habits, too. It's a process that takes time and self awareness, and some people don't want to know themselves that well!

              1. re: kitchengardengal

                Exactly, there will be another bite and there's no need to attack yourself for a bite that perhaps in retrospect you'd rather not have but sometimes I think it's OK to admit that "well, yes, I loved that bite of delicious things I tell myself I shouldn't eat" and move on. As my grandmother says, we only have a a limited time here which of course doesn't work if you say it all the time, but as everything else it works in moderation.

              2. re: fldhkybnva

                I hate this, too. If food can be "bad," it's that some people don't get enough, not that I ate more than I should have for good health. Eating is morally neutral.

                But it's part of the culture we live in, unfortunately. It drives me up a wall when my 18 year old comes home from her summer job and says, "I was good today." I try tease her in response, "Oh, you refrained from pushing anyone under a bus? Didn't hold up a liquor store?"

                1. re: Isolda

                  Exactly, bad food should mean rotten as in infected.

                  1. re: Isolda

                    "Eating is morally neutral."

                    Thanks, Isolda. I love it and will use that as a response.

                    As for your daughter, I'm glad she has a voice of reason in her life.

                  2. re: fldhkybnva

                    I'll never forget when a Canadian women's magazine ran two cover stories. One was actually a really good piece about giving up that association and supposed guilt.
                    Then there was the other headline.... "guilt-free desserts".

                2. Disclaimer: This is my first post on this site, and admittedly it's a weird one to start with... but I wanted to speak to the comment that eating disorders are not about food. Perhaps they don't start off being about food, but as a former (severe) anorexic, I can't tell you how many hours I spent reading cookbooks and jotting down recipes of foods I never had any intention of making or eating. Reading about food made me feel full; in fact, when I was at a dangerously low weight, I thought of almost nothing but food, which is not atypical of a starving patient. 20 years later, I still restrict greatly and have what most people would consider a very strange and limited diet. But I love reading about food. Hence my interest in this site.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: Dotyparx

                    Indeed, and I appreciate your post. I have quite an experience with many men and women in my life with eating disorders and it becomes about food as it's the source of control and stability. With one particular friend, it was nonstop researching and collecting recipes she would not make as well as writing about food and calorie counting at all hours of the day - scribbles on notebooks and papers scattered about. People often believe that anorexics are not hungry, but many cases they are. I admire your courage to get better as I have witnessed how difficult that journey can be and wish you luck in the future if you feel that you would like to develop different eating habits.

                    1. re: Dotyparx

                      first off, thanks for your honesty and courage in contributing to this thread.

                      i'm similar to you in some ways: i'm in recovery now, but have had the same experiences as you being at a hazardously low weight, and finding that i thought of NOTHING but food. pictures, recipes, restaurant reviews, wandering the grocery store... all, as you say, quite common in starvation patients.

                      i appreciate you speaking up about the "eating disorders aren't about food" thing. while it's true that food is usually not the root or central issue - much less the "cause" - of eating disorders, it's my firm belief that as the illness progresses, food in all its forms and dimensions becomes a central piece of things. the saying i heard all the time in residential treatment was "it's not about the food... but it's about the food."

                      food does not cause eating disorders, but relationships with food, eating, nutrition, etc are a key factor in the progression (and/or treatment) of these deadly illnesses.

                      1. re: Dotyparx

                        Yes, exactly, Dotyparx. One of my friends has been to hell and back with her anorexic daughter who hoarded food she wouldn't eat, chewed up and spit out foods she craved, baked up a storm for her family and friends but ate none of it herself. There is most definitely a food component to eating disorders.

                        By contrast, my own daughter, who has suffered from many of the mental issues (perfectionism, etc,) that can cause some girls to become anorexic, channeled her problems into another unhealthy behavior, from which she is recovering well.

                      2. As a fitness professional, I see shades of this more often than not. People who deprive themselves, joylessly, or who live with guilt when they splurge. I'm reading a book about someone obese and the author put it as "the acrid taste of remorse." These aren't to the extent of eating disorders but that much self-discipline takes away from the spontaneity and enjoyment of life. An egg yolk won't kill you.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: chowser

                          Yep, chowser, I'm convinced that a sense of deprivation can be deadly for some people. I'd rather not live as long a life if it means having to continually deprive myself of the foods and wine I love. A little self-discipline (particularly at Lent) is good, but as a demanding way of life, well, that's not living.

                        2. Interesting topic.
                          Up until my early 20's, I was very controlled about how much I ate. I was often fed junk, but as my family put a fair amount of money into dance and sports for me, I was dished out much smaller amounts to remain thin.
                          On my own, I had a hunger to just try everything. And I did. If I was traveling or at home, If I wanted it, I ate it. And I didn't feel bad. 20 years later, I am only 5 lbs. heavier.
                          I feel a tremendous sadness for people who equate food with guilt. That was something that I feel was attempted to be forced on me, but you can't bust me! Food is a pleasure, and for us folks lucky enough to be tapping away on computers, it's a privilege (just my opinion).
                          Best wishes and thoughts to any hounds that are struggling with this <3

                          1. I so admire this post and thank you for it. I struggled with an eating disorder for many years that caused me to miss out on many amazing meals that my Italian family cooked and ate together. The food was not the root of the illness but the control of it.
                            Now as a young physician, I truly cherish and relish in cooking for all my friends and family and bringing them together to almost heal my past. Where exploration of these sites used to be a vortex for my anorexia, it has now become a joyous peace.

                            1. Thank you for the kind words. I'm happy to report that I am in that I really am in the best shape of my life, physically and emotionally, after abusing my body for almost two decades. I think my eating habits might always be 'disordered' in that I have some very odd habits. For example, there are fewer than half a dozen people in my life whom I actually feel comfortable eating in front of. I prefer to eat in solitude, usually at peculiar hours and in very methodical ways (cutting everything into tiny, tiny pieces, or eating non-finger foods with my fingers.) However, having read many Chowhound threads over the last six months or so, I see that I am not the only one with eccentric eating habits, and there's something comforting about that. I suppose the thing that might seem strangest to the average person here is that I seldom cook anything unless it is for someone other than myself. It's as though I don't trust myself in the kitchen, though I do trust prepared foods and occasional takeout. Then again, this could also have something to do with my aversion for dirtying dishes. :)

                              1. I love food. I've always loved food. But I also had extreme anxiety that channeled some of itself into food phobias... Fear of dying became fear of possibly dying if I ate a food that had been known to be 'dangerous' (because of contamination, or because I'd heard of allergic reactions to it, or it made me feel a little bit weird.) I went over a decade without touching a peanut, and tropical fruits were off my diet just in case. Seafood was banned after I became engaged to somebody who was allergic to it, not because I was afraid 'I' was allergic but because I'd heard of people transferring enough of the food to kill a loved one just by kissing them or breathing on them. Eventually I realised I was being irrational, and I very very gradually expanded my diet again. It was terrifying, but very freeing at the same time. There are still a few things I won't eat, but I don't even stop to worry about what might be in something I want to eat. And surprise surprise, I never died of it...

                                1. An interesting post - and I'm with you, chartreauxx, exploring food and the glories it can be has absolutely helped in my recovery. I was anorexic, bulimic, exercise bulimic, and bulima-rexic throughout my adolescence and 20s - I didn't care about food, I just wanted to be thin; food was the enemy. But in delving so headlong into the vast amounts of research available (in order to conquer said enemy), I was able to find out that small amounts of fats kept you full longer, for example, and because of that, I reintroduced fat into my diet...which led to reintroducing taste...which eventually would lead to the well-researched but very healthy, healthful, and occasionally indulgent way I eat today. Like you said, it definitely helped me to adjust my perception of normal when it comes to food, though it was really yoga that helped me adjust my self-image.