Diets are prevalent in our culture. Social media, advertising, movies and music videos frequently portray people with flawless bodies; get-fit-quick schemes run rampant across the web, promising results if you just add this to your coffee, substitute this for your dessert or sacrifice these five minutes in your schedule.
And whether we like it or not, it’s easy to fall prey to their flashy slogans and before and after images.
But while it’s well and good to monitor your processed sugar intake, there is a necessary question to ask in regards to diets – can a diet cause an eating disorder?
Causes of eating disorders
Eating disorders are complex conditions that usually have multiple causes. Genetics can play a role in predisposing someone to an eating disorder, as well as a combination of environmental, social and biological factors. Traumatic experiences like physical or sexual abuse may also be a root cause. Typically, eating disorders grow out of tendencies towards perfectionism, low self-esteem and/or confidence and a disordered concept of body image.
Like these factors, dieting habits can also be a precursor to an eating disorder. Keep in mind that not everyone who diets develops an eating disorder, and not everyone who develops an eating disorder engages in dieting. Rather, dieting is a risk factor for a person predisposed to an eating disorder.
Links between dieting traits and eating disorders
There are several characteristics most diets share that can be harmful to someone at risk for an eating disorder.
Unhealthy eating patterns
While some diets encourage health and balance, many instead focus on fast weight loss. Commonly referred to as fad diets, they often promote restrictive eating patterns that deprive the body of essential nutrients. This puts the brain in “starvation mode,” triggering a negative physical and psychological response. The metabolism slows down, but the body craves food intensely, especially foods that give an immediate boost of energy (often high-fat and high-sugar foods).
Such unhealthy eating patterns can mimic eating disorder behaviors, such as binging on unhealthy foods, or ignoring important hunger cues.
Obsessive focus on body image
Diets are also linked to an intense focus on body image. When you put all this attention towards achieving the “perfect physique,” you may start to feel dissatisfied with your body no matter how much weight is lost. This can trigger feelings of depression, shame and low self-esteem, as well as a spiraling effect of convincing the mind that if the body loses just one more pound, self-esteem will grow.
Sadly, this mind game tends to have the opposite effect.
Promoting the idea of failure
Diets tend to promote a false sense of failure when you don’t follow the “rules” or meet your weight loss goals. Additionally, most diets do not keep the weight off permanently and those who diet tend to gain back the weight when returning to normal eating habits.
However, this can also make you feel like you’ve failed to “diet correctly,” possibly leading to a dip in confidence and low self-esteem.
Many people diet for a time, then return to old eating habits, then diet again and repeat the pattern. This causes frequent, unhealthy weight fluctuations. In fact, those with frequent weight fluctuations are at risk for developing more than just an eating disorder – studies have discovered that inconsistent weight can be a factor in developing type 2 diabetes in addition to other adverse health effects.
So while diet culture promotes this idea of just using another diet method to lose weight, it’s better for your health overall to maintain your weight through the habit of healthy, balanced eating practices.
Maintaining a balanced approach to eating
Rather than dieting to achieve an ideal weight, the best way to achieve and maintain a healthy weight is through a balanced meal plan. Make sure your fridge and pantry are stocked with items high in protein like chicken and fish, dark leafy greens full of vitamins and antioxidants, fruits with natural sugars and whole grain oats and breads.
If you’re not sure where to begin in regards to healthy eating, consider consulting a licensed nutritionist who can offer concrete tips on the best foods to consume based on your health goals; if you are currently enrolled in a treatment program, talk with your therapist about healthy eating approaches you can work into your routine; additionally, consider the benefits of mindful eating and enhance your recovery journey on your own through adopting this mindful practice.
Can dieting led to an eating disorder?
While dieting is not guaranteed to end in an eating disorder diagnosis, many signs do point to the link between disordered eating as a result of dieting. And while it’s important to focus on proper eating for the sake of providing your body the right amount of nutrients, it’s also important to focus on it for the sake of overall health, not body image.
If you are concerned that dieting trends have led to disordered eating in your life or the life of a loved one, recovery is possible and Seeds of Hope’s multiple recovery programs are designed to help.
Contact Seeds of Hope at 610-644-6464 to speak with a mental health professional today.