Dieting is Dangerous

This is one thing that I don't get- dieting is thought of as an almost universally healthy practice by most people in America.

"I'm going on a diet."
"Oh, you are? Good for you!"

No one ever says, "Enjoy the insomnia, crankiness, anxiety, deprivation and rebound binge. I'm going to have some cheesecake. See ya later!"

And no one certainly ever says "Dieting can lead to an eating disorder, which can kill you. So stay where you are and give yourself a nice big smooshy hug."

Dieting changes brain chemistry. So can "eating healthy" and certainly cutting out all fats or all carbs will. So does exercise. Your brain is 60% fat. You read that right: 60%. No wonder we all go so mental when we're starving. And dieting is just a culturally acceptible way of starving.

I don't know of any person with an eating disorder that wasn't precided by weight loss. Sometimes, it was unintentional (through illness), but many times, it was intentional. I thought losing weight might make me happy, and it would make me feel less anxious about my huuuuuuuuge stomach. I know of girls who just wanted to eat healthier, or get in shape. In the Middle Ages, women fasted for devotional reasons. And the brain chemistry changed and poof!

I have a little pet theory here, but it seems to be scientifically sound at least as far as I can tell. The outward symptoms of anorexia are the same as in any person who is on a drastically reduced diet: sensitivity to cold, depression, anxiety, restlessness, slowed basal metabolic rate. However, the difference between someone who is totally, physically incapable of obtaining food and a person with anorexia is that person A will be able to eat again when they can obtain food. A person with anorexia will not. What anorexia is, then, really isn't the weight loss and the loss of menses, and all of that. It's that strange, subtle neurological difference between anorexics and everyone else.

Why is that? What is it in the brain chemistry that causes such a phobia of food in someone with anorexia? There are theories out there: eating isn't as rewarding, or perhaps it's so overwhelmingly rewarding that it tips the brain in the opposite direction.

Will we be able to totally prevent eating disorders? I doubt it. A noble cause, to be sure, but I think our efforts might be better spent elsewhere. It's like trying to prevent Type I Diabetes. Until we know why the pancreatic cells go bonkers and destroy themselves, it won't be too likely that we'll be able to stop them from doing so. And because the trigger seems to be so nuanced (part genetic, part environmental- just like eating disorders), we might never be able to fully prevent diabetes OR eating disorders.

Yet an eating disorder has a trigger, and some sort of weight loss or diet seems to be it. Even if tomorrow, everyone decided to love their body and eat cupcakes freely, I bet eating disorders would still be around. They were around before dieting, and they'll be around after. But we can do something to keep them from being SO prevalent, and from having them be ignored and excused as "just another diet."

Because dieting can be treated like the danger that it really is.

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Laura Collins said...

You are so right.

It scares me, because society is on this train going full speed in the wrong direction. It makes it hard to have a rational conversation about eating disorders, because there are so many layers of dieting idiocy to unpeel first.

Lucy said...

I agree.
Dieting should be banned. Not only because it can lead to people developing eating disorders (both anorexia and bulimia), but also because it doesn't work, it's expensive, and it makes people miserable.
My ED started with a diet. The old, 'I'll just lose a bit of weight; it will make me feel better'.
Yeah, right. I can't say for sure that it wouldn't have developed if I hadn't started dieting, but I do suspect as much.

Sparkle Pants said...

I'm just "amused" that we, as humans, have become so screwed up in regards to a carnal need we HAVE TO HAVE in order to survive. Imagine if there was this much of a fuss over going to the bathroom!

That's not to down-play the seriousness of the topic. I dieted a lot when I was younger and failed every time and beat myself up about it. I don't know how old I was when I resigned myself to just being fat and, as I was conditioned, worthless.

Anonymous said...

This is dead on.

When I look back at my own life I believe I walked the fine line between dieting and ED, sometimes crossing over, sometimes steering myself back, but the scarey part is that when I was living on a grapefruit and a can of soup a day no one thought anything of it because I was just "dieting."

Anonymous said...

Great post. I wish society would come around and realize how dangerous dieting really is.

samsi77 said...

This discussion reminds me of a discussion that I had the other day with a young lady dealing with substance abuse issues. It's as if "getting high" is a hobby, social event, etc. Similarly, dieting, "going on a diet" or "being on a diet" has become a trend, a hobby, both of which have the potential to have irreversible effects on physical, psychological and overall functioning and it angers me how much society as a while minimizes these issues especially when it comes to our youth, our future!

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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