"Normal Eating" Really Isn't.

Okay, so I'm apparently the last person in the blogosphere (well, the part that looks at eating and weight issues) to have written about this, but here goes.

Apparently, most American women have a screwed-up relationship with food.

Raise your hands if you're astonished. Anyone? Anyone?

Didn't think so.

What makes this news is several things: 1) the number of women surveyed and 2) exactly how screwed up we all are.

Self magazine, combined with the UNC Chapel Hill Eating Disorders Program, surveyed 4000 women, asking them detailed questions about eating, exercise, height, weight, etc. And the results weren't pretty.

Over 3/4 of woman say weight is a significant part of how they feel about themselves. Less than 1% said they didn't judge themselves based on their weight.

Half of women say that gaining 5 pounds would make them extremely upset.

3/4 of women have spent at least half the time over 18 dieting.

1/3 of women have an unhealthy relationship with exercise (workout when they're sick, or restrict to make up for not exercising)

3/4 of women have counted calories to lose weight

2/3 have eaten the same foods every day.

1/3 have fasted to lose weight.

1/4 have vomited.

1/4 have used laxatives

1/3 used diet pills or diuretics

1/5 binge one or more times per week

1/2 of women think about food more than once per hour

Granted, a group of women who read a magazine with every issue chock-full of diet and exercise tips might not be entirely representative of women as a whole. But then again, it might.

The story was featured on The Today Show, and the text version opened with a vignette that many of us could probably relate to:*

Ms. X seems like the perfect dieter. If you ran into the...marketing specialist checking food labels for calories in the supermarket or powering through one of her seven weekly workouts, you’d envy her ability to control her intake and burn off any excess, too. But Ms. X, who had her first baby nine months ago and is now below her prepregnancy weight (“I’m the tiniest I’ve ever been!” she says), could be the poster girl for an unrecognized epidemic among women: disordered eating.

Most people reading this (myself included, alas) will likely envy Ms. X. But then all of us--every last one of us--must take a step back and ask why. Why do we want this life? Why do we want to be ruled by calories and pounds? Why would we rather focus on food and weight rather than the life we just shoved through our loins? Is our entire society whacked? Why? Can we escape it? How?

Ultimately, the survey found that two out of three women have some form of disordered eating. While these aren't full-blown eating disorders, things like chronic dieting, compulsive exercise, and eating in secret can all take a toll on a person's health and well-being. But this survey also found that an additional ten percent of women had full-blown eating disorders. This means that only one in four women has a healthy relationship with food.

There's a book called "The Rules of 'Normal' Eating." I know the author meant normal eating as eating when you're hungry, stopping when you're full. But this isn't normal. It's abnormal. Perhaps we need a different rule book, because our society doesn't have rules I think I want to play by.

*I took identifying information, as well as height and weight out because the exact numbers really don't matter.

**I bet some of you are pissed, though, that I didn't include it. Am I right?


Vickyann said...

The statistics are alarming yet they never seem to shock me anymore.

I always hope with these blogs we are slowly making a small difference and one day if we all work together those statistics will fall.

Vicky XXX

Jane said...

"Granted, a group of women who read a magazine with every issue chock-full of diet and exercise tips might not be entirely representative of women as a whole." I believe "Lose Weight Every Day" was a cover story last month.

carrie said...


Amen. That's one of the reasons I keep writing.


I'm not surprised at that last cover story. I don't read the magazine myself, but I have a general idea of what's on the cover. That being said, almost every "women's" magazine has weight loss tips as a cover story, so it could be that this study is more representative that we think. Ultimately, you'd have to compare the demographic info (age, race/ethnicity, etc) to US census data to see if it really was representative.

Though it might not hold up in clinical trials, I think this kind of sampling is representative enough. Sadly.

Jane said...

I agree, Carrie. And I think not reading magazines with these kind of tips (good for you!) can be a first step in freeing up some brain space for more positive and useful things, even if seems like we're always swimming against the tide. I bought this issue myself for the survey article and had to wade through a fair amount of weight loss stuff ("slim and tone in 30 minutes!") before I got to it.

A:) said...

Thank you for taking out the weight/height info. . .

My ED would have loved to read that and compare -- But it wouldn't have helped with my recovery. . .

Funny how many of us with eating disorders think similarly.


Sarah said...

You know exactly where my head went at "i'm the tiniest I've ever been."

thank you for protecting me from my worst instincts! and congrats on masters #2. that is an incredible accomplishment!!

carrie said...


I've never read those magazines- which sort of chucks the Posh-Spice-made-me-do-it theory out the window (though it was Ally McBeal when I first got sick).

A and Sarah,

Yep. I know that's where my brain would have gone, too. I debated for a bit, because the information is easy to find, but still, the point isn't to make it easier for our eating disorders...

I think...

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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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