A Guide for Parents: Is it Dieting or Disordered Eating?
Is It Dieting or Disordered Eating
With nearly everyone “dieting,” it’s often hard to tell the difference between “dieting behavior” and abnormal, disordered eating behavior. Dieting has become socially acceptable and more than that, the social norm. This can make it harder to pick up on warning signs in your teenager because what you see might not seem too far from the norm.
If you’re asking the question, you’ve probably picked up on something that concerns you as a parent. That’s an important intuition to listen to and follow up on, even if it ends up not being an eating disorder. Regardless of your teen having an eating disorder, they are fighting to figure out who they are, to develop a healthy body image, good self-esteem, self-respect, and self-worth. If you remember, those teenage years can be pretty brutal on a vulnerable, developing self.
How to Distinguish Dieting from an Eating Disorder
Your son or daughter might refer to being on a diet, trying to lose a few pounds, wanting to eat healthy, or any number of things that could be easily dismissed by a questioning adult. There are subtle qualities that distinguish “dieting” from having or developing an eating disorder. These qualities are usually trickier to spot because they’re more hidden and they’re nested within a diet culture.
Diets are structured around food, weight, exercise and sometimes, changing thoughts about these things. Eating disorders revolve around or depend upon these things. Diets offer a guided meal plan around food, encourage reaching a goal weight, advise balancing the meal plan with regular exercise, and offer positive thoughts and encouragement to replace negative thoughts. People who are on diets relate to the diet as a guided suggestion, whereas people with eating disorders relate to their structure around food as absolutely mandatory.
Feeling Guilty For Breaking Diet Rules?
The attitudes between these two views are often a helpful difference as well. People who are on diets are working to follow a plan, feel badly when they miss, but tend to be more accepting, forgiving, open and positive. People with eating disorders often have rigid rules and obsessive rituals they follow regarding food and exercise. If those rules are broken, they feel incredibly guilty (often for a long time) and do not feel better until they’ve punished themselves for the failure.
We see teens who enter treatment for an eating disorder believing (and wanting to convince us) that they were just eating healthy, on a healthy diet, or teaming up with a friend to lose a few pounds. Again, externally, the differences may be subtle, but internally, the differences in the person’s relationship to food and herself or himself are pretty big.