Disordered eating is so common that it’s hard to identify and define. It’s just accepted as “normal”.
Kind of like fish not knowing they’re wet. It’s just how they live.
We’re born with all of the knowledge we need in order to eat well. But over time, the knowledge goes offline. Especially with our cultural obsession with thinness as our backdrop. And the tendency to categorize food as “good” or “bad”. As if food has a moral quality.
What is normal eating anyway? To define DISordered eating, we first need to know what ordered (“normal”) eating is.
Ellyn Satter, a registered dietician and family therapist, has an often cited definition. (She has lots of street cred as an internationally recognized expert on eating.)
She says normal eating is….
- “… eating until you are satisfied.
- Being able to choose food you enjoy and eat it and truly get enough of it – not just stop eating because you think you should.
- Giving some thought to your food selection so you get nutritious food, but not being so wary and restrictive that you miss out on enjoyable food.
- Giving yourself permission to eat sometimes because you are happy, sad or bored, or just because it feels good.
- Mostly three meals a day, or four or five, or it can occasionally be choosing to munch along the way.
- Leaving some cookies on the plate because you know you can have some again tomorrow, or it is eating more now because they taste so wonderful.
- Overeating at times, feeling stuffed and uncomfortable. And it can be undereating at times and wishing you had more.
- Trusting your body to make up for your mistakes in eating. Normal eating takes up some of your time and attention, but keeps its place as only one important area of your life.
In short, normal eating is flexible. It varies in response to your hunger, your schedule, your proximity to food and your feelings.”
Is it even possible to have a “normal” relationship with food these days?
My thoughts: “YES, but…”
“Normal eating” remains quite the oxymoron in our culture. As if the two words don’t belong together, side by side. And that an understanding of how the two words could possibly be a real thing is hard to believe. A common response is something like, “nondieting and normal eating may work for other people, but not for me. I could never do that.”
Indeed, nondieting (“ordered” rather than disordered eating) may seem like a radical act. To actually tune back into your own body’s natural signals. Not an easy thing to do – the signals have been derailed. Diet Culture’s rules of should’s and shouldn’ts have overridden your body’s inherent wisdom. BUT, you CAN reclaim that wisdom. Actually, to do so is your birthright.
Defining disordered eating is also difficult because there’s no specific criteria. In order to address a problem, defining it is helpful in order to know what it even is. And to understand why it is a problem in the first place.
The main reason disordered eating is hard to identify and define is because it is more the norm than not in our weight obsessed, diet oriented culture.
Consider the fact that disordered eating, Eating Disorders, and dieting are more common than normal eating. That’s disturbing.
So what are the signs and symptoms of disordered eating, and how do you distinguish it from Eating Disorders or dieting?
Signs of Disordered Eating:
Disordered eating takes a variety of forms. Examples include limiting intake to a certain number of calories or macros; eating only certain foods and avoiding others for weight related reasons; bingeing, purging, restricting, and/or fasting.
The mindset and behaviors that drive disordered eating can be hard to distinguish from cultural definitions of normal eating. And to distinguish from an Eating Disorder All of these behaviors are concerning. In time they can easily morph into a full blown Eating Disorder.
Disordered eating often has additional features, including:
- Self-worth based on body weight and size
- Body dissatisfaction
- Exercise to compensate for eating
- Preoccupation with food, weight
- Compulsive use of scale to check body weight
- Fad dieting
- A rigid approach to eating, such as only eating certain foods, inflexible meal times, refusal to eat in restaurants or outside of one’s own home
There are also lots of side effects of disordered eating.
- Decreased ability to focus because thoughts about food, body, and exercise get in the way.
- Social activities are affected, especially if they involve eating in a restaurant. Or eating foods that aren’t part of the plan.
- Using disordered eating rules to cope with stress.
- Anxiety due to food, weight, exercise.
Treating Disordered Eating
Disordered eating impacts physical and psychological health and puts people at risk for a host of problems. And it takes away from quality of life. Big time.
The relationship we have with our bodies is complex. So is how we nourish ourselves.
Fortunately, it is never to late to improve your relationship with food or your body. And there is no better time than right now.
As a psychologist, I’m biased in favor of psychotherapy. At least to support you as you start on the path of improving your relationship with food and your body. Finding like minded people also helps. There are communities to join online for example that may empower you.
Psychotherapy is helpful because it provides an opportunity to understand complex relationships with food and body. Also, therapy helps people move toward body acceptance. In addition, a nutritionist who specializes in eating disorders and adopts a non-diet approach to food and exercise can also be a good resource. Particularly with respect to increasing attention to the body’s natural hunger/fullness cues.
Reclaim your natural default of Intuitive Eating. Eat unconditionally. In whatever way pleases your body. Food is meant to be a source of pleasure. Denying yourself of it does not make you virtuous. Fueling and nourishing yourself well provides a sense of freedom, energy, and limitlessness.
Consider being your own unique fish, and surround yourself with others who share your vision.
I am a psychologist with a passion! My strong belief is that we all deserve the freedom to derive pleasure from food and be comfortable in our own skin, regardless of our body’s size or shape. Join me in this revolution.
If you’re married to a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP), you’re a lucky spouse.
Why? Because your partner is one of the universe’s deep feelers and thinkers. And “noticers” of subtleties.
Maybe her uniqueness attracted you. Or her deep reflections, appreciation of nature, and delight in delicious food. Regardless, there are unique things to recognize about your spouse if you’re married to a Highly Sensitive Person.
First, keep in mind that all Highly Sensitive People are not exactly the same. Any one description isn’t a “one size fits all”.
So what is High Sensitivity (HS)? It’s a trait, present at birth, in about 15% of the population. As much as eye color is a trait you’re born with, so is High Sensitivity.
HSPs have a unique hard wiring. Their nervous system is highly attuned and ultra responsive.
Some people consider the trait a Super Power. It certainly can be!
By the way, half of Highly Sensitive People are male. Men with the HS trait often have a history of being bullied or teased as kids. Throughout life, they’re likely to keep their high sensitivity on the downlow. Makes sense!
After all, sensitivity in our culture is deemed natural for women and not so much for men.
Certain challenges are somewhat predictable when you’re married to a Highly Sensitive Person– whether two HSPs or an HSP with a non-HSP. Many advantages are also available if you understand the HS temperament. The ideas below are primarily referencing a marriage with an HSP wife and non HSP husband.
Here are nine things to recognize about your spouse if you’re married to a Highly Sensitive Person:1. Intensity:
From sights, to sounds, to emotions, Highly Sensitive People experience life more intensely. Why? Because their nervous system is genetically designed that way. As a result, HSPs experience positive events VERY positively (and negative events more negatively than someone without the trait).
The enhanced intensity means she derives extra delight from sensory pleasures.
Sunrises and sunsets, the smell of the ocean, the sensual feel of velvet. Ahhhhh! And her turbo charged nervous system can be highly responsive when aroused.
Being married to a Highly Sensitive Person means you too can experience natural pleasures in life more easily, often, and fully.
HSPs are more easily overwhelmed by external events and may therefore at times feel broken. This is due to the combination of their nervous system’s makeup and cultural messaging.
Experiencing life more intensely and being judged for something that’s just inherent in who they are can create of a lot of wounding.
This is very important to be aware of if you’re married to a Highly Sensitive Person.
Unfortunately, cultural values of dominance and overt power have led many HSPs to incorrectly believe they’re flawed, that something’s wrong with them. (In contrast, in Japan, where cultural values are different from those in this culture, HSPs are held in high regard.)
Especially if you’re married to a Highly Sensitive Person, knowing this about her is important. You know she’s not damaged or a weird-o. (And, anyway, sometimes, weird is a compliment. No clone concerns there!)
Encourage your Highly Sensitive spouse to express her quirkiness and nerdiness. And laugh alongside her at her puns and sense of humor.
At times HSPs are mislabeled as “shy,” “fearful,” “introverted” or “timid.” In reality, being an HSP means she engages in close relationships on a deep level. And she experiences the world in a very acute way. Life is filled with a lot of “extra’s”. At different times she is an Old Soul, and other times a Late Bloomer.
Approximately 30% of HSPs are extroverted. They thrive on social activity and become energized in exciting social situations. Extroverted HSPs walk a thin line though between getting the social interaction they crave without entering into overwhelm.
4. Words matter:
HSPs process words, thoughts, and content deeply.
Case in point: Among others, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Celine Dion, Mozart, and ee cummings are HSPs.
If you’re married to a Highly Sensitive Person, your particular expressions of love are super important to her. She’s likely the type to save cards, notes, emails, and texts in which you profess your love.
Tone and posture matter do too:
Be mindful of your tone of voice and body language. If you’re married to a Highly Sensitive Person, you already know that she has a ‘sixth sense’; that she may intuitively seem to know how you feel.
She will recognize when what you say and how you say it aren’t aligned.
5. Conflict avoidance:
HSPs tend not to do well with conflict. Actually, most prefer to avoid it.
As the non HSP spouse, you’re probably more adept at arguing and comfortable dealing with things head-on.
Your HSP spouse is more likely to withdraw from, rather than address, a conflict.
If you’re married to a Highly Sensitive Person, you already know that at times she prefers her own company- i.e. to spend time alone. This may especially be true after an intense discussion. And may be a necessity rather than a preference.
Don’t take this personally. Having time to regroup means her nervous system is back to baseline. She’ll feel more content afterward. And have a longer fuse.
Ideally, you two generally communicate with each other in a way that doesn’t create or escalate to conflict. Let’s be realistic, though: Conflict is inevitable in relationships. Discover methods (at times other than in the heat of the moment) to minimize conflict. After all, you are on the same team! Consider using humor, writing, or even “time-outs”.
6. Tendency toward Overwhelm
All of us have an optimal level of stimulation and arousal. A zone where we’re neither bored nor overwhelmed.
HSPs have a more narrow window of optimal stimulation. Therefore, your HS spouse tends not to enjoy crowds, noisy restaurants, or a lot of commotion. These kinds of settings become overwhelming, sometimes immediately. (If your spouse is an extraverted HSP, she enjoys social environments but can suddenly become too overwhelmed to stay.)
Her threshold for overwhelm is probably lower than yours.
Remember, she naturally takes in a ton of stimuli. As a result, some alone or quiet time is needed for her nervous system to recalibrate.
Maybe, for example, she needs to retreat to a quiet, dimly lit, comfortable place such as the bedroom, to recharge. If you’re married to a Highly Sensitive Person, expect that she will need down time in her daily life.
7. Social activity parameters
Reiterating the propensity for overwhelm is important. Even if redundant.
Your Highly Sensitive spouse is unlikely to enjoy large gatherings, such as sporting events. Or loud social get-togethers, like a tail gating party. And forget about small talk at parties. No thank you. These forms of stimulation frazzle her nervous system.
When she has had enough, she has had ENOUGH. Time to go! Not “oh one more drink.” or “In five minutes.” This isn’t personal. It is her biology.
8. Decision making
Because of the depth of processing, HSPs may take longer to make decisions.
They consider pros and cons, all possible outcomes, and risk-to-reward ratios before coming to a final decision.
If you’re married to a Highly Sensitive Person, you’ll learn to be patient if you’re not already. Keep in mind that what may appear to be indecision is in fact just her way of processing the options.
9. Contagion Effect
If you are married to a Highly Sensitive Person, you’ll discover an increase in your creativity, kindness, and warmth. Your HSP spouse is likely to bring out the best in you, especially if you’re familiar with the trait.
You may become more inclined to notice subtleties and nuance after spending time together. And to be aware of other people’s goodness in a way that you hadn’t been before.
If you’re married to a Highly Sensitive Person, understanding your spouse empowers you both to create a glorious, thriving relationship. One in which both of you feel known, loved and safe. Where you’re comfortable being your true selves. You understand one another, respect each other’s wiring, and communicate well.
As with any marriage, finding the balance between what you need and what your spouse needs is key.
No marriage is perfect. If you’re married to a Highly Sensitive Person, you’re in for a lifetime of sensory pleasures, a deep sense of connection, and a meaningful life together.
I am a private practice psychologist who enjoys helping Highly Sensitive People access their superpowers with confidence and ease. I tend to have a pun or two to share along the way. #canthelpit