When Diets Become Destructive

Written by Deirdre

Along with exercise, diets are vital to losing weight and/or getting fit. I’m no dietician but that’s a bit of a given. However, there’s a fine line that separates healthy dieting and intake restriction. Crossing that line doesn’t seem like a big deal at first but eventually it will lead to unhealthier, or what I like to call self-destructive, habits.

The summer just before high school I made the decision to lose some weight and so I began making regular trips to the gym. My diet mainly consisted of the usual “healthy” foods: fruits, vegetables, protein, carbs, and so on. Occasionally I would reward myself with a sweet or two. I didn’t completely cut out a certain type of food; I simply reduced my intake. And, of course, the combination of diet and exercise produced the results that I wanted.

Irrationally thinking that I would gain back all of the weight I lost eating the same amount as I was, I began to cut out whatever I deemed to be “unhealthy”. I started a food journal to keep track of all I was eating – I thought it would help. But soon enough there was less and less writing on each consecutive page. With the increase of exercise and decrease of calorie intake you can only guess what happened next. Hint: it involved more than a few trips to an unpleasant room reserved for the most urgent of situations.

It’s not uncommon for diets to turn into eating disorders, which range from restricting, purging, and even binging. On an important side note, eating disorders manifest in all different sizes. Most people don’t think of eating disorders as destructive. The media portrays them as simple problem solved by forcing the affected person to eat. In truth it may start of for superficial reasons but quickly becomes much more… an obsession and a way of life. First it’s five pounds, then ten, then twenty, and so on.

That sounds a bit exaggerated, right?

Sadly, it’s not. I’ve been through it and I know quite a lot of people who have as well. In fact, almost a decade later I’m still struggling through it and I’m certain that I always will. And the reason why I’m writing this article is to advise you to caution yourself when going on some kind of diet because it can spin out of control even if you feel like you’re not in the least bit susceptible to these kinds of things.

Believe it or not athletes, of any skill level, have slightly higher chances of developing an eating disorder, especially when body aesthetics and weight are important to their sport. I know it doesn’t make much sense that people who are supposed to be at an optimum level of health would have difficulties with their diet. However, with the amount of pressure athletes get from their peers and their innate drive to win, it makes some sense that traits such as perfectionism, obsession, compulsivity, and high self-expectations could be present. Those are actually the exact same characteristics of someone suffering from an eating disorder, most commonly anorexia and bulimia.

Actually, a few people in my outpatient therapy group were a part of the U.S. Armed Forces. That’s technically not a sport but you still have to be relatively fit and healthy to participate. The fitness standards were such that it drove them to disordered behaviors. In their case it was so severe that they were discharged. From my ROTC experience, I learned that having a severe eating disorder disqualifies you from joining the Armed Forces. Another case I encountered involved a track runner going into cardiac arrest during a meet and being sent to the emergency room. She was one of the lucky ones because with eating disorders, either you end them or they end you.

If you find yourself or someone else inordinately obsessing about diet and weight, stop for a moment and just think if you/that person would benefit from a little help. I definitely wish that I realized I did sooner than later.

10 thoughts on “When Diets Become Destructive”

  1. I can definitely relate. My clean eating and gyming spun insanely out of control. I cut one thing out, then another, and then another and soon everything was deemed a “bad food”. It’s such a slippery slope, and one I am still trying to recover from. And sometimes I fear I never fully will. Great post x

    1. It’s really something I feel like should be discussed more often. I know it’s difficult to admit that you have a problem, especially when you’re an athlete. I mean when I was a runner I didn’t want to admit it because I thought it was some kind of weakness, but I’m glad I finally got some help. I wish you the best during your recovery!

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