We Think We Know, But We Have No Idea (Overcoming Disordered Eating, Part 6)

by Sarah on March 1, 2014 · 12 comments

I had been so wrapped up in studying disordered eating (among other things), that I didn’t even realize–until Lindsay let me know— that it was National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. NEDAwarenessLogoA little bit ago, I received a comment on a post requesting an update on my series about overcoming disordered eating–which were excerpts from a behavior change journal I was keeping for a health behavior theory class.

Introduction: Disordered Eating Past

Kitchen Elves & The Chocolate Cake Conundrum

Meal Planning (Or Lack Thereof)

Imperfect, Intuitive, Illogical Eating

Disorder is the New BlackIMG_20131113_154915 (854x479)

This reader insinuated that I had not made progress. My immediate thought was to get defensive. I actually wrote up a whole second half of my Just to Clarify post explaining WHY I had so many egg whites on had, and how you can’t judge a girl by her Instagram (or blog) photos. IMG_4178 (1024x683) I was happy to know what unintentional messages I was portraying, as I am very much involved in studying (social) media images of health and their effects on young women, and strive to be part of the solution, not the problem.IMG_20140219_100820

But it was that word judge that stuck out in my mind.

The theme of NEDA Week is “I Had No Idea,” and I do have some issues with that–most people who are truly close to you DO have some idea, and it is YOU that often need the wake up call–however what I DO like about it is the concept that you cannot judge someone or something based solely on the images they present to you. To quote MTV’s Diary:

You think you know, but you have no idea.

In this world of social media, it is so easy to learn how to have an eating disorder by modeling what you see others do. You can think something is normal and align your own behavior to it. You can project your own thoughts onto photos of others, without knowing what’s happening all around that one moment in time. Something I wish we could all remember is that pictures of food–at least in my case–are often more a reflection of artistry rather than actual food consumption.IMG_1362 (1024x683)

But for those of you wondering, here is MY truth:

When I started researching eating disorders, I only knew my personal experience with eating, and that it was probably a bit screwed up, but I never made myself throw up or restricted to the point of anorexia, so I couldn’t name it an eating disorder. What I didn’t know was that eating disorders fall along a huge spectrum, and can very often begin in a well-intentioned place. But whatever you want to call it, I was very much along that spectrum, and I do believe that while I’ve shifted back into the range of ‘normal’ I do not think that one ever truly ‘beats’ their disordered thoughts and habits. normaleating

So, yes, there are times when I find my internal calorie counter chugging along or I get irrationally nervous about the timing of meals or where we will be eating, but I also know that those habits and patterns are  generally triggered by either a sense of losing control in other areas of my life, or reactions to feeling physically uncomfortable in my own skin. When things seem out of control, food has always been the thing that I could get a handle on.

But while I cannot control school, weather, other people’s sadness, or a whole host of other things, what I CAN control is my reaction to the little bumps and hiccups and thoughts that run through my head.

Buying jeans in a bigger size was tough, I’m not going to lie.

IMG_20140220_111648_120 (1024x576)

But I didn’t react by restricting or doing compensatory cardio or quitting squats in boot camp. I reminded myself that this is a sign of hard work, and a healthier body. [And Laura reminded me that many people would kill to have glutes like mine.]

How do  I eat now?

I try to avoid cognitive eating, and focus on eating for hunger, energy, fuel, and, yes, sometimes just for fun.IMG_3456 (1024x683)

I munch when I’m hungry, and try to put a finger on just what my body needs–whether it is salad, or seafood, or a veggie burger, or just a snack.IMG_2865 (1024x683)

I go out to eat with friends, or dine with my family, and I can eat what I want and say no to what I don’t. IMG_20140130_192654_757

I can let my friends cook for me.IMG_20140224_191109 (832x466)

And bake for me.IMG_20140224_195542 (714x714)

And that might be my favorite part.

Do you know how much time I wasted NOT having a social life because I needed to be in control of my food?IMG_4614 (1024x682)

I LOVE food again. For food’s sake. 

But I don’t think about it 90% of the day.IMG_4629 (1024x683)

I am not perfect. I will probably never be. I have moments where I feel fabulous in my body and think I look stellar in the mirror, and moments where I don’t. I have days when all I want is vegetables, and days where the thought of eating any more carrots is unfathomable.IMG_20140228_182250_356 (1024x576)

But I just try to keep moving along.

And if I ‘slip up,’ and find myself not eating when I’m hungry because it’s not the right time, or overeating peanut butter because I didn’t get enough to eat at dinner, well I don’t beat myself up about it.

It’s often not the behavior, but the intention behind the behavior that’s the problem.

My intentions are good.  I’m happier and healthier than I’ve been in a long time. Is there chaos in my life? Sure. Will I probably have lingering disordered thoughts forever? Most likely.

What I really want to express, however, is that we cannot judge each other based solely on what we see in social media. Just because someone posts a picture of pizza or cake, doesn’t mean they ate it. And if they ate it, it doesn’t mean they didn’t have self-defeating thoughts the whole time. Just because someone posts a picture of salad, doesn’t mean they only eat lettuce. Or that they weren’t eating something else along with it.

We think we know, but we have NO IDEA.


That being said, I DO want to project a healthy mindset around food. If you think I’m not please tell me. I can’t always get an accurate picture of my own presentation.

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Katie @ Talk Less, Say More March 1, 2014 at 7:15 pm

I love you! And I miss you dearly. And yes, you may fight disordered thoughts but they turn from a scream in your ear to a tiny little whisper the more you care for yourself and work at quieting those thoughts. You’re so amazing.

Brittany @ Barr & Table March 1, 2014 at 8:06 pm

I so appreciate this post. I think I found myself in the same boat where I never made myself throw up or restricted to the point of anorexia, but I definitely had some people comment on my weight loss and my mind was constantly consumed by how many calories I was consuming and burning to make up for it. I’m trying now to get to that happy point where I realize that my body won’t go back to what it was because that probably wasn’t the healthiest for me. It’s so helpful to read these posts and know that there are so many other people going through and conquering the same fears.

Maria March 1, 2014 at 10:19 pm

I’m with Laura. Total glute envy over here :)

If my eating habits were solely judged off what I post on social media, then I’m pretty sure people would think I live off of pizza, sandwiches, and cookies. While that would be kind of awesome, it would also be a huge misrepresentation. I swear I eat my veggies (maybe just not everyday – ha!).

You know what I think is a better representation of the progress you’ve made? How happy and content you sound in your writing. That’s all that matters anyway, right?

Kaila @healthyhelperblog! March 2, 2014 at 12:13 pm

Amazing post Sarah! I love what you said about your intentions….I think that is the key. We are not perfect and never will be. We all have slip ups in either direction but as long as our overall mindset is to be healthy and genuine, then that’s the best we can do.

Melissa @ Treats With a Twist March 3, 2014 at 6:17 pm

Very well said. We’ve talked a lot about this, so you know where I stand.
I have had a very hard time recently, bc due to things I absolutely cannot control, my weight has gone up and I’ve felt like I’m drowning. My jeans make me sad, the mirror makes me sad…
Like you said, I’m not one of those typical eating disorders, but you and I both know where I stand with food.
I love you. And I’m glad that you have gained so much clarity. And girl, you look DAMN good. So high fifteen to that :)

Carla March 3, 2014 at 9:30 pm

A very humble and honest post, thank you.

And, I still really admire you for being so open and honest about your struggles and your journey. For many people it would be the hardest thing to be so public about it. You’re great.

Oh, and I second Maria’s comment, you do sound much more content in your writing, and I don’t even know you in real life! :)

Meghan@CleanEatsFastFeets March 4, 2014 at 7:27 pm

I love your posts on disordered eating. I find them fascinating, and I’m glad you were able to get this off your chest. I know it sucked to go up a pants size, but it always feels better to wear clothes that actually fit, especially if it shows off you ass. I have glute envy.

Missy March 5, 2014 at 1:31 pm

Excellent and amazing progress, Sarah!
It is so inspiring for me when you share – and also truly refreshing because you are one of few who tell it like it is (especially when discussing the overlap of social media and disorderly tendencies).

But…. can I opine?
I’m not liking this statement —–> ” I do not think that one ever truly ‘beats’ their disordered thoughts and habits.”

I agree 100% with the sentiment (again – so refreshing. Most people won’t admit that) BUT what I’m not digging the use of the word “beat”

I think we might never be free of the thoughts or the urges, we may not abandon 100% of the habits 100% of the time…. BUT we can absolutely beat them.
Everytime we counter those thoughts or flip the switch around… we win.
Like you said, it’s all about intention.

So cheers to beating those thoughts and habits in the azz! (0:

Calee March 6, 2014 at 2:08 pm

I second this sentiment. I beat these things (as in I never let them get the best of me anymore), but I don’t think anybody truly ever shakes these things.

Calee March 6, 2014 at 2:07 pm

Love seeing that this is where you are now. I still try to buy my jeans one size bigger than I need because I like the feeling of baggy clothes. That’s probably the one ED thing I’ll never kick, but you know what, people wear sweats and yoga pants, so I don’t see the difference!

Heather @ Kiss My Broccoli March 7, 2014 at 1:47 pm

I saw that comment as I was catching up on your posts and I couldn’t help MYSELF from getting a bit defensive over it. I hate how people…people who don’t even KNOW you think they can just “read” you through the pictures you post! I think you hit the nail on the head here: “Something I wish we could all remember is that pictures of food–at least in my case–are often more a reflection of artistry rather than actual food consumption.” AMEN!! Just because you use THREE nuts as a topping for oatmeal for a picture means absolutely freakin NOTHING…on any level! Maybe you just wanted them to make your picture look pretty, maybe you snacked on some before/after you took the picture, hell, maybe you changed your mind after you added them! The bottom line is, WHO THE FUCK CARES?! Sorry, I’m getting a little wound up…but really, this is why I’ve stepped back from Instagram lately…people are so quick to judge when they know absolutely nothing. And for someone who has just recently discovered what it means to be truly intuitive when it comes to eating, I just don’t need those kind of comments. We have nothing to prove to these people…we eat food, what we like, when we like, however MUCH we like…double tap and move along!

Might I just add that I find it somewhat amusing that that same commenter remained silent for this post! 😉

Ttrockwood March 8, 2014 at 11:55 pm

I am very glad to hear that you feel that you have been making progress in your own daily life. Women, food, body image, and the media are all a tangled mess of sorts, so its easy to misread one message yet internalize another.
I hope your own personal journey continues in a positive direction.

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