2/28/2019 11:09:00 AM A dietitian's perspective on disordered eating
By KIMBERLY J. SNYDER For the Daily News
Since I was a young girl, I've grown up and blossomed into a young woman with opportunities for success. At least, this is what other people may say. In my mind, I have struggled and am still struggling with being who I really want to be and feeling proud of my accomplishments. In my eyes, I am not who I could be or who I should be. I've battled with anxiety and depression my entire life. Good nutrition and exercise have really helped me through a lot of this.
Let me tell you a little bit about how I became interested in nutrition. I struggled with being above average height for a girl. I was always over the 95th percentile. I was quiet and unsure of myself. This led to a lot of bullying comments from my peers, strangers, and, sometimes, even my older siblings. I quickly came to a conclusion that my height was the first and only thing people noticed about me. Some of my oldest memories involve feeling alone, neglected and very uncomfortable with myself. I don't know when and I don't know why, but I turned to food for comfort. This is common because so many of us love food and food is delicious! It was my friend when I came home. It was there in social gatherings when I was uncomfortable. It didn't take long for my body to reflect this. Now, I wasn't only tall but I was also overweight in the 95th percentile! I could have been a basketball or volleyball player, as so many people always made me aware of this. I didn't have that confidence to start sports. I wasn't the most coordinated and spent most my time reading books. It wasn't until later that I realized exercise can be one of the most effective treatments for depression and low self-esteem.
It took me a long time to get over the question in my head: Where were my parents when I was eating all this food? My mom and dad were very involved parents, volunteering and going to school events. I see just how busy they were. Without all of that struggle, I would have never become a dietitian. I found my own way out without a lot of help from my parents at first. I read magazines. I checked out library books and cookbooks (This was before the internet). Along the way, I worked with my parents to show them what I wanted to eat and how I wanted it cooked. My mom is one of my best friends now, and I am so lucky to have had her support. We started cooking and shopping together for all my "weird" recipes. She supported me going on bike rides and walks. We learned so much from each other through the years and I am so grateful.
After about one summer of a complete lifestyle turnaround, I returned to school and no one, besides my close friends, knew who I was. I was now active and happy. I grew a little more confident out of my weight-loss journey and I was flying on cloud nine for a while. My battle with anxiety and depression was not as hard as it was before. I was a little more outgoing with friends. I was turning to my new lifestyle instead of food for comfort. My story is a really great success but with that still comes struggle. At times, I was challenging myself to burn more calories on the treadmill than what I had eaten. I was restricting foods to the point that I wanted to hear my stomach growl at night. I didn't deal with gaining weight and body changes well.
February is eating disorder awareness month. Although I have only struggled with some symptoms of eating disorders, I'd like you to think about how the Academy of Dietetics and Nutrition defines disordered eating. "Disordered eating is used to describe a range of irregular eating behaviors that may or may not warrant a diagnosis of a specific eating disorder." The difference between eating disorders and disordered eating is whether or not symptoms and behavior align with the criteria defined by the American Psychiatric Association. I have included signs of disordered eating from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Symptoms of Disordered Eating
Signs and symptoms of disordered eating may include, but are not limited to:
Frequent dieting, anxiety associated with specific foods or meal skipping
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Chronic weight fluctuations
Rigid rituals and routines surrounding food and exercise
Feelings of guilt and shame associated with eating
Preoccupation with food, weight and body image that negatively impacts quality of life
A feeling of loss of control around food, including compulsive eating habits
Using exercise, food restriction, fasting or purging to "make up for bad foods" consumed
Throughout my life, I have had disordered eating and I have seen several people close to me struggle with food and body image. I have seen some severe symptoms and I have tried to be a listening ear and a support person for these friends. According to the American Psychiatric Association, millions of Americans suffer from an eating disorder and anyone can be affected. All forms of eating disorders can be fatal, and it is critical for anyone with symptoms of an eating disorder to seek professional help.
I, myself, continue to struggle with body perception. I continue to tie my own happiness so closely with my body image. It is something that I have to work on day-by-day to battle negative feelings. Healthy diet and exercise can do so much to improve confidence and mental health. I remind myself daily that I am capable of making the right choices, and that some things, such as your weight, can't be fixed today. I struggle with cooking every night and getting a healthy amount of physical activity into my busy life. I know how important it is to me and I have never let go of this. I am still glad that I have made a career choice where I can help people with the same goals that I have.
Look for regular articles here by contributors of Crawford County LIFE. These next few weeks we will focus on "Best Self-Care Practices." If you want to learn more about our organization, visit us on Facebook or join us for our monthly meeting at the Community Center at 9 a.m. March 14. All are welcome.
Kimberly J. Snyder, MS, RD, LDN, is Director of Food and Nutrition Services and a Registered Dietitian at Crawford Memorial Hospital. These occasional guest columns are provided by Crawford County LIFE, a new local non-profit that "exists to liberate residents of preconceived ideas and addictive behaviors by educating to improve understanding of themselves and their needs; to facilitate community resources with the goal to empower residents toward better emotional, physical and mental health." For more information, check out Crawford County LIFE's Facebook page.