The central, common symptom of most eating disorders is chronic starvation. This is obvious for people with anorexia, but most patients who binge also feel like they must compensate regularly between binges by trying to restrict food as much as possible.
But even broader than eating disorders, it has become all too common for people to consider an inadequate intake of food to be the norm, if not superior to regular eating. And people often find praise in eating less and showing what is considered restraint, no matter how insufficient their meals.
Extended periods of limited food intake affect how the body works. Without adequate energy to maintain and support healthy organ systems, the body sacrifices necessary function on many levels to compensate for the lack of energy. These sacrifices can span any organ, depending on the person, and can even become irreversible over an extended period of time.
To much surprise, the metabolic effects of food restriction apply to overweight people as well. When people gain weight, their body becomes accustomed to a new normal weight range over time, so severely restricted food intake might lead to initial weight loss but then triggers the same metabolic reaction as it would for anyone. That sacrifice of organ function combined with shunting energy to basic needs are survival mechanisms. Ultimately, survival trumps the number on the scale every day for the human body.
The combination of an endless supply of treats, all intended to increase food and economic consumption and the falsehoods of a diet industry leave much of he population at a loss as to how to eat. A significant percentage of the population is trying to diet every single day. Our metabolic reaction to these mixed messages render all extended food restriction pointless. The only real effect of dieting is a constant sense of failure.
There's another insidious way chronic dieting invades our way of life, societal norms and pop culture. The expectation of many social communities is thinness at all costs. Much of the information from celebrities reinforces these same messages, as does any promotional photos that are photoshopped to reveal impossible looking bodies.
Through my work to help people eat regularly again, I find myself fighting an uphill battle against constant and much more powerful messages outside my office from industry to celebrity to general norms. The ways to normalize food by returning to our roots of culture, meals and pleasure are typically drowned out by the endless ways society approaches food and weight.
What is even more astonishing is realizing the extent of sacrifice in our lives and world. All the people who are chronically underfed cannot function at their top level. Hunger quickly turns off the most potent and creative parts of our mind and leaves us unproductive and unable to perform at our expected ability.
It certainly appears that body and weight are more important than healthy bodies and highly functioning minds in our society, but I don't know if that is clear to the general public.
I wonder if this message would have more impact than the current attempts to change how we eat. It feels like competing with the dieting maxims and convincing people to rest at their body's normal weight are ineffective. People need a clearer reason to see how we are constantly duped by a society bent on pushing us all to limit our lives because of a number on the scale.