Defining Eating DisordersAugust 7, 2009
Over at Living Rhetorically in the Real World, we’re talking about definitions, so I thought I’d bring the conversation over here. Check out the post there to discuss how you define yourself in terms of fitness (me, I’m calling myself a runner and an athlete these days).
My question here at Living Healthy is this: what is the definition of an eating disorder? This month’s poll is about the physical and mental affects of gaining or losing a few pounds, so I’d like to add that to this question. If, for example, you have the physical symptoms but not the mental symptoms of an eating disorder, does it constitute as an eating disorder?
These questions were sparked after reading the New York Times article about dieting monkeys living longer than the ones that are not on a restricted-calorie diet. I have qualms about this study right from the start. Even if animals live longer on this diet, known as calorie restriction or CR [edited to say: CR is a very specific lifestyle diet which you can read more about here and here], do they have the same quality of life as animals that eat a normal amount of food? The research shows that some monkeys have died in ways unrelated to age- but are the deaths related to the fact that they were on a CR diet or because they would have died in the situation anyway? The reasons for these deaths include anesthesia, gastric bloat, and endometriosis. All of these causes of death could have been directly linked to a poor immune system. A weakened immune system could definitely have been the result of going on a CR diet.
I know that some readers here have tried calorie restriction so I would really love your input as I do not know very much about it. I don’t wish to step on any toes, but the way I see it, calorie restriction seems to have a dangerously close relationship with an eating disorder. CR can create the exact same physical issues as anorexia, but some medical professionals promote it as a lifestyle, and the diet has many followers. If you’re restricting calories (as low as 1,000 calories a day or fewer), and you’re doing it on a calorie restriction diet so it has nothing to do with your body image etc, does that mean that it is not an eating disorder because the mental symptoms are not there? If it’s called “calorie restriction” rather than “anorexia”, does that make it a safe practice?
At our trusty Dictionary.com, an eating disorder is defined as “any of various disorders, as anorexia nervosa or bulimia, characterized by severe disturbances in eating habits”. The next entry describes an eating disorder as a psychological disorder “that involves insufficient or excessive food intake”. Those kinds of definitions still make me wonder about calorie restriction.
What do you think? Am I muddling up my definitions? Are you a CR follower and can you enlighten me? Share your input in the comments.