How Do You Know if You're Disordered, or Just a Little "Weird" About Food?

Broccoli on the phone. Now THAT's weird.

I dare say most people (especially women) are at least a little weird about food. Wouldn’t you? I got to thinking about this the other day, when I got a note from a friend asking for advice on whether she should take some supplements her fitness trainer was recommending. (I’m a health editor by day, so some people tend to treat me like Dr. Sunny—it’s fun!)

Anyhow, she was just describing her situation and why she’s working out so much and everything was going along fine until I hit one phrase in her email: “I just never feel like I can get thin enough.” Ding ding ding ding! That one line told me that this workout jag of hers may be about more than she’s admitted, even to herself. Does that mean she’s “disordered” or just that she may be a little weird about weight?

I’m not sure, but here are a couple other examples of women I’ve known who were weird about food—and then a quiz I found that can help anyone who’s wondering start to figure out if they may have disordered tendencies.

I was talking to a young woman a few months ago who was really excited because she just had Greek yogurt for the first time. You see, most of her life, this girl had been avoiding anything white. Why? When she was a teenager, her mom told her that “white foods are the devil and will give you cellulite and make you fat.” Ohhhkayyyy. Her mom was obviously fearful about weight and wanted to avoid calorie-dense foods like sour cream or mayo. (She’s not the only woman I’ve met who didn’t eat white foods!)

Another woman I know ate only raw food-raw veggies and fruits, unroasted nuts-for a few years. The raw food movement is kind of a hot thing now, and there are raw restaurants popping up all over L.A., but for this girl, her raw-food habit was really a way to slash calories and try to control what she thought was her uncontrollable appetite.

A weird old food habit of mine? If the craving for sugar hit and there wasn’t any dessert in the house, I would make something sweet out of whatever was around at the time. Once I melted Kool-Aid powder and sugar in a pan for makeshift hard candy. That wasn’t just a weird thing, it was part of my binge eating disorder.

How does someone figure out if her “weird” food quirks amount to something more? These questions, from researcher Cynthia’s Bulik‘s book Crave, are meant to help you figure out whether you have an unhealthy relationship with food:

1. Have I always had “issues” with food? (And I’d add: or your body)

2. Do I often wait to eat until I’m alone?

3. Do I have feelings of shame, guilt or inadequacy after overeating?

4. Do I have a list of “bad foods” that I secretly crave?

5. Do I ever “black out” or “zone out” during overeating to the point where I barely remember, let alone taste, what I ate?

The answer to all of these used to be a big, fat yes for me.

OK, it’s your turn to share: What are your weird food habits? How did you score on Dr. Bulik’s quiz?

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[From the archives. Parts of this post originally ran in October 2009.]

4 Responses to How Do You Know if You're Disordered, or Just a Little "Weird" About Food?

  1. lauren says:

    most of my life i have been a binge eater with 2 bouts of serious restricting. as a result i have engaged in all the behaviors you have mentioned and alluded to in the quiz. i went raw, avoided ALL fats (ergo the raw), and would only eat when alone. My weirdest combo of raw, a food i secretly craved, and making my own candy, was to add water to boxed cake mix, add graham crackers and occasionally chocolate. i am bulimic (i spit out, not vomit) and i woulod spit as much as i could out, but then put it in my mouth again. i ended up eating a lot of the cake mix and graham crackers and chocolate, and gaining 60 lbs. My mother would find the remnants of the cake mix (the first time in 10+ years she ever admitted to recognizing i had a binging problem that was visible in the trash) and tell me how absolutely disgusting and unhealthy it was. And she was right. Luckily I have stopped eating soggy cake mix, although i still binge. Now my homemade “candy” is any combo of cereal, peanut butter, dried fruit, chocolate and honey.
    Nevertheless, i have hope for the summer. i am working at a camp for 5th adn 6th graders. I will rarely eat alone, i am trying not to keep food in my room, i am trying not to buy extra food, and i want to set a good example for the girls (and boys, but especially the girls since they are at the age when i started to get really crazy about food) for eating healthily and nutritiously.

    • Nadia says:

      Lauren - like you I have had people made comments such as ‘disgusting’ and ‘unhealthy’. I’ve just finished reading ‘Overcoming Overeating’ (recommended on Healthy Girl) and it talks about how we label ourselves as being disgusting or weak, when in fact this has just become our way of coping with anxiety. The fact that we have this coping mechanism shows that we want to make ourselves feel better which is a good thing! I haven’t purged or binged for about 3 weeks now which is an achievement by my standards and the book really helped. What I’ve also found is that ‘normal eaters’ just don’t understand what we go through, ,my boyfriend tries to be helpful but still tries to convince me that it’s a question of ‘being strong’. I just wanted to let you know that I don’t think your behaviour is disgusting, because I’ve been there and when I called myself names in the past it never helped me. Hope the summer goes well for you.

      • Sunny says:

        Lauren, thank you for your honesty. And Nadia, thank you for responding! It’s true: We may feel disgusted by this behavior at certain times-but that fades as we being to truly understand the whys behind it. We don’t binge because we are weak, we do it because our bodies and minds are trying to tell us we need something. Comfort, release, calm, quiet, love, relaxation. Food is the only way we may know how to get those things. AT FIRST. Overcoming Overeating is a good one, isn’t it, Nadia? So glad you’re reading it! xo…Sunny

  2. Heather says:

    I’d caution the idea that going to summer camp will “control the issue” for anyone. I did this the summer I developed anorexia and despite all my best efforts, I came home early, for the secret reason of not feeling comfortable with others controlling my food.

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Sunny Sea Gold

About the Author

Sunny Sea Gold is a media-savvy advocate and commentator specializing in binge eating disorder, cultural obsessions around food and weight, and raising children who have a healthy body image.