Type 2 Diabetes and a New Eating Disorder

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Orthorexia and diabetes

Because Type 2 diabetes is linked to obesity and bad eating habits, it becomes easy to get obsessed with food. What should we eat? How much is all right?

It seems that diabetes has made it all too easy to become obsessed with “eating right.” I watched one man with Type 2 refuse to eat with others and even become angry with his family over food. Could this happen to me?

My mother, who raised her daughters on weight-loss diets, had a sense of virtue about what she would and would not eat. She tried hard to instill this in me as well.

The simple enjoyment of eating is something she did not feel. It is odd because in our extended family, food was always connected to celebrations. Did she ever really join in?

Reading about orthorexia, which is a newly coined word for an obsession with righteous eating, I found one of the symptoms applied to me. “Do you feel constant guilt about what you eat?”

It made me want to understand eating disorders, where they come from, and how wanting to eat right can become an obsession.

A person who has never been obese may not understand the guilt that plagues those of us who have struggled with diets all our lives. Having Type 2 diabetes only makes the guilt stronger.

The obsession with eating right is often reinforced by doctors and our health-driven media. It is refueled every day by the billion-dollar diet industry that feeds on our fears.

I needed to stop and think.

How does the desire to eat right become an obsession like orthorexia? Here are some of the questions posed by eating disorder specialists:

Do you feel better about yourself, even superior to others, because of what you choose to eat? Do you think about food most of the time? Do you prefer to eat alone?

Is your diet so strict that you set yourself up to fail and then feel guilty? Do you punish yourself when you fail to live up to your strict dietary standards? Do you refuse to eat even one meal prepared by people who love you because you had no control over how it was made or served?

These are symptoms of obsession. When that obsession involves eating “right,” it feels like a good thing at first. But self-punishment and constantly planning and worrying over what you will eat are signs you have gone too far.

Fear of dying from a complication of diabetes may be how it starts. A desire to feel better about yourself often leads to eating disorders like orthorexia. There can be a need to control something in your life, especially now that you have a chronic condition like diabetes.

To clarify, orthorexia is not an official diagnosis among eating disorders, but it has its own page at the National Eating Disorders Association website. Orthorexia can lead to not getting the nutrients you need because of strict dietary rules you place on yourself to avoid “bad” foods.

Every time I research some new diet or chase down exciting news regarding a food that helps with blood sugar, I feel the temptation to become obsessed. The desire to feel better about myself is strong.

So I look in the mirror at this aging grandma and tell her that the most important choice I can make today is not what to eat. It is whether I will enjoy the day, enjoy the people around me. I make the decision that I will not eat alone.

Enjoy has “joy” in it. Joy comes from seeing how much we are loved and how much love we have to give. If we do that, all those diet decisions will not lead to obsession.

Enjoying food is part of enjoying life. Dietitians now tell us that a secret to being satisfied with your eating choices with diabetes is to enjoy them. So while you are eating, enjoy your food. Eat in the company of others and share your joy.

Then forget about food. None of us do everything right, no matter how hard we try. But we can choose to enjoy this day, these friends, this journey. Even with Type 2 diabetes.

How can you learn to love food again? Bookmark DiabetesSelfManagement.com and tune in tomorrow to find out from nurse David Spero!

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