The Dictionary for Eating Disorder Recovery: Translating Dodgy Food Messages

Sometimes I think I should carry ear plugs with me and put them in whenever I hear a food-related conversation about to turn dodgy. By dodgy, I mean when the chat turns to fad diets, virtue signalling (ie using food choices to show how ‘good’ or disciplined you are), or its opposite – the loud proclamations of guilt at having consumed a ‘harmful’ food substance.

So, yes – a big part of eating disorder recovery seems to be putting on a metaphorical blindfold and whipping out ear plugs as soon as things turn dodgy. But sometimes it’s too late. The message has already been transmitted to ana, or whichever eating disorder is trying to take over our brain. So we need a dictionary to translate these messages into the nonsense that they are.

Here are few handy definitions from my Dictionary of Eating Disorder Recovery:

1.‘I’m carb-loading’

carb-loading’ (verb, generally used in the gerund)

Translation: ‘Oh my god, I’m eating some bread!!’ or ‘I’m eating bread/pasta/potatoes when I know carbs are the enemy!’

This actually goes against NHS healthy diet advice and against the eating habits of most of the world’s sportspeople, as we clearly need carbohydrates for energy. It seems to date back to the now widely discredited Atkins diet days, and unfortunately it has stuck though the diet is no longer so fashionable.

2.‘I eat clean’

‘clean eating’ (noun)

Translation: Contrary to common sense, this does not mean ‘I don’t rub my food into the floor before I eat it’ or ‘I wash my hands before I eat’. This expression relates to a largely raw food based diet, nothing processed (which must be quite limiting in terms of being able to eat anything outside the home), and can extend to cutting out dairy for supposed health rather than ethical reasons.

Clean eating means different things to different people, but it seems to me to be about ‘virtue signalling’ – trying to show how enlightened the person is about food.

It’s also a social class marker, even if those who advocate it may not like to think of it in this way. You need money and time on your hands to truly follow some of its varied forms, so you probably need a highly paid job and some domestic/childcare help, allowing you to focus on sourcing all those ingredients. Or you could get a business to do it for you and put it all into a nice little box delivered to your doorstep.

3.‘I’m on a detox’

detox (noun), to detox (verb – more dangerous in this form as it means the person is actually engaging in this dodgy activity, rather than merely contemplating it)

Translation: ‘I’m starving myself for a week/a month’ or ‘I’m crash dieting’, or more tragically ‘I’m developing an eating disorder.’

Most foods are not full of dangerous toxins and chemicals. Food is not dirty, unless you’ve rubbed it into the ground (see above), or you have poor food hygiene. In fact, if detox is about avoiding toxins, you’d probably have to stay indoors wearing a mask all day as the amount of pollutants in the air contain far more toxins than any food could. Likewise, you might need to avoid using any toiletries – another major source of toxins. So no health spa detoxes then!

4.‘I work out so I can eat’

‘work out’ and ‘eat’ – phrase, two verbs linked by a conjunction

Translation: ‘Please excuse me for eating in front of you – it’s okay, I go to the gym, honestly!’ or ‘Exercise is not enjoyable. It’s just a necessity so I don’t have to starve myself.’ And the reverse obviously isn’t true – ‘god forbid that I need to eat to have the energy to work out. I just have a ‘healthy juice’ before I hit the gym.’

It amazes me how many times I hear this, particularly from men – not sure why, but I think it’s a sign of societal and media pressures on men to join in the gym work-out culture whether it suits them or not.

So to debunk this nonsense…first off, food is necessary for energy, which of course is needed for exercise – so perhaps this phrase should be the other way around at least. But more than that, exercise shouldn’t be something to suffer through so that you can eat. If it is, maybe you’ve chosen the wrong form of exercise.

One of the saddest things as I became more ill was being told that I couldn’t exercise at all until I ate enough to regain at least some of the weight. Isn’t exercise a way of feeling positive, releasing stress and connecting with how amazingly powerful the human body can be? I’m so excited for the day when I can start ballroom dancing lessons, and it’s another reason to eat – not the opposite way round!

Do you have any other translations? Or any other dodgy messages which need translating? Add yours in the comments section below

With New Year approaching, it’s about to be peak season for crash dieting and dodgy food messages – let’s get ready to take on the January nonsense!


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