Thursday, April 19, 2012

Socially Acceptable Eating Disorders

Have you ever noticed that far more women take up restrictive diets than men do? The vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, low-sodium, low-this, high-that, diets? (I'm excluding the ones purely for weight loss and those for a legitimate health need, e.g., gluten free for those with Celiac disease.) Maybe it's just that women talk about food a lot more than men do. Maybe it's because women are just naturally more attuned to their health than men are, but maybe not.

Most eating disorders aren't actually about the food: they're about control. When a (usually) woman thinks her life is spinning out of control, she fixates on her diet, one thing she can control. Every time she doesn't eat something, it's a mini-victory. An affirmation that she is in control.

But whereas eating disorders like anorexia are recognized as such and roundly condemned, a woman who goes on a restrictive diet gains not only control, but often a community of like-minded individuals, praise ("I could NEVER do that!"), and innumerable opportunities to set herself apart as special ("Oh, I'm sorry, but I can't eat that.")

In short, more women than men are on restrictive diets because it is a socially acceptable eating disorder.

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