There's a reason why disordered eaters come off as anxious, crazy, and bitchy (whether male or female). It's because restriction wreaks havoc on the brain.
While the physical aspects of restriction (being skinny, as well as the less desirable symptoms detailed in this post) are obvious, there are some effects that are more subtle and mental in nature. Here are 10 things you might not know about food restriction.
1. Food restriction starves the brain.
What's that grumbling? It's not just your belly, it's your brain, too. When you restrict your diet, even for as little as a few weeks, it can dramatically deplete your serotonin (the feel good chemical) levels. When your brain is starved of feeling good, the side effects can include but are by no means limited to depression, anxiety, moodiness, and lack of motivation.
2. It makes you an asshole.
Chances are that you've heard the term "hangry". Chances are that you've felt this sensation of being so hungry that it makes you grumpy or angry. Well, imagine that feeling, 24/7. When you restrict food, you are in a constant state of "hangry". You've seen those Snickers commercials where they joke "you're not yourself when you're hungry", right? You're absolutely not the best version of yourself when you're constantly restricting your food intake.
3. Three letters: OCD.
It's kind of ironic: food is the thing that you won't let yourself have, but it's the thing that you think about the most. This results in all sorts of strange, ritual type behavior. Some restrictive eaters have drawn-out ways of eating so that it lasts longer (one of mine is using a tiny spoon for everything). There might be other rituals or "necessary" patterns that accompany eating. For instance, I won't combine certain foods on the same plate or on the same day; I am really only comfortable if the food is served in particular vessels and with specific utensils (though I'm getting better!).
4. Zero sexiness.
At my thinnest, I felt powerful, I felt superior, but I did not feel sexy. I was so cold all the time that I was constantly wearing bulky layers; I had what I thought was an ideal body (it wasn't; it was creepy and emaciated), and yet nobody could see it because it was totally shrouded.
Food restriction robs you of sensuality and the joy of your body.
5. You're more susceptible to binge eating.
When I was in high school, I decided to cut sugar out of my diet (I know, me!). I did it, too, for three weeks. Then, one day, I decided that maybe just one scoop of ice cream from the freezer wouldn't kill me. Well, half a carton later, I was hating myself pretty hardcore.
The fact is, restricting can pretty directly lead to binge eating. The less available something is, the more desirable and lust-worthy it seems. Restricting really does set you up for failure in this regard. Is it worth it?
6. It impedes on your social life.
I can't tell you how many times I flaked out on social plans, not because I was busy, not because I was tired, but because the social event was going to focus around food.
For instance, I guess that something a lot of people do is eat lunch together. Me, I'm scared of lunch. I don't want to eat it, especially with others. So if you've ever invited me to lunch, I have probably acted weird. It's not you; it's the food. And yet, the food issue affects my social life, erasing potential connections.
7. Peer pressure plays into it.
I'm totally susceptible to the powers of suggestion. For instance, if someone says that they never eat breakfast, I think to myself, "I shouldn't eat breakfast". If I observe that someone else is "too busy" to eat lunch, I think "I should be too busy to eat lunch".
Perhaps part of this is competitiveness, or perhaps it's actually just a twisted way of dealing with a sweet desire to fit in, to be like other people. But it's true: peer pressure, whether intentional or not, can play into restrictive food behavior.
8. It's not about food, really.
Duh, of course food restriction is about food. But that's only on the most obvious level. Deep down, food restriction is rarely about the food. It's about constructing a sense of order in an otherwise crazy and confusing world.
I might not know where my next paycheck will come from or if I'm going to get another book deal or if my pugs might die tomorrow. But I can know what I will eat, when I will eat, and what utensils I will use to eat it. It's a paltry sense of power, but it does give me at least some semblance of control, which is why I always go back to restrictive / controlled eating.
9. It slows down your metabolism.
By eating less, you should get thinner, yes? This is factual, but only to a certain degree. You see, that human body of yours is smart--smarter than you give it credit for when restricting your eating. Your body notices that less is coming in, and at a certain point, it's like the equivalent of "we've got to conserve our supplies or we won't last the winter".
Your body wants to keep you surviving, so your metabolism shifts. Your body holds on to every last calorie. It's stingy with letting them go.
Eating more is extremely scary for people who restrict--I can tell you this from personal experience. But something that I have personally started doing is adding a few hundred calories to my diet twice a week. Every day still feels too scary, but twice a week is do-able. By gradually increasing my intake, my hope is that my body will eventually be like "oh yeah, we don't have to conserve so much".
10. You're not broken if you restrict.
My food restriction has wreaked havoc on my life in many ways. It's affected romantic, family, and friend relationships. It's kept me from doing good work; it's kept me from exploring the world.
I think to myself "there's something wrong with me" at least ten times a day. But the fact is, my restrictive eating doesn't mean that I am broken or defective person.
I have damage and wear and tear from this eating disorder, but it doesn't mean I am a lost cause. I will continue to fight the good fight and to try to nourish my body and my soul as much as I can. One day at a time.