How Disordered Eating Can Start


Most people assume that eating disorders and disordered eating behaviors begin with a desire to lose weight but that’s not always the case!

I was reminded of this last week when I was sick once again with my third stomach virus of 2016, which was also my second stomach virus in a matter of barely three months.

Way back in December 1999, I had two stomach viruses within three weeks of each other which left me completely uninterested in the usual foods that I ate.

I began to live in fear of that full feeling in my stomach. I was afraid of eating the wrong thing that would cause me to be nauseous.

It was right then and there that I subconsciously started to eat less.

I didn’t cut food groups or my favorite desserts but I can recall thinking twice about what I would eat, keeping things fairly bland and eating just enough to be satisfied.

My period disappeared within three months and didn’t return for almost two years.

At the time, I had no idea that there was such a thing as not eating enough but that’s exactly what happened.

It became a way of life, a habit and a really unhealthy way of living.

I lost weight even though I didn’t need to lose weight but I didn’t mind that I lost the weight and the cycle became really hard to break until one day I fell into starvation mode, the scale froze and my appetite soared.

Flash forward to January 2012, I had another horrendous stomach virus which left me so turned off to my usual way of eating that I became a vegetarian.

While I do not regret that decision at all as I have seen so many positive benefits to my overall health by following a meatless diet, I did lose weight that I didn’t need to lose along with my period briefly during that year too.

Switching to a vegetarian diet produced immediate, added energy from the increase in carbohydrates which automatically made me run faster and longer but I wasn’t eating enough at first to keep things in balance. It took some time for all of that to sort its way out.  

Although I think it’s completely normal for us to not want to look at the specific foods we ate right before being sick, there comes a point when choosing what we eat is more MENTAL than PHYSICAL.

Of course for a few days our stomachs are off and we have to watch what we eat so that we have time to recover our digestion but after a little while, it really is okay to go back to normal eating which is something I have always struggled with!

2016 was no exception.

It started for me in February when I had my first stomach virus in quite a while.

You may remember that I was eating pretty bland and couldn’t even look at the jars of peanut butter in my pantry for a long time.

Thankfully I ate enough other foods (like bagels!) to keep my calorie intake high enough to train for the Long Island Half Marathon and not suffer any consequences (like losing weight or my period).

September’s stomach virus made things even worse in terms of my interest in food. I added a few more never again foods to my list (I’m looking at you butternut squash!) and it honestly took several weeks after that virus for me to eat a salad without thinking twice about it.

I think it’s even obvious in my What I Ate Wednesday posts that my intake of vegetables has dwindled down significantly as compared to the days when they were the focal point of my plate. Sweet potatoes are a rarity when they used to be my favorite.

When I got hit last Monday with another stomach virus, it threatened to really send me over the edge.

I almost swore off of oatmeal for life last week and even told my mother that I may never eat cake again so go ahead and celebrate my dad’s birthday without me.

That cake statement is what stopped me in my tracks. I never give up cake and honestly, giving up oatmeal made me realize that I was running out of foods to eat!

It was right then and there that I decided to push myself to return to my usual eating because my past history with stomach viruses and disordered eating flashed before me (and inspired this post!).

While I lived on bagels with butter and jelly for a few days last week, I forced myself once I thought I felt better to eat a salad.

cheesecake factory salad

And then the next day I picked up the cake for my dad’s birthday, finishing my piece, my son’s piece and taking another, as I usually do. 🙂

birthday cake

I am way too smart about my health and the importance of eating enough to allow these viruses to threaten to cause disordered eating again.

While it’s clear to me that my eating patterns and food choices are definitely changing, I am paying super close attention to ensure that whatever it is that I do eat, it’s enough to support my running, workouts and lifestyle.

I can’t run well if I don’t eat well!

My hope is that this post helps others to see how easy it is to fall into a disordered eating pattern even when you don’t intend to do any harm.

Like right now with all of the January fitness and diet hoopla? You may be tempted to jump on board with a “clean way of eating” or fitness challenge that you really don’t need which can lead you down a dangerous path without even realizing it.

Be mindful and honest with yourself! Just because everyone else seems to be participating in something, doesn’t mean you have to as well.

How disordered eating can start #health #disorderedeating #mindful #stomachvirus Click To Tweet

Have you given up specific foods following bouts with the stomach virus?

Are you participating in any January health challenges?

Do you have a past with disordered eating?





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  1. says

    You bring up such an interesting point! I never really thought about how being sick can lead to disordered eating. Usually I cant eat certain foods for a few days after being sick but I get back to my normal routine pretty quickly. I do think its mental though because once i feel better I have to remind myself how much I like certain foods.
    Lisa @ Mile by Mile recently posted…3 Simple Ways To Improve Your Running In 2017My Profile

  2. says

    I definitely can relate! I had a parasite for who know how long, but finally got tested and treated for the thing and was placed on a low fiber diet by my coach (I had to go through two rounds of treatment because I had so many and it killed ALL my gut bacteria so essentially I don’t have anything to break down fibrous and hard to digest foods) and also wasn’t allowed to eat things that take a long time to digest because my body needed to heal and re-coop my good bacteria first. I found this out the hard way when I went to have my oats first day post treatment #1 and wanted to die. My vagus nerve in my stomach was actually pulsing through my stomach and I had to go to bed because I was getting light headed. I have not tried to put oats (my love!) back into my diet yet, as I’m only about a month post treatment #2 but I have to say that I’m scared to put them back in. Due to already being gluten and lactose free (plus an athlete trying to gain weight and past AN history) more restrictions was not really ideal but it’s what it needed to be at the time and for a little bit while I re-coop. I hope that I will be able to incorporate these foods back in when I’m given the green light but I can’t say that I’m not nervous. Other foods that I love that I had to not have included sweet taters and red meat. I am supposed to try 1/2 a serving of meat this week, so we shall see where that goes. Thanks for sharing this perspective, got me thinking 🙂

  3. says

    Firstly, healthy and happy New Year to you and your family!!! Secondly, this post is FAB and so appropriate for this month with everyone screaming Whole30. I wish I could morph back to an earlier time when all these diets and books and constant talking and obsssing about food and health and weight wasn’t spoken about CONSTANTLY. It’s all people focus on. We spent time with people from Italy and people from Michigan over this holiday season and neither see this constant reterick where they live. They were so turned off. Both are healthy and in good shape and have so many things to busy their minds then the foods they buy, prepare and eat. If people took a step, back they would see how obsessed they are with the constant healthy, clean, wholesome, no sugar, blah, blah, blah words they speak, write about and mentally obsess about. Hope this month you feel great and the weather doesn’t turn bitter on us. I am grateful for all your thoughts and opinion over the past year. I finally got to the bottom of my problem and onward and upward for 2017!

  4. says

    Great post! Getting sick has only ever averted me to a few foods I didn’t like much anyway – buttered popcorn, red velvet cake, absinthe – and I never thiught about it from a fear/disordered eating perspective. Last time I was sick (not a bug, just sensitive stomach) I went right back to normal eating after a day. I’m so glad you are self-aware and had that birthday cake!
    Also, please no stomach viruses for you in 2027!
    Laura @ This Runner’s Recipes recently posted…Running in the Dark: Rechargeable Knuckle Lights ReviewMy Profile

  5. says

    My anxiety disorder likes to try and dictate everything I do, from how I spend my time, who I spend time with, if I even spend time with anyone, what I eat, how much I eat, and it goes on and on and on. This is something I need to constantly be aware of so that I can keep healthy, even if I have to force myself to meet a friend for coffee, or force myself to eat a solid meal when my stomach is nervous and stressed. The number one thing that helps take the power of anxiety away is saying this stuff all out loud, and you did that by writing out this post which not only helps keep you healthy, but it helps me, and helps other people by reminding us that we’re not alone.
    Suzy recently posted…Week in Review New YearMy Profile

  6. says

    Oh gosh well you know how I feel about this topic! I basically live in fear of the stomach bug more often than not, with 3 kids it makes that fear worse, so yes I’ve totally had that fear of making myself sick by eating the wrong thing and even projecting it onto them, so I have to talk myself out of this often. It happened when we traveled – no one got sick (relief!) but I was nervous about them/me not eating junk that in my mind might make us sick or make anything worse. Do I sound crazy? The stomach bug makes me crazy!
    michele @ paleorunningmomma recently posted…Easy Paleo Chili Stuffed Sweet Potatoes {Whole30}My Profile

  7. says

    These January clean eating challenges always send up little red flags for me because that’s exactly how my eating disorder started. Not with a challenge, maybe, but with wanting to clean up my diet and it going a little too far. And the sad thing is that I was sick for a good long while before I even realized there was something wrong – I thought I was just trying to be healthy when I was actually the furthest things from.
    Amanda @ .running with spoons. recently posted…healthy one banana muffinsMy Profile

  8. says

    I think I needed to read this right now. I’m doing Whole 30 this month (ate way too many cookies and drank WAY too much wine in November and December and definitely needed a “break”) and I’m actually on day 11 instead of day 7 because I got impatient and started early. Being snowed in this weekend has been a little tough but what I really noticed is the sheer panic and huge pangs of guilt I felt when I thought about eating a bowl of oatmeal or maybe some quinoa with my shrimp. I’m not sure how that “reintroduction phase” is going to go. I can totally be one of those people who uses MyFitnessPal to track food and suddenly, it becomes a challenge to see how little I can eat and still function. So, obviously, I stopped doing that. And then, I think about throwing in the towel and suddenly I feel guilty about that too. Ugh. It’s a vicious cycle.
    Jennifer @ Fit Nana recently posted…TOL #9 – JUST KEEP SWIMMING!My Profile

  9. Sarah says

    Excellent post! I thank you for bringing awareness to this issue. I think it is generally assumed disordered eating and eating disorders result from the desire to be thin but that is not necessarily the case. I struggled with anorexia for years and was finally in a much healthier place. Last year I developed pancreatitis and lesions on my liver. This greatly decreased my intake because even a sip or two of water would land me on the floor, curled into a ball for hours due to the severe pain. Needless to say, I lost weight and the disordered thoughts returned. It is my belief, for a certain segment of the population, reduction of intake and/or weight for any reason can turn into an eating disorder. Just look at the men in the famous Minnesota starvation study. They all developed many of the symptoms typically associated with eating disordered individuals. Like you, I have learned, there simply are times when I must force myself to eat, and to eat foods that may seem unappealing. In the long run, I will be healthier and eventually will enjoy food again.

  10. says

    I love this post.

    I’ve struggled with an eating disorder for the last decade and finally seeing a therapist about it. My entire family is doing Whole30 and I refused to join them because I knew it would make my relationship with food even more stressful.

    This is such a great reminder!
    Arthi recently posted…The Week.My Profile

    • says

      i’m so happy to hear that you are seeing a therapist. I think that’s a great step in the right direction. Agreed on skipping whole 30. I am not a believer in that diet or really, any of the 30 day diets.

  11. says

    I totally agree that sickness can make you want to give up certain foods because they aren’t ‘good’ for you, but that’s how disordered thoughts do start again. This year was not as hard for me when people went on different diets in January. I’m starting to see it more as their journey and not mine.
    Emily recently posted…Caramelized Raspberry Banana Chocolate French ToastMy Profile