Many of us in the United States don’t have to worry about food insecurity.
You might get frustrated when one of your favorite items isn’t on the shelf at the grocery store, but that pales in comparison to the shortages affecting people all over the world.
There are global patterns contributing to heightened food insecurity for adults, including rapidly rising costs, climate change, supply chain shortages, and food deserts. Not only are these issues causing food shortages across the world, but they’re fueling fears about food insecurity.
Unfortunately, this insecurity is resulting in an increase in disordered eating among adults. People are so worried about not being able to have enough food that they’re changing their eating habits and patterns. That kind of fear-based change often leads to mental and physical health risks. The more disordered your eating habits are, the more strain you’ll experience in your personal life. It also puts a lot more pressure on mental and physical healthcare systems, as well as local communities.
Let’s take a closer look at how food insecurity is driving an increase in adult disordered eating, and what you can do to take better care of yourself in these uncertain and unstable times.
There’s still a lot to be discovered concerning the connection between food insecurity and disordered eating. However, research has shown that adults who struggle with regular food deprivation are more likely to engage in disordered eating behaviors, including:
Adults with food insecurity might also start to develop a sort of “obsession” with weight and how they look. It’s not uncommon for them to exercise frequently or avoid eating entirely because they’re worried about weight fluctuations.
There’s a difference between disordered eating and an eating disorder. Disordered eating reflects some of the behaviors listed above. If those behaviors become the norm in someone’s life, and they take over all of their thoughts, it’s considered an eating disorder. Disordered eating can start out of necessity at times. When it comes to food insecurity, an adult might skip a meal because they only have enough food for their children. Or, they might binge eat at night when no one is around because they’re overly stressed or feel guilty.
Unfortunately, as those habits become more frequent, they can start to feel normal. They’ll become more commonplace. If any of these behaviors sound familiar, you’re likely already dealing with disordered eating, and it’s essential to put a stop to it as soon as possible.
Why should you worry about changing your behaviors?
There are both mental and physical risks that come with disordered eating. From a physical standpoint, not giving your body the nutrition it needs can deplete your energy, cause fatigue, and weaken your immune system. You’ll be more susceptible to certain illnesses and conditions, including digestive issues like GERD. That can cause uncomfortable symptoms like:
Gas and bloating
Mentally and emotionally, disordered eating can lead to anxiety and/or depression. When your mind becomes preoccupied with everything you eat (or don’t eat), it can make you anxious about your habits or how you can keep them hidden. As a result of these issues, disordered eating creates a rise in the need for focused therapy treatments.
We’re already living in a society where there’s a shortage of mental health providers. Unfortunately, many people dealing with food insecurity also live in areas that are extremely underserved, so it can be even more difficult to get the help you need if you’re struggling with your mental well-being.
You might think there’s nothing you can do to combat the global food crisis. However, there are things you can do within your community to fight back against food insecurity, including hosting a food drive, volunteering at your area food bank, or donating food and supplies. Many communities also have services like Meals on Wheels that can deliver food directly to your home at a very low cost. The meals are designed to be balanced and healthy and can provide everything you need to maintain a nutritious diet when healthy food might otherwise be scarce.
If you’re struggling with food insecurity yourself, don’t be afraid to reach out to local resources for help.
Additionally, take care of yourself. You can fight back against disordered eating by developing a better understanding of how nutrition impacts your body. Try meal planning when you can, and take active steps to avoid binge eating or extreme dieting. The more in tune you are with your mind and body, the easier it will be to prioritize your health and wellness.
Ideally, issues like inflation, climate change, and supply chain problems will ease with time. However, you don’t have to wait for these global situations to change before you start making positive changes in your own life. Don’t let food insecurity drive you to disordered eating. If you’re concerned that it already has, you don’t have to overcome it on your own. Help is out there.