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Eating Disorders and Food in the Military

Eating Disorders and Food in the Military

How Can Military Food Rations and Restrictions Lead To Eating Disorders?

It’s not necessarily about what military food is like, but rather the relationship with food in the military, which can often be a controversial topic. Due to strict weight and fitness requirements, the pressure on service members can lead to extreme exercise habits or food rations. Although rational eating is not the sole cause of eating disorders, we will explain how it plays a major part even after time served in the military.

Food in the military can be used for many things. It can be used as a reward for doing a good job. It can be taken away as a form of punishment. Food can be taken away to increase stress to see how you function. There are numerous ways food can be used to make a better soldier and instill the discipline needed to survive the war. But what happens when the training ends or time in the military is over?

What happens are those behaviors continue and can eventually become dysfunctional or manifest as an eating disorder. Some members begin to learn to associate food with being something that must be earned. This can lead to the mentality of “I must do ________ in order for me to eat”. This can be problematic and create chaos in someone’s life as they must always be performing positively to eat in order to be granted to eat. This thought pattern ends up consuming thoughts and creates a dysfunctional relationship with food.

Signs of Eating Disorders in The Military

In basic training, when service members do not work as a team or complete tasks, food can be taken away. While it serves a purpose at this point in someone’s life, it doesn’t after the military. This can lead to behaviors of overeating as one becomes afraid; they will not have food. This can become problematic during and after military services. These behaviors can lead to binge eating, compulsive eating, and hoarding of food.

Here are signs of an eating disorders in the military:

  • Restrictive eating
  • Self-Induced Vomiting
  • Consuming laxatives in order to meet weight requirements
  • Extreme change in weight or body shape
  • Excessive exercising or training

Besides the manipulation of food there are many behaviors learned in the military which lead to unhealthy behaviors with food and exercise. Those who serve in combat arms or more elite units could potentially fall into the category of Orthorexia.  There is a high emphasis on exercise and being “in shape”. While it can be seen as virtuous one day the virtue eventually becomes problem. One can understand this mentality as your strength and endurance are a main factor in your success.

Food in the military can also be used as a form of comfort or security. At times of stress, food can be relied upon to bring a sense of ease when the world around you is anything but at ease. What we have heard from some of the veterans we treat is that when they come home, they “don’t like drinking or drugs, but overeating does bring me comfort”. This has led many of the veterans we treat to utilizing food in a way that creates dysfunction in their life. 

The military typically draws individuals from the ages of eighteen to twenty-five. We know at this point individuals’ brains are still not fully developed. This has advantages for the military and the training it instills. It also serves the individual in staying alive and being effective at their job. It can however have long lasting consequences on an individual’s life when they leave the military. As we know it has nothing to do with the food, but it can certainly start there.


Contact Our Center for Eating Disorders Today

Eating disorders do not discriminate. The Military and Veterans in Recovery program offered at Banyan Philadelphia includes eating disorders treatment for both active duty and veterans. If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, be sure to call us at 888-280-4763.


Related Reading:

Causes of Drug Addiction in Veterans

Benefits of Military Telehealth for Active-Duty

Depression in the Military

Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa is the National Director of Digital Marketing and is responsible for a multitude of integrated campaigns and events in the behavioral health and addictions field. All articles have been written by Alyssa and medically reviewed by our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Darrin Mangiacarne.