Eating Disorders Are Not Stagnate
For decades I silently battled an eating disorder that morphed and changed over time. Just as my body grew and shrunk, my disordered behaviors vacillated between starving, purging, exercising obsessively, binging, and back again to restricting.
While my specific behaviors cycled as much as my weight- one thing remained constant. I was obsessed with food and my body, and I lived in a place of fear and self hatred almost all the time.
What I did not understand is eating disorders come in all shapes and sizes. I bought into the media’s depiction of anorexia as a disease that turns white high school girls into skeletons and this myth fueled my denial for decades.
The Shame I Carried
I carried an enormous amount of shame when I struggled long after my teen years and into parenthood. Like everyone around me, I believed you could tell by looking at someone if they were anorexic, and yet body dysmorphia kept me from seeing myself clearly. My loved ones noticed my weight but subscribed to the same myths I did. They looked at my size as an indication of my recovery assuming I was “better” any time my weight climbed up towards my “target.” What they did not see was the amount of disordered behaviors, anxiety, and turmoil it took for me to maintain my “target weight”.
It turns out no amount of pinching fat and crunching numbers can predict where a body will land once it is allowed to be nourished and healthy. My brief periods of recovery could more aptly be called “phases of trying to recover perfectly and stay within a ten pound range deemed “healthy” for me.” There was never a time I was not extremely conscientious of my food or body. But when I was not emaciated, it was much easier for everyone (myself included) to pretend I was “all better.”
Denial and shame fuel an eating disorder much the way food fuels healing.
Recovery is a path filled with terrifying challenges. It takes an enormous amount of courage, resolve, and grit to choose recovery over the easier option- sinking into the eating disorder.
The truth is- ALL forms of an eating disorder are based in restriction. Anorexia, bulimia, orthorexia and even binging are a result of restricting. When we stop trusting our own bodies and focus on denying and shrinking them, we lose a connection to our true self. We ignore our instinctual needs and deny self-care on the most basic level: food.
In our attempt to control our bodies, many of us actually lose control, sinking into a very dark, scary, lonely place. A “recovery” built on the idea of hitting and maintaining a “healthy target weight” instead of focused on finding peace and freedom with food is built on shaky ground. This pseudo-recovery is always only one small disaster away from relapse. I know, because I returned again and again to the disorder any time I experienced the ups and downs of life.
Because they are rooted in restriction, recovery from an eating disorder requires food. Just like an antibiotic that must be taken regularly until an infection is completely gone, food is the medicine required to heal a disordered relationship with food. But, eating disorders affect our thought processes, our perceptions, and our ability to think clearly.
Our brains do not function optimally when we are malnourished.
For someone stuck in the throes of an eating disorder, the very thing that terrifies them most is the thing they must consume to get better. Over, and over, and over again, it takes eating food in order to heal. Learning to allow in food WITHOUT judgement is key to reaching and sustaining recovery for any person in any shaped body.
Battle Against Culture
Unfortunately we live in a culture that makes this so hard because it demonizes fat and irrationally attaches moral value to the size of our bodies and the food on our plates. While eating disorders are complicated with multiple contributing factors, our fatphobic culture provides the fertile soil for them to flourish. For anyone fighting for recovery- comments about their body or the food on their plate only increase the already high level of anxiety. Foods that are judged and vilified by our society are actually the medicine someone fighting for recovery needs to eat in order to heal. Swallowing these foods can feel almost impossible even without side comments, congratulations, or judgement from those around.
True recovery requires letting go of all food rules, allowing all kinds of food, and feeding your body consistently over time- regardless of your shape or size. Breaking out of habits and rituals around food can feel as overwhelming as giving a speech, in a language you’re just learning, while you are naked, and in front of 5,000 people. It feels foreign, uncomfortable both emotionally and physically, and scary as hell.
Pointing out changes in someone’s eating habits (especially if they are eating more) only magnifies the difficulty. Even comments intended to encourage someone in recovery (ie: you did a good job eating all that food) can be twisted by the distortions of an eating disorder to mean: you just ate soooo much food. Any comments about someone’s food can make swallowing even harder for someone fighting for recovery. And remember- you can’t tell someone’s health or recovery status based on their size.
And if that isn’t reason enough to avoid commenting on my food and body I will close with one more reason: my body and the food on my plate are none of your business. Period. My health is my business, as well. And it turns out most of what we were taught about health and nutrition is a lie.
Dieting, restricting, and harming my body never made me healthier; it fact they did the reverse.
So, comment on the size of my heart, not the size of my pants. Focus on what is on my soul, not on my plate. Show up authentically and we can connect over a meal with interesting conversation. And thank you for not commenting on my body or my plate.