"People often say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and I say that the most liberating thing about beauty is realizing that you are the beholder." ~ Salma Hayek
It’s National Eating Disorders Awareness Week and I realized I do not know enough about eating disorders. We all know mental health is stigmatized, and eating disorders are no exception; despite the fact that food and diet are considered mundane topics. This is why I’ll start my posts with my own experiences.
Growing up, I was definitely skinny – someone once said I had chicken legs. My appetite was likely normal; I ate when I was hungry and was too stubborn to eat when I wasn’t. Food has always been an important resource so eating just enough and not wasting much was the primary objective.
My VERY common experience is that there was always someone complaining about my eating habits, how I ate too much and was gonna grow up to be “fat” (which they deemed a bad thing, obviously), or how I was “too skinny”. It wasn’t until I gained weight in college that I realized how these eating messages were negatively affecting my behavior.
My freshman year of college I gained 15+ lbs. You know, “The Freshman Fifteen”. People said I looked healthier, but I was mortified. Quite frankly, I developed several disordered eating habits these past four years.
What is Disordered Eating?
“Disordered eating sits on a spectrum between normal eating and an eating disorder and may include symptoms and behaviours of eating disorders, but at a lesser frequency or lower level of severity.
Disordered eating may include restrictive eating, compulsive eating, or irregular or inflexible eating patterns. Dieting is one of the most common forms of disordered eating.” (NEDc)
In my desire to lose the weight, I felt a lot of shame around my eating habits. In high school I brushed off the people who said I ate “too much”, but in college I felt insecure. The only people getting seconds were the same guys piling on several servings per plate, “carbo-loading” I guess.
I would try to limit my portions only to be hungry later, or feel “too full” and try to burn it off later. I tried to eat during certain times and to drink water any other time. I didn’t realize these behaviors were negatively affected me, instead I blamed my anxiety for “overthinking it”.
What are the Symptoms of Disordered Eating?
- Frequent dieting, anxiety associated with specific foods or meal skipping
- Chronic weight fluctuations
- Rigid rituals and routines surrounding food and exercise
- Feelings of guilt and shame associated with eating
- Preoccupation with food, weight and body image that negatively impacts quality of life
- A feeling of loss of control around food, including compulsive eating habits
- Using exercise, food restriction, fasting or purging to “make up for bad foods” consumed
“[I]t is hard to distinguish when an individual is struggling with disordered eating versus when an eating disorder is at play. From a clinical perspective, all who have a non-normalized relationship with food have an opportunity for introspection and reflection around their patterns and behaviors in relation to food and exercise.” (Temimah Zucker, LMSW)
Introspect I did. I took Health Psychology, Yoga, Public & Consumer Health, conducted research on Intuitive Eating to learn as much as I could, and worked to better understand and change my own behaviors.
I realize now that there was nothing wrong with gaining weight. My own fatphobia and fear of being judged fueled my anxiety, my perfectionism, and insecurities. I am glad that I had supportive friends when it came to fitness, because it’s hard to work to better yourself when you feel alone.
Now that I have been a post-graduate for about nine months now, I once again struggle to balance my health goals with my work, physical health, and mental health challenges. I choose to continue learning and growing, especially since I know for sure now that I AM NOT ALONE. YOU ARE NOT ALONE. WE ARE NOT ALONE.
Whatever your dreams or aspirations, challenges or difficulties, I believe in you. Support and resources are out there.
Thank you for reading! It it wasn’t for the NAMI Instagram page I never would’ve known about NEDAwareness Week.
I was motivated to learn more about eating disorders and to reflect on my own behaviors, thoughts, and emotions in regards to diet and body self-esteem. I’ve come so far and was inspired to become a NEDA Collaborator.
To follow my mental health + self-advocacy journey make sure to follow me on social media!!!
If you believe that you or a loved one are showing signs of disordered eating or having an eating disorder, please reach out to the ANAD helpline:
1 (888)-375-7767 (call) , and/or the NEDA Helpline: (800) 931-2237 (call + text).