Ever since elementary school, I’ve had issues with body-image and self-love. Not because it was forced upon me, not simply because of advertisements and standards, not only because of the over-sexualization of women’s bodies, not only because of standards and expectations that women and girls are expected to aesthetically adhere to, but a mix of all of these things. Put them together, and out comes a very, very risky situation for problems with body-image, at any age. I have this one extremely vivid memory in fourth or fifth grade, walking down the hallway with one of my best friends, when I told her I had a secret to tell her - I whispered my woes, opening up to her and smiling, telling her that “I always sucked in my stomach when I was near boys,” and, she confided that she did the same. I wish I could’ve told my young self and her friend that there was no reality in which they should have to feel that they had to change my image for anyone. I wish I could tell them that they are beautiful, that image is not something they should be worrying about. I wish I could tell them that every woman naturally has a little bit of a stomach to protect her lower organs, I wish I could tell them that there is no way that fifth graders should look like the women they see in magazines, or teenage girls portrayed in commercials. I wish I could tell them that they’re enough, that they have people that love them for who they are.
With National Eating Disorder Awareness Week being this week, these thoughts have been on the forefront of my mind. And, although I never faced a diagnosed eating disorder, I’ve had my own struggles of disordered eating. It’s not always something that you can control, or something that you would personally diagnose as an eating disorder. Disordered thoughts about eating, and food in general, can characterize themselves in many ways - ways that our society feeds and lets thrive. A society that bombards our media with picture perfect images, flawless skin, an ideal standard of beauty, and advertisements after advertisements that sell us things to “make our lives better”. A society that pushes their perfection onto us, a society built on systematic stereotyping, prejudice, and expectations of certain groups of people. Although you may be influenced by these things, these are not guidelines on how you need to live your life What in the world
Your life is your life - how you go about living it has nothing to do with your physical appearance, I promise you that. No matter what your size or shape is, you are still the same you.
The conversation about eating disorders and disordered eating needs to be a more open one - as most people I know struggle with some sort of disordered eating, or have struggled with it in the past. Although it is different for many people, disordered thoughts about food have one thing in common: they don’t see food as what it is - fuel. Food gives us energy: the nutrient dense, vibrant powerhouses we feed our bodies with give us energy to live, fight off illness, and so many other incredible things that we aren’t even consciously aware of. However, when these concepts fall astray, that’s where things go wrong. When we start seeing food as the enemy, when we start religiously counting calories and constantly thinking about our next meal, our next bite, our next consumption of calories - that’s where things can go wrong. When we feel guilty for overeating, or beat ourselves up for these thoughts that we have trouble controlling, I understand how things can spiral downwards, and I can tell you this: there is no eating disorder that “isn’t bad enough” to get help for. Even if you think that others may have it worse than you, that you’re not specifically facing anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating at a life-threatening level, you deserve to live your life without worrying about food, and constantly struggling with a healthy mindset about it. And, if you are facing these thoughts, I can promise you this:
You’re beautiful just as you are. However you are. In whatever shape, form, or state you are in.
You are still you, no matter your weight.
You can and will get past this.
You are not alone.
Recovery is a process: there will be good days, and there will be bad days, but the bad days do not cancel out the good days.
Food is not the enemy, it is fuel. Fuel for your brain, your body, your every function and every move. In every sense of disordered eating, there is always, for the most part, an underlying, emotional issue. Eating disorders are not something that you’re willing to partake in; they’re not a diet. Weight does not determine how severe an eating disorder is, and when one is caught up in the throes of disordered eating, sometimes they can’t determine said disorder, either. When I was caught up in my years of body-image issues, and the worst years of my disordered eating, I felt lost and confused, but never like I had any form of disordered eating. I would try and convince myself that I was “doing it for health,” constantly trying to restrict calories and thinking about my next meals. It escalated in middle school: I felt more self-conscious about my body than ever, and unconsciously started restricting. I would eat, but I would watch my calories - getting enough energy to fuel my dance training, and everyday activities, but the thought and emotion drained from constantly counting calories and obsessing over my body; it was exhausting. Then, in the summer before freshman year, I started a diet with one of my closest friends, with the goal of losing weight. It was an insanely restrictive diet, and all I could think about was what I was missing out on, how lethargic I felt, and confused with why I was doing so. But, this is what everyone did, right? Everywhere I looked - people were dieting to lose weight, to get fit, to get the perfect body. At that point in time, I was at a low point in my ability to accept myself as I was. I would pinch the fat on my body, wondering what I would look like without it. I couldn’t leave the house without full concealer on my face, worried that my skin was too flawed. I was constantly comparing myself to others: my grades, my body, my everything.
But, I thought everyone dealt with this.
My friends and I constantly joked about how girls never think they’re good enough - that was normal. I would constantly feel the need to compliment others, putting myself down in the process. I felt others doing the same - every time they put themselves down after complimenting me, my heart would drop.
How could they not realize their beauty?
I cannot tell you at which point I finally realized what I was doing was wrong, and got fed up with it, but once I did, it was hard work, and it still is. After changing my lifestyle to one that truly changed my mindset about food, nutrition, and taking care of my body, I still have my bad days. I have my days where I question if I’m good enough, if I could do more. At times, I still struggle with emotional eating. There are days where I find restrictive thoughts creeping into my mind, but I know how to combat these things. After years of struggling with body image and disordered eating, I can finally say that I’m in a good place. Not perfect, but oh so good. Sharing this story is part of opening up the conversation about disordered eating and vulnerability. Knowing that there is help out there, that many are struggling and have struggled, it helps. Although the throes of an eating disorder and low self-worth are exhausting, draining, confusing, and sometimes even life-threatening, talking about it is the first step to changing the game. If we can be vulnerable about our past while respectful of others present, this is how we can raise awareness. In honor of NEDA week, I encourage you to take a look at your own behavior, reach out to a friend who you know is struggling, or just spread awareness.
Let’s start the conversation, let’s be open and aware. I truly wish that fifth grade me was able to read something like this, that I was aware of the concept of self-awareness and self-worth. It’s never too early to let someone know how worthy they are.