Living authentically feels so good

I’ll officially be submitting my applications to the four MFT programs I’m applying to within the coming weeks. Aside from the one program that does rolling admissions, I likely won’t hear anything until late January/early February. I’m hoping to get interviews at each school so I can carefully assess which program would be the best fit for me. Overall the process has been so much more pleasant and less terrifying than applying to PhD programs back in 2013. This is something I truly want to be doing and I feel none of the same pressure and dread I felt back then. Don’t get me wrong– I still feel pressure (from myself) and anxiety, but it’s a completely different and better kind.

I’ll admit I’ve found it slightly harder to concentrate on my current life since making this decision, but only because I’m so excited–for once– for my future. Not all that long ago I still dreaded and feared my future, if I could imagine it at all. Lack of focus was always a byproduct of depression or eating disorder, never excitement— what even is that?

I’m trying harder than ever to live authentically and not worry about what people may think of my choices, changes in my behavior or appearance, or anything else. I’m currently at the highest weight I’ve been at since leaving treatment in 2012. I’m letting myself eat more freely in social situations and not beating myself up (as much) for eating a more normal amount of calories each day. My body image is pretty shitty but dare I say not quite as bad as I imagined it would be at this point? I sometimes can even recognize that I’m still thin. I did yoga in front of a mirror for the first time ever over the weekend (my home studio doesn’t have mirrors, which I like). I was completely surprised that I wasn’t doubling over in disgust at how gross and fat my body looked. It actually looked way more acceptable than I imagined it would look at this weight. Were those trick mirrors? “Skinny mirrors?” Perhaps, especially considering I was doubling over in disgust just hours later when in front of my mirror at home. However, just that fact that I was able to see myself– even for just 75 minutes– a little closer to how others see me was pretty significant.

I had a good talk with someone the other day about how it’s not necessary to completely LOVE your body in recovery, or even as a recovered therapist. You merely have to accept it and be willing to let it take up less mental space in your life. Maintaining an unrealistic weight of under XX lbs used to be at the top of my priority list. My self-worth was determined almost entirely by how far below that weight I could be, because I thought it actually meant something. In reality, it meant very little. I never made a positive impact on the world or even just one person because of how thin I could be. Do I like my body now? Hell no, but I’m slowly becoming more okay with just accepting it as a very insignificant part of who I am.

 

When the “best years of your life” are an awkward disappointment: College and eating disorders

Seeing as it’s “that time of year again,” I wanted to write a blog about college and eating disorders. For a lot of people, college is the first time they ever live away from home. I think it’s pretty well known that major life transitions are common times for mental health issues to develop. However, transitions can be just as difficult for those already dealing with these issues.

I was very excited to go off to college my freshman year. I didn’t have that great of a high school experience, but everyone kept telling me that college would be so much better. “People are more mature in college. You can totally reinvent yourself and you’ll definitely fit in because there are no cliques or ‘popular kids’ in college. You’ll love it!” Well, maybe. I guess it depends on where you go. I went to a fairly small liberal arts school for my first three years of college, and I found it to be eerily similar to high school. My freshman dorm quickly became divided into high school-like cliques. There was drama and gossip and people still had to work hard to fit in. Honestly though, that stuff exists everywhere, even in the adult working world. I think I was just mildly disappointed that it wasn’t the drastic culture shift that so many people tried to to claim it would be.

At the time I was heading off to college, I had already been struggling with my eating disorder for six years. By the end of high school, though, I had at least reached a kind of stasis with my ED that I expected to maintain through college. After all, every one kept telling me college was so much better than high school, so I figured I’d be super happy throughout and have every reason to do well. I said goodbye to my therapist of five years; I figured I’d just go back to her if things started to slip but I really didn’t see that happening. This was definitely a mistake. Things did start to slip, almost right away, but I was too ashamed to admit that I wasn’t thriving in the amazing college scene so I suffered in silence for the first year.

I started having major issues accepting my body. Going in I could at least somewhat accept it– I was significantly bigger than I was at the worst of my anorexia, but I was still technically underweight and could see that most people probably still saw me as ‘thin.’ Within a couple months of starting college, that was no longer enough. I started really missing my old (smaller, sicker) body and my eating disordered behaviors intensified. This is when I first began to struggle with bingeing/purging, a behavior that still to this day remains incredibly shameful for me.

There were also certain factors specific to the college experience that probably didn’t help. For example, my dorm’s Resident Director (who managed all of the RAs) was really into encouraging us to record our calories and participate in these awkward weight loss challenges. She posted signs on the elevators advising us to take the stairs instead, complete with handy pictures of food crossed out with red x’s. Drink all the alcohol and smoke all the pot you want, but whatever you do– SAY NO TO THE COOKIES!!! Yeah, she was weird… I also had two friends who were always trying to get me to join their diet groups, even though they knew about my history with eating disorders. None of these things were solely to blame for my relapse, but they certainly made what I was doing seem more socially acceptable, at least at first.

It was also in college that my anxiety related to eating with others became pretty extreme. Eating with people was never an easy thing for me, but I could at least make myself do it when absolutely necessary and I went into college hopeful that I’d be able to eat with my friends from time to time. While I started the year off going to the dining hall with the few friends I made, this quickly became an almost impossible task for me, perhaps largely due to my increasing b/p behaviors which I kept strictly secret.

During the first few weeks of going to the dining hall, I noticed a girl who I knew had an eating disorder. She was quite thin, but even aside from that, it was clear to me. She had all the physical signs of chronic purging, and she always sat alone and ate the same exact foods in the same order. She would finish each meal with a huge bowl of ice cream and then would disappear. I’ll admit at first I was almost envious that she at least had the ability to eat out in the open like that, because my bingeing (and actually at that point, eating anything at all) always had to be completely secretive which made it harder to maintain this behavior that I hated and was so ashamed of but unfortunately couldn’t stop. I also just felt really bad for her though, and often wanted to run up and hug her (but yes, that would have been super creepy so I restrained myself).

I later learned from a mutual friend that this girl did indeed have an eating disorder, and that her original roommates had voted her out of the suite they were living in because they couldn’t deal with her b/ping. Little did I know at the time, this very same scenario would play out for me my junior year.

Now, I want to say something about college counseling centers. Some really suck. I’m sure there are good college counseling centers out there, but the two experiences I had (at two different schools), were really shitty. If you have access to a qualified therapist outside of the school, you’re probably best off sticking them them. I find a lot of therapists staffed at college counseling centers will claim to have experience with eating disorders when they really do not. I was dragged to my first college’s counseling center by my roommates and it could not have been more of a disaster. I was made to feel even more ashamed and at fault than I already felt, and I spent the rest of my time at that school going out of my way to avoid running into these crazy “experts.”

At the end of my junior year I got stuck in a cycle of revolving door inpatient admissions that eventually led to me taking an extra four years to finally graduate. Today, at the old age of 32, I can recognize that while this seemed like the end of the world at the time, it actually wasn’t. I did eventually graduate and even went on to get a master’s degree. That said, if I could magically go back in time I would absolutely do things differently. Sometimes it really is necessary to leave school and get more treatment. I don’t regret ever doing this, I just regret doing it as many times as I did. I wish I would have put more effort and time into making the first few rounds really worthwhile, so that the subsequent times wouldn’t have been necessary. There were also times when I wish my treatment team would have given me more of a chance to turn things around on my own, instead of throwing me back in treatment as soon as I struggled. Hindsight is 20/20 though, right?

I used to get really sad when I’d hear people talk about the great college experiences they had. Mine were filled with lots of shame, secrecy, tears, and hospitals. Can I go back and do it all over again? Like, the whole freshman dorm experience? It could be a reality show– 32 year old ‘cat lady’ poses as a college freshman and infiltrates most popular dorm. Will she finally be cool??

I no longer let myself get sad. I had lots of experiences, and not all of them were good, and some were really, really bad. However, I eventually managed to move on and had it not been for those crazy eight years, I probably never would have ended up here, in Los Angeles, with a graduate degree and a life I finally like.

When yoga gets complicated: How to appreciate the mental aspects of yoga

A little over a year ago, I was on the phone with my best friend. I remember telling her, “Ok, so don’t hate me, but I think I want to start doing yoga. Like, real yoga. For real.” She had a good laugh and then was like, “Wait. You’re serious?”

What’s so funny or unbelievable about wanting to do yoga? Well, for most people, absolutely nothing. It was funny to us though because up until that point we both had a strong mutual dislike for yoga. I’ve found this to be true of many people who’ve been through a great deal of eating disorder-related treatment, as yoga is often incorporated. I’m not just talking about the fancy residential centers; I’ve been to inpatient EDUs and even general psych wards that incorporate “yoga.” NYPSI, 2008– a unit comprised of patients with eating disorders, depression, and pill addiction are led in weekly sessions of “yoga” which consist of a bunch of dirty makeshift mats spread out on the tiled dining room floor (yes, we yoga-ed where we ate). Because ED patients were usually on restricted exercise there was very little movement involved, so it usually ended up being 90% meditation with maybe a tree pose and one downward dog thrown in to spice things up. It was often led by some random psych-tech and very rarely by an actual licensed yoga instructor. Is it any wonder why people exposed to this kind of “yoga” would develop an aversion to it?

This isn’t to say that all of the therapeutic yoga I experienced was horrible. For example, the place I was at in 2012 actually had a really awesome (licensed!) instructor teach legitimate yoga to patients once we were medically stable. It was experiences like this that led me to wonder if maybe I really could/would enjoy “real” non-treatment yoga one day.

So, in May of 2015, I took a leap of faith and signed up for my local yoga studio’s newcomer special that allowed you to take three weeks of unlimited classes for just $30. By my second or third class, I was hooked and I signed up for a membership as soon as my 3-week trial was up. I loved almost everything about it. I was pleasantly surprised to see that I maintained a lot of my gymnastics days flexibility. I loved that it was 60, 75, or 90 minutes at a time where I could temporarily escape from my everyday worries and stressors. I loved that the body image aspect I was so worried about (more on this later) wasn’t nearly as bad as I feared. People really seemed to be focused on their own practice. And finally, I really loved the social aspect. Even though it was several months before I got comfortable enough to casually talk to the people I regularly saw there, just the experience of being in a space with 10-20 other people was surprisingly really… nice. I sometimes think I’m an extrovert stuck in an introvert’s mind/body; I do love people and can feel energized by them when I allow myself. In time I started being more friendly and open with people. I quickly became “good enough” to attend the advanced classes. Yoga life was good.

I’ll admit, my major motivation initially was physical. I suck at most regular exercise, so I thought yoga could be my thing. I made myself go to at least one class a day, often more. I gravitated to the most physically intense and advanced classes. More often than not my thoughts during savasana were along the lines of “I wonder how many calories I just burned?” Super deep and spiritual, I know. When yoga was a purely physical thing for me, I was convinced I had to be super compulsive about it. If yoga wasn’t going to help me achieve/keep the body I wanted, there was no point. Yoga twice a day everyday or not at all.

Gradually, however, I started noticing the more mental and emotional benefits. I noticed I just felt generally better after yoga, in every way. I went to sleep in a good mood and woke up excited for the day ahead, which was not typical for me. I started being easier on myself if I had to skip a class due to a scheduling conflict because after all, beating myself up for only going to yoga 5x/week instead of 7 was kind of silly. When my one-year yoga anniversary (yoga-versary?) came up in May, I was feeling pretty good about my yoga journey over the past year. I had managed to embrace the more spiritual side of yoga without becoming a hippie pot-smoking flower child (no offense to hippie pot-smoking flower children; that just isn’t me).

Then, a couple weeks ago something happened that kind of threw me for a loop. After class one night I was chatting with a fellow yogi. I mentioned that it was recently my one-year anniversary of being at the studio, and how crazy but cool it was that I had come to be such a fan of yoga. And then, out of nowhere, she started telling me how she had noticed a remarkable transformation in my body (yes, my body) over the past year. This came completely unprovoked; I didn’t give this woman any indication that I wanted her to give me a detailed analysis of the changes she noticed in my body (my body!) over the past year. It was so completely bizarre and uncomfortable. I just stood there with a blank stare on my face until she finally stopped talking long enough for me to kind of awkwardly laugh and tell her I had to be getting home.

I remember driving home that night thinking, “What seriously just happened??” As for the specific comments, it took me a long enough time to figure out what she was even trying to say. I think she was trying to pay me a compliment, but not unsurprisingly nothing about it felt good to me. I had recently worked hard to convince myself that even though I may be X lbs higher than I was at this time last year (thank you daily weight records), it’s not the end of the world, and it’s even okay because I’m generally happier and in a better place. I should also note that this wasn’t the first time this woman had made comments about my body, although this time was definitely the strangest, as she actually made reference to changes she’s noticed in specific body parts. What…the… actual… f*ck?

This woman is not aware of my history with EDs. That said, I truly think comments like this would make anyone uncomfortable, even people with no ED history whatsoever. I was telling this story to a close friend today, and she passionately validated for me that this woman’s comments were completely inappropriate.

One of my major hesitations to joining a yoga studio was the fact that it would mean major “exposure” for my body. In general I really hate the thought of anyone looking at or even noticing my body. This used to be so bad that I would avoid leaving the house entirely on bad body image days. As such, willingly choosing to put myself out there via group yoga was a pretty huge deal for me. Whenever I started to feel weird and anxious about my body being “on display” I’d tell myself that no one was looking at or examining my body; everyone was too focused on their own practice. Listening to this woman give such a detailed assessment of my body negated this completely.

I think this woman is a perfect example of someone who does yoga purely for physical reasons. This is absolutely fine; I respect that everyone does yoga for their own reasons. That said, I’ll admit that being around people like her make it harder for me to embrace the other more mental/spiritual aspects of yoga, as it brings the entire focus back to the physical.

I don’t intend to let this woman spoil my love for yoga, although it’s definitely been a mindf*ck of a couple weeks as I try to make sense of and put to rest these comments. I’m grateful for the very candid conversation I was able to have with a friend today who was able to offer much needed perspective and insight into this and related body concerns. Thank you, friend, your input today meant more than you know.

“Body image is the last to come.” What does that even mean?

Throughout all of my eating disorder-specific treatment I’ve always been told that “body image is the last to come.” In other words, you can recover physically and stop all/most behaviors, but the body image distortions may persist for many years. I was talking to a therapist about this about a year ago and she said to me, “Well, even though you’re not fully recovered yet, you must notice some improvement in the body image stuff.” I was in a particularly bad mood that day so I quickly responded with, “Actually no, there’s been no improvement whatsoever. I still despise my body just as much as I did at 12 years old, even more probably.” Haha.

I probably really did hate my body on that particular day, because my feelings about my body are often heavily influenced by my mood in general. However, part of the reason I was so quick to respond like that likely had something to do with my weird need to never let go of that part of my eating disorder. This is hard to explain to most people. Basically, I fear that if I ever stop hating my body (or even admit to hating it less), that I’ll start loosening up my “control” by way of allowing myself to eat more. This, I fear, will lead to me becoming less and less rigid about food which will then lead to me getting bigger and bigger, perhaps so gradually that I fail to notice until it’s “too late.” I’m speaking in present tense because as pathetic as it sounds, I do still have this fear at times, although I can usually see how irrational it is far faster and easier than I could before.

I’ve said before that loving or even liking your body should not be a prerequisite for recovery. I may not “hate” my body as much as I once did, but I still don’t like it and I would feel pretty discouraged if I thought I needed to in order to make any further progress. I realize now though that the body image aspect of eating disorders and recovery encompasses a lot more than liking or not liking your body.

Before I go on I should note that while body image issues affect most people with eating disorders, they don’t affect everyone to the same degree or some people even at all. The latest edition of the DSM tweaked the criteria for anorexia because it is now accepted that some people who exhibit all of the other criteria do not experience body image distortions or a drive to lose weight and become thinner. For a lot of these people, their eating disordered behaviors may be purely OCD-driven.

That said, the majority of people with EDs do experience at least some body image-related symptoms which may include body distortions (sometimes even warranting a co-occurring diagnosis of Body Dysmorphia), or frequent “body checking” or measuring behaviors. I experienced all of these at some point. While my distortions were never as severe as some people’s (i.e., I never thought I looked legitimately overweight when I was at my lowest weights), I still had trouble seeing that I was ever as thin as other people said I was, and I always saw myself as “chubby” at weights that were considered normal/healthy. Rarely was my eating disorder about fearing that I’d actually become overweight; it was more about always feeling the need to be thinner and never being satisfied no matter how low I got. I also believed that others were somehow judging my level of self-control, success, or worthiness based on my weight. Because I was always comparing myself to my lowest (and/or anyone who I thought happened to weigh less than me at the time), I assumed everyone else was as well. Like, shit… surely that person I ran into the other day noticed I was a good 6 lbs. higher than I was the last time she saw me, so she must be thinking I’ve become super lazy and relaxed in my eating and is judging me for that.

In terms of body checking and measuring, I’m kind of a professional. I was “body checking” long before I even knew what it was, even before my eating disorder fully took over. I was involved in competitive gymnastics for most of my childhood up until the age of 13, so I was naturally more aware of my body than a lot of kids my age. I would stand in front of a mirror for hours in a leotard observing the space between my thighs, the degree to which my stomach stuck out past my hip bones, the circumference of my upper arms, etc. This soon progressed to performing very specific “body checks” throughout the day at school, on the bus or in the car, at home, or in bed. My most common checks included wrapping my left hand around specific points on my right arm, wrapping both hands around each of my upper thighs, and feeling the bones on the tops of my shoulders and my chest to make sure they were still as prominent as the last time I checked (likely earlier that day). I also went through long stretches of time when I would keep daily records of various body part measurements (e.g., the circumferences of various points on my arms/legs, my waist, hips, chest, neck, etc.).

It’s been a fairly recent discovery of mine that many of these body image-related symptoms have actually gotten better. While in the depths of my disorder I was intensely focused on my body and all the hatred I had for it. I would spend entire therapy sessions whining about how disgusting and gross I was. I would be told “fat is not a feeling” and to dig deeper and talk about the real issues and half the time that just made me angrier, because in those moments I couldn’t see past the body stuff. Other times I would be up all night studying years worth of weight and body measurement records, driving myself insane. Why did XX weight correspond to a measurement of X in 2008 but not in 2010? Why were certain measurements getting smaller without my weight going down, or vice-versa? Even 1-2 years ago I remember complaining to my dietician (who is more like a therapist to me) about how distracting my body checking was during the day, so much that someone had even noticed me doing some of these weird things so frequently at work and asked, “uh… what are you doing?” Wow, how awkward. You mean not everyone wraps their hand around their arm about 10 times an hour?

For many years, I corresponded almost daily with my dietitian through email. It started out as checking in each night about how my day had gone with food and behaviors, but it quickly morphed into more casual sharing and venting. I recently looked back on some of the emails from 3-5 years ago and was reminded just how body-focused these emails were for a very long time. I was complaining about how my weight was up two-tenths of a pound that day, or how I couldn’t focus in class because I was so fixated on how swollen my face or legs were. At one point she told me she wasn’t going to reply to any more of my emails where I referred to myself as fat, gross, or disgusting, so I pulled up good old thesaurus.com and expanded my vocabulary. I was now corpulent, rotund and roly-poly.

Over the past year or so, I’ve gradually relied less and less on these body-checks or emails. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I actually sent an email to my dietitian that was even about my “gross” body. I still write about my body troubles but rarely do I refer to my body as gross or disgusting anymore. Does this mean I like my body? Hell no, but I do pretty well at least tolerating it now. Most of my emails and in-person sessions these days are not even about my body. They’re about deeper issues, stuff at work, my future, relationships with friends/family, etc.

For most of my life I’ve been constantly striving for something “better” than what I currently have. In terms of my body, this usually meant setting lower and lower weight loss goals without even stopping to consider that maybe I didn’t need or even want that. I used to say, “If I’m not losing, I’m gaining” which makes NO sense (what happened to maintaining?) but it was my way of ensuring I never became content. I used to have so many rules and rituals that I had to follow exactly. If I didn’t, I’d lose control and become lazy, fat, gross, unsuccessful, etc. I’m finally starting to see that all hell may actually not break lose if I don’t follow all of these rules and rituals to the letter. I let myself have a few drinks last weekend without majorly restricting or compensating before and after, which is pretty much unheard of for me. I also ate a few things that I normally would never allow myself to eat (without proper “compensation”) and guess what? I’m still alive, no fatter than I was last week. It’s like some kind of miracle.

I’m always telling people that in order to make any progress in recovery you must find other things in life to focus on. I cannot stress this enough right now. I’ve only been able to let go of some of my body obsessions and compulsions because I started replacing them with other more meaningful things– dedication to my job/career, writing in this very blog, cultivating new relationships, and letting people in more than ever before. It all sounds so cheesy, I know, but it’s the most useful piece of “advice” I can offer anyone.

Now because I wrote this, I’m sure I’ll have a moment or two next week when I’ll be saying to myself, “WTF Becca? Nothing has changed. This body is not ok and you must do x, y, and z to fix it.” This happens whenever I start to acknowledge my progress because as strange as it sounds, it’s often really scary to get better.

When people used to tell me that “body image is the last to come” I would get really depressed. What was the point of putting any effort into recovery if I was still destined to hate my body for the next undetermined number of years? These days this thought actually gives me hope. I may still not like my body, and even struggle to tolerate it some days, but I also have proof that I can lessen the impact it all has on me by bringing new and better things into my life.

When society assumes we all want, need, or should “fix ourselves”

In my second year of grad school a professor from another department contacted me about joining her research team. Her project was aimed to “empower girls, while placing emphasis on eating in normal and healthful ways, developing increased levels of self-esteem and media/advertising literacy.” Sounded great! I was eager to start. Then we met to go over the details of the project and things took a major turn. Children participating in the program would be instructed to go through a workbook of food pictures and draw happy faces next to the “good foods” and sad faces next to the “bad foods.” They would be required to keep daily food records that would later be judged (by us, the researchers) as simply “healthy” or “unhealthy.” And finally, the kids would either be rewarded or punished based on their BMI via a very flawed token economy system. The kids taking part in this program were between 5 and 12 years old and selected solely because they came from families of a specific income bracket and region of Los Angeles, thus putting them at high risk for obesity.

Now, obesity is a major public health concern in this country; there is no denying that. I’m not going to be one of those people who whines and cries about how the anti-obesity campaigns are to blame for the “rising epidemic” of eating disorders. No kid is going to develop an eating disorder simply because she participated in some shoddy program like the one described above. Eating disorders stem from a complex combination of genetic, personality, and environmental factors, not a single trigger. However, repeated exposure to these messages (i.e., fat = bad, thin = good, an entire diet labeled as unhealthy because of one “bad” food) can take its toll and lead to a very disordered relationships with food. And of course “disordered eating” and “eating disorder” are two very different things, but patterns of disordered eating can certainly put people at greater risk for developing eating disorders.

I think these messages are sometimes even more harmful to those already in the grips of an eating disorder, and especially those trying to recover. The messages we get on a regular basis about food and weight are often in direct conflict with the messages fed so forcefully in eating disorder treatment programs. How many times was I told the following while in a treatment setting?

  • There are no “good” or “bad” foods.
  • Everything fits, anything in moderation.
  • Dietary fat will not make you fat, it’s an essential nutrient. It makes your hair thick and shiny. Yay healthy fats!
  • Being underweight is associated with more health risks than being overweight (some studies say)
  • This is all fine and good behind the walls of a treatment center but as soon as you settle back into the real world all of these messages go out the window. Foods are definitely “good” or “bad,” every food does NOT fit, and dietary fat (or dairy, or gluten, or carbs, or whatever the current trend) WILL make you fat. According to everything you hear and read. Confusing much?

    For most of my life I really disliked (and in the worst times, all-out feared/avoided) not only eating in the presence of others but even just talking about food in specific ways. I was completely obsessed with food and thought about it all the time, but hated discussing it or even acknowledging its existence to others. I was not one of those anorexics who loved cooking for others or wanted to work with food for a living; food was a completely private thing for me. Obviously my avoidance of social eating situations didn’t work in treatment settings when meals were almost always eaten in groups, but that was somehow less terrifying (in a social sense) because there was the understanding among us that we were all there for a reason and were in a way being “forced” to eat. Secretly though, I think most of us were actually relieved to finally be given permission to eat…

    I never got much out of outpatient treatment because I refused to talk about food in any specific way. I wasn’t trying to be difficult I just could never allow myself to be vulnerable to the possible judgement, even from the people who were probably least likely to judge me. I had similar reservations about discussing specific numbers (calorie amounts) or weights (my own)– basically I was terrified of anyone having access to specific numeric data to judge me by. When asked to try to explain this, I would use the example of my long-time constant fear of being “caught” in a grocery store or restaurant either buying or eating food (or even just looking at it, really) and having people see me and think, “Eww, why is she eating that? Someone as [fat/lazy/gross] as her should not be eating [insert pretty much any food]!” And of course upon hearing this people would tell me how crazy I was for thinking such things… I had never been overweight and was usually quite underweight when having these fears. I can understand this now and even back then I think I rationally knew people weren’t ever looking at me and thinking “fat” or “this girl shouldn’t be eating” but the fear of being judged based solely on what I choose to eat is still pretty real.

    A couple months ago a friend of mine posted a very provocative post on Facebook in reaction to seeing an overweight woman in a grocery store with a cart full of “junk food.” This friend of mine (who I will now refer to as the Food Police, or FP for short), made extremely judgmental remarks about how she wanted to take a picture of the woman with her cart because it was just so funny! She blasted the poor woman– a complete stranger– for being “gross and stupid” for eating such bad foods while being “so overweight with acne.” FP thought it would be even funnier to take a picture of the two of them together with their food, because FP was a thin clear-skinned vegan with a cart full of kale and baby carrots. Oh the contrast!

    At first I was quite furious and wanted to call up all the therapists over the years who ever told me “no one is judging you for what you eat” and use this as solid proof that people definitely were and are judging me! I better never let myself be seen in public with food ever again. But… no. Calm down. I now have the wisdom of knowing that FP is the weird one here. Honestly, FP probably does judge me for eating pretzels (sodium), Greek yogurt (dairy), or even drinking Diet Coke (those damn unnatural chemicals), but I know most people probably couldn’t care less.

    I’ll be the first to admit I am a highly sensitive person. Not everyone with an eating disorder is so outwardly affected by these things. In fact, many people I know with eating disorders don’t relate to this at all. They have no problem discussing the details of what they eat and may even prefer social eating situations in an effort to feel and appear “normal.” And yet, I have no doubt that even those who appear unfazed by it all are still absorbing these messages on a deeper level.

    There seems to be a widespread generalization that everyone in this country is overweight, lazy, and in need of a drastic body and nutrition makeover. I, like so many others, bought into the Fitbit craze last year and purchased a shiny new purple Fitbit Charge HR (which I no longer use because it quickly made me fear for my sanity, but that’s a blog for another day). One of the first things I noticed when I set up my account was that it just assumed anyone who bought a Fitbit was looking to lose weight. I was immediately asked about my weight loss goals. Just for kicks I decided to put in a ridiculously low “goal weight” (a weight even I’ll admit I probably wouldn’t survive long at) and I got the following message, “Good luck achieving your goals! In order to reach ___ lbs in two months, please sustain a _____ calorie deficit, or adjust to a _____ calorie deficit to reach your goal in just one month!” Welp, that was awkward! My new Fitbit just wished me well on my path to probable death! Obviously it was just a stock message, and obviously I was not serious when putting in my “goal.” I just wanted to test my suspicions. I can now easily distinguish the messages that are meant for me and those that are not, but what about that 9, 10, or 11 year-old who grew up being scolded for every “bad” food she ever laid eyes on?

    I realize the population of people who may internalize these messages and react by self-destructing is very small compared to those people who either (a) don’t give a damn or who (b) may actually benefit from them. I’m not suggesting we ignore the nation’s obesity problem all for the sake of not upsetting a small subset of people. I am suggesting we go about the problem in a different way, although I’m not sure what that is yet. Maybe we could start by not asking 5 year-olds to draw sad faces on pictures of ice cream cones?