Disordered eating: starting, stopping, and moving forward
From February to early April of my senior year of high school, my eating was disordered.
I would eat an apple or a pear in the morning on my way to school and drink water all day to stay full—then eat a big dinner with my family and purge myself in the bathroom. I was playing tennis regularly, but I started swimming laps mornings and afternoons, too. I weighed myself every day. I kept a food diary and tried to estimate how many calories I’d burned or purged to determine what I could eat next.
After graduation, with Columbia in sight, I decided I had to stop. I knew that my habits weren’t healthy. I wasn’t losing weight, anyway. I was afraid of losing my teeth. I was afraid of my family finding out. Most of all, I was afraid of being forced to get treatment I felt I didn’t need and subsequently delay my matriculation at Columbia.
A Spectator columnist wrote in 2010,
These disorders, however, extend beyond just “not wanting to get fat” and physically inhibiting weight gain. It is an obsession brought on by a host of unconscious and debilitating mental processes. For example, potential triggers of an eating disorder could be feeling that no one likes you, feeling that you don’t like yourself, or feeling as if you have no sense of control. The desire to be thin stems from the socially constructed emphasis on slimness as a mark of beauty, which may seem like a perfect way to accrue friends to someone who feels like a social outsider. For a person who feels a loss of control, the ability to refuse the food your body naturally desires provides a needed sense of empowerment.
I call my particular situation disordered eating because I am reluctant to call it a diagnosable disorder and dilute the severity and significance of an actual psychological and physical eating disorder. I have had friends who have had full-blown eating disorders from bulimia to anorexia who received treatment, are still recovering, and face their demons every day. But ultimately, my experience isn’t unique—it reflects our disordered culture around food.
Disordered eating, whether full-blown or just a flirtation, is so normalized that we don’t even realize when it’s happening around us. Friends, roommates, classmates, sisters. Subtle comments, skipped meals. It doesn’t take much to go over the edge, but we should be able to stop ourselves and stop each other from going on an unhealthy spiral.
Liz Lemon provided girls with the self-confidence to not have to justify to anyone, including ourselves, that we love food outside a salad bowl. Healthy eating is a healthy relationship with food that includes moderation, balance, and a positive sense of control, rather than an exclusive diet of carrots and quinoa. I love that Jennifer Lawrence is at least starting the dialogue about women and food, although it needs to progress. The prevailing expectation that both women still provide for us is that we can love food as long as we are skinny and fit the mold of what society calls beautiful. Lemon and Lawrence are still minority voices when it comes to healthy eating.
Winter vacations, spring break, summer, and back to school in the fall are all reasons we convince ourselves to go on diets or lose weight with a set goal in mind for how we want to look. And we never seem to get there.It goes beyond wishing we had what we don’t, whether it’s something bigger here or smaller there—it’s an issue with self-acceptance, self-confidence, and self-love.
I enjoy food again because I’m comfortable with my body, but it’s also because I enjoy cooking and eating out with friends and family. I learned that the normal ebb and flow of anxiety in my life can be controlled in other ways besides hurting myself. I hope that everyone who has suffered such a dark period can emerge stronger, healthier, and happier.
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