In honor of #NEDA week, I am putting to pen (or post, I suppose) my own thoughts, experiences, and feelings about eating disorders, and what I call “diet culture”. Having gone through two very serious bouts with anorexia, and being myself a competitive bodybuilder, I certainly feel like I am in a position to have opinions and feelings on the matter. I am sick of some of the things I think/see/read, daily – and I am sick of being polite about it. I’ve tried to put into words how I feel, before, only to find myself at a loss on how to verbalize the thoughts and emotions running through my head, at any given moment. Let me try my best to find the words… Here goes nothing.
For those who don’t know, I myself am the victim of anorexia. What started in my teens as a desire to exert control over an uncontrollable situation ultimately snowballed into disordered eating (or lack of eating, I guess), compulsive over-exercising, and a general desire to starve away my problems. Since onset at 15, I experienced two serious bouts where the disease really took over -when I literally lost half of my body weight, and experienced all the symptoms you’ve read about in textbooks. In my own time and way, I recovered, twice, and while I am still currently considered to be “in recovery”, I can tell you all with utmost certainty that the thoughts are still there, and that it is be sheer force of will sometimes that I don’t relapse – especially in stressful times.
This brings me to my next point – “diet culture”, and perhaps, more specifically, the “fitness culture”, rewards disordered behaviors and enables those with the tendency towards disordered patterns to engage in an obsession deemed “socially acceptable”. As society, social media, and pop culture celebrates and praises the artificial, the impressionable masses (that’s all of us) fall victim to the toxicity of this diet culture. I see folks all around me – mindless automatons – who slowly chip away at their souls, blindly doing what they are told in chasing impossible ideals.
Having competed on and off for many years, with various degrees of success, and taking a step back for the time being, I can say now that for me, immersing myself in the whole diet/fitness/bodybuilding subculture that is currently thriving in the world of the “InstaGram Influencer” was just another manifestation of my anorexic tendencies, with a shiny new socially accepted exterior – and I know I am not alone in falling victim to its call.
With Competing – The All or Nothing of my ED, translated to No Pain, No Gain
Those with EDs are often Type A, All-Or-Nothing kind of people. With anorexia, you tell yourself you aren’t good enough, that you need to be thinner, and that you need to punish yourself for being less than perfect. Extreme starvation and compulsive over-exercising results in illness, isolation, and in some cases- death. Many suffer in silence, with either no desire to get better, or an intense fear of what recovery may entail.
In bodybuilding, you obsessively diet, spend HOURS doing cardio and weights, daily, and push yourself to the point of breaking, just to stand in front of a group of judges who will either tell you that you are “good enough” or “not good enough” – and how you place in a competition will either validate you, or break you. In the prep process, you struggle very publicly, and you are praised for doing so. Thin girls with sometimes manufactured curves go on social media to tell everyone how happy they are to spend hours training daily, isolate themselves socially, sacrifice rest, and “diet” in order to maintain impossibly low body fats. When they burn out and inevitably gain weight, because competitive ideals are completely unrealistic and unhealthy, they either disappear quietly, or are publicly shamed for gaining weight. After going through that cycle, some bounce back and find balance, but even more fall back into those bad old habits, continuing to suffer, in silence.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Exercise is healthy, as is eating a diet that is both rich and balanced – but diet and fitness culture has become so extreme that its norms put it in line with disorders – and that is dangerous. Balance doesn’t exist, because it can’t exist in a world of extremes. In a world that lacks moderation, can you ever really recover?
There is so much I want to say, but can’t, simply because I have TOO MUCH to say. For now, in the spirit of Eating Disorder Awareness, I just want this post to serve as a reminder to all who suffer (both publicly and silently) that you are not alone. That is all I can offer right now – the reassurance that there are others who struggle, that you can talk to, if to do nothing more than to find catharsis or comfort in sharing of common ground