I felt a mixture of astonishment and relief as the dots connected in my mind. My therapist had just said it was likely I had an undiagnosed eating disorder, EDNOS. She said it was also likely that the professionals I was working with at the time missed it entirely. She went on to say that mental health and health care professionals have a lot of catching up to do when it comes to awareness of eating disorders. Chances are, the people working with me had no idea what was right in front of them.
In my relatively short life, I've done a variety of things with food in attempts to control my body. And once I began to realize that my obsession with being as small as possible - or as "healthy" as possible - was making me miserable and even sick, I began to work towards actual health: a life free of disordered eating.
As I write this, I have been working on becoming a normal eater for over two years. It has been one of the most difficult and one of the best things I have done for myself. I am learning so much. For one, I'm learning that recovery is not a linear process. I have days where I project my life struggles onto my body and begin thinking about using food in destructive ways. I have moments where the way a waistband feels - or the way I look during yoga practice - makes me want to throw something. (Preferably something breakable that will make a loud, satisfying noise.)
But when recovery feels difficult, I have found a thought that centers me. Would I want this for someone I love? And if not, why would I want this to myself? This means I wouldn't want my daughter to measure her dinner and ignore her gnawing hunger. I would want her to trust her body and feel satisfied after her meals. It means I wouldn't want my best friend to try to shrink her body just to fit in a dress. I would want her to know that it is the job of clothing to fit her - not her job to fit the clothing. And for even the men in my life, like my husband. I wouldn't want him to obsess about his body or ruminate about a "mistake" he made with food that day. I would want him to be so consumed with living his amazing life that he doesn't have the notion that life should be spent hyper-focused on his food and body.
An anti-diet dietician I admire says something like this: diet culture is like water and we are like fish. Since it's all around us, we have no idea that we're swimming it in. Disordered eating is glorified and wears all sorts of disguises. Cleanses, lifestyles, you name it. Anything telling you when to eat, what to, eat, and/or how much to eat is a diet. Dieting is disordered eating and leads to eating disorders. I should add, eating disorders are the most fatal type of mental health disorder. Disordered eating, although common in our culture, is a lifestyle that makes us sick, sad, and disconnected from our bodies. It is no way to live. If you or a loved one feels like life is dominated by food and body issues, I hope you'll seek help with an anti-diet/health-at-every-size dietician or intuitive eating counselor. There are estimates that over 70% of women participate in disordered eating behaviors. Chances are, that number is largely undershot. But, because we are swimming in diet culture, recovery is not always easy. This is why we need help. And this is why we need each other.
Take heart, friends. You are more than your body. Your life is meant to be more full of your passions and values - and less full of obsessing about how we appear to strangers. You are not alone if you are struggling - and there is help.
Maybe soon, I will write about the nearly endless benefits of changing my life to become an intuitive eater and leaving disordered eating behind. For now, peace, love, and namaste.