At this year’s Emmys, one of host Jimmy Kimmel’s big jokes was to hand out peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to the audience. Sounds great, right? Except that it was accompanied with a quick quip, "I know these award shows are long and you haven't eaten since Labor Day." The joke being that it is common knowledge that celebrities do not eat. Even if we look past the dangerous misconception of how eating disorders operate (i.e. the idea that re-feeding along will solve what is a complex psychological, physical, and emotional disorder), even if we forgive Kimmel’s delivery, jokes like this are cheap and unoriginal.
Navigating the road to recovery from an eating disorder is no easy path, never mind taking into account the world around us. Daily we are exposed to images that could be potentially triggering to someone who has experience within the realm of eating disorders, and no other industry is quite as rampant as the fitness and diet world.
In the depths of my eating disorder, I couldn’t imagine life without it. It was my lifeline, my constant companion. The first program I entered was on outpatient one at the request of my doctor and I reluctantly attended to make the people in my life happy. I said what I had to, to get through appointments and then I went home to my behaviours. My interest in recovering didn’t exist. 10 years later, with a deep desire to recover, I was still playing the same game. Attending appointments, crying about why nothing ever changed, and going home to my behaviours. My passive approach to recovery left me stuck, unable to move forward but too afraid to face the unknown.
For the past ten months, I’ve been a counsellor-intern at a college counselling center. To say it was an “education” would be an understatement. Although I’d been attending the same institution as a postgrad student for a number of years, I wasn’t really engaged in student life. It was only once I started hearing the stories and struggles of my on-campus undergraduate clients that I gained terrific (sometimes terrifying) insight into what life outside of my office looked like.
June 2nd was the first ever World Eating Disorders Action Day. On one hand, I want to be excited that such an important issue now has its own day, but on the other hand, I cannot bring myself to celebrate quite yet. Although this day will hopefully mean more activism, the fact that eating disorders have become a big enough problem to warrant their own day also means that we are not where we need to be.
A young girl places herself strategically in front of the mirror, sideways, so that the incoming light accentuates the hollow crevices between her ribs. Her frail figure barely stays upright as she sucks deep into her diaphragm, and each protruding segment of her rib cage reminds you of the human skeletal model that hung in front of your biology classroom — limp and lifeless.
I can tell you this right now. My eating disorder never looked like this.
World Eating Disorders Day promotes the “Nine Truths About Eating Disorders” – a statement of principles that aims to clarify public understanding, increase awareness, reduce stigma and demand evidence-based, comprehensive treatment for eating disorders. Although eating disorders are one of the most-discussed mental health problems in the media, the global impact of eating disorders is consistently underrepresented, and marginalized or underserved populations are left out of the conversation.
I had an eating disorder in my late teens that has been a secret for a solid chunk of my life. I shared with a few, and very carefully selected people, that I had suffered from anorexia for a number of years. Today, my disordered years feel like a century ago, and I am very proud to say I am fully recovered. What I've accomplished from that time would completely shock my past self.
Type in “summer” and “body” into Google and you get pages upon pages of workout and diet plans, usually accompanied by a picture of a shimmering female abdomen (face often not included) against a beach backdrop. As soon as the weather shows any indication of warming up, we are bombarded with messages about our bodies and their "imperfections" which, according to these articles and ads, get more glaring and unacceptable during the summer.
A big challenge that I faced in recovery was that I had no idea who I was without my eating disorder. My eating disorder had become my life. My every decision was motivated by whether or not it would allow me to lose weight.