Back in college, I restricted my food. With every skipped meal, every day gone by without eating until dinner, every pound lost when checking in my morning, afternoon and evening weigh-ins, I felt extreme control and power.
I also felt emptiness and exhaustion, but to me it was worth it. It was my every thought, it informed every move, it caused my constant secret tears and self-loathing. I realized, over time, that this probably wasn’t OK — that I had become obsessive and that this was not sustainable. Just a hunch.
Once I tried to “cure myself…” and it didn’t quite work out. I had never had a stable relationship with food, so I didn’t know how to eat, when to eat, what to eat. I still refused to get help, though. Years passed and there came a day when I realized I experienced episodes of bingeing almost daily. I would eat until it hurt, and then eat some more. I would eat without realizing I was eating. I tried to diet again, and fail again, and diet again, and fail again. It took away so much of my sanity. With mounting anxiety and fixations, I finally began to go to therapy.
My bingeing didn’t stop right away. The less I bought into diet culture, the more I realized I had zero sanity around food, and that it caused me anxiety, sadness, frustration and rage, which just fueled the bingeing. But even so, to me at the time, my compulsive eating and overeating was not a disease of the brain, it was just “failure.” It was not part of my mental illness, it was just me being “weak,” and not trying hard enough.
It turned out, my internalized weight stigma, food stigma and everything stigma had instilled in me this:
Restriction = Willpower. Binge-eating = Lack of Willpower.
It took a lot of therapy, group meetings and re-framing for me to understand this sentiment is an absolute lie. My eating disorder is a shapeshifter, and its symptoms are all growths from the same roots — my addiction to compulsive eating. Whether that compulsion was to not eat at all, or to eat past the point of fullness, it was all the same.
I had decided that just because my body was getting bigger and I couldn’t control what I was eating nor was I losing any weight, I was a failure. Society and its rampant “fat phobia” had taught me as much. I had accepted diet culture as a scam, but the philosophy behind diet mentality and fat phobia tricked me into believing something that wasn’t true. I had to do the work to untie myself from that, and to see myself the way I saw the individuals I had begun to advocate for and learn from.
I now fully believe that willpower has nothing to do with my eating disorder, no matter what shape it’s taken. Movies, TV, magazines, people at work, people in your friend groups, families, people anywhere really, still subscribe to the idea that eating too much reflects your character, your strength, your prioritization of fitness or health.
Well I say… shut up, everyone.
1. You know nothing about a person’s health by looking at them (In fact, I’m privileged in the sense that my body is not thin, sure, but also not a size to be blatantly and unjustly discriminated against publicly, medically or personally.)
2. Binge-eating is a mental health issue, not a character issue.
3. If you feel concern for somebody who is skipping meals, but you feel disgust for someone who eats more than you think they should — check yourself.
We are all fighting the same fight. We all deserve recovery - free from stigma.