Tuesday, February 23, 2010


How I Might Be Contributing To Another's Eating Disorder
Betsy Reynolds, MS, RD

1. Encouraging someone to pursue slenderness/diet/deprive themselves of "fattening" food

2. Teasing someone about their eating habits

3. Criticizing someone else's eating habits or choices

4. Admiring weight loss, diets, or weight loss dieting

5. Admiring rigidly controlled eating

6. Criticizing your own eating habits and choices

7. Making negative comments about your own or someone else's fatness

8. Supporting the assumption that no one should be fat

9. Diapproving of fatness in general

10. Saying or assuming someone is doing well because of weight loss

11. Saying something that presumes that a fat person wants to lose weight

12. Saying something that presumes that a fat person should lose weight

13. Saying something that presumes that fat people eat too much

14. Referring to "good" and "bad" foods

15. Talking about "being good" or "being bad" in reference to eating behavior

16. Admiring appearances

17. Admiring slenderness

18. Making weight important

19. Encouraging perfectionism

20. Admiring excessive exercise

Good stuff. Good reminders.

Our society has decided that thin = good and fat = bad. There are "good" and "bad" foods, "good" and "bad" exercise habits, "good" and "bad", this and that, we know exactly where we stand by some people's standards.

Women trip and stumble over themselves when they reach for a second helping or a slice of pie, "I really shouldn't, but I've been good," or "I've earned this." No, we don't have to earn the right to eat. When babies first pop out and they're chillin' in the maternity ward, designated by boxes with tags, how do we decide which baby is better? Which baby is the best? We don't. That's weird. Yet we do it to children as soon as their walking and it continues for the rest of our lives, labeling: good vs. bad, smart vs. stupid, band geeks vs. jocks, homemakers vs. "working" women, health nuts vs. lazy slobs, and on and on.

Imagine if people stopped commending people solely based on their appearances. What if instead of always complimenting a person's shoes or hair, we said, "Ya know, you are such a generous person," or "Thanks for taking the time for me. It means a lot."

For as long as I can remember I've been told, as are most little girls, how "pretty" I am, how I look so much more "grown-up" than 14, how I'm going to break all the guys hearts. We are told what we should want, what we should do. Boys are complimented on their abilities, their skills, what they can accomplish. This has it's pros and cons too, but what I'm getting at is the extreme, ridiculous, outlandish, remarkable, proposterous, iddiotic pressure that is put on women to be attractive, pretty, sexy, hot, and beautiful.

As I starved myself thinner and thinner in high school, the cheering section grew louder and louder: "Wow Heather, you look great. Have you lost weight?" or "You look so healthy, so pretty." This only fueled me to skip another meal, again. I got ridiculous amounts of attention and praise for wasting away, many women are.

One day, my algebra teacher stopped me in the hallway, "You look...thin."

"Thank you," I chirped as I continued walking.

She stopped me, "I'm not saying it's a good thing. You don't look healthy. Are you taking care of yourself?"

Smiling. "I'm fine. Really. Thanks. I'll see you later."

This happens again and again. Did you really expect me to say, "Yeah, I've been starving myself." No way. For a short time, I turned into a professional liar to others and most harmful, to myself.

Number 14-20 on the list above perfectly describes my time in high school and most people's experience in a world obsessed with appearance. We can do better.

Since I began talking publicly about this eating disorder (remind me not to call it "my" eating disorder), I've lost count of how many women and girls have bravely talked to me about theirs. A few from church, a few from high school, some random people on-line, at least a dozen through Facebook, and several more at Union. Women are killing themselves to make the grade. We feel like we're winning, but what does an A+ look like anyway?

In my anorexic mind, an A+ would've been 105 pounds. Instead, I went to counseling and got an F. I failed, by ED standards, I asked for help. I needed help. I started talking to people. I started admitting my lack of perfection. I reached out. I fell on my butt and asked for a helping hand to get back up. It's been up and down and ugly and bumpy, but I've never been more happy with an F in my life.

Apparently, it's Eating Disorder Awareness Week. Union College acknowledges this by putting a blank table in the lobby with 10 or informational brochures. This is a step. This is progress. I picked up every one and will read them to be better informed. But, we can do better. What if someone was actually standing there to answer questions? What if we organized talks and discussions? What is we raised awareness by showing "Killing Me Softly" Jean Kilbourne's incredible documentary about media's influence on women's body image? What if there was a group who helped educate people on how to help someone with an eating disorder? What if people were actually talking about solutions in stead of contributing to the problem?

Disordered eating encompasses more than most people realize. In fact, I would argue that more people fall into this category than we think.

If you gain pride from dieting

If you use food as comfort

If you avoid "bad" foods and limit them to weekends when you've been "good"

If you feel guilty about eating a "bad" food, then think of ways to fix it

If you feel bad about the number on the scale as if it has anything to do with your worth as a person

If you compare your body to others and wish yours looked different

If you talk negatively about your body

...then join the club.

I'm not saying that you have an eating disorder. I am saying that as a culture we've got issues. When 8 year-olds are dieting and 13 year-olds are getting gastric bypass surgery, we've got to accept: This isn't right. We can do better.


Hannah said...

Your suggestion for a proactive approach on campus, moving beyond just the table, is great.