Unhealthy eating habits and an obsession with weight loss plagued my youth. It wasn’t until this November that I realized these constants in my life were actually the result of an eating disorder.
Spending the last three months in recovery has taught me how to cope with trauma and stress without damaging my body, but instead improve my body image and self-esteem.
Nonetheless, I can’t help but look back on how heavily diet culture and eating disorder stigma impacted what might have been the prime of my life. I can’t help but wonder how much happier I could have been if I wasn’t invalidated by society’s perception of health and beauty.
Since I was 10 years old, I’ve followed in the footsteps of family members and favorite celebrities with diets like Atkins and keto, knowing they could help me shed pounds while being unaware of the unhealthy consequences.
Apparently, I wasn’t alone. A 2015 study revealed that out of about 6,120 children ages 8-15, 50% reported having tried to lose weight in the last year and 34% were trying to lose weight at the time the research was conducted.
Knowing that my experiences intertwine with others is comforting and disheartening. While I’m glad I’m not the only one who struggled with body image issues at such a young age, it is infuriating to know that society has persuaded children to worry about their weight at a time where they aren’t strapped down by societal responsibilities.
Diet culture, in short, is the prioritization of weight loss over wellness. It devalues balanced eating and movement while glorifying unsustainable and dangerous lifestyles, forcing members of society, even children, to criticize how their bodies look rather than how they feel or function.
I wish I could go back in time to tell my younger self her weight didn’t define her worth. At 13 years old, I wish the doctor didn’t recommend weight loss when I only came in for a broken arm. I wish my eating disorder was noticed by others earlier, at a stage where recovery wouldn’t be so hard and I would’ve been able to grow up without all these painful memories.
However, I need to remind myself constantly that nobody could have known I was struggling with an eating disorder.
I can’t blame the people around me for believing the myth that eating disorders are exclusive to skinny people, because I spent my entire life feeding into falsehoods. When the media only highlights eating disorders among those who are thin, it’s difficult to imagine the illness in a different form.
Anyone, not just skinny white women, is susceptible to an eating disorder. Television’s skewed depiction of eating disorders grossly misrepresents the subject matter and denies many audience members helpful information, especially if they are suffering from an eating disorder themselves.
Accepting your body is made to be a nearly impossible task, especially when it doesn’t even fit into the category of mental illness.
While I’ve started following more accounts on social media dedicated to body-positivity and eating disorder education, diet culture still creeps into my feed from time to time, reminding me that it’ll always be there, waiting for me to fail and fall back into old habits.
Online, I’ve noticed how overweight people can’t flaunt their bodies or simply wear whatever they want without being told how “brave” they are or having someone point out how much confidence they must have.
These backhanded compliments are just one example of the ways in which overweight people are taught to be ashamed of their bodies. People who combat fatphobic expectations are suddenly seen as courageous.
I’m tired of living in an environment where feelings of self-hatred and dissatisfaction are normalized and encouraged for overweight people.
My recovery has given me a second chance at life, but I can’t describe the sadness knowing I’ll never regain the last ten years that were taken from me by diet culture.
I’ll never know what it’s like to grow up feeling welcome in my own body, and I don’t want younger generations to experience the same loss.
Health and well-being do not equate to weight-obsession and insecurities. Not a single person benefits from the unattainable standards we set for ourselves, and this way of living should not be the norm.
In order for society to restructure itself and for future generations to have a better chance at living a healthier lifestyle, diet culture needs to be replaced with body-neutrality and proper nutrition education.
It is crucial for people to learn that there is so much more to life than what appears on the scale.