• Danielle Leigh

Eating Disorders in a Disordered Society

Updated: Apr 20


Disclaimer: this post may be triggering for anyone who is experiencing or has experienced an eating disorder. In addition, below I am sharing my own experience and my educated opinions surrounding this topic. I am not a doctor or a registered dietitian; I cannot diagnose or treat. I am someone who went through a tough time, someone who is inspired to speak up about a topic that does not get enough recognition, and someone who wants to encourage others to form a healthy relationship with food and their body.

Why I am even posting this on the internet

Quarantine has been a trying time for everyone, some people more than others. And a lot of us, including myself, have turned to social media and humor to help distract ourselves from the current state of the world. I have definitely found it helpful to laugh and make jokes, but there is one topic that keeps coming up that I do not find funny.

So, it seems people are afraid of gaining the quarantine “15.” Gyms being closed and limited access to fresh produce has caused people to be concerned for their health, which is extremely understandable. However, given that we are in the midst of a global crisis, gaining a few pounds due to an inconvenient circumstance should not be considered a tragedy.

Social media has been flooded with at home workouts, what I eat in a day videos, and humor that glorifies restriction. I understand that this type of behavior is normalized in our society, and that most do not have ill intentions when posting this content, but it can be extremely triggering for those who do not have a healthy relationship with food or their body.

I feel it is important to share my story and what I have learned. I want to tell you that you do not need to do an at-home work out or eat a certain way to be productive or fit during this global crisis. Nourish and move your body in a way that feels good and authentic. And, if the biggest thing that you are afraid of right now is gaining weight, then you should be grateful.

My Story

High School was an extremely dark time for me. Due to mental, social, and environmental factors that occurred my junior year, I became very anxious, lonely, and sad. I was able to cope with my anxiety the only way I knew how to, by throwing myself into my schoolwork and martial arts. However, the time came when I finished applying to college, and I could no longer participate in martial arts. By stripping away both of my coping mechanisms, my anxiety and my loneliness were left bare and out in the open. Being a perfectionist and having an extremely ambitious personality, I subconsciously found another coping mechanism: food and cardio obsession. However, that quickly escalated and transformed into an eating disorder.

Due to where I was in my life at the time, anorexia was a great coping mechanism. When the human body is starved, all one can think about is food. It was a lot easier to get through my senior year restricting my calories and over exercising, because instead of constantly feeling judged, isolated, and stressed, I just felt hungry. It also gave me a sense of accomplishment. Every time the number went down on the scale, I would get a high, a rush. I was able to visually see the effects of my efforts. I felt accomplished and successful, even though I could not relish in that contentment for long.

And since one cannot live a full life on an empty stomach, I was constantly cold, I had digestive issues, I lost my menstrual cycle, my skin became dull, my hair started to thin, I had little energy, I was exceptionally moody, and my entire day/life was centered around food and exercise. It was awful. I would panic if my food wasn’t “perfect” or if I had to skip a workout. Yet, seeing the number go down on the scale gave me a sense of purpose, and my mind was so preoccupied that I barley thought about how terrible I was being treated in school.

The summer going into college was my lowest point, both physically and mentally. I had done it! I graduated High School and got into my dream school, but I was drifting in limbo and I had nothing to do. I found myself completely unable to relax. My anxiety caused me to crave something to worry about, and my eating disorder was there to give me goals, something to do, and a false sense of accomplishment. During those months I restricted my calories even further while increasing my exercise. That caused me to reach my lowest weight of 105 pounds (15-20 pounds below where my body naturally wants to fall).

And at that point, I did not even realize I had a problem. Diet and “wellness” culture was so prevalent in conversation and on social media, I actually thought I was being healthy.


Luckily, my mindset began to change when I started attending NYU. I met an amazing group of likeminded people who I truly connected with, I was able to study my passion, and I was able to explore the streets of Manhattan every single day. For the first time since childhood, I felt genuine happiness. I was excited every day to wake up and live my life. I gladly spent hours perfecting my papers, because I was interested and compassionate about the topics I was writing about. And, I spent every weekend making amazing memories with spectacular people. It felt like all the puzzle pieces of my life were effortlessly falling into place.

But, in the beginning of November, I faced a crossroads. The weather was getting colder, the days were getting shorter, and my schoolwork was picking up. I could no longer keep both me and my eating disorder happy. It was then, after doing a lot of self-evaluating, that I recognized that my food and exercise obsession was no longer positively contributing to my life, it was only getting in the way of my happiness and my ability to be my authentic self. I realized that in order for me to live a full life and experience true joy, I had to let go of my unhealthy coping mechanism.

So, I decided to reach out for help. I opened up to my mom about my struggles, no matter how hard and uncomfortable that was for me to do, and she convinced me too seek out professional help: a treatment team who would hold me accountable and help me heal my relationship with food and my body. At that point I was still in denial that I even had an eating disorder. I thought I was not "thin enough" or "sick enough" to be considered ill. But that changed pretty quickly at my first doctor’s appointment. I was asked to explain what a normal day looked like in terms of food and movement; I had to own up to what I was actually doing to my body (and my mind).

I couldn’t believe the words I was saying. Out in the open like that, my behaviors sounded crazy, and honestly really dangerous. In my mind, what I was doing made sense, it seemed right, but from an outside perspective, I could see how screwed up my thinking patterns were. It was that day that I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa, and that diagnoses scared me enough to commit to recovery.

As of right now, I have been recovering for 5 months, and it has not always been easy. I am still left trying to find another appropriate coping mechanism, and watching and feeling my body gain weight has been a stressful and uncomfortable experience. In addition, I still have to challenge and conquer a lot of eating disorder thoughts that are still ingrained in my brain. Yet, I know that what I am doing is exactly what I need to do in order to become a stronger and happier version of myself. I still have a lot of healing to do, but I am immensely grateful for the support that I have in my life, and I am filled with an abundant amount of hope.

Disordered Society

That is my story, but I am just 1 in more than 70 million sufferers worldwide.

I decided to share my experience in hopes that I can raise more awareness for this illness. Eating disorders come in all shapes and sizes, and they can develop for any number of reasons. One does not need to be underweight (or even purging) to be considered ill, and the reasons behind these behaviors are rarely due to vanity.

Society does a great job of helping disguise this illness by glorifying “health + wellness,” fitness, underweight bodies, detox teas, beautiful models, influencers, etc. The number of compliments I received when I was sick only attests to the fact that we are living in a disordered society.

Newsflash, these are all phrases that align with disordered eating:


  • “I am going out to dinner tonight with friends, so I am going to skip lunch or breakfast / only eat *this many calories* for lunch / drink seltzer to curb my hunger...” [ps. restricting calories for any reason, or not listening to your body’s hunger cues in order compensate for a meal, is disordered.]

  • “Ugh. I ate so many cookies (or any other “bad” food), so I am going to detox tomorrow.[ps. If you have a working liver, then your body will detox for you! And there is no such thing as a good or bad food, how is it possible to moralize a banana?]

  • I have to burn off that muffin I had for breakfast / I need to stay at the gym for 30 more minutes to make up for brunch… [ps. Compensating for a meal, or snack, through exercise is disordered and a form of purging.]

  • I can’t keep ice cream/chocolate/sweets/chips etc. in the house otherwise I will binge on them / I can’t control myself around *this* food. [ps. If you allow yourself to eat the foods you are craving and eat intuitively, then you won’t binge on them. When you make a certain food scarce for yourself, you heighten your desire for that said food.]

Those are just a few examples of disordered eating that is normalized in todays society. Another example is something that stuck out to me during my first day at treatment. It was when my registered dietitian informed me that 1200 calories (my maximum for the day) was the recommended amount of food for a three-year-old. I was floored. I can’t even count how many times I found that number plastered online as a way to “safely” lose weight.

Diet culture and the “wellness” trend has been encouraging and promoting disordered eating to the public for years. It is so common for people to fight against their body’s instincts in order to achieve/maintain a certain body, even if that body is not healthy for that individual. It is so important, now more than ever, to only seek out information regarding health from professionals. Anyone can post something online and call it fact.

I encourage everyone reading this to do their own research (obviously from reputable sources) about a body’s natural set point weight, intuitive eating, and Health At Every Size, since I am not qualified to discuss those topics. The results you find might surprise you, they sure surprised me.

I will post links to articles I found particularly informative at the bottom of the page.

Final Words

If you made it this far, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I never thought that I would be sharing this on the internet, yet here I am. I had serious questions about whether or not I should post something so personal, but the benefits of spreading awareness about this topic makes it worth it.


In the beginning of my recovery, I made a promise to myself that I would no longer spend my precious time, energy, and thoughts on behaviors that were robbing me of my life.

I hope that this reading has been informative and inspiring, and that by sharing my story, I have encouraged at least one of you to carry on your day with a different mindset surrounding food, exercise, and dieting.

Please feel free to reach out to me with any questions, or if you just need to talk, and I encourage everyone to check out the articles posted bellow.

With love and light,

Dee xo

Links:


Unfortunately eating disorders are the deadliest mental illness, and also the most misunderstood. Here are some statistics I found from The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, (ANAD). A non-profit organization working in the areas of support, awareness, advocacy, referral, education, and prevention. Link to webpage


Set Point Theory:

https://www.mirror-mirror.org/set.htm

https://westmedical.com/blog/the-set-point-theory-explained/

Intuitive Eating:

https://www.intuitiveeating.org/10-principles-of-intuitive-eating/

https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/blog/what-does-intuitive-eating-mean

Health At Every Size:

https://benourished.org/health-every-size/

https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/size-diversity-health-every-size

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