Eating Disorders Awareness Week, 22-28 February 2016
At work I found a copy of the book Naturally Thin on a shelf of what I assumed to be donations. I skimmed through the pages expecting to get a few giggles, but was sorely disappointed. The only thing about the experience that evoked anything reminiscent of enjoyment was the fact that someone decided that this book was trash and kicked it out of their possession. A book like that belongs nowhere better than the bin. What accomplishments can this author boast? Furthering a vitriolic empire that makes its money off of desperate people? Name-branding and endorsing eating disorders as a lifestyle choice? Posing in a bikini three weeks after giving birth? Trash. Books like these are trash. Unfortunately, they are not a rarity either. In fact, they help to compose a billion-pound industry that permeates nearly all of the modern landscape. It’s as simple as turning on the TV, walking outside, standing in line at the supermarket, or sitting in a GP surgery to suddenly become privy to the world’s obsession with dieting.
This particular book claims that a “naturally” skinny girl is hiding inside of every female. What is cleverly veiled behind cheap rhetoric, is that this girl requires unnatural methods to be unleashed. Likewise, a chiseled, virile, strong man with post-Photoshop abs is sulking inside of every male. He too is waiting and growing impatient with his own slovenliness. The diet industry does not discriminate by gender; it merely changes its face. It is our self-contempt that makes us malleable, and our desperation that sharpens its teeth. Failure to attain the ideal is not only expected by the diet industry, it is depended upon. If we do not see our own weakness and fallibility, then we would not need to turn to anyone else for their hallowed advice. Our failure has been preordained.
Difficulty arises when you attempt to disassociate yourself from a culture, an industry which everyone seems to be a part of. I made the false assumption that returning to the Real World (read: outside of hospitals and waiting rooms) would mean severing my connections from that part of my life. Reintegrating into what I thought to be the Real World made me realise my history, my past exists in every single person I meet – albeit in diluted forms. Parities of failing to attain the ideal vs. the expected exist and manifest in so many different ways. Yet still, I begrudgingly eat, remorseful for every morsel as I hear people talking about their diets, their weight loss. Of course, I’m aware not everyone develops a life-threatening eating disorder, but I am mindful. Mindful of how much emphasis and value, often moral value, we place on the very act that sustains us, our being.
I find it hard not to associate abstinence with peace and a twisted type of pleasure. Eating disorders exist because they serve a function, they fill a void, they address a need. I cannot say that this illness did not do anything for me, because that would be a lie. But I can tell you that these are the words of a psyche still under siege. I am however acutely aware relapsing will eventually kill me, so I maintain this functional state of being. Eating enough to survive, not quite enough to live. It is not ideal; it is not where I want to be. I hold out for hope that I will be able to make further progress, and get to a better mental state of being.
I will be happy when we begin to invest less money on the diet industry and more money into mental health. I will be happy when there are more options for psychiatric treatment than there are for weight-loss aids. I will be happy when eating disorder rates stop exponentiating. I will be happy when the guilt stops. I will be happy when our collective death-drive either loses its allure or succeeds. The only thing some people gain from this war is an indent of their broken bodies in a hospital bed. Some day, that is all that will be left.
Not every body is the same but every body is an efficient machine that requires and deserves help and health. A well-intentioned diet can easily become disordered. If you plan on altering your diet, do not take it in your own hands but consult with a qualified dietician or doctor. If you are concerned that you or someone else has an eating disorder, do not hesitate to get help. There is a solution out there, but early intervention and continued stable support is key. As hard as it may be to unconditionally love yourself or your body, understand your inherent worth and learn to protect it.
For more information and sources of support: