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I was 15-years-old when I first started to show eating disorder habits. It started by cutting out junk food, then soda, then carbs, and, well, you can pretty much figure out the rest. By my senior year of high school it became drilled into my routine to wake up an hour early just to work out. I was constantly skipping meals, and if things didn't go my way at cross country practice, I would beat myself up about it and work out more when I got home. By my freshman year of college, going days without eating was "normal" for me, along with a string of other self-destructive habits.
When I started the process of recovery right before my sophomore year, I got asked a lot, especially by those who were not as educated on eating disorders, "What caused this?" Well, to be honest, nothing.
Eating disorders are just as much of a mental disorder as a physical one. It results from a chemical imbalance, so in my case, and several others, there was no real situation that caused me to become anorexic. But, there were a few contributing factors that didn't make the process any easier.
I remember my mother telling me how selfish I was to choose to have such a sickness. In that time of trial, when what I really needed was a hug and someone to tell me that everything was going to be okay (and help, of course), instead what I got was the looming reminder that this was my fault, like everything else that happened to me.
Those years of starvation, depression, and fear remained a secret to a majority of those around me, and what these people didn't know, was that their words were only adding fuel to the flame.
"I wish I were as thin and as perfect as you."
"Wow, you're going for seconds?"
"I need to stop eating these before I get fat."
"Why are you so self conscious? If I looked like you, I'd never be worried!"
"If you think you're fat you must think I'm obese."
These have all been said to me (and more that I did not list) at least twice throughout the course of my disorder—mostly by women.
This idea that we need to be thin, we need to lose weight and hop on the next Keto or Paleo or whatever the newest diet trend is, is murder for young girls and women who have eating disorders and/or are insecure about the way they look. To this day, it's hard for me to wear a bathing suit in public without hiding in the bathroom first to do sit ups. I see photos of myself that my friends have taken, and the first thing I measure is how thin I look, because I've been reinforced with the idea that bigger girls can't wear bikinis on the beach... That if I decide to eat seconds, instead of nourishing my body, I am getting fat.
Believe it or not, this is what my eating disorder tells me. And this is also what my family tells me, and society.
Eating disorders are not a choice. I am not selfish for something I cannot control. But the world we live in and the amount of uneducated people we live with are selfish for reinforcing the idea that fat is bad. That healthy is not pretty.
I'm not going to apologize for something that I cannot control when someone else should be held accountable for making it harder. Diet culture does not care about you. What people need to learn is that words have an impact. This does not mean you cannot give someone compliments (we certainly appreciate them!), but these should remain compliments for everyone, no matter the shape or size.
Thanks to the ignorance towards mental health and the never ending suggestion that eating is bad, that fat is bad, diet culture has changed my outlook on weight and food in a way that can never be restored to the way it used to be. But it can be helped. By ending the stigma and beginning to educate ourselves and those around us on the effects words and diet culture can have on someone with an eating disorder, we are one step closer to ending this epidemic.