How many times have you heard girls say, "I'm starving, I haven't eaten all day" or, "I can't eat that I'm trying to be skinny." These comments are so common that we sometimes say them without thinking. Despite having no intention to cause harm, these words and snide comments add to the intensity of diet culture and can even trigger eating disorders/disordered eating behaviors. I know this because I fell victim to this toxic culture.
During my sophomore year of high school, I developed an eating disorder. I was only fifteen years old. Instead of enjoying time with friends and family, I was stressing over the size of my body and overanalyzing everything I ate. I would only let myself eat X amount of calories, did an excessive amount of cardio, and would resort to purging when I thought I ate "too much." My eating disorder manifested in many physical changes. I dropped to an extremely low weight quickly, my hair started to thin, and I lost my period. However, I think the worst part of my eating disorder were nonphysical changes. I lost friends because I said "no" to dinner or lunch dates, fearful of having to eat something outside of my comfort zone. I became mean. I put other women down and tried to compete with them. I was angry all the time. I was irritable. I was alone.
On my sixteenth birthday, I was probably the smallest I have ever been. That morning, my Dad went to hug me. As he hugged his little girl, his fingers trembled as his hand traced over each and every vertebrae in my spin. I could feel how terrified he was. His daughter was wasting away to nothing. I felt ashamed. I had done all of this to be accepted, to be loved, but I had only brought distress and fear into the lives of loved ones. At that moment, I told myself I needed to change. Not only was I ruining my own life, but the people I loved most in the world were suffering as well. Their daughter was not the same fun, go-lucky girl anymore. The vivid memory of my Dad holding me on my birthday still haunts me to this day. From that day forward, I worked and continue to work towards healing my relationship with food and my body.
My recovery was not linear. There were several times where I found myself reverting to old habits in order to have control. There are times even today when voices in my head bring back disorded thoughts, but now, I have the strength to not listen to those voices. Though I currently eat a very healthy, plant-based diet, it comes from a place of love for my body and wanting to nourish myself properly. I exercise because it makes me feel strong and powerful. I go out to dinner with my family and friends and enjoy the experience without worrying how many calories I am consuming. I now look back at my fifteen year old self, and I wish I could hug her. I want to tell her that she will only be happy when she accepts herself, that life is so much better when you focus on the things that truly matter, and that you smile and laugh so much more when you're not starving yourself.
We live in a world where being thin is praised (especially if you are a white woman), and women's beauty is highly centered around the shape of her body. These ideas have become so ingrained in us that making jokes about dieting, skipping meals, working out excessively, etc., has become normalized. In reality, this is not normal. Hearing statements like these can be triggering, but I'm here to tell you that eating is cool. Nourishing your body is vital for our health. And I can promise you that losing the weight will not make you any happier. Tune out the noise from individuals who enforce diet culture and tune into what your body wants.