The company I work for is doing a step counting challenge and using cash prizes to incentivize partaking in the challenge and moving the most. I know this is something a lot of companies do around this time of the year. New year, new me- let’s make healthy choices- whatever, different name, same bullshit. It’s all diet culture to me.
I’m sure this is great for some people, and I get it can help build company morale and bring people together and create healthy habits, it all sounds good in theory.
Until I take a step back and look at some things in the lens of a person who has studied and lived with an eating disorder, and knows the roll diet culture and dieting in general play into the development of eating disorders.
I work in the mental health field, primarily substance abuse, but with that comes many co occurring disorders such as anxiety, depression and PTSD. A lot of people I work with, like many SUD companies, have many people that are actively in recovery working within there eco system. While this is a beautiful thing that I feel blessed to be apart of, this is also a part of why, I believe, competitions like this can be problematic.
In a personal study I began conducting last March, I had people in SUD recovery complete a 30 question survey to take a look at the overlap of both eating disorders, along with the increase in body dissatisfaction and development of disordered eating for people in recovery from SUD. Here is a quick look at some of the research I gathered.
So before I go into this, with my own personal thoughts and experiences, let me share some other facts, and for more information please visit the NEDA website.
• A study of more than 2400 individuals hospitalized for an eating disorder found that 97% had one or more co-occurring conditions, including:
• 94% had co-occurring mood disorders, mostly major depression
• 56% were diagnosed with anxiety disorders
• 20% had obsessive-compulsive disorder
• 22% had post-traumatic stress disorder
• 22% had an alcohol or substance use disorder
So anyway, outside of the staggering amount of research that points to the conclusion that people in recovery from SUD, or with many other diagnosed mental health problems, have a very high chance of developing an ED- making competitions based on body/movement/diet/health extremely dangerous- coupled with knowing that 25% of dieters (without any of these underlying mental health issues) will later be diagnosed with an eating disorder- maybe some of my personal experience will mean more than cold hard facts.
So, I will share my personal experience of watching posts and hearing people talk about diets first hand, for only one week, feels, as someone who has lived with an ED for more years than I want to count at this point.
So, if you aren’t caught up-
My eating disorder started with a diet. It started with a goal. It was not a crazy goal, I did not run into this hoping I would end up in a hospital bed crying to my mom. My eating disorder started with a diet after two boys in my creative writing class freshman year called me milkshake and told me I was thick (which was not a compliment back then). It started with a girl on my cheer team telling me I looked better from far away. It started with me wanting to be healthier, because that would in turn make me happier, right? It started with a predisposition to disordered eating, anxiety and bipolar disorder. It started by hearing adults talk about bigger bodies as less worthy and in need of change. It started with the 100 calorie pack of fake Oreo crisps and fiber one bars and that gross 45 calorie Sargento cheese thins. It started with a goal to be healthier, and it spiraled into some of the worst moments of my life, a lot of regrets, a lot of missed memories, a lot of tears, and a lot of uphill battles.
My eating disorder thoughts crept in on me when I was younger and I didn’t even know what they were. And they crept in on me again with something I saw on FB the other day about this competition and it went something like this: if exercise “enough”, then I can eat. Brilliant. Groundbreaking. Why had I never thought of this. Ah the beginning- I remember- the results, at first, were okay- but not enough. And so I kept going. The words I saw this week, although not exactly the same as the words I had lived by, triggered this giant explosion in my head. I wanted to cry and I wanted to scream. It was like a little person in my head laughing and I honestly thought about it longer than I want to even admit. I felt guilty, I hadn’t worked out that day. I should throw away my lunch right?
I wanted to be normal for five minutes. It’s a joke- relax. But I was taken back to all the places I had been, I felt the urge to be competitive, that I could eat less and walk more, that I am so much better at dieting and being healthy than anyone else ever could be. And I would die to prove it.
It brought me back to crying at renfrew, begging to be discharged, it brought me back to crying in my therapists office a few months later because I needed help and I considered going back to treatment instead of finishing my last fall semester of college and then it brought me back to deciding not to do that, only to end up going away spring semester, a month before graduation. It reminded me of the crazy things I did to be the skinniest, to be the sickest. Things that no normal human being would do to stay thin, and I am not talking about abusing laxatives and diuretics or some diet pills. It reminded me of secretly binging when I was alone and screaming and hitting myself in the head like a complete psychopath because I wanted this pain to end. It reminded me of crying in my car a month after I took my first “big girl” job in Baltimore doing a pre assessment with ERC on a cigarette break because I was lost again and I wanted to just give up. It reminded me of being scared that if I told them I needed 30 days off a month after starting I would probably be fired. I remember crying to this admissions person. I remember going home and crying because I did not think I would get better and I thought that maybe I would just finally die. It reminded me of the 9 months of torture I felt after that and running in the dead of the winter through snow and slush. It reminded me of the layers I wore to work and the coat I would t take off because I knew i was unwell. It reminded me of the first time I hung out with Sarah and she asked me about being in eating disorder recovery and I panicked because I had no idea what to say- because I was in no way shape or form in recovery from my eating disorder. It reminded me of panicking that if she thought I was in recovery then I was not sick enough to get better. I reminded me of planning on when I could eat so people would see me and think I’m better. It reminded me of May 30th of 2019 throwing out my laxatives and smashing a scale and saying fuck it.
It reminded me that if I go on a diet I will probably die.
And I am so jealous sometimes. I want to go on a diet. I want to eat salads and laugh with my friends about a juice cleanse. I want to do some dumb step challenge without pushing myself to the point where everyone around me is wondering if I’m okay. I want to workout without having to check my motives and ask myself “do I want to do this today, am I in a good mental head space today, am I doing this for happiness or is it rooted in bad body image?” I want to not know how many calories are in every food I eat. I want to not look in the mirror and wonder what do I even look like because at this point I don’t even know sometimes. I want to be normal. I want to be normal so bad and not have to live with this disease that lays dormant for months only to pop up when you least expect it.
I am so jealous I am not normal.
But I’m also really glad. I am glad I learned about HAES, about being anti-diet, about intuitive eating. I am so happy I don’t have to go on a diet. I don’t have to ever go on a diet again. I don’t have to live in fear that carbs are evil or live my life eating salads without dressing. I don’t have to be miserable. I can run and I can take my Apple Watch off at 9 am and move on with my day. I can leave my phone at my desk and not obsessively keep it in my pocket to track my every move. I don’t need to step on a scale. I don’t need to end up with an NG tube. I don’t need to run to my ED to cope with my life. I don’t need to go on a pre wedding diet. I don’t need to eat lettuce wraps I can eat real wraps. I can lay on the couch all day and eat pizza and peanut M&Ms and lobster Mac and cheese.
God I wish I was normal sometimes but if diet culture and the belief that less of me is better, I am so glad I am not normal. I am so much of a person, I have so much I want to do and see and learn and accomplish and none of that has to do with my body and what a blessing that is.
Anyway, that’s all I got. Let’s end the crazy thought that diets/thin=health/happiness in 2021. Thanks for reading.