Our society is becoming much more aware of the various types of eating disorders and the many shapes and sizes they can come in; the disorders themselves and those who have them. However, there is still undeniably a feeling that in order to be *truly* suffering, you have to appear so. I even felt uncomfortable naming this post “having an eating disorder at a healthy weight” and so I settled for something less semantically challenging, and perhaps more accepted. When you think “eating disorder” most of the time you will think “thin” and probably painfully so.
I have not been there. I have been thin, yes. Underweight, yes. I have had concerns and worries from outsiders and I had a genuine fear around food; but I still do not feel comfortable with labelling it an “eating disorder”. I feel that would take away from those who have been dangerously ill and I don’t want to place my anxieties, which were truly genuine at the time and do still very much exist in my day to day living, on that level. (*Disclaimer*: reading this back I’ve realised this last sentence is a contradiction of this entire post. There should not be levels of eating disorders reliant on how “dangerous” your illness may be. As the wonderful Holly has just said to me “there are no measurements for the pain and anxieties that so many people face each day with eating”.)
I’m sure the linguistic elements of “disordered eating” vs “an eating disorder” could be discussed another time, on another blog post. I know there is so much problematic language and imagery around this issue and it is SO hard to get right. Netflix, i’m looking at you.
If, even then, I could not label it as an eating disorder, it is far more difficult to do so now. It is much harder to feel like you are taken seriously when, on the outside, you are fine. You eat pretty normally, you are the same size as your friends again and no one is concerned about your eating. Yet that does not mean I do not have the same anxieties and hang ups as I did then. Just because I am eating the food, it does not mean my brain is not doing the mental calculations with every bite. Just because I am now a size 10 it does not mean I do not think the same as when I was a size 4.
I am getting better at controlling these thoughts, of course I am. I know my own triggers and 80% of the time I can push the restrictive thoughts away and carry on. Sometimes it takes longer than others. Sometimes I will still say “no” to the cake even thought I desperately want it. Sometimes I will only eat half of the muffin, even though I KNOW the second half will not kill me. Some people may not even realise these thoughts are disordered if they have them as we live in a time when Diet Culture is so prominent and these kind of thoughts are genuinely revered, which is worrying.
It is hard to speak about, because I feel like I will not be taken quite as seriously as when I was thin. The physical symptoms are just not there, and so it is easy to ignore. Of course, it is easy to ignore something that you do not believe is there in the first place, which is fair enough as I have never spoken about it openly before now.
This is not a *woe is me* post. I am SO much better than I was, and I continue to bash these thoughts on the head with a plateful of fish and chips and pizza with my friends. Every single day I fight the thoughts and because most of the time they do not lead to action (i.e restriction and over-exercise), each time I win.
This post is to open a discussion about what happens once you have gained the weight. It is to make people aware that just because someone has a healthy body, it does not mean they have a heathy mind. It is the same with ALL mental health; the stigma that because it is not viewable, not tangible, a doctor cannot point to it and say “THIS IS WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU” then it is ignored or not taken as seriously. The part about my own thoughts is something I need to change myself, and something I am 100% working on, and so this post is not a cry for help as I do not need it. I know what is wrong and what I need to do and I am doing it, just slowly.
The change needs to come from being able to speak about these things without feeling uncomfortable because I do not fit with the idea of what an eating disorder looks like. The change needs to be societal, cultural, and something that is true for all mental health and not just those centred around eating. Especially in a world of Instagram, where everything is dissected to the ninth degree, it can be hard to be as open. I hope this begins a discussion and leads to more people feeling that they can share their anxieties without judgement and a more honest depiction of living with disordered eating without the physical symptoms.