My invisible friend ED

Navigating eating disorder recovery at Queen's

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This article talks about eating disorders and might be triggering for some readers.

Let’s get one thing straight — eating disorders aren’t diets. 

The pervasiveness of conversations surrounding food and body image at Queen’s encourages an ignorance that has very serious repercussions for those who struggle clinically with those very things. The normalization of body-hatred and choose-your-own-adventure-dieting has blurred the line between what we can identify as being diet culture and, in my case at least, anorexia nervosa. 

Eating disorders are a serious disease, with more people dying of eating disorders than any other mental illness. They’re a biopsychosocial mental illness. They aren’t your typical bad body-image day after watching Bachelor in Paradise. 

I’m talking about an incredibly complex psychological disturbance that even I, as a self-proclaimed feminist who’s committed to battling diet culture, improving media representation and encouraging the revolutionary act of self-acceptance, suffer from. 

Eating disorders have fallen into this category of mental illnesses that are still not socially acceptable to talk about. Every time I mention “Ed” — my eating disorder — it feels like I’ve told someone that I’ve seen them naked. They become quiet and visibly uncomfortable. Often, revealing this truth about me has resulted in people whispering behind my back or constantly feeling like they need to watch what I’m eating. People stopped looking at me like the person I am and suddenly I became “anorexia”. This caused a lot of internalized guilt, embarrassment and secrecy for me.

What does an eating disorder look and feel like? I certainly can’t speak for everyone. First of all, eating disorders aren’t just a “first-world problem.” People of all socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds; all weights, genders, sexualities, classes, ages, (did I say weights?) can suffer from an eating disorder. 

People fight eating disorders every second of every day. In my experience, I have a voice in my head who sometimes tells me that I’m so anxious, fat, useless and unlovable that I can’t possibly put that thing in my mouth. 

Ed depends on scales, calories and miles for validation. Ed wants me go to the gym to purge, not as part of a healthy lifestyle routine. There’s no goal weight; Ed wants me to stop eating so that I become essentially weightless.

Ed has been the center of all my thoughts, which makes it difficult to think about things like school, work, friends or the trauma that I would numb through my relationship with Ed.

Ed is a bully and a parasite. For all these reasons and more, I sometimes compare Ed to my abusive ex. 

My sexual assault had a life-changing impact on my perceptions of my body, which is why it’s not surprising to me that disordered eating is a common coping mechanism used by survivors and victims to manage overwhelming feelings and emotions.  

I have yet to talk to a doctor at Queen’s without a vail of stigma, often making my illness feel illegitimate. Anytime I’ve mentioned anxiety, depression or suicidality, I often get lectured about how a good helping of exercise mixed with a serving of eating right is a guaranteed recipe for good mental health. 

Rather than being helpful, what I’ve been told is reductionist, invalidating and incredibly unappetizing. Through everything, I’ve been privileged to be able to afford the limited patchwork of care available in the surrounding Kingston community.

The process of breaking up with Ed has been a long, uncomfortable and painful one ,and there’s no perfect path to recovery. 

I have found spaces where I can speak about this honestly and I write this article in hopes to pluck away at the stigma, myths and misconceptions of eating disorders.

I want to remind people that everyone has a story, with the words we use and the narratives we perpetuate all having a way of affecting the people around us. That every time we reduce our worthiness down to the calories in versus the calories out or our morality to the foods we eat, we are contributing to a toxic society.

Amongst all the diet talk and food obsession on campus, there are people suffering from real illnesses. My hope is that if I say all of this out loud, one less person will suffer in silence.  

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