What It's Like Hearing 'Disordered Eating Talk' When You Live With an Eating Disorder
“I haven’t eaten all day!”
“It’s OK to just eat pizza and chips. It’s college!”
“I’m not going to eat so I’ll get more drunk at the party.”
”This is the one time in our lives when we can eat whatever we want!”
If you’re a college student, there’s a good chance you’ve heard friends and fellow classmates say these things. As someone in recovery from an eating disorder and in college, hearing phrases such as these tends to grab my attention. They’re a red flag, I think. Disordered eating talk. Yet, the funny thing is my peers who say these things most likely aren’t struggling with an eating disorder at all, but merely the disordered eating habits of a care-free college student.
So you might be thinking, what’s the difference between them and someone like me? To start, when one of my friends says she hasn’t eaten all day, it’s usually because she’s been doing school work and caught up in daily life. It’s not because of deliberate restriction. She then tends to make up for her calories later in the day, which still may not be considered the most healthy thing.
However, what makes her merely disordered and not struggling with an eating disorder is that she’s carefree about it. She’s not spending every waking moment thinking about food. She is not constantly thinking about restricting, binging, purging or exercise. She’s not avoiding food or binging to punish herself. She’s just living.
So when I’m around peers like this, I tend to think, “Why do I have to eat three meals a day and two snacks? Why can’t I just skip breakfast and lunch?”
In order to answer that question, I ask you to imagine a person recovering from an alcohol addiction. This person, unlike their friends, cannot just enjoy one drink. They must completely abstain. Otherwise, they will risk using alcohol to numb negative feelings, binge drinking or getting back into the habit of drinking daily.
It’s the same for someone recovering from anorexia, bulimia or binge eating. As someone who had anorexia in the past, if I skip one meal, then I run the risk of skipping all my meals. It’s the “all or nothing” thinking of an addict. I also run the risk of falling into other negative behaviors such as purging, over-exercising or binging.
So how do I navigate recovery in college? I stick to my meal plan, despite what my friends and classmates are doing. I always eat breakfast, lunch and dinner. I have to in order to stay well. I’m often envious of my friends who don’t have to live by such strict standards, but I’ve accepted this is how it is for me. That’s quite OK.