What the Fatphobic Eating Disorder Treatment Staff Should Have Said
If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741741.
I started treatment for my eating disorder in October 2017. After graduating from Balance NYC’s intensive day program and subsequent outpatient program, I found myself yet again in treatment in the summer of 2018 — this time, in residential at Monte Nido River Towns. At the time it felt like the worst thing that could ever happen to me but, looking back, I could not be more grateful for the time I spent at these two facilities. I would not change a thing. Well… maybe one thing…
You see, I wasn’t born in a small body. (Yes, we are born into our bodies. Some people are genetically larger, some people are genetically smaller. Accept it.) I am a fat girl. (Yes, I am reclaiming this word as the neutral adjective that it is.) And for all the times that I complained about being “cursed” with a bigger body, I was always provided the response: “Your perception of your body is distorted. You can’t trust your eyes.”
Bitch, I’m fat. I say this not because of body dysmorphic disorder which, I’ll admit, was very real and very severe throughout much of my eating disorder. It’s because I just straight up am. I know how much I weigh. I can see what I look in pictures when I stand next to my thin friends. I’m bigger. It’s OK. You don’t have to convince me otherwise. And you know why? Because it’s fatphobic.
If they really wanted to address my body image problems, the staff at these treatment centers should have cut the crap and questioned my preoccupation with being fat in the first place. They should have told me, “Yes, you may exist in a bigger body. What does that mean to you? Why is it something to be afraid of?” Because to try and convince me otherwise, to say “don’t worry, you’re not fat,” is the equivalent of saying, “being fat is something to worry about.” Which it is 100 percent not — I’ll go into this further in my next blog post.
I even saw it with the skinnier girls in my program. They would go on and on about how they were fat and how eating would only make them grow larger. “You’re not as big as you think you are,” the staff would respond. Yes, I’ve gotten that comment before.
Then there were the times that clients or staff would talk about how “dieting is counterintuitive. It messes up your metabolism and actually makes you gain weight,” or “doing X, Y, Z will actually make you bigger.” Using these scare-tactics is fatphobic. Yes, it may be the truth, but it has no place in eating disorder treatment. The whole point of recovering from an eating disorder is to learn to accept/tolerate/love your body, no matter what it looks like. We shouldn’t be trying to convince patients they’re skinny. We should be convincing them that it’s OK if they’re bigger than they’d like to be, or bigger than society tells them they should be. Especially when a patient needs to be weight restored. We should be responding to the phrase “I’m so fat,” with “And? What about that scares you?”
Don’t try to convince someone with an eating disorder that they’re not fat. Teach them that being fat is nothing to be ashamed of. Instead, teach the fat-shaming idiots of the world to feel ashamed of themselves.
Don’t get me wrong. Treatment wasn’t all fatphobic comments. I did learn a lot about how I used eating disorder behaviors to distract myself from the bigger problems in my life. I learned how to trust my body and its ability to keep me alive and well. But the constant scare tactics and insistence that my body dysmorphia was responsible for my feeling fat just felt all too familiar to the fatphobia I’ve experienced out in the real world, and that’s not what I entered treatment for.
Photo by Trevin Rudy on Unsplash