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My Eating Disorder Was Never About the Food

If I had a dollar for every time someone told me, “Just eat it — it’s only food,” I wouldn’t have to worry about paying back my student loans. The tricky, and often misleading thing, about eating disorders is that it’s not always about the food. It never was.

My eating disorder was never about achieving a certain body type just for the sake of doing it. That body represented something to me that I felt like I could never have in the body I was given. My eating disorder was about safety. It was about being respected. It was about numbing an unbearable pain that medication and hours of therapy couldn’t quite seem to fix. It was about establishing some sense of control in a world where I felt like I had none. It was about harming myself in a way that no one would chastise me for because from the outside, starving myself in the body I have is praised and sometimes prescribed.

Yes, food scares me. It scares the living daylights out of me, and yet I face it six times a day with the three meals and three snacks that my registered dietitian has planned out for me. Yes, food makes me uncomfortable. I’ve withheld food and water from my body for so long that most of the time I can’t tell if I’m hungry or thirsty. But it was never about the food.

My eating disorder was about surviving in a society that demonizes listening to your body’s natural hunger cues. It was about passing as a “good” woman by openly hating my body and professing all of the ways I was trying to change it in order to be seen as acceptable. It was about appeasing my abusive partner when he would grab at my stomach and arms and demand to know what I was doing to “fix this.” It was about atoning for the sin that society put upon me of merely existing and taking up space I never deserved to have in the first place. It was never about the food.

You’d be hard pressed to find someone with an eating disorder diagnosis alone. Misery loves company, and eating disorders are no different. Where there is an eating disorder, you’ll may also find depression, anxiety, bipolar depression, OCD, PTSD and panic disorders… the list goes on. Eating disorders can develop in persons living with an abusive parent, an abusive partner, someone who has survived sexual assault or a suicide attempt. For some of us, it was never about the food.

In a world where all control is taken from you, where you can’t hide the scars on your body anymore, where emotions can be so overwhelming and all you want is to numb out, how are you expected to make it from day to day? This is where the food steps in. When the loneliness is too much to bear, you eat until you can’t anymore. Eat until you’re sick. When the feelings of inadequacy start to settle in, stop eating. “See, I can do exactly what you’re doing but I don’t need any food to do it! There, that makes me better than you.”

So, you see, it was never about the food. My eating disorder was a lifeline that I never really wanted, but somehow managed to find. It was a best friend that turned into a toxic friend, and no matter how many times I told her to leave, she would never give me any peace. My eating disorder was my knight in shining armor when I was too scared to ask for help. It told me that if I only listened to its sage advice that all my problems would go away. My eating disorder is the thing that saved me and almost killed me in the process.

It was never about the food.

Photo by Max Ilienerwise via Unsplash.