Guest Blog: "You're Not Good Enough" – National Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2012
I walked into the gym in a dizzy haze. I had just run from my house, down the road, up the road, through the park, and into the gym. I hurriedly raced by the front desk staff, up the stairs, flung open the locker room doors, and went straight to the scale. I bargained with myself along the way, “Please don’t be too high, please don’t be too high.”
I made grandiose promises that I never kept (read: if I don’t weigh too much, I promise I’ll eat more.) The number was too high. I stepped on and off the scale like a metronome. The number didn’t budge. I gave up. I couldn’t leave the gym until it was lower.
The next hour went something like this. Run, weigh myself. Run, weigh myself. Run, weigh myself. You get the point. When the room was spinning and the people were blurry, the number was finally in an acceptable range (read: depletion of water, not actual weight loss.) Relieved, I left the locker room and headed to the water fountain.
On the way out, a random stranger said she wished she looked like me. At the water fountain, a guy I know said, “You’re not done, are you?” Dumbfounded, I glared at him. He continued, “You better get back on that treadmill, slacker.” I didn’t get back on the treadmill, but instead of my planned leisurely stroll home, I ran back through the park, down the road, up the road, and through my front door. Although he was kidding, it was almost paralyzing to think someone thought of me as a “slacker.” I had to prove him wrong.
Although that incident was years ago, I clearly remember that day because it was my birthday. In order to be able to celebrate my birthday, which always involved an anxiety-provoking food based gathering that was never worth it, the number on the scale had to grant me permission. That number determined the quality of each day and was the only measure of my self-worth for far too long.
February 26th – March 3rd is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week (NEDAW) and this year’s theme is “Everybody Knows Somebody.” I chose to share that particular story because the people at the gym had no idea what I was going through. They also didn’t know their words completely fueled my anorexia. Many people made ridiculously asinine comments to me that were not out of haste, but sheer ignorance. At my absolute sickest, I was constantly complimented. Looking at pictures from those days makes me shudder. I am one of the few fortunate ones that struggled with an eating disorder for that long and can say “those days.”
Eating disorders don’t know race, class, age, gender or size. They affect millions of people and statistically speaking, you probably know someone who is suffering.
It’s the person at the gym that works out just a little bit harder than everyone else. It’s your neighbor who is always on a crazy diet and talks about how fat she is to anyone who will listen. It’s the man who is obsessed with running and becomes anxious and intolerable if he can’t fit a workout in. It’s your daughter’s friend who silently slips away from the lunch table everyday to find an empty bathroom to purge in. It’s the boy on the wrestling team that runs for hours in multiple layers of clothing to make weight. Or, it’s the last person you would ever suspect.
Many people remain clueless about eating disorders and are plagued with misinformation due to our toxic culture that bombards men, women, boys, and girls with a steady flow of messages that say, “you’re not good enough.” Children are taught from a heartbreakingly young age to hate their bodies. Our society breeds, perpetuates, and normalizes eating disorders on an astounding level. Nobody is immune. It’s not OK.
This is the third year in a row I have shared a piece of my journey for NEDAW. It’s not easy to write about, talk about, and honestly, sharing any part of it gives me a weeklong anxiety buzz. However, it’s worth it. In order to reduce the prevalence of eating disorders, there has to be a heightened level of awareness. Many families live in denial, educators aren’t trained, and I can’t tell you how many completely clueless doctors there are. Again, not OK.
I recovered backwards; I talked the talk before I walked the walk. I lived in a comfortable state of denial for over a decade and the road to recovery wasn’t easy. It took a lot of treatment that didn’t work until I allowed it to. I had no concept of “normal” and had become a master manipulator when it came to food or exercise. I finally realized that in order to disrupt “my” normalcy, I had to get out of my environment. I relearned how to live at The Renfrew Center, a treatment facility for eating disorders. During that time, anger and advocacy helped me tremendously.
If you’ve struggled with an eating disorder, share your story. Educate others to help others. If you are concerned about somebody you think may have one, you owe it to him or her to educate yourself and talk about it. It’s always difficult. We have to fight back. We have to find and use our voices. The power to evoke change truly has strength in numbers. There will never be a “perfect” time. You may stumble on your words and it may all come out wrong. But say it anyway. And say it again, and again (we deny everything, trust me.) You never know, it could save their life.
For more information about eating disorders, please visit The National Eating Disorders Association.
Julia V. Taylor is a high school counselor and the author of Perfectly You, G.I.R.L.S. (Girls in Real Life Situations), and Salvaging Sisterhood. Follow her on Twitter @juliavtaylor