Eating disorders are about shrinking. About not feeling good enough to take up space. About feeling less than we should.
I found Lily Meyers’ “Shrinking Women” poem, and this line about watching her mother eat plain yogurt in the dark struck me: A fugitive stealing calories to which she does not feel entailed, deciding… how much space she deserves.
But the poem isn’t just about her mother’s struggle. It’s about how we copy those around us: We all learned it from each other… picking up all the habits my mother has unwittingly dropped.
I love my parents, but they aren’t perfect. No one is. In high school, as I gained a few pounds over those four years, my dad would remark how my jeans might be getting just a little tighter. My mom would suggest joining her at the gym as I shoved a Sarris chocolate bar down my throat. Even my grandmother one time commented on how I’d barely eaten dinner, yet still ate a piece of chocolate cake.
Then, when I went to college and lost too much weight, they began saying, “Why don’t you just eat?” or “Have some candy once in a while.” They meant to help. Strange. Those comments coming from the people I had grown smaller for in the first place.
During an eating disorder, the last thing a person wants to hear is judgment. About their food. Their weight. Their exercise. Yes, some harsh criticism is necessary at the beginning to get the person back to a stable living state, but words meant to help can often trigger the same thoughts that caused the disorder in the first place.
My mother would tell me to eat a milkshake… then complain about the (nonexistent) jiggle in her thighs. My sister would tell me to take a break from running… then fill her waterbottle and head to the gym. And I’m a hypocrite too.
Change has to start with our own mindsets.
We degrade ourselves too often. Women especially condition themselves to apologize for their very existence. For teens, school can even teach these habits. In a study, researchers found school-related issues were more prevalent in pro-eating disorder blogs than comparable websites. We’re comparing ourselves in person and online, and there’s nowhere to escape.
So let’s start by being kind to ourselves. Stop comparing our food choices. Accept that we all have different needs and tastes. That food is fuel, not a source for guilt or judgment.
See ourselves as worthy. Feel okay to voice your opinions. To take up space. To think that your body is beautiful because it takes up room.
Talk to yourself kindly. Don’t say, “I’m going on a run because I ate that cookie.” Say, “I’m going on a run to appreciate that my body has the ability to move.”
When we start focusing on treating ourselves right, then we don’t feel the need to critique others. And perhaps we’ll inspire someone else to see themselves just as worthy.