I hesitated before I clicked on it.
Body-checking one more time, I was about to click on a quiz to determine whether or not I had an eating disorder.
"I don't think I'd qualify as having an eating disorder," I thought.
This was my freshman year of college at NYU, a place ripe with young beautiful women coping with the move from their smaller towns to the bright lights of New York City. If you were thin in your small town, people in NYC are thinner. If you were pretty in your small town, there are plenty who are prettier, better-dressed, smarter, better, faster, stronger. Even bigger fans of Kanye West and Daft Punk too.
I was struggling with this. I didn't know who I was any more in the big city and I was lonely.
I felt like all I knew was that I weighed more and had more acne than I ever had before in my life. I was desperately trying to have the body that I had before college as an athlete.
I was in a deep dieting phase of restricting and, inevitably, binging (although I wouldn't have called it that).
I tried to eat clif bars and green juice for lunch. My sugar would crash pretty rapidly and then I'd give up and eat an entire box of cereal before dinnertime. When dinnertime came, I'd vow to eschew the dessert table and then be disappointed when I found myself 3-4 cookies in.
Once or twice after my clif bar lunch and taking a pretty rough round of antibiotics for my new NYC acne, I felt pretty pretty dizzy. Then, and only then, did I think, "Maybe what I'm doing isn't healthy. Maybe I have an eating disorder?"
I quickly shook the thought though because I never passed out, my weight was in the "normal" range on the BMI scale and I had regular periods. Also, I didn't try to make myself throw up. So, no. Clinically, not eating disordered.
"Eating disorder" is a loaded term.
It's clinically diagnostic and many people think that it just doesn't apply to them. It only applies to one of them Olsen twins and, like, Ellen's wife or whatever.
Often when I describe the work I do as a body positive health coach, I'll mention my time as an operations manager at eating disorder treatment center because it transformed my relationship to the word.
Beyond the fact that I now know the diagnostic criteria for insurance companies (although I'm sure it's changed), I also got to see the people that it affected. In meetings, I learned about what people were struggling with. I read the books we recommended to clients, families, and the rotating interns.
I started to see my own messed up relationship with food through them.
When I realized this, I went from seeing the disease as a #firstworldproblem to a feminist issue. And it wasn't just restricting in totally crazy ways or purging in totally crazy ways. It was far more insidious than that.
Diets, calorie counting, body-checking, obsessive food thoughts, getting on the scale multiple times a day. These things all sounded familiar to me.
I still don't identify as "having an eating disorder." If I should, then I think most women should.
Beautiful, smart, and talented women everywhere, regardless of their size, are spending time, energy, and money on their body projects. And why? You know: a fat-shaming, sexually objectifying, patriarchal culture.
I still very much believe in the importance of thorough clinical work for those suffering with clinical eating disorders and to be fair clinical diagnostic criteria is not as exclusionary as it once was (look up OSFED and EDNOS. Some therapists are just avoiding the diagnosis entirely).
I believe that women don't have to spend any more time dieting, calorie counting, body-checking, obsessing, and weighing themselves.
Ladies, we have more important work to do.