What Happens When You Have a Disordered Relationship to Food?
TRIGGER WARNING: The following breakdown contains graphic descriptions of the hosts’ and guest’s experiences with eating disorders, body dysmorphia, etc.
This week we brought in our very good friend and Kinesiology/Biology major, Solveig Erngren, to wrap up our Fad Diets series and talk about her experiences with disordered eating. As three Southern California-born women, we have each had our fair share of confidence-shattering moments throughout childhood and adolescence. Once we finished our tangent about immigration and poor driving (listen to hear Solveig’s story about grinding on a road median with her car. Yeah, you heard me), we unpacked our feelings about the body-critical world in which we live with the hope that some of you may feel less alone in it.
For each of us, our first awareness of food consumption and weight came at shockingly early ages: since middle school for Brooke and Olivia and for literally as long as Solveig can remember. For Solveig, diet and weight loss culture were all she knew - her parents (who suffered from their own eating disorders) put her on a strict diet as soon as she was old enough to eat solid food, and she remembers binging junk food whenever she went to friends’ houses simply because it was a novelty. She began athletic training at age 8 at her parents’ urging. She rigorously researched food science as early as elementary school and found herself making up her own rules about which foods she could have, how much, what times of day, etc. As a young child, she prepared herself a small cup of plain garbanzo beans as a snack to avoid eating excess calories. She became vegan, developed anorexia, and it wasn’t until she began experiencing extreme chronic joint pain that she realized her diet was not providing the nutrients her body needed to survive.
For Olivia, the self-hatred didn’t begin until her surroundings socialized her into picking apart every aspect of her appearance. She had so many different, hyper-specific labels for her flaws that they drew concern from her friends. She was actively criticized for her body type by her family, especially her mother, and became obsessed with diet, exercise, and weight loss in middle school. Her first diet was at 8 years old.
“…she realized the hidden message in her mother’s self-hatred: “You can love your body because you’re the perfect weight right now, but you will no longer be worthy of that love if you ever look like me.” In a sudden panic about her identity and self-worth, Brooke developed orthorexia as a means to losing weight.”
While Brooke’s parents did not directly tear her down for her appearance, the end result ended up just as sinister and perhaps harder to identify. She did, in fact, learn that there was something shameful about the number on the scale, but she learned it by watching her mother constantly criticize herself. In high school, Brooke’s self-criticism was a result of watching the world hate itself - but she recognized that she was what doctors would consider a “healthy weight.'“ It wasn’t until a sudden drop in metabolism (and subsequent rise in weight) in college that she realized the hidden message in her mother’s self-hatred: “You can love your body because you’re the perfect weight right now, but you will no longer be worthy of that love if you ever look like me.” In a sudden panic about her identity and self-worth, Brooke developed orthorexia as a means to losing weight.
None of these responses to food are healthy. Your body needs food, needs a lot of it, and the amount of fat your body accumulates as a result of that is not necessarily tied to how healthy you are. In a perfect world, the only thing that would matter would be overall health; you would exercise and eat healthy foods because you want to make yourself stronger, run for longer, lower your cholesterol, etc. The aesthetic shouldn’t matter, especially when the desired social aesthetic is not inherently healthy. Rail-thin arms are not strong. Ultra-flat stomachs are not toned. More importantly, the mass you lose when you drastically cut calories is, more often than not, muscle - which continues to damage your metabolism.
“The media that tells us that our bodies aren’t good enough is everywhere and, as Olivia says, it’s literally inescapable (unless you become an isolated hermit).”
But we don’t live in a perfect world. We live in a world that tells you to have a micro waist, a bangin’ ass with thin legs, DD cups, and the slender, graceful face of a malnourished Victoria’s Secret model. The ideal body is something painted into a Photoshop window by a graphic artist. For most of us non-professional athletes, this insane ideal is impossible. Hell, it’s impossible for most professional athletes. The media that tells us that our bodies aren’t good enough is everywhere and, as Olivia says, it’s literally inescapable (unless you become an isolated hermit).
And what’s worse - if it can even get worse - is that no one can win. On one hand, we’re indoctrinated from infancy to hate the bodies we’re in, pushed on all sides into changing it regardless of our overall health. On the other hand, we’re entering a period of justifiably-sensitive body positivity where anything resembling an attempt to lose weight is criminalized as damaging to the movement. Both men and women alike are placed into a revolving door of health vs. aesthetic, making changes to their bodies vs. making themselves representation for marginalized fat people, personal choice vs. societal acceptance - and these choices often contradict one another.
Loving your body is hard, nearly impossible in a world that places value on the circumference of your waistline. At the end of the day, the person who knows your health best is you - not your mother, not your siblings, not your friends. You. If you feel good - great! Your body is working the way it should and you should love it for keeping you strong and healthy regardless of what it looks like. If you don’t feel good, then there are more than likely quite a few reasons for that which are out of your control. Prioritize making yourself feel as good, as energetic, and happy as possible, and don’t take shit from anyone who would put a higher value on your weight than your soul.
It’s easier said than done. We still struggle with it. We probably will for the rest of our lives. But you and I, dear listener and reader, are on a long journey with the bodies we’re in. The least we can do is work to love it for the remarkable work of nature it is.
Hang in there, folks.