Trigger Warning: eating disorder behaviors, weight restoration, weight loss, weight gain, body dysmorphia
This topic has been affecting my life the last couple of years, it’s been at the forefront of my mind the last couple of months, and I’ve been wanting to blog about it the last couple of weeks. I’ve been insanely stressed and busy with college and everything else the universe is throwing at me that I haven’t had the time. But I’m finally making the time and I already feel relieved. This blog is something that’s very important and therapeutic for me and I wish I could write every single day, I just don’t have the time. I felt the need to explain my lack of regular posting because my plan was to post more regularly. But unfortunately, life likes to mess with your plans. Anyways, back to the topic that’s been spinning in my head for a very long time.
I’ve noticed a very prominent and bothersome double standard throughout my years of eating disorder treatment. When I was in treatment for restricting, purging, and over-exercising, one of the first parts of my treatment was weight restoration. One of the very first things I remember hearing was that getting someone weight restored was the first step in the recovery process. I was told that my brain wasn’t functioning correctly because I was undernourished. I was told that I wouldn’t be able to grasp that I had a problem until my mind and body were nourished again. I felt like before I even got into the work of how/where did my eating disorder start or dissecting all of the different parts of it, I just had to gain weight. That seemed to be the only focus to my treatment team, at least initially. Of course, back then, I was constantly arguing with my treatment team and calling them crazy because I couldn’t possibly comprehend that I actually needed to gain weight. I hadn’t reached my goal weight yet, and so I thought if that hadn’t happened, why on earth would they make me gain weight? I honestly felt like they just wanted to make me even more miserable. But of course looking back, I can recognize that I was in fact too thin and needed to gain weight. That’s a perfect example of how your eating disorder completely twists your perception. However, because I was fifteen at the time, I really had no say in the matter. My parents and my treatment team were in charge, and that was that.
Looking back, I don’t disagree with the fact that I needed to gain weight for several reasons. I don’t fight that anymore. I 100% agree that weight restoration is an important part of the recovery process, no matter how painful and awful it may feel at the time. But then years later I went off to treatment for bingeing and a fear of exercise. I was extremely ashamed and aware of how much weight I had gained. I felt disgusting. I had never been this heavy before, and I knew it was a direct result of my eating disorder. Ironic isn’t it? Years ago I was at my lowest weight (given my height and age) and then a few years later I was at my highest weight (given my height and age). Both extremes were because of my eating disorder. Not just one, but both. Very weird and confusing concept, I know.
So I went off to treatment for binge eating disorder. When I started bingeing, I didn’t even know it was my eating disorder. I wholeheartedly thought, “Oh this is just emotional eating, I’m going through a lot and using food as comfort. It’s just a phase.” To be fair, it’s extremely common to use food as emotional comfort, that doesn’t mean that you have an eating disorder if you do that. But what I was doing was more than emotional eating, it was a new form of my eating disorder. I had never heard of binge eating disorder, had absolutely no clue it was an eating disorder diagnosis. It is a much newer diagnosis, but still, I was shocked to learn it was, in fact, my eating disorder. So when I learned that it in fact was, my thought process was this – “Okay, so I had to gain weight when I was dealing with restricting and purging, which made sense. So for bingeing, does that mean that part of my treatment process is..losing weight…?” Crazy right? To think that in eating disorder treatment, an objective would be to lose weight. Well, I can assure all of you wondering what it’s not. It’s not at all. Hence the title, double standard.
I’m not denying how insanely complicated, confusing, and slippery of a slope losing weight would be for someone with my history, let alone while in eating disorder treatment. But on the other hand, it doesn’t seem right. It doesn’t logically make sense to me. When I went to treatment for restricting, they wanted to help get my weight and body back to where it was before my eating disorder behaviors started, or where it was supposed to be. So why is that different for bingeing? It’s still an eating disorder behavior. It’s an eating disorder that directly influenced my weight and body. But since it made my weight go up rather than down, it doesn’t need to be fixed? Not only was it not something that was a treatment goal, but it was something I couldn’t even talk about without getting in trouble. If I brought it up to my therapist or dietician, they just jumped in shushing me and saying, “Now Emily, that’s your eating disorder talking. You need to let go of your ideal weight and accept where you are now.” Most of the time that conversation led to me being in tears and feeling hopelessly confused.
But looking back, I’m trying to grasp it. Trying to see if I understand what they meant. So let me get this straight – according to eating disorder treatment professionals, if a client is underweight, you make them gain weight and then learn to accept their healthy and stabilized body. But if a client is overweight, you tell them they’re just mentally ill and clinging to the idea of a perfect body. On one side of the pendulum, you’re forced to get to a healthy place. On the other, you’re told oh the number doesn’t matter, it’s what’s inside that matters.
Let me make this even more clear for those of you still confused. Take the behaviors out of the mix. I’ve met several other people with eating disorders who don’t look like the typical spectrum. Just because someone is underweight or thinner, doesn’t mean that they’re anorexic. They could be struggling with bingeing, but maybe they burn it off by purging or over-exercising. Or maybe they just have a fast metabolism and don’t gain weight from bingeing. Just because someone is overweight or heavier, doesn’t mean they have binge eating disorder. They could be anorexic and not look like what we associate with certain disorders. So if all different types of eating disorders cause different outcomes on the body, WHY is it only okay to get someone weight restored when they were underweight? WHY am I not allowed to argue with my treatment team about this without getting told I’m sick and can’t think clearly? I can assure all of you out there that I’m in no way undernourished or unable to think clearly because of my eating disorder. This is something that’s been bothering me while I’ve been in treatment and still after being out for quite some time now. This is something that came to me in my wise mind, NOT my eating disorder mind.
I’ll repeat one thing I said earlier. I’m not denying that it would be complicated and a slippery slope to having someone lose weight in eating disorder treatment, or as part of the recovery process. But it’s not a crazy idea. It’s a damn double standard and it’s NOT fair and it’s NOT right. I’ve talked to my current therapist and they agree with me in thinking it’s somewhat of a crazy rule or idea in the treatment world. But they also agree with me in that it doesn’t make sense logically. I was told in treatment several times that if/when the bingeing stopped, and I developed a healthy relationship with exercise that my body would “fall into place.” Well, it’s been over 2 fucking years and it hasn’t “fallen into place” yet. So forgive me if I no longer believe you when you tell me that. I don’t binge anymore, I can’t remember the last time I did. I’m slowly developing a healthy relationship with exercise and I have a pretty good relationship with food. But has my body “fallen into place?” It sure as hell has not.
I know logically that where my body has been for about two years, is not where it’s meant to be. I know my body, I’ve spent years getting very in touch with my body and I know that where my body currently is, is because of bingeing. It didn’t naturally get there and it’s not natural for it to be here. If you’d like to argue that I just want to lose weight and don’t want to accept my body, think what you will. But that’s not why I feel the way that I do. I’ve spent years accepting that this is what my body is, and I do. But I also know this isn’t what it looks like naturally, aka without being influenced by my eating disorder. I don’t expect this blog post to make anyone come up with some magical solution. All I ask is that you think about it. You think about how twisted it is. You think about how much of a double standard it is. I know for a fact that I’m not the only one who feels this way or who have experienced it, there’s probably tons. Please think about it, talk about it. Let’s figure out a way to destroy the double standard. Destroying the double standard is just one step closer to ending the stigma around mental health.