Veganism isn't about deprivation or being extreme. It's about leaving animals off our plates. I see too many people -- vegans and not -- who have become obsessed with eating their version of a perfectly clean diet. They eliminate soy, gluten, corn, carbs and so on for no clear reason -- often needlessly.
A few days ago, I came across a blog post in which the blogger made a comment about how each roll of skin on her tummy represented a happy moment with her family in which she enjoyed that chocolate cake at her child's birthday party or had skipped the Jillian Michael's exercise DVD that morning so she could sit on the floor and colour with her daughter. For the first time in my life, the realization of my sick mindset entrenched in the lost, wasted, hungry hours I chose in order to be the thinnest mom on the block finally beat me over the head with a barbell.
Fighting an eating disorder is lifelong. And I realize this every time I think my mind is finally free. This week when I was navigating Twitter, I came across a tweet claiming a product which guaranteed weight loss of 20 lbs in 24 days. As someone who has valiantly tried to accomplish this, I finally realized that an eating disorder, although a mental illness, is aggravated by the bacteria in the environment disguised in the shape of advertising.
The absence of visible symptoms is not the most accurate measure of someone's recovery from this disease. Weight is a physical thing, but anorexia also resides firmly in the psyche. Anorexia is like having the person who hates you the most, the most irrational tyrant you can imagine, living in your head rent-free, trying to burn down your physical foundation from the inside out. It's an interminable abusive relationship that's nearly impossible to leave because it transpires in your own mind. Those voices can cause problems before the weight loss starts to show.
At a recent function, a young woman takes me aside, and complains bitterly about the holidays. She finds them stressful, but not for the reason we might think. She explains that, like thousands across Canada, she had waited for the Status of Women report on eating disorders, and that she was praying that it might offer some hope for 2015, a plan to help struggling families. But these hopes have been dashed. She continued to say that many Canadians are so sick that they need urgent help, and that long wait times, few hospital beds and lack of help in the community are killing people needlessly in our communities.
The stories have not changed in 25 years. Canadians with eating disorders and their families still struggle. Boys and girls, young men and women are still told they have a choice and they should just eat. Parents continue to be blamed, and families still complain: where is the education that allows frontline health practitioners to recognize eating disorders, where is the early intervention, and where is the access to care?
As I was reading through Twitter accounts and bios of people advocating for the recognition of eating disorders as real and dangerous, I came across the words "ex-anorexic." I was jealous. I am able to eat a meal with my family, and quietly endure the self-loathing afterwards with no physiological consequences; but the mental battle drags me through such an obstacle course, that by the time I've reached the finish line, I am no longer certain of whether or not I want to get better. Unfortunately, part of me is convinced that there is no such thing as getting better from this
The image of what often comes to mind, and what is often publicized for people with eating disorders is a younger female who is skeletal in frame. In my case, I was a young man who was albeit thin, also quite muscular. I worked in health in fitness. I helped people get fit. I was supposed to be the voice of healthy living.
Thinking of people with eating disorders as crazy or self-destructive is just wrong, says Dr. Steiger. In fact, there are still too many myths attached to eating disorders -- like the following. It's a rich girl's disease: In fact, eating disorders cut across all economic groups. Goals and values of being upwardly mobile, of being achievement oriented affect all social groups.
It is with great apprehension that I write this post and confession. Two weeks ago, I reentered a treatment program at the hospital, because I have relapsed into bulimia, and can't fight this alone. The treatment program will last at least seven months, involving multiple weekly visits to the eating disorder clinic at the hospital, where I will participate in supervised meals, various groups and one-on-one therapy. This is my third time going into treatment. The hypocrisy of preaching healthy eating while doing ED treatment fills me with guilt.
At ten, I was accepted into the National Ballet School of Canada training program. In puberty I developed curves that were considered too fat for the ballet world. I decided to diet my curves away, as the accolades in ballet went to girls who looked deathly thin. But my calculated "career move" soon became my nightmare. I became borderline anorexic and then bulimic. After dieting intensely for days, a famished "creature" would seize control, and an intense desire to eat would overcome my willpower.
Note how she loyally reproduces the copybook script she learned in school and, in so doing, shows us that, first and foremost, she values fitting in. Such writers, amiable and good-natured, easily lapse into people-pleasing. And they often harbor secret self-negating habits designed to help them keep insecurities at bay.
"Orthorexia nervosa - obsessed with eating to improve your health" defined "orthorexia" as "a new type of eating disorder [...] where people are becoming obsessed with eating to improve their health." Uh... where does that leave you and I? I have often said that we could only be so lucky to be named "the healthy one" by those around us.