Content Warning: This post discusses disordered eating. If you or someone you know is struggling with disordered eating, here are some resources that may help:
NEDA has their own blog, as well as a helpline and other resources.
Follow Dr. Colleen Reichmann on Instagram, clinical psychologist and author of “The Inside Scoop on Eating Disorder Recovery.”
Every day on college campuses, girls ask each other, “did you eat anything today?” or comment, “I haven’t eaten anything today” with varying levels of pride or shame. It becomes so normalized and glorified you may not even notice. I, like many college students or other young women, have myriad excuses for skipping meals. Whether it was “not having time” or simply stress, I found a way to defend skipping meals throughout my first semester. And yet, I also ended up hungry all of the time, leaving me feeling like I was still eating all day long. How was I gaining weight when I hadn’t eaten three meals a day in weeks? And why did I care?
As far as the eating habits are concerned, sometimes it truly was not intentional that I would go all day without eating. Stress and an overly busy schedule predispose me to skipping meals because I have very little free time. However, any schedule, no matter how busy, will fit in what is truly prioritized.
Throughout high school, I worked hard to have a positive body image, and I was mostly successful. I gained and lost weight, but I rarely weighed myself at all and loved my body like I loved food. Flash forward to my third month of college. Somehow, the girl who was constantly reminding her friends that it doesn’t matter what your body looks like as long as you nourished it and loved it, now had a part of her that envies disordered eating. Why couldn’t I just not eat? It didn’t seem fair.
I spent most of my day sitting at a computer, looking at myself on that dreaded zoom screen. Then I would go outside, and it seemed like I was the only one really changing. I knew my friends were self conscious about their bodies, but they, unlike I, had no reason to be self conscious, right? My friends are gorgeous, healthy young women who don’t even realize how amazing they are. I mean that each and every time I remind them of it. And yet, one day I noticed that they were all mad at themselves for how their bodies had changed at college too. These fit, healthy girls that I envied every day were upset about their bodies. Maybe this means that it’s not our bodies that are the problem, but instead the comparisons we make and the judgement we force on ourselves. My friends’ bodies are not a problem. They are beautiful. I am my own friend as well, a beautiful and healthy person I love, not a problem to be fixed.
In all honesty, I laughed out loud as I typed that. It is incredibly difficult to believe reminders to myself about my body right now. But I’m going to keep affirming that every day and sharing that affirmation with my friends and family. Eating is a wonderful thing; it keeps me healthy and allows me to do the things I love, like playing football with my little brother and going for walks. As I work on these affirmations and habits, I have found that so many things help me. Talking about it with people I trust helped more than I could imagine. So did little practices, like setting reminders to eat on my phone and cooking fun recipes that make me look forward to meals. All together now, my body is not a problem to be fixed. It is valuable and beautiful.
Disordered eating exists on a spectrum between normal eating and eating disorders, and may include symptoms and behaviors associated with eating disorders, but with a lower frequency or severity.