#Recovered (Eating Disorder)

I finally did it. I broke down and started using a specific hashtag on my Instagram posts. 

I have been out of the “eating disorder closet” for over a decade now. I shared a very condensed version of my painful and life-threatening struggles with food and exercise in the first chapter of Happy Calories Don’t Count (neither does unhappy exercise). This book was not written for an “eating disorder audience,” but sharing my past was necessary to frame the assertions and recommendations I made throughout the rest of the book. I also shared tidbits of my story in Food Is Not a Four-Letter Word. That book was not written for an “eating disorder audience,” either. But my personal experience is my “street cred.” And I’m “allowed” to speak openly – if not a bit defiantly – regarding eating disorders, body shame, body positivity, and the rest because I have lived it. 

About a week ago I used the hashtag #eatingdisorderrecovery for my social media posts, and the engagement increased exponentially. As surprising as that was, what truly astonished me was the intense anger seething from some of the comments. And rather than get into some pointless IG debate, I’ll simply share my thoughts here.

First off, if you know anything about me and my work (even if this post is the first time you’ve ever heard of me) you know that: 1) I survived the eating disorder from hell – hospitalized for anorexia at 80 pounds at seventeen years old, 4 more treatment stints by age twenty-five, 200 pounds and suicidal at thirty. 2) I did not just survive – I thrive. I have fully recovered from said eating disorder. 3) I recovered on my own. And 4) I share what I know to empower other women to overcome diet and body drama, optimize their health, and reclaim their sense of self and self-esteem – no eating disorder required.

So why would anyone want to rant in a comment on a random inspirational Instagram post? My guess is that it was because my post suggested that we can indeed create an optimized state of health, vitality, well-being, beauty and joy – that we can find peace and freedom with food and exercise AND still feel like we look beautiful. And this somehow triggered the commenter.

I found the rant very telling. Based on professional experience, everything this person wrote was actually a reflection of what she struggles with herself: body shame, a lack of self love, low sense of self and self-esteem, etc. In the middle of her comment she screamed: F*CK DIET CULTURE! (Without the asterisk, of course.)

“Diet Culture” is this new thing that everyone in the body image/body positivity movements and eating disorder “support” communities likes to blame for their body shame. “Diet Culture” is the bugaboo. “Diet Culture” is the bad guy. 

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not a fan of “Diet Culture.” I’ve written two books arguing how the conventional “diet and exercise” model creates and perpetuates all of the pain and dysfunction we have regarding our bodies and our weight. Happy Calories Don’t Count (neither does unhappy exercise) and Food Is Not a Four-Letter Word – the titles speak for themselves! What I am pointing out is that blaming something or someone else – like “Diet Culture” – will never bring you the peace, freedom or happiness you seek. It is a basic, fundamental spiritual truth and a pop psychology cliché: that which you resist, persists. Moreover, blaming “Diet Culture” for your pain will not bring you the physical results you 1) are afraid to seek and/or 2) cannot seek because that would be aligning with “Diet Culture.” 

This is one of the many the Catch-22s of the body image/body positivity movements and of the eating disorder “support” communities. Rally cries and catchy slogans imploring us to “love our bodies” are simply noise. They offer no real process to take someone from a place of pain and shame around their body and their weight to a place of authentic peace, freedom and self-respect. In addition, to even think that you might want to improve the quality of your life through optimizing your physical condition is blasphemy – it is evidence that you don’t “love yourself just the way you are.” And without a process to actually address and resolve the cultural influences at play – including these movements – fundamental personal transformation cannot take place. You cannot truly heal. You cannot fully recover from an eating disorder. 

Which brings us to her statement: “There is … no finish line to mark recovered…” 

This is the single phrase in the entire rant that inspired this post. It was this phrase that made me angry. It made me angry because this person – who is clearly in pain, struggling with these issues – believes that she cannot be a person who has “recovered.” She believes that she cannot be free from her eating disorder. In my humble opinion, “Diet Culture” isn’t the problem at all. The problem she is really dealing with is actually “Eating Disorder Recovery Culture.” And that is why she is so angry. This person felt pain and shame around her body and her weight and sought help. Only the “help” she found was in the form of another “culture” that is just as dysfunctional and deadly as “Diet Culture.”  She has been led to believe that she will always have to struggle, that there is no “finish line to mark recovered.” And I am here to say that is simply not true. You CAN be completely free of food and exercise issues. You CAN find this freedom AND create an optimized state of health, vitality, well-being, beauty and joy. You CAN create a body AND a life you love.  I am living proof.