Dismantling body ideals and combatting eating disorders

Needless to say, there is a chance this piece of writing may trigger some people so if you are vulnerable to these topics, it might not be a good idea to read further.

With that said, as someone who has experienced disordered eating and body dysmorphia, I write this with the intent to be honest and help those going through the same thing. It is incredibly difficult for regular, working class people to get help in the government we live under, and people seem to be too afraid to speak authentically about issues like this. I am not a nutritionist but then I am not intending to advise people on nutrition. I am interested in dismantling this inherent idea that there is something wrong with us, and the compulsion we have to fix this idea by obsessing over our relationship with food and exercise.

I’ve tried to write this before and I was still operating out of wounds. I have since removed the piece because I don’t believe what I wrote would be helpful to anyone, it was too much focussed on my own experiences.

In the last year I feel that I have truly evolved out of disordered eating and everyday I am becoming more loving towards myself. A big achievement I have made is being able to exercise because it’s fun and I like it, whereas for years prior to this I would exercise out of self-punishment.

I’ve never had therapy. This progress has been made because I’ve been observant of my triggers, patterns, behaviours, and the propaganda that was filtered down to me all the way throughout my life. We all have the power to heal and help ourselves, but if we aren’t ready to face the darkest parts of ourselves, we need to make sure that we have the support and coping mechanisms to deal with life when realisations aren’t pretty.

As children we are automatically forced to adapt to a feeding schedule that looks good in the eyes of those around us. We are told to eat things at a particular time, eat three meals a day, eat what we are given. Children are very intuitive and pure beings, they haven’t learned our world yet so all they know is how to listen to their body and stay alive. Children intuitively know what they need to eat and when, they know if something is too dense for their body, and sometimes eating only one or two big meals a day is enough. Parents are doing what they need to do, and we shouldn’t criticise them for feeding their kids if they aren’t doing harm. This is just an explanation.

As we grow, we learn that following our own body’s schedules is an inconvenience to others, so food becomes a ‘problem’. There is no problem. There are cultural differences in eating, we just believe there is an issue when a child doesn’t want to follow the western norm of three meals a day. As adults, we might not to think to ask ‘what is right for you?’ Eating becomes stressful, and under stress nobody eats well.

There are two main areas which trigger eating disorders to develop.

First; generational wounding. Food and how it impacts your relationships, what relationship you learned to have with food from observing parents.

Secondly; propaganda. The effect incessant marketing and media manipulation has on developing minds.

I will share a brief personal account and be transparent for a moment, then I will unpack the issues I have named. Hopefully this will trigger some home truths in any readers.

I’ve had eating disorders since I was around 9 years old. In childhood, the relationship I learned to have with food was quite warped. There was some orthorexia, which led to binge eating with a compulsion to reverse the ‘damage’ I had done.

As I grew up, I wanted to drastically change my image and was sold the idea that I should shape my body and physically transform to be noticed. When I was a teenager, I would exercise extreme discipline with my eating and would eventually binge. I was constantly noticing things on my body that I felt like I had to change and looking back on photos I was actually incredibly slender. Body dysmorphia for me wasn’t about looking in the mirror and seeing a drastically different shape to how I was, it was about noticing things I didn’t like and fixating on them and obsessing over them until I saw my body to be something I could only accept if those things were something I could change.

Let’s unpack that.

Obsession and fixation = A result of feeling of lack of control in life.          

The idea that I had to change = A desire to be noticed. A plea for attention. Very low self esteem.

Starving self, secrecy eating, shame surrounding food, holding on to disorder = Not wanting responsibility. Wanting to be taken care of.

The roots of what I was aspiring to = to be loved, have attention, be happy, be recognised.

To heal things, we must get to the root of a problem. Once we acknowledge and amend the core reasons which lead us to a certain behaviour, we can bring them to surface and stop going through the motions.

This is where we recognise what we can do in the future to meet the needs of the root of disordered eating.

How can you take control of your life?

How can you stop seeking external validation?

How can you accept responsibility?

How can you ask for what you need, and get those needs met?

How can we dismantle the idea that you are not loved, noticed, and recognised?

And now, how can we change our relationship with food to meet all of these needs.

We need to take responsibility for the ways we contribute to our own wounding in order to accept and love ourselves. We need to apologise, forgive, and love.

Life, food and exercise can be really fun when they are rooted in self-love.

The tail end of this piece will be written as a journal, just because the info doesn’t really flow.

Other realisations I had about the propaganda I was consuming:

  • Beauty ideals in Western society are rooted in paedophillia. Just sit with that for a min. Pay attention.
  • Eating disorders carry a level of competitiveness about them, if you surround yourself with people who kind of have the same issue as you- sharing concerns becomes a contest of who has it worse. Or who is the slimmest. There is a sense of belonging that can come from building a community based on weight, and this is really counterproductive. This comes from a wound of needing to be noticed. You are enough.
  • As you get closer to your body, you know what your body wants and stop mindlessly shoving things into it. It is possible to just go off sweets and crisps. Trust the process.
  • We are designed to binge on sugar. In prehistoric days, our early ancestors would come across honey so rarely that when it was found, we would gorge to survive long term. The idea that there is something wrong with us stops us from accepting our impulses, and causes us to spiral. Acceptance is the way out of these patterns, and you are able to adapt and binge in a healthier way.
  • Would you find something beautiful if society hadn’t had instilled in you that it wasn’t from such a young age? When I was younger, I thought curves were beautiful. I thought having definition, but not necessarily abs- was beautiful. I thought thighs were so feminine and powerful. I looked up to people and wanted to be just like figures that did not meet traditional western beauty standards. I thought everyone could be beautiful.

As I consumed more media and was taught what ‘men’ like, what gets you far in life, I measured myself and other people next to a checklist. When I was 12 I wrote in a diary all the things I didn’t like about myself (because I was taught there was something wrong with them) and I wrote next to it ways that I could fix it.

I thought I’d never get someone to love me if I didn’t look this way.

Lets unpack that:

Diet culture media telling us how to eat.

The idea that you need to change appearance in order to get what you want = A sales tactic.

The result of propaganda and lack of a strong, authentic female figure to look up to. The result of not being supported or shown unconditional love. Eurocentric beauty standards.

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