“Anyone else want a cookie?” I asked my new college friends as I stood up to return my empty plate.
They all stared at me, pursing their lips slightly.
“I really don’t want to gain the Freshman 15,” one said.
“Sorry, I was bad at breakfast so I can’t risk a cookie now, I’ll be fat,” another replied as she sucked in her stomach.
“I went to the gym this morning, so why not?” said the third. “I burned 300 calories, so if they don’t have more than that I’m in.”
It felt as if a tidal wave was crashing over me and the nausea sank in. Weight, sugar, calories, exercise, fat…
The words were spinning around my head. I took a deep breath. Could I risk this cookie?
I sat back down, my hands trembling. “Yeah maybe you’re right,” I agreed. “They probably have more than 300 calories and…”
I trailed off, my head still spinning, stomach churning. “I think I’ll just head back upstairs,” I said, avoiding eye contact with any of them.
Despite the normality of their remarks, for someone just at the start of my eating disorder recovery it was devastating. I relapsed that night, and threw up at least once for the next couple days. I was just a few weeks into college.
Diet culture has become so pervasive in our society that commenting on what some else is eating, talking about your weight loss efforts and exercising simply as a means to “be bad” in the food department is all seen as normal. But for someone suffering or in recovery from an eating disorder, it can be devastating.
It can bring out all your old doubts, reaffirm your own ED suspicions and send you hurtling toward another relapse.
Whenever I mention to someone that I studied nutrition, or that I’m a dietitian now, the comments about weight, food, exercise and so-called health come even more frequently.
I was so bad today, I ate an ice cream.
I’m now limiting myself to eating between the hours 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. each day.
I’m having dessert, don’t judge me.
You are so good for eating vegetables.
I’m eating a doughnut, but I ran today, don’t worry.
They are endless.
As a dietitian it’s frustrating – I like ice cream (and most dessert) and don’t think that makes me bad. And vegetables don’t make me good. They are good – delicious even – but eating them or not has no baring on my morality.
So what can we do? How can we begin to bring an end to diet culture?
If you hear it or see it – say it! Call it out. Point it out. Recognize it in yourself, and loosen up on your rules. If you want a cookie, it’s okay. If you don’t, well, that’s okay too.