Life with ED: What everybody’s always talking about

“You’re looking slim!”

“Have you lost some weight?”

“What do you weigh? You look great!”

“You’ve definitely lost some weight, you must feel so much better.”

“Wow you’ve lost weight! That’s awesome.

Amy Dunham R.D. works at UConn in the Nutrition Services Department. Listen to her perspective as a provider for those in ED recovery on a college campus on Episode 4 of Life with ED, the podcast.

Any of these sound familiar? Seem like routine dinner conversation? Casual small talk? Unfortunately, for me at least, I think the answer to those is often yes.

For all of us living in today’s pervasive diet culture those questions and comments may not seem the least but strange in the slightest. Why shouldn’t we compliment somebody if they’ve shrunk in size? After all, it’s the best thing we can do for our bodies, isn’t it?

WRONG!

But you’d probably – for good reason – believe that if you just spent 10 minutes walking (or even driving) around in 2019.

On my way to work each morning I drive past a sign that says “Lose weight, gain life.” At first it didn’t strike me as anything out of the ordinary. Why would it? Every day somebody comes up to me and asks for advice on how to lose weight. (By the way I have none. If you want to talk about taking better care of your body I’m here for that, but losing weight? Count me out!)

Every day I overhear somebody telling a friend or family member about some new magical diet that has allowed them to shed over a dozen pounds and fit into a slower pant size. Every day somebody guiltily whispers to me that they ate a brownie or chips and expect me to judge them. Every day people all around me are trying to shrink themselves and looking to me for advice to do so. So why, WHY would I be at all shocked by a sign that says “Lose weight, gain life.”

Check out what Rebekah has to say about the treating eating disorders for the counselor’s perspective on Episode 5 of Life with ED, the podcast.

Maybe because it’s horrifying?

Maybe because of the idea that in order to have a worthwhile life you need to weigh less?

Maybe because when I – and many others have tried to lose weight – we’ve almost lost our lives?

Maybe because the mental illness with the highest death rate is eating disorders? And they’re not dying because of too much weight.

Maybe because we need to stop prescribing what we would diagnose as an eating disorder in thin people to anyone who is over a BMI of 25.

Maybe because there are MUCH BETTER INDICATORS OF HEALTH out there then weight.

Maybe.

I used to drive by that sign and just keep singing along to the radio. Now, when I drive past that sign I get angry. I get fired up. I get so mad for all the girls and boys, men and women who will see that sign and judge themselves for having too much weight. I get furious when I realize that not one but many people will likely begin restricting calories, skip a meal and maybe binge later because of its message. I get frustrated when I think of all the pain that sign has likely caused.

For me that sign has become a physical representation of all the pressure around us today to lose weight, to be smaller, to put our appearance first and our health (both mental and physical) second.

The last time I sat at a dinner table and heard somebody mention a fellow diners weight I said nothing. I let it go. It wasn’t me they were talking to anyway and I didn’t want to ruin the moment.

But why?

Why is it that when we comment on somebody’s shrinking body size is it is acceptable and even seen as positive, but if someone were to gain weight we’d say nothing? Or if we said anything it would be negative, sad, concerned and in private!

Next time I’m in that situation I want to speak out. I want to say, hey, and make that person stop and think for just one minute.

Maybe it isn’t your business if someone else has lost or gained weight. Maybe they were trying to gain weight. Maybe years of everyone focusing on weight has driven them to vomit nearly every day (at least that happened to me). Instead, maybe we should ask about how they are feeling and what they are doing. Maybe we should ask if they are happy.

Because, if they’ve lost weight or not, they certainly have a life, and what they’re doing with it is far, far more interesting and important than how they got to the weight they’re at.

Trust me.

I listen to the “how I got to this weight story” every day.

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