ETA, September 17th: Comments are off for this post for the foreseeable future.
Trigger warning for eating disorders, diet culture, child abuse, emetophobia, and fatphobia.
I don’t know how to start this post, aside from the trigger warning. I know it will need it; I’m talking about things that are hard for me to even think about, let alone speak about. But I don’t know where to begin.
Do I begin at the beginning (for me) — when I was 2 and encountered severe trauma related to food? When I was screamed at for getting dessert on Christmas, when I was so upset I threw up all my food?
That is where it started for me, my rocky relationship with food. Imagine, being told by your loving mother you can have a fancy eclair because you ate enough of your Christmas dinner and it is, after all, bloody Christmas, and then having the other parent in your life unleash a torrent of his abuse on you both until your little body can’t take the stress and you just lose it, everywhere.
That wasn’t the only time my biological sire made me vomit with his anger, either (or his reckless driving). To this day, strong negative emotions and, especially, angry men make me sick to my stomach.
I suppose it’s strange I never developed bulimia, not really. There was a period of time when I was vomiting after every meal, like clockwork, and sometimes it was induced, but it wasn’t bulimia. It was me feeling physically sick all the time, and needing some relief. As suddenly as it appeared in my life, it disappeared.
No, instead, I developed binge eating disorder and, much later, anorexia.
My father didn’t stop when I was two, you see. He continued to abuse me in many ways throughout my childhood and adolescence, including at the dinner table, in restaurants — really, anywhere food was involved, he made sure to give me a complex about eating.
His excuse? I was being spoiled rotten by my mom and Oma, he said. Or I was getting too fat, or eating too much sugar. Or any other reason he could come up with to abuse me for daring to want food.
Abusers always find it easy to justify their actions. It’s for your own good. Always for your own good. It was for my own good when he took me to get a treat at Dairy Queen, said I could order whatever I wanted, and then took that food away from me when I had it and ate it in front of me, saying I couldn’t have it because I was ‘getting fat.’ It was for my own good when he screamed at me at the dinner table because I was ‘too fat’, making me cry and feel too sick to my stomach to eat — which he then yelled at me some more about, because I was a wimp who was crying and why wasn’t I eating? He’d slaved over the stove to make that food so I better eat it or he’d give me something to cry about.
It was for my own good when he made me sit at the dinner table until I finished my food, even though I told him I didn’t like squash, not at all, not a little bit, I had to eat it because it was good for me. And when my step-siblings came in from their after-dinner swim at the pool and saw me sitting there — I was determined to sit there all night, and hoped I peed on the chair, hoped for that small revenge — they told me to take the food and just throw it in the compost, and lie about eating it! I said no — he’d know, he always knew, nothing was safe — but they took it and did it for my anyway, and then dad came back into the room and pulled out squash covered in coffee grinds and other organic waste and force fed it to me, holding my mouth shut until I swallowed it.
It was for my own good when he force-fed me salmon and called me a wimp and weakling for not liking it. To this day, the smell of salmon makes me want to vomit and cry.
He was convinced that every time he put another landmine in my brain with his actions, he was doing it for my own good. He swore up and down that someday, I’d thank him.
Well, he was wrong about most things, so add that to the list.
The for your own good narrative doesn’t stop with my father, though. It continues on every day I am forced to interact with people who have bought into the propaganda of our fat hating culture. Shaming me for my food choices is for my own good. Constantly talking about diets is for my own good. Maybe, if they make me feel enough shame, I will magically lose weight. That’s the belief, so it’s easy to justify with for your own good.
This is all true, and it’s probably important background for this tale. But is that where I start? Is this the best place to begin for this particular story?
Let’s start again, maybe.
Google+ has a function that shows you things from people you haven’t circled. Other people you have circled click the plus button on shares, and those things might show up in your feed. You can’t turn this off, to my knowledge, though I have posted asking people for help finding out if you can.
Today someone I quite like, someone I don’t want to uncircle, plussed something that triggered my disorders to hell and gone. It was pro-diet culture — an image talking about negative or zero calorie foods. (I am not resharing it here.)
On my road to anorexia one of the first things I did was learn which foods I should stick to — zero- or negative-calorie foods. I learned to love celery without peanut butter. Ate it as much as possible. Occasionally, when I could no longer fight against the hunger that gnawed at me, when I was going mad from the lack of food, I’d have a bowl of ramen — but I’d feel so guilty after that it’d be nothing but celery sticks for another few weeks, until the hunger drove me mad again.
So I know very well about negative- and zero-calorie foods. And I try very hard not to think about them.
The person who shared the image said it would be “useful” to people wanting to diet.
That’s what I thought when I started too. That I was just “helping along” my diet by focusing on zero or negative calorie foods. That I was just trying to lose a little weight.
It didn’t take long for those thoughts to spiral into full-blown anorexia.
I am now a recovering anorexic, and a recovering binge eater. I spend every day being vigilant about my mental processes, trying desperately to keep the voices of my disorders at bay. I’ve built walls against them, but they are smart, and the walls are not 100% strong. There are holes.
And outside myself, there are battering rams, explosives, corrosive chemicals — things like that image shared, or when people start talking at length about their diets, or an explicitly anti-calorie discussion about the “nutritional qualities” of a dish. (To quote my friend Kiya Nicoll on this, “Food is good. You know how you can tell? IT SUSTAINS LIFE. Anti-calories is anti-life, dammit.”)
Diet culture is actively harmful — not just to me, not just to people who are recovering from their eating disorders, but also to people who haven’t yet developed eating disorders or disordered eating. I say ‘yet’ because with diet culture helping us along, it’s really only a matter of time for most folks.
Diet culture tells us there are good foods and bad foods, and that eating the bad foods makes us bad people. It tells us that so long as we stick to good foods, we’re allowed to occasionally “indulge” in the bad foods — but only a little bit, and never as much as we actually want, or we’re Bad. Diet culture tells us that the only way we’re worth anything is if we’re a certain size (thin) and that the only way to become that size is by dieting, no matter the fact that that’s a blatant lie. Diet culture co-opts the term ‘diet’ to mean not ‘the nutrients one intakes in order to keep living’ but to refer to ‘a restricted amount of food and calories consumed in the ever-present yet false hope that doing so will change your body enough for people to think you’re a human being and treat you accordingly’.
Diet culture tells young people, especially girls, that they are not good enough the way they are. It tells them food — life-sustaining food, the thing we all need to live — it tells them food is the enemy and they must always be ready to fight it.
Diet culture denies the truth of individual bodies needing individual nutrition. It claims to focus on health while asserting that health can be measured by one’s size. It promotes only a few diets as ways to that
health One True Size, and while the specifics of those diets may change over a period of months or years, someone is always going to be promoting “fewer calories in, more calories out” as the Go To for weight loss (and therefore, health). Diet culture ignores the facts that show that long-term weight loss interventions don’t work. Diet culture conflates size with health, and health with worth, and it tells people they’re allowed to shame people for not eating “correctly”.
Diet culture says there is only one way to “eat correctly” and fuck you if you think your body feels better after something different, something not on the list of acceptable foods. Diet culture says you don’t know anything about your body, and if you say you do, you’re lying.
Diet culture, ever sneaky, ever pernicious, hides and disguises itself in new terms like “clean eating” or “healthy lifestyle” or “real food” vs “fake food”. A whole new language has been created so people can shame you for what you eat or don’t eat without ever mentioning the term “diet” — making them blameless, of course.
Diet culture leads to people talking constantly about their diets or “lifestyle changes” because they’ve internalized the belief that they are unworthy of human contact unless they try to prove, all the time, that they are trying to be different, that they are trying to earn their worth. Yes, your diet is boring — I would rather hear about your actual accomplishments, not your succumbing to a culture that hates you. It is boring to hear you talk about something that is not worth celebrating as if it is, and more than that, it is sad, and it is triggering.
People need to stop talking about other peoples’ food choices, but more than that, they need to stop talking about their own diets. Because there’s no response to that for those of us who are triggered. If someone makes a comment to me, directly, about what I am eating, I can respond. I can tell them that’s inappropriate. If someone talks about their own diet? If I say anything, I’m the ass — when I’m the one getting triggered so bad I’m considering self-harm and suicide again.
If you absolutely need to talk to people about your diet, do it privately, with folks who want that sort of conversation. If you’re on G+ create a circle for it. On FB? Join a group, or create a private list. Don’t share that shit publicly. Because your right to swing your fists in the air ends where my face begins, and that pro-diet, pro-disordered eating stuff is like 10 punches in the face for me, every time.
I’m tired of feeling bruised and battered from a session of social media. I’m tired of being afraid of signing into my networks, never sure who’s going to do this to me next.
If you are a person who shares this pro-diet culture, pro-eating disorder stuff, I want you to stop and think: are there any people in your circles or friends lists who might be recovering from eating disorders? If the answer is maybe, ask yourself this: do I care enough about these people that I don’t want to hurt them? If I met these people on the street, would I punch them in the face and feel no remorse? If you do care enough that you don’t want to inflict pain, if you would feel remorse, then don’t share those pro-diet things.
Everyone will be a lot happier if you choose not to spread that stuff around in public.
PS: comments will be closely moderated; if I get too high an influx of crap I will turn them off. This is not the place to share your concern-trolling about people’s sizes or any other pro-diet, fat-hating BS. Nor is the place to tell me I’m wrong and that dieting “successfully” is something to be celebrated. A: There is no such thing as a successful diet. B: What should be celebrated is people loving their bodies the way they are, not trying to change them to conform to society’s narrow view of what is acceptable.