This week, from October 28 to November 1, Concordia’s chapter of Delta Phi Epsilon will partake in ANAD (Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders) Week to celebrate body positivity and self-love. Each day has a theme pertaining to self-acceptance, such as “Make-Up Free Monday” and “Treat Yourself Thursday”. Additionally, ANAD is one of Delta Phi Epsilon’s three philanthropies, and they donate proceeds from their events to them each year. One of the reasons I am proud to be a sister of Delta Phi Epsilon is for their support of ANAD and their promotion of self-love, especially as this cause hits home for me.
Each year, millions of high schoolers graduate and are ecstatic to begin a new chapter of their life: university. This time is full of joys and new experiences, like new friends, exciting classes, and lively parties. However, for many, it is also a time of anxiety and stress. At 18, I moved from the States to Montreal to begin studying Political Science and French at Concordia. I was thrilled I was finally moving to the city I love, however, change is also extremely stressful for me. As a result and a coping mechanism, I developed an eating disorder.
I have always struggled with my body image. I was a ballerina for all of my teenage years, going through bouts of restricting my food and eating extremely healthy (what my doctors and I now identify as orthorexia). However, I remained a healthy weight and believed my behaviours were perfectly normal. When I moved to Montreal, I was happy yet apprehensive. I wanted to be the perfect university student and earn all A’s. I wanted to maintain my ballerina strength and went to the gym every single day. I wanted to be perfect.
I lived in a student residence where I had a meal plan and a dining hall where my friends and I ate every meal. The food was disgusting, so it was extremely easy to skip meals. I started to skip nearly every breakfast and lunch, justifying it by studying or going out with my friends. At dinner, my friends and I made smoothies in the dining hall, because it was one of the only tasty food options. This made me develop a habit of consuming only liquids. I started eating only a Starbucks drink, a smoothie, and a plate of broccoli and cauliflower per day. I also went to the gym every single day and exercised on the elliptical machine until I was dizzy and my hands were tingling. I would go home and do more exercises in my dorm room.
I began feeling the physical effects as well. My hair started falling out in clumps. I was always freezing and shivering. My muscles would ache when I would try to fall asleep at night. I could barely walk up the stairs to the Webster Library without blacking out. I developed severe digestive problems from consuming only liquids. I couldn’t eat without being in excruciating pain, which only drove my disordered behaviours further. I could barely focus on any of my schoolwork, because all my malnourished brain could think about was food. I didn’t even realize I was in a program I wasn’t interested in because I wasn’t focusing on my classes. I felt and acted like a zombie.
It gets better, though. I became close with a friend from class and she helped me open my eyes to the fact that I had a problem and that it had gotten to the point where I needed professional help. She helped me realize that I could not reach my goals of succeeding in school if I was not eating. That in fact, I could barely function as a human if I was not eating. I reluctantly went to my university’s health centre and was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa and a form of bulimia that includes exercise addiction. I was referred to a nutritionist and a medical doctor who specializes in patients with eating disorders.
Now, I am weight-restored, free of symptoms, and truly happy. I’m studying in a program I love, and I have numerous loving friends and family who have supported me since day one. I am both stronger and softer because of this experience.
I don’t write all of this for sympathy or attention. I write this because so many patients are like me; they are unaware and in denial that they even have a problem because society’s perception of eating disorders is outdated. Often, a person with an eating disorder won’t believe they are “sick enough” for treatment. Society has almost normalized the symptoms of an eating disorder, as they can be masked by dieting or just staying fit. There is nothing wrong with eating nutritious foods and exercising your body. However, there is a line. For some people, like me, that like means falling face-first into an eating disorder.
Many also still believe that you need to be a certain weight to have an eating disorder. This is untrue; eating disorders are mental illnesses with physical consequences. I was an extremely low weight for my height and stature, however, I looked fairly “normal”. I didn’t look emaciated like the girls you have probably seen in movies. If you didn’t know me before I turned 18, you would not guess that I was sick. I resent that I received compliments on my weight loss. A large number of people who struggle with eating disorders are actually of a healthy weight or overweight.
Anyone can struggle with an eating disorder, including boys, LGBT+ individuals, POC, and older adults. It isn’t always just straight, white, cis females, as often depicted in the media. The National Association for Eating Disorders (NEDA) even has a whole page dedicated to the intersection of identity and eating disorders.
As a society, we need to do a better job of looking out for others as well as ourselves so we don’t fall into the trap of unhealthy behaviours and dialogues.
This ANAD week, I implore you to challenge society’s skewed vision of body image and eating disorders. Compliment a friend on what a talented artist they are or how much they make you laugh, instead of their body or looks. Wear your favourite outfit because you feel confident in it, not just because it looks fabulous. Follow body-positive social media accounts, such as @bodyimagetherapist and @laurathomasphd. Don’t be afraid to treat yourself now and then, and take steps to show your body and mind the care it deserves. Because here’s the secret: the scale will not tell you how kind or smart or loyal you are. It is simply a number that doesn’t define who you are or what your worth is, which is immeasurable.
If you think you or a friend are struggling with an eating disorder, you are not alone! Life is about so much more than food and weight, and you need to be around to see it. If you are not recovering, you’re not living. Concordia’s health clinic is open five days a week from 9am-5pm. Concordia also offers ten free counselling sessions to students. There is a myriad of other resources around Montreal, which can be found here. If you are outside of Montreal, NEDA has a support finder here.