The Accidental Eating Disorder

Content warning: This article discusses topics such as eating disorders, restricted eating, and body dysmorphia. 

Eat right, exercise, and have a healthy mindset. These are the three things that I was taught led to a “healthy” life. Actually, let me rephrase that: a “skinny” life. 

Growing up, I always knew that my family struggled with weight. On one hand, my father’s side was prone to obesity, and on the other, it was as though my mother’s side barely gained any weight at all. I also grew up in a fat-phobic household that encouraged me to analyze every pound of fat on my body. At one point, I was even required to attend personal training lessons to try to shed it off. While at home, I didn’t have routine meal times — breakfast was cereal at most, lunch was whatever the school had that day, and dinner, in my mind, was only seen as a special occasion. This pattern only got worse in high school and college. I started comparing myself to others and eventually came to the conclusion that the only way that I was ever going to look like them was to eat like them, and sadly this meant barely ever eating at all.

And here’s the truly sad part. No one ever noticed. It didn’t matter how much I exercised or how little I ate, I never seemed to lose anything. My friends and family even kept encouraging my weight-loss pursuits by pointing out every new exercise regime and diet fad, telling me “Oh, your body is just maturing!” or “We can do it together!” And on behalf of both past and present me, please shut up.

Do you really think that I don’t see every beautiful girl on social media and spend hours wondering why I don’t look like that? You really don’t think that I don’t save every single “miracle” weight loss drink to my “inspiration” board on Pinterest? I almost asked for liposuction for my 20th birthday! And listen, I understand that you are only trying to help, but what you are doing simply isn’t helpful. Encouraging me to cut out over 50% of foods from my diet and exercise upwards of three hours a day isn’t helpful, and constantly comparing me to others only makes me feel worse.

The truth is, most people, men and women included, struggle with an eating disorder. And although most people blame this fact on popular culture and the toxic side of social media, the reality is that disordered eating has simply become common. Cleanses, diets, body boot camp — all of these ideas seem good in theory, but when you put them together and attach a photoshopped image of a 90-pound girl, you create a toxic environment. The same goes for TikTok! I cannot tell you how many “glow up” TikToks I’ve seen where someone who is already considered skinny drastically goes down another 30 pounds for no apparent reason. Stop making weight loss an aesthetic. It should be a monitored medical concern, and the process is different for everyone.

And I’m going to be honest with you: as much as I would like to come on here and say that I'm currently at a happy place with my body, that just wouldn’t be true. Unfortunately, I'm still struggling from a toxic relationship with food and body dysmorphia, but with that said, I've learned a lot over my recovery process and have decided to share some of these lessons with you. I truly hope that they help. So, without further ado, here we go.

  1. 1. Creating a Healthy Home

    Let’s start with the basics. After moving into my first college apartment, I came to the realization that for the first time in my life, I was going to have to go grocery shopping for myself. I knew that my only two goals were that I wanted to be healthy and save as much money as possible. This meant only buying about two different veggies, a bag of apples, and a protein of choice. If this sounds fine to you, we need to change that right away. This is not enough food. And most times, we feel like we don’t even have enough time to prep our food and end up eating out and throwing everything away in a week anyways. This is a crappy cycle, but I promise you that this is very easy to overcome. Two words: baby crockpot. Call me an old lady, but my crockpot is by far my favorite kitchen appliance. Simply throw in your ingredients and some seasoning, and voila! Dinner is served. It's also a great way to learn some new meal prep recipes!

    I would also encourage you to start following a weekly budget, that way you can stop stressing about spending too much money on food. It’s easy to find lots of great cost-effective alternatives for brand name items, and there are a lot of great pre-made grocery lists that have been created by college students for this exact purpose. Cost isn’t an excuse for starvation. Case closed. 

  2. 2. The Pinterest Purge

    Let’s talk about social media. We love it. I mean come on, Gen Z is hilarious, but we can also be dangerous sometimes. We all see girls like Madison Beer, Emily Collins and Gigi Hadid and think oh, this is the standard of beauty. But let's think about that for a minute. Why are we using actual celebrities who can afford the best dieticians, trainers and plastic surgeons as the standard of beauty? That's anything but standard. That would be like saying that all Ivy League Schools are just the baseline of intelligence. That's why we need to find a new standard, someone who we admire for more than just their outward appearance. For me, it’s Danielle Carolan. Not only is she an incredible podcaster and YouTuber, but she is also a spin cycle instructor and full-time college student! How cool is that? Let’s start supporting women instead of using them as a comparison tool.

  3. 3. Calorie Counting isn’t a Game

    Now I don’t know about you guys, but when I was in high school I remember watching so many shows where at least one of the characters had an eating disorder: Glee, Skins, Dance Academy, The Red Band Society, etc. And instead of being concerned for these people, all I remember thinking was, “That’s what I want. I want people to notice me.” I didn’t seem to care about the health issues or the possibility of death — that wasn’t what I was paying attention to. Instead, I focused on how they did it. And this would lead me to calorie counting. What started out as simply a way to make sure I monitored my sugar intake quickly turned into a really twisted game. So here’s my advice: just don’t. I’m not even going to explain how I did it, simply at the risk of accidentally encouraging someone reading this. Just know that there's a big difference between good and bad calories, so simply look at what you’re eating and not at the number associated with it.

  4. 4. Family Genes

    Going home is different for everyone. For some, it’s a very enjoyable time visiting family and catching up with old friends, while for others it’s a time when they feel the most scrutinized. For the longest time, I remember going home to comments like, “Are you watching what you’re eating?” and “Are you sure you want to eat that?” which quickly helped to turn my home into a very toxic place. But this all changed, and it can for you. For me, this did not mean going up to my family members and having a full-fledged breakdown, but rather I encouraged my family to work on our health together. I find that when others say rude things, it’s probably because they feel that way themselves, so by encouraging positive progress amongst everyone you can make the situation better for everyone. Also, shoutout to my mom for staying Keto for the past two months! I’m so proud of you!

  5. 5. Making the Call

    Alrighty, I saved this point for last because it's by far the most serious. Being in college means that you aren’t always going to have someone checking up on you all the time and making sure you’re okay, and this makes it much easier for people to start or re-develop their eating disorder. And the sad reality is that most people cannot break out of their disordered eating habits alone. Eating disorders are addictive cycles, so if you see someone struggling, try your best to help. I’m not saying to blindside them at random, but simply check in on them. Some things you can do would be to start having weekly meals together, pack a small snack in your backpack in case someone needs one, or even go grocery shopping with friends! These are just small steps, but trust me, they can make the biggest difference.

If you are struggling with an eating disorder, here are some resources you can reach out to. You are strong and you can get through this. I believe in you.

UCF Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS): Call 407-823-2811

National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) Hotline: Call 1-800-931-2237 or text “NEDA” to 741-741

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255)