Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
April 3, 2020 | °F in Baltimore

For the longest time, my relationship with food has been something that I’ve wanted to write about. I’ve wanted to bring it up in conversation, but I have never known how.

I don’t have an eating disorder, and the last thing I want to do is minimize the experience of anyone, whether they’re currently struggling with one or they’ve had one in the past. That’s not to say that my experience with food has been healthy. Not at all.

I’ve grown up (extremely fortunately) with a giant, loving family. They are incredibly supportive, and they always have my best interests at heart. 

However, I have also grown up thinking that it is completely normal to comment on someone’s weight consistently, which resulted in this strange idea of a “perfect” body manifesting and anchoring itself in my head. 

I have always known that worshipping super-skinny, six-foot-tall supermodels is not good for me, but this “perfect” ideal was not that. Instead it was always just slightly skinnier than exactly how I looked. 

I thought that it was perfectly normal, even healthy, to obsess over my weight and body fat percentage constantly.

There are many people in my life who think it’s okay to say things like, “Oh, wow. You’ve lost a lot of weight. Tell me your secret,” as if I had just won the Nobel prize in dieting. Or they’ll say ‘Oh, no. You’ve gained some weight since the last time I saw you, what’s wrong?’ 

Of course, that would result in a week-long starvation spiral and an attempt to get my fingers to touch around my thigh four times a day. Most of the time, if I had recently lost some weight, it was because I had stressed myself out studying so much that I had quite literally forgotten to eat.

I was sacrificing mental and physical health for an A on a history paper, even though I can’t remember for the life of me what I wrote about now. That was the secret to losing weight that people were so excitedly awaiting.

Since graduating high school, I have become more self-aware. 

For the most part, I quit the self-deprecating mentality that I had adopted for some time, and so I never really questioned my relationship with food. 

It didn’t seem weird to me that I check my stomach in the mirror to make sure that it’s still flat after every single meal, whether it’s at home or in a restaurant bathroom. 

It never bothered me that I only go to the gym to lose an inch around my waist or thigh, not to keep my body feeling healthy and strong all the time. Yes, present tense. These are things I do.

I wake up, look in my full-length mirror, and pick things I hate about myself to dwell on while I get dressed. 

I eat insanely spicy foods and drink copious amounts of coffee, partly because I enjoy them, but also partly because they act as natural laxatives. So I feel less guilty eating what I consider “more than I should.” 

Until very, very recently (like as recently as two weeks ago) I had absolutely no idea that these were not okay things to do.

I’ve engaged in a combination of talking to my girlfriends, taking the anonymous stress and depression quiz, watching Taylor Swift’s documentary, and just generally being more conscious of my emotions and internal dialogue around mealtimes. 

Altogether they led me to the fairly obvious conclusion that I have an unhealthy relationship with food.

And that’s not to say that I’ve never been a part of the problem. I have definitely complimented someone by saying, “You look so skinny!” 

Sometimes I’ve said absolutely nothing after I’ve heard a friend say, “Aren’t those jeans a little tight on her?” The point of my gross oversharing is to bring to attention the effect of our words. 

Little things like an advertisement for an appetite-suppressing lollipop or skinny mint tea on Instagram can send me into a shame spiral, and I know it can do far worse to people who struggle with this battle on an even deeper level. The best thing that I (or any of us) can do is be there for the people around me.

Complimenting someone’s smile is a million times better than commenting on anything related to their weight. 

There’s no way to know what others are going through in life, whether it has to do with food or not. After all, very few people in my life know that I’ve been dealing with this relationship lately.

This week is National Eating Disorder Awareness week, and I hope that hearing more about people’s experiences reminds us to be more empathetic.

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