James S. Bell Junior Middle School in Toronto has banned “junk food” from lunches. Students who bring items such as candy or even granola bars will be asked to take the items back home. The reasoning behind this decision is that the school styles itself as a “sports and wellness academy”. They further reinforce these values by sending kids back to the cafeteria line if they do not have enough vegetables on their plate. Although the general population may perceive these initiatives as positive and healthy – they do not sit well with me.
I was going to college for health and fitness in Toronto when my behaviours became extreme. As my weight and health quickly plummeted no one asked me what was going on. Even at my physically worst I was only ever asked about drug use by doctors, but never a question about food or exercise. Hidden in plain sight, I was a man with an eating disorder.
When you’re younger, you’re told you should follow your dreams. I always took that to heart and believe that if I had the power to do anything, than why not spend my time doing something that I love? Part of following your dreams means taking risks, and when I was a kid I was teased and I had practically zero self-confidence. Additionally, I was also slightly overweight at the time, which caused me to analyze and pick apart everything about how I looked. So even when opportunities came my way, I was too self conscious to even think about going for it.
I have always been a small guy. Genetically, I will never be bulky or muscular… it’s just not in the cards for me. Throughout my school years, I was always referred to as “that really skinny guy” or “skeleton.” Some people even questioned if my parents were not feeding me enough. Even today, when I am twenty four years old and at university, one of the first things people notice about me is how thin I am. I’m certainly not the skinniest guy out there, but in an age where guys are expected to be big and muscular, I am an outsider.
The NEDIC team has been deeply affected by the comments in both criticism and support of our most recent awareness campaign ad. We recognize that the ad has stirred deep feelings and strong reactions from many of you.
In objection to the ad, some have said:
Last week, I was surprised to come across two articles discussing whether Toronto schools will soon be weighing students, determining whether they are within a ‘healthy’ weight range – and sending the results to parents. When asked what they thought about this, the majority of parents surveyed in a Toronto Star poll reported that they would not allow their children to participate in BMI testing if it was brought to their school. Why? Could it be that parents understand that BMI is not a good measure of health and wellbeing? That measuring BMI in schools continues a flawed panic – using a flawed measuring tool – about size rather than health?
In the year 2000 I was accepted into the Emergency Medical Technician program at SIAST in my hometown of Regina, SK. This is when I met one of the most inspiring and encouraging human beings of my life (my primary instructor for the program and now good friend, Heather). I don’t think to this day I have ever explained to her that it was her class and her presence in my life that caused a shift in my very way of thinking.
Many people have asked me similar questions: 'How can you openly speak about your ED?' or “Are you scared that people will judge you for having had an ED?” Others ask, “What if you are not hired for a job because of your history with ED?”. So, I feel it is time to start sharing my answers!
Eating disorder. Simply say the words and there are many others that immediately spring to mind. For each person, the association will be different; however, one thing is clear – it’s an emotionally charged issue. As a former eating disorder sufferer, I confess that one of the words I didn’t anticipate encountering on my journey with anorexia was also one of the most damaging – isolation. As the years passed, my ED injured not only me, but also my relationships with my friends, my family, and my world in general.
I am an activist. Sometimes it rocks. Sometimes it feels like I am swimming against the stream. But it always feels true. I woke up to realizing that something wasn't right when I was healing from my eating disorder in high school and I determined to become part of the change. I summoned my inner activist, the courageous part of me that intuitively knew that something wasn't right with a culture presenting limiting stereotypes for women and men. I went on strike from the madness within my mind and healed the split on the inside.