We preach patience. We preach life. We preach recovery. As someone who has recovered from an eating disorder, a lot of the work I do is in helping others to get better. Clients touch base with me, expressing their stresses, concerns, and feelings over their bodies, and improving their life. I respond to questions by sharing my experience but the most common question I am asked, the one that I cannot always answer simply is “What is recovery?” While in the midst of a struggle, through all of the hard work, people want to know what recovery means. “What does it feel like?
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?
Your body gets you around. Your legs keep you walking – even running when necessary. Your heart pumps blood night and day to keep you alive. Your liver metabolizes substances and excretes toxic chemicals through your kidneys. Your lungs supply the much-needed oxygen. Your arms lift, and your hands write or type. Your eyes see the beautiful things around you, and your ears hear the glorious sounds of nature. Your lips allow you to communicate, and your nose allows you to smell. Your stomach digests the food that you eat. Your reproductive organs allow you to create life.
My journey through recovery thus far has most definitely not been a smooth one. There have been many ups and downs. I will start off first by saying that I don’t personally use the term “recovered” or “recovery” or even “E.D” for that matter. I believe those terms can limit and label us. To me, life is a process and I believe that maintaining health is a lifelong practice which requires daily work in order to balance. Balance is something that I believe we all struggle with from time to time; or at least I will admit I do.
I am sitting, legs crossed on the sidewalk of an outdoor café in Old Montreal, the dew covering my skin from yoga class lifting into the summer night as the sun’s final salutations bow low against the ancient architecture of the Vieux-Port. A Canadian flag flutters the only hint of color against the tawny-gray buildings whose crevices bear the stories of the ancients, the steady clip-clop of a Clydesdale horse carrying the promise of romance to the drones of people who like me have come here to be swept away.
This past week I reached a fork in the road of my recovery. Panicked and overwhelmed, I had to make a decision I did not want to make; to put recovery first or to put my eating disorder first. I had to choose whether living on my own in September in my student house was really the best decision for me, or if I should move back home. A tough decision for anyone, I had Ed (whom I refer to my eating disorder as) yelling in my ear telling me what to do, plus all the legalities of being in a one-year lease. To say the least, I was stressed.
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.
I recall first becoming aware of my ‘pudgy stature’ when I was about 11 or 12 years old and my older brothers started calling me “Little Piggy”. I used to think to myself, “What’s wrong with you loser? Why can’t you just be like all the other guys?” Many people will say “Well that’s just how boys are…”. To me, however, it was utterly devastating. It would reshape my brain, my body and my entire life for more than a decade to come.
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!
So what does feminism have to do with issues of body image and eating disorders anyway? Try everything.
The following dialogue from the movie “Little Miss Sunshine”, in which Olive, a seven-year old aspiring beauty queen asks her grandpa a question, illustrates part of the problem:
“Grandpa, am I pretty?”
“You are the most beautiful girl in the world.”
“You’re just saying that.”
“No! I’m madly in love with you, and it’s not because of your brains or your personality.”