Eating Disorders - Illness, Not Choices
The entirety of my life once revolved around my weight. Every thought, action, and breath I breathed was dedicated towards the pursuit of becoming thinner, smaller, invisible…
After my personality and vitality had starved to diminishment, my physical body began the final act of disappearance. It was during what I thought was the last act of my life that a plot twist in the form of major medical complication, a heart attack, stormed the stage. This twist brought trained professionals to co-star alongside my emaciated body. Their actions saved my life and stopped the tragedy I was acting out.
These trained professionals saw through my performing act. They saw my societally sculpted body as not the embodiment of ‘perfection’ but instead the consequences of our externally validating consumer culture; a culture that values external appearances over internal ways of being. A culture that pushes ninety percent of women to diet at some point in their life. A culture where one in four teenage boys experience teasing about body size before high-school graduation. A society that tells women that they can either be attractive or smart - but not both. A culture that continuously prioritizes appearances over our health, connection, authenticity, transparency and raw humanness.
My new co-stars were all trained professionals in the field of eating disorders, and they were able to see past my performance and see me. Seeing me meant that they understood that how I was acting and engaging in the world was not a choice; I didn’t know any other way of being. I was not choosing to starve myself, purge my body hollow, exercise obsessively or be addicted to laxatives. I wasn't choosing any of those things, but instead, a dictator inside my brain forced me to scrutinize and obsessive over my weight every minute of everyday.
This dictator had makes a home within the mind of every sufferer. This dictator works around the clock at rewiring and hardwiring the individual to experience disconnection from their body, their community, and their passions so that the sufferer only hears the words of the dictator.
The dictator voices didn’t force me to harm my body to be more beautiful, to be more attractive to the opposite sex, to be liked or to be famous. This dictator screamed harmful things for me to do to my body inside my mind with the pure intent of just drowning out my authenticity. My authentic self that I didn’t feel worthy of being.
None of my actions were a choice - they were an illness, a coping mechanism that allowed me to disguise my insecurities, pain, trauma, self-hate, and complete belief that I was not enough, that I would never be enough.
Eating disorders are not choices.
Eating disorders are not just low-calorie consumption.
Eating disorders are not cries for help.
Eating disorders are not about weight, size, or body composition.
Eating disorders are not diets gone bad.
Eating disorders are not just for rich, bored white women.
Eating disorders are mental illnesses.
Eating disorders are the mental illness with the highest mortality rate.
Eating disorders are a coping mechanism for the ones that somehow survived.
If we want each person who experiences an eating disorder to survive we as a culture, as a community, have to begin to be radically honest about the issues that implement a dictator inside the brains of those suffering from an eating disorder.
I have to break the news to you but seeing countless consumption based advertisements of thin women and freakishly fit men does not implement a dictator into a suffers mind. These images reinforce a dictator's presence. Eating disorders are about so much more.
The largest barrier I faced during recovery process is the same barrier that stops society from offering compassion to those suffering from an eating disorder. This barrier is the belief that eating disorders are a choice. That those who are suffering are choosing to suffer, but these people aren’t. These individuals are not choosing to prioritize fitting into a pair of jeans over enjoying a cheesy pizza with you - these men and women are coping. They were once at a place where eating disorders behaviours offered them a way to survive in the world. Often they didn’t have the resources or knowledge to cope differently or in a way that wouldn’t compromise their health.
If our culture is ever to show people with eating disorders that 'coping' no longer requires harming themselves, we as a culture must first shake the misconceptions that people suffering from eating disorders are choosing their behaviours. In the place of this misconception, we must culturally begin to offer these people limitless compassion.
Being on the other side of an eating disorder allows me the opportunity to be radically honest about the dictator that lived inside my mind and what motivates one to deny themselves nutrients, nourishment and the full experience of living.
This is an illness.
The cure is compassion.
Ailey Jolie is current student working towards a Master of Arts in Counselling Psychology. She has personal experiences with the world of eating disorders which drives her passion for helping others through their own recovery process.