In November of 1998, during my senior year in college, I embarked on a new diet. I called it “low carb with fruit.” I cut out a lot of foods, and like most diets, it started working in the beginning. Because I was losing weight, I stuck with the diet very carefully.
In early January 1999, I went on a trip to Prague with my scholarship group from school. It was extremely cold in Prague, and I didn’t have much money. There was hardly any fruit or vegetables to be had anywhere, so for about a week I subsisted on about 2 sausages that you buy on the street per day, carefully throwing out the hearty roll it was wrapped in. I was also walking for miles each day, exploring the city.
As you might imagine, I was hungry for most of the day, and I ignored that hunger for both convenience sake and because I wanted to stick to this diet. Only someone on a diet or a severe wheat allergy would have thrown those rolls away. And maybe there were some other foods I could have found on the cheap, but I was so single-minded about sticking to my diet that I probably didn’t consider them.
When I got back to New York, I had lost more weight, and everyone was excited for me. My hair was also thinner, and I’m not sure it ever really recovered.
I remember, at the time, feeling happy to have lost more weight, but sad that no one seemed to mind that I did it in a really unhealthy way. I thought, if I had gone to Prague a size 2 and come back a size 0, they might have considered getting me some help for an eating disorder, but leaving a size 14/16 and coming back a 12/14 was considered a great accomplishment.
A lot of my clients come to me with self-diagnosed restrictive eating disorders. And they come to me that way because when you’re fat or plus-sized or even toward the larger end of the “normal size” scale, weight loss is considered a healthy, important goal, and almost any way that you arrive at or strive for that goal is approved of. Many of the symptoms of dieting (obsession with weight, obsession with food, body dysmorphia) are akin to eating disorder symptoms, but they’re overlooked if you’re engaging in them while existing in a fatter body. They still have deleterious mental, emotional, and physical effects, whether you’re fat, thin, or in between. I think it’s time that the health and wellness community and the world at large recognized this reality.
This lack of recognition for eating disorders in fatter people is something I think about quite a lot, but it was brought to the fore by the fact that the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) has decided to partner with Strategies To Overcome and Prevent (STOP) Obesity Alliance, a group who’s funded by pharmaceutical companies that produce dangerous and questionable things like diet pills and lap bands. (To read more about it, read Ragen Chastain’s excellent open letter to NEDA and sign the petition to stop this alliance.)
Is engaging in restricting and obsessive behaviors perfectly great if you’re fatter and yet something worthy of treatment when you’re thinner? Or are our societal norms and unfounded beliefs about health and beauty clouding the fact that it’s pretty much the same thing? Let me know what you think in the comments below.
Golda is a certified holistic health counselor and founder of Body Love Wellness, a program designed for plus-sized women who are fed up with dieting and want support to stop obsessing about food and weight. Join her for her upcoming FREE teleclass, HAES For The Holidays: How To Navigate Food, Family & Fatness Better This Holiday Season, by clicking here.