*This article includes references to eating disorders. If you or someone you know is in need of support, we've provided resources at the end of this article.
Guilt. One emotion that I’m all too familiar with. You see, as someone who suffers from Anorexia Nervosa, this time of year is particularly challenging. In fact, I still have yet to experience a holiday season in which I haven’t been bombarded with harmful messages that encourage weight loss and extreme forms of exercise. The fact that I cannot recall a time when I felt safe in my body or perfectly content with my food intake during the holiday season raises a lot of questions about our societal values. It is appalling to me that in 2022, many of us are still conditioned to believe that we should compensate for what we eat, and that gaining weight or having a certain level of body fat is something to be ashamed of.
I can remember being conditioned to believe that being fat was one of the worst things someone could be; yet, in that same vein, I would be pressured by my society and my family to eat the very foods I was told would make me fat.
So where does this guilt stem from? Well, in my case, sharing the origins of my eating disorder would result in exposing every single one of my insecurities. It would also lead to me sharing my entire life story up until this point, which, in my opinion, would take an entire book to explain; to keep things simple, I list the following factors that I feel contributed to my internalized feelings of shame, which ultimately manifested into a full blown eating disorder:
- Intergenerational trauma
- Cultural attitudes and expectations surrounding food, looks, and exercise
- Biological predisposition to mental illness
- Averse messages stemming from diet culture (of which we are all victims, in one way or another)
- Gaman (the Japanese cultural value of enduring or even embracing suffering )
Each of the aforementioned determinants caused me a great deal of anxiety. Prior to my time in treatment, I didn’t have the tools or the ability to healthily cope with my feelings of hurt. Instead, whenever things felt out of control in my life, I relied on my eating disorder since it was the one thing that I could constantly rely on. I knew that if I restricted, I would get results. Results that were praised and rarely questioned. Due to this, I continued to take things to the extreme because I rarely, if ever, faced any consequences for my actions; before I knew it, my eating disorder became a full-blown addiction, one in which I had no control over. Despite the pain I caused others, and the irreparable damage I was inflicting on my body, I could not stop. Restricting and exercising had become my everything. I could always rely on them to numb whatever painful memories or feelings I had; however, like anything else in life, when exercise and food restriction are not done in moderation, they are not sustainable in the long-term. It wasn’t long before I was hospitalized and forced to face my own mortality.
Despite maintaining my recovery for the last five years, I still struggle; hence, the continued feelings of guilt and the inability to eat certain foods that instill fear in me. As an Asian American, I can recall so many moments in my life when I was given mixed messages on what I should eat and how much I should eat. I can remember being conditioned to believe that being fat was one of the worst things someone could be; yet, in that same vein, I would be pressured by my society and my family to eat the very foods I was told would make me fat. Outside of my meals, I would be confronted with the harsh realities of the world, realities of which would make me feel unsafe and hurt. It was during those moments that I relied, and at times still rely, on my eating disorder to make me feel in control and protected.
Contrary to popular belief, eating disorders are not a lifestyle choice that one chooses. They are serious mental illnesses that when left undiagnosed or unchecked, can have potentially fatal consequences. In fact, Anorexia Nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder. It has taken me years to unlearn the damaging lessons I was taught while growing up. While I’m pleased that we’re in a moment in time in which people are now FINALLY aware and actively working to support the body positivity and neutrality movement, as well as acknowledging the intersectionalities that make up the community, there’s still so much work to be done.
Contrary to popular belief, eating disorders are not a lifestyle choice that one chooses. They are serious mental illnesses that when left undiagnosed or unchecked, can have potentially fatal consequences.
So while I experience more guilt-ridden days than not, I’m pleased to share that I’m at a point now in my recovery that I can feel pride, even on days where I feel guilty: pride for actively choosing to make healthy decisions, pride for honoring my cravings, pride for recognizing what kind of movement my body needs and what it doesn’t need, pride for acknowledging my own personal needs and wants, and pride for surviving this last year when there were so many moments that I didn’t think I could survive. So, moving forward, I urge each of you to take a moment to pause and reflect on your relationship with food, exercise, and your body. I hope that if anything, after reading this article, you will find ways to address harmful behaviors that foster diet culture and fatphobia. With so many people having made New Year’s resolutions related to diet and exercise, it is the perfect time to confront what it is that we really value in our lives. I encourage each of you to be gentle with yourselves and others, and to continue to nourish your bodies, as we only have only this one life.