by Amanda Merriweather
I’m 27, I live in San Francisco, and I’m a Recruiter for a tech company. I enjoy spending time with my friends. I love hiking, backpacking and skiing. I am close with my family – parents and twin sisters (and a cat). On paper, I’m your average San Francisco city girl. I thought so too, and in turn, I really didn’t think I had a problem. I mean, you see women in the media who struggle with eating disorders all the time, but there was no way that was me.
But as it turns out, it was. When I started struggling with bulimia, I truly thought it was a short-term fix to get me through a foot injury. A foot injury meant I couldn’t go to all my workout classes, I had to stop training for the Nike Women’s Half Marathon, and I had to work from home a few days a week. Without any physical activity, I had to find a way to maintain control of my body and its aesthetics, and there was no way around it. By controlling my body, I thought I could control what people thought of me, my value to others, and my worth in the world. It sounds really dramatic, but retrospectively, it’s the best way I can describe my feelings at the time.
The reality is I’d had been disordered for a long time, before my bulimia behaviors. Of course, I didn’t see it as disordered. Rather, I saw it as “healthy”. And honestly, I think a lot of other “normal” people would consider my lifestyle “healthy”, too. But what I’ve come to realize in my recovery journey is that this lifestyle perceived as “healthy” can take over your life very quickly. It sneaks up on you. There are very simple inputs we innocently absorb from the world around us on a daily basis that dictate our lives and lead us to feel guilty or ashamed of our decisions with regard to food and exercise.
That’s where my disorder starts. For me, it was a fad diet; I kept hearing about it over social media, and heck, I loved being “healthy”, so why not give it a shot. If anyone has friends who make money off selling one of these diets, god bless your social media newsfeed. It’s probably chalk full of all the workouts and exact amounts of food your friends eat. How much weight they’ve lost, and why you obviously should consider it too. After two weeks of this diet, while I’d lost weight, the regimen was realistically not sustainable. Unfortunately, I accepted this diet as a template for what I “should” be eating and how much exercise I “should” be getting. So begins the spiral.
Through these fad diets, “healthy” has become very distorted. The reality is we live in a disordered society – trending diets, the fixation with working out, and the value we put on having “the perfect body”.
I started to fuel my identity with the diet and its rules. For example, I’d often post a picture of my shopping cart on a Sunday night with hashtags like #cleaneating #citygirl (you’ve probably seen a post just like it before). I’d always talk about “earning” brunch because I’d gone for this X-mile long run that morning (when was the last time you went to brunch and no one at the table tried to justify their meal?). Working out became a part of who I was, and I loved and thrived off the fact that people associated me with being a workout fanatic and health freak–it was how people defaulted to connecting with me. These are all seemingly normal behaviors that we’ve all either seen in our friends, or participated in ourselves, no?
Last year, after a serendipitous series of events, I sought help for my bulimia and ultimately found an amazing treatment program right in the Marina in San Francisco. While I’ve moved on from the treatment program, I am still working on recovery, and it is still very much a part of my life. I’ve had a lot of “unlearning” to do, and still have a ways to go.
Through sharing my story, I only hope to bring awareness to the world we have created around us. Body shaming and negative body image have become too normalized in our society. I can’t blame anyone – it’s all too easy to absorb these systematic messages and take them at face value. It’s no wonder there are 30 million people (10 million of them men) in the US that fall into this disorder at some point in their life. But we need to slow the food and exercise-obsessed culture we live in.
I have an ask that we all work together to change the world around us. This is not just about eating disorders, but about enabling humans to live a full life free of guilt, and the permission to feel awesome no matter their swimsuit size, the number of hours they sit on the couch relaxing watching Netflix, or the burger and glass of wine they crave after a long day of work travel. We need to stop fueling this messaging that drives us to constantly feel guilty and to second-guess our decisions on how we take care of our own bodies.
I ask that you make your lifestyle decisions around food and exercise personal decisions, and not ones you rationalize on all your social media accounts. This includes comments that refer to “earning the weekend” or “no carbs, and few calories”. Instead, do what you have to do to take care of your body: maybe share a new workout you enjoyed that made you feel good, or a recipe that includes some fun ingredients you’ve just discovered. I ask that next time you’re at brunch with friends or on a date, you make the decision to eat whatever you want and simply order it. There’s no need to justify it as a “treat” or something you “earned”. I ask that you quit the weight loss competitions in the workplace. Instead, make a point to all go on a walk together.
Some people might read this and react with “Well, of course I eat what I want and do what I want”. To you, I say amen. I aspire to that.
Some people might read this and react with “Hmm, I find myself saying some of these things around the office and around my friends.”. To you, I say I hope you’ll buy into changing our society one small comment at a time.
Some people might read this and will oddly identify with my experience. To you, please know you are not alone.
There is a world around us that makes it too easy to fall into these disordered patterns. I often have friends ask me what they should do if they think someone they know might be struggling with an eating disorder. There are lots of things you can say or do; at the end of the day, no matter what you say or do, this person might just feel alone and in denial – I sure did. To this, I say please share a story with your friend. It can be mine or someone else’s, but I want people dealing with this heinous and awful disorder to feel less crazy and alone.
I thought I could deal with it and boot it all by myself, but I couldn’t. To those who can relate to this: I hope you find comfort in asking for help because everyone deserves to be healthy and to feel normal.