Food is Hard; Eating Disorders are Worse

So I saw this today: 12219626_1030712280304501_4016106131669144470_n

Obviously, this is a four-panel cartoon trying to illustrate a really frustrating phenomenon that I’ve experienced during every stage of my life. Everyone feels the need to editorialize everything you eat or don’t eat when you’re a woman. Strike that, some really misguided people, mostly from an older generation, tend to comment on what you are or are not eating.

I had an eating disorder, and it was at least partially fueled by this kind of shit. But I also had an eating disorder and wish that someone had noticed or acted like they cared, and maybe prevented me from throwing away parts of myself in the process.

At least some of the criticism – definitely on the thin end – that this cartoon is highlighting comes from a place of genuine concern, and I dislike this cartoon because it discourages people from voicing that concern at all. What we really need is for people to have a better understanding of how to approach the subject. Let’s face it, everyone has been told that eating disorders exist, but most people – unless they suffer with one – have no idea what that actually looks like.

They picture something like this:

But, that’s all pretty standard stuff. I dare you to find a woman who doesn’t wake up a few days a month, look in the mirror while she’s wearing some jeans that used to fit, and blame her body instead of the clothes.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Most of us have disordered eating. If you’ve ever skipped a meal, if you’ve dieted, to fit into a dress you’ve engaged in disordered eating. Any eating or not eating that is motivated by anything other than your physical need for nutrients is disordered.

BUT seeing a friend eat a huge meal does not mean she has an eating disorder. Seeing a friend skip a meal does not mean she has an eating disorder. Seeing a friend eat a huge meal does not mean she does not have an eating disorder.

You know how you can tell if someone is anorexic rather than naturally thin? Have they lost a lot of weight recently (and I don’t mean five pounds)? Are they obsessive over what they are or are not eating? Are they easily able to tell you how many calories are in something like gum, or know how many they’ve consumed on a particular day? Do they look healthy? Do they look unhealthy?

Regardless of why you think someone you care about has an eating disorder (of any kind) commenting on their food is not constructive. It will not help. You know what will? Letting them know that you care about them. Let them know you’re concerned. Tell them you’re afraid that they’re doing something that’s really unhealthy, and if that person is ready to face it, he or she will be open to your concern. If that person is not, just continue to make yourself available in a non-invasive way. Don’t make it about food. Don’t make it about looks. Don’t make a passive-aggressive comment over dinner. Basically, don’t be an asshole.

Show concern for the person’s well-being, not his or her weight or calorie intake, and really, if you don’t know someone well enough to discuss your bowel movements, you probably don’t know that person well enough to discuss eating habits either.