The Disorder that Isn’t a Disorder (Except that it Totally Is)

I forgot to post this from a while back!  I wrote an article in my school’s newspaper for Eating Disorder Awareness Week.  CW: disordered eating (obvs), weight loss.  Plain text follows the images below the cut.  Enjoy!


I have never actually been diagnosed with an eating disorder, but that isn’t because I don’t have a long and storied history of disordered eating. It’s because the numerous disordered eating patterns I have adopted at various times in my life have mostly been known by a different name: dieting. Far from being perceived as pathological, these are behaviors for which others have usually commended me over the course of my life.

When I chose to “fast” for the duration of Lent one year by eating literally nothing but mostly raw vegetables, people were quick to cheer me on and to praise this rigorous denial of my body’s basic needs. When I limited my energy intake to 1200 calories or less a day for nearly an entire year, several of my coworkers at the time were so inspired by this feat of voluntary self-starvation that many of them set out to do the same. Those are a couple of the more extreme examples, but even the more moderate, mainstream approaches to restricted eating that I have taken – with, of course, the goal of losing weight – have been more than enough to trigger my body’s starvation mode, lowering my metabolism, packing on every calorie, and making me so crazy around food that I eventually lose it and binge on “bad” foods, triggering the shame that starts the whole dieting cycle over again. This “yo-yo” dieting is a disordered pattern of eating I’m sure many of us can identify with.

The constant reinforcement of food as taboo becomes especially problematic when eating is closely tied to emotion, as it always was for me growing up. Food is my stoic, German-American Lutheran family’s love language. From giving comfort with casseroles after the death of a loved one to welcoming the first serious boyfriend I brought home for Christmas with four pounds of prime rib, my family shows affection and emotional connection through eating. My dad often remarks ruefully that when our family is sad, we eat, when we are happy, we eat, when we are bored we eat, and so on.

This kind of emotional eating often leads to disassociation with our body’s natural hunger cues – a connection I have spent significant time in therapy trying to recover. What’s more, when emotional human connection is tied to food and food is tied to shame, it doesn’t take very long for the self-denial of food to become a self-denial of emotional human contact.

The truth is that I have never really had a normal, non-stressful relationship with food. Like all fat women – and many women in general – I’ve never really been allowed to. People are often very quick to assume they can know everything about my eating patterns just by looking at me – heck, fat women who eat everything in sight are one of the most worn out comedy staples out there. In order to be socially accepted, fat women must often go on the offensive, offering proof of their dietary penance by performing only “healthy” eating in public, or better yet, no eating at all.

It is really depressing to me when the church reinforces these harmful patterns of behavior by endorsing the kind of food-related “fasting” people often engage in during the season of Lent. When I used to do this kind of fasting, it was rarely truly about repenting and turning back to God; it was just a more spiritualized effort to lose weight. Instead of lifting my eyes to the hope of God’s kingdom, these practices were a means of burying myself in ashes. This is not the fast that God chooses. Let us instead, as a church, engage in the kind of fasting that will “loose the bonds of injustice,” “undo the thongs of the yoke,” and “let the oppressed go free,” starting with those weighed down by the yoke of our culture’s unhealthy and destructive obsession with food.

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