It is finally time for the body image blog!
I’ve been wanting to write this one for such a long time as it’s been such a present symptom for so many of my disabilities throughout my life, but a recent rise in negative body image stemming from daylight savings time (it’s a thing, I promise!) really pushed me to write it now.
While body image issues can feel especially vulnerable to talk about, I’ve learned that it’s such a common shared experience for so many people – we’ve just convinced ourselves we’re alone.
So, here’s me sharing way too much about my personal life to show anyone out there struggling that they aren’t alone.
As always, some disclaimers.
I won’t share what foods I ate, what drinks I drank, how much I weighed, etc. If you also share your experiences with eating disorders/disordered eating/body image, I’d like to ask you to do the same – let’s not share dangerous information that can encourage others to repeat what we went through.
I also want to stress that weight is not as central to eating disorders/disordered eating as most people think. Too many of us have heard we aren’t skinny enough to get treatment for eating disorders, or that we’re too fat to have one at all – but eating disorders are a type of mental illness, not some adjective to describe the physical state of our bodies.
And above all, I’ve tried my best to ensure this blog doesn’t feed into a fatphobic narrative. Eating disorders often prey on the fatphobia pushed on us by our diet culture-obsessed society, and are characterized by obsessive and irrational thoughts that portray gaining weight as the worst thing that can happen. Again, irrational.
It’s also important to remember that fat people can also have eating disorders, and have very different experiences with treatment, rehabilitation, and society because of how they look.
Like always, I’m speaking from lived experience. Like all mental illnesses, eating disorders can be incredibly personal.
If your experience was wildly different than mine and you want to share it, please go for it! If my experience resonated with yours, please go for it too!
I’m learning that by being able to identify past emotions and discuss past experiences, I’m better able to heal – and I hope this blog can provide you with a space to heal as well.
Alright, let’s get into some extremely personal stuff!!
I grew up around diet culture as most people – especially women and girls – do. I also grew up in the time of weight watchers, calorie counting in health class, and the start of social media – which was pretty much a disaster waiting to happen.
Like most people, I have one memory that sticks out as the start of my self-awareness of my body and what society expected it to look like.
During my first ever musical at age 12, someone said my dress gave me a “muffin top” – whatever the hell that was. I
t’s worth noting I had a very ridiculous hat on and was dressed up like a flower, so looking back this 14 year old girl was definitely going through something if that’s what she noticed.
A year later, I turned 13 and discovered Tumblr. (You know exactly where this is going!)
While I occasionally scrolled through some concerning eating disorder hashtags out of curiosity, I never grew obsessed with those images – I knew they were unhealthy, I knew the posters were mentally unwell, I knew I didn’t want to be like that.
What did the most damage was the photos on mainstream accounts and hashtags that featured exclusively skinny women – at least on the eating disorder hashtags, I was able to identify dangerous messaging.
With mainstream social media use, diet culture is pushed onto us in much more subtle ways – and while Tumblr is dead to me, Instagram and Pinterest seem to have a field day setting up the algorithm as if to get me to relapse.
Like a lot of 13 year olds, I was dealing with severe depression and anxiety at this time.
I would stay home from school and doom scroll on Tumblr way before we even knew what doom scrolling was. And, like a lot of 13 year olds with mental illness, I had self-harming tendencies, and at this time it manifested in disordered eating.
This was all magnified by my environment: I had left my last elementary school to pursue the now defunct extended french immersion program in grade 7 (RIP), where I swear the school board’s most mentally ill students accumulated. Everyone was severely mentally ill, and having an eating disorder genuinely made me feel like I belonged.
I’m all for quality french education and bilingualism, but all things considered maybe the program’s cancellation wasn’t entirely negative…
When I was 14, I returned to my previous elementary school for grade 8 which sparked my first go at recovery.
I was back with my support system, my friends, my favourite teachers, my beloved music program. Here, I didn’t need an eating disorder to belong. I just did.
I began to understand which foods were “eating disorder foods” (foods encouraging pro-eating disorder thoughts) and avoided them like the plague, and tried harder to start the day with a solid breakfast.
7 years later, I’ve reincorporated some of the foods back into my life as part of recovery (no bad foods, just bad thoughts) and a balanced lifestyle, and breakfast remains my favourite meal of the day.
I also began to find recovery channels on Tumblr and mental health awareness accounts on Instagram – which were only just popping up at the time.
And then I started high school!
Maybe it was the ADHD kicking in (we’re getting there), but I never felt insecure or out of place. I was excited for a new experience with new people, and always assumed everyone else was just figuring life out as they go (news flash: we all still are!)
Grade 9 passed in the ways grade 9 does, and then Grade 10 hit. (If you’ve been following the blog, you know this is an “oh shit” moment).
While the trauma that kickstarted my PTSD happened around this time, we’ll revisit the PTSD-body image relationship at age 17 when I realized what had happened – right now, let’s focus on ADHD.
Disordered eating is very common in people with ADHD – whether it’s because you’re hyperactive and forgot to eat because you were busy doing something else (hi!) or because your executive dysfunction keeps you from getting something to eat.
While it can be an incredibly harmful symptom, it’s not often discussed in ADHD discussions – which absolutely sucks, especially for women and girls with ADHD who are disproportionately impacted by this and who face additional barriers to diagnosis.
For me, at 15, this ADHD-disordered eating relationship was a byproduct of an overpacked schedule with no time for breakfast or lunch – and finding the time to eat is still something I struggle with to this day!
Alright that’s the ADHD, cue the arthritis!
About a year later, I was diagnosed with juvenile idiopathic arthritis and a few months later I started methotrexate – which for autoimmune disorder treatment is pretty much just micro-dosing chemotherapy.
But interestingly enough, losing weight from the chemo never triggered those old thoughts – I had no control over my weight, and had absolutely no interest in glorifying the body that was actively trying to kill me.
It’s a weird, weird relationship, but even weirder was how many unsolicited and unwelcome compliments I got on my body from strangers – while I was on chemotherapy! While my body was actively trying to kill me!
Cue societal alarm bells!
And then, another year later, I realized I had PTSD. (It was a busy few years, I know!)
Like a lot of people with PTSD, I didn’t remember what had happened to me for a few years, and when I did I was able to understand all of its terrible symptoms.
Most (ir)relevant to body image is the depersonalization I face(d) – if you’ve ever seen a dog bark at itself in the mirror, know I’m the dog.
I just did not recognize my body, my face, my eyes, anything. Add in the chemo changes and you pretty much have a ghost!
PTSD recovery was and is tough, but that’s for another day.
I have to skip the year I moved out for university during the COVID-19 pandemic to protect an identity who really threatened my recovery – wishing that person growth and recovery, wherever they are.
A year later, the situation resolved itself and I was 20.
The PTSD was subsiding in severity, but the ADHD continued to keep me going like a hamster on a wheel that doesn’t know when to stop.
I didn’t binge anymore, but I did often forget to eat meals because I was caught up in other tasks. When this happened, I felt guilty, like I was letting my 13 year old self who fought so hard for recovery down.
But I was compassionate to myself, ate what I wanted in the moment when I remembered to eat, and started every day with a clean slate. Because that’s really the best we can do sometimes.
As I entered my 20s, the clean girl aesthetic caught on.
As someone who finds peace in having her shit together, I was an ideal target audience.
The only issue was the underlying disordered eating being promoted – only eating healthy homemade meals and working out all the time isn’t as healthy as the clean girl aesthetic makes out.
Luckily, the anti-diet culture wave hit social media soon after, and I found registered dietician Dr Abbey Sharp, who has single handedly helped me pivot my relationship to food.
Dr Sharp shows the start of videos subtly promoting disordered eating, and identifies the issues while providing better alternatives that create a kinder and more sustainable relationship with food. She also manages to do all this without villainizing the original creators or any foods, which is so rare and appreciated.
I’m solidly in my 20s now at 21, and am learning how to navigate and accept the changes my age brings to my body. People often say you can’t chase the body you had in high school, and I have no desire to – again, I was microdosing chemo.
But regardless, it is difficult accepting that my body will change when for so long that was an overwhelming fear of mine.
So far, I’ve been finding what feels good for me – a balanced, albeit super chaotic lifestyle with time carved out for yoga and homemade meals. This will change as I grow older, as will my body.
And whenever this growth scares me or triggers old thoughts, I think back to the 16 year-old on chemo who felt like a zombie. And I know she would be so proud to see me now.
This is the part where I say something ridiculously profound that stops every eating disorder in its tracks and cures everyone of everything ever. Kidding, of course.
What I can say is that recovery is personal – we all have different reasons to fight for it, different people we want to show up for, and different things we want to do with our lives.
Find what makes your life worth living fully – because there is always something for everyone – and go from there. Find what feels good for you.
And know that we are operating under an incredibly dangerous social narrative that prioritizes looks over wellbeing – every day we choose to love ourselves and commit to caring for us and others, we’re working to make the world a safer, better place for the next generation.
Alright! Another blog down, another excessive amount of personal information shared, another awkward but supportive conversation on the horizon! See you next time.