I mustered up the courage this past Thursday to attend my very first Eating Disordered Support Group. It was something I had been putting off since Fall 2014. I almost talked myself out of going. I left J’s apartment with 4 hours to kill and knew full well I would not go if I made the journey home but I also feared eating my way through the entire 4 hours–because let’s be honest, NYC is a food mecca and finding things to do in NYC that do not revolve around food or spending money in some sort of way can be far and few in between.
In my last hour before group, I reluctantly walked into a Starbucks and asked for a slice of the iced Lemon pound cake with my Grande Chai Latte– I wasn’t in the mood for my usual “Skinny” Chai order. Half way through the cake I found myself asking “Why’d I get this?” It’s a question I have been asking, in some form or another, a lot lately. “Why did I eat that? Why didn’t I hit the gym? Why did I get two slices instead of one? Why do I keep feeling this way?”
Maybe because I started to feel a little lonely on my four hour escapade. Or because for some time now I have been stuck in a mental/emotional rut from a lack of exercising, an over abundance of eating and a wide array of stressing. Whatever the case is, I find myself feeling like a phony–a lot–and tugging at my clothes–a lot– and wondering why the gym no longer feels like a safe space.
These were some of the thoughts swimming in my head as I nervously awaited the start of group. It was mashed in there with my parents recent comments about how people bring Anorexia and Bulimia and all these other Eating Disorders onto themselves. Surprisingly, last’s weeks group focused on Blame, Shame and Guilt. What makes us feel guilty? Why do we feel shamed? Who is to blame? Our group moderator even through in a discussion about revenge–how we take revenge on our bodies when we feel we/our body has “wronged” us. Isn’t that a strange concept? And yet, anyone who exercised to punish themselves for eating one too many slices of pizza or who has cut back on calories because they didn’t hit the gym is incredibly aware of how rational this type of thinking seems in the moment. Group was fitting in a way, because I have been wondering if my patterns (i.e. eating to excess, gorging on dessert and fatty foods when emotional or skipping meals to balance out lack of activity) can be considered a disorder or if I am just kind of making it all up in my head simply because I have run out of excuses for my seeming lack of dedication.
I think no matter what we’re going through, we want to point the finger. Who is at fault? Who is responsible for reparations? We think it works that way but with addictions and disorders/illnesses it unfortunately doesn’t. As I sat in group and mulled over my parents sentiments I began to wonder where these thoughts of blame originated. Are they perpetuated by a society that is so used to seeing, dealing and waving off Eating Disorders–particularly I feel in the White community and wealthy/affluent communities– or by the communities of color and/or poor communities that deny the existence of Eating Disorders amongst their own and therefore bar any conversation surrounding the disorder?
Eating disorders are prevalent in individuals irregardless of their race or social economic status. I would argue though that as a society, we have become desensitized to Eating Disorders. As Michelle Konstantinovksy points out in her Slate article Eating Disorders Do Not Discriminate, “the ’90s was a big decade for eating disorder melodramas.” Amongst the White community and affluent/wealthy communities, Eating Disorders are nothing new. They happen, we are consciously aware they happen but have become accustomed to kicking the topic under the rug because we assume recovery is as simple as placing someone in a rehabilitation center or helping the individual move past their weight issues and unhealthy relationship with food. Or maybe we simply assume that because the media so heavily portrays a certain beauty ideal girls will ultimately turn to food to remedy body image issues?
In actuality, an Eating Disorder is about more than just food and weight issues–for some individuals weight does not even play a role– and needs to be examined beyond those detrimental relationships. For example, with nicotine addiction being aware of and changing the dependency on nicotine is not the sole solution. Instead, you have to also examine the underlying issues that fuel the addiction. An Eating Disorder is no different so why is it that recovery a lot of the time only focuses on normalizing the individual’s weight and reactions to Food?
Or why is it that in showcasing Eating Disorders, or in talking about Eating Disorders we only focus on a small portion of the individuals suffering: young White Female teens who have to be thin, thin, thin no matter what because that is what denotes Glamour. (Queue Here: 7 Ways The Media’s Depiction of Eating Disorders Failed Me As A Woman of Color).
When it comes to communities of color, I think A Black Girl’s Guide to Weight Loss’s Erika stated it perfectly when she wrote:
“A lot more than our [“colored girls”] community seems to acknowledge, especially since every time the topic of eating disorders comes up among colored girls, the conversation is always squashed with “What? That’s white girl shit.”
It seems that while the White community waves off EDs because they are so visible amongst their community, communities of color deny their existence and relevance. Looking around the room at group, I found I was 1 of 4 people of color– 1 of whom was present in supporter of his girlfriend and another who was currently looking to break way from his own ED. Which highlights another huge issue that is not discussed: Eating Disorders do not only affect Women.
You may wonder why any of that is even important to note. Growing up of color means that many times I have wondered if my experiences are relevant and/or important because I did not see them represented in the media. As I mentioned previously I wonder now, with my Eating Disorder, if it is even possible to call it an Eating Disorder because I have never spoken to or known any other women of color suffering or dealing with the same. None of my friends have ever expressed a debilitating relationship with food. The only people I did find that seemed to understand fit into the “White, Female, Thin, Blonde” construct. So, I wonder if I-a Dominican Brunette with extra body fat and fair amount of muscle– can be relevant within this discussion and conversation.
Because of this doubt, it took sometime for me to identify my patterns. It is also part of the reason why it took so long for me to even attend or seek out group. I remember as a child looking for the hidden box of Entenmamn’s Chocolate Chip Cookies, and stuffing 8-10 of them at a time into my mouth because I was on the verge of crying. It wasn’t until about a year and half ago, when I found myself compelled to eat and eat even after I felt full, bloated and sick that I recognized the imbalance in my behavior. Every episode feels compulsive and necessary whether it is Binging or Restricting.
I wonder why my friends or family don’t feel the same compulsions around food that I do. One of my best friends for example could care less what she eats, and gives in to just about every craving even in the midst of dieting. Have I been trying to feel or not feel something that manifests its self as an obsession with–eating or not eating–food? Am I simply stimulated by my environment differently? What is at the root? How can I change and recover?
I guess that’s a question I’m still trying to answer and in the meanwhile, I will keep sharing with all of you in hopes it helps someone with their own questions and answers.