Hi! My name’s Jen, and I blog over at BagelsToBroccoli.com! I was honored when Emily asked me to share a post on her blog. I respect Emily’s journey and vulnerabilities so much, and she is a wonderful role model for those seeking to live authentically for Christ in light of real struggles amidst and after recovery. While my blog isn’t focused on recovery per se, I do often write about issues related to body image, food fears, and self-confidence. I’d love to hear from you if you stop by the blog, and I’m always available via email at bagelstobroccoli.com! You can also find me on Twitter @ThisJenTweets and Instagram @bagelstobroccoli.
While I haven’t suffered from a clinical eating disorder, I have struggled with my share of disordered thoughts and beliefs around food and exercise. If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you know a little bit about my story. It’s my opinion that even if you don’t get diagnosed with an eating disorder, there’s a good chance you’ve been exposed to the dieting-is-the-answer mentality that persists in our society. Time after time, we’re taught that losing a few pounds will make us more confident, more attractive, and more successful. The media teaches us that exercise is about beating ourselves to a pulp trying to get and stay thin. There doesn’t seem to be any semblance of balance – either you’re fit and healthy, or you’re overweight and lazy. In order to get to a “healthy” place, one needs to cut out all carbs, eat only salad for months on end, and go for 5 mile runs every single day without a rest.
One of the most dangerous aspects about this mentality is that going on a diet is automatically prescribed as THE answer to health problems that we face. Doctors suggest losing weight the moment anyone who isn’t on the lower end of the (completely ridiculous) BMI range is concerned about the simplest aspect of the their health. Knee pain from running so much? Oh, just lose some weight. A lingering cold? Try eating some kale for the vitamin C content…and you’ll drop some of the extra weight as well! It would be comical if it wasn’t so dangerous. I’d be willing to bet that many an illness has probably been overlooked in favor of urging a patient to lose weight, on the basis of a murky correlation.
Celebrity culture contributes massively to the problem. Don’t even get me started on the fashion industry and their egregious standards! We waste our time obsessing over how to get Kim Kardashian’s backside or Kelly Ripa’s arms and, because we’re not them, we are devastated when we try and try and try and still our lives do not look like theirs. Instead, we find ourselves obsessively counting every calorie, or crying ourselves to sleep if we step on the scale and see a number that we’re not “okay” with.
Sure, I do make an effort to eat vegetables as often as I can, and I do enjoy things like green smoothies and zucchini pasta. I do think that getting in a variety of nutrients through our diet is certainly beneficial. I also really enjoy exercise and appreciate a good sweat session. The pursuit of healthy habits is not a bad thing in and of itself. However, I personally think it ceases to become healthy is when it becomes the only reason for one’s confidence, hope, and purpose. When we can’t enjoy a meal out with friends or family because we’re so paranoid about the lack of low-calorie, “healthy” items on the menu, that’s a problem. If we feel utterly unloveable and unattractive because we gained some weight recently, that’s not okay. And if we decided to go on a diet to try to control a situation that scares us, it’s essentially a guarantee that danger is only a few steps ahead.
Only a little while ago, I thought that diets were only appropriate for people who were “clinically obese”. I’ve witness many people – mostly women, I will admit – who have no business going on a diet loudly proclaim to their friends at the gym how they’ve recently cut their calorie intake to try to get abs. Anyone looking at them would be unable to see why they felt the need to lose weight. I fit into this category – as a naturally thin person, when/if I lose weight, it’s noticeable. It’s also completely medically unnecessary for someone my size to try to diet down. And then I realized that by ascribing to this opinion, I’m also believing that diets are healthy for people who are overweight. But the reality is that actively starving our bodies of nutrients, energy and joy is not appropriate for anyone, at any size or weight. It doesn’t mean we also need to consume everything in sight, but our bodies are smart. They were created in such a way that most of the time, they know what they’re doing. For most people, the only results they see from their diets is obsession with food (and often exercise as well), unrealistic expectations about body image, and the high likelihood of suffering from dangerous eating disorders like anorexia, bulimia, and orthorexia. The line between experiencing a full-fledged eating disorder and engaging in disordered eating habits is becoming increasingly small.
I sometimes wonder if that line even exists at all, or if one is just a continuation of the other. And maybe, probably, you and I know the answer – we just need to be willing to admit it.