What’s for dinner?
A question that most people get excited to think about; that most people can decide on in a matter of minutes with their mouths watering, giving them something to look forward to at the end of their long work day.
A question that one person out of every ten people dreads.
One person out of every ten people feels their stomach cramp up into knots at the mere thought of having to entertain this question. One person out of every ten people feels so much pressure to make “healthy” eating choices and have the “perfect” body, and so much guilt for enjoying things like fried foods and carbohydrates that sometimes, they choose nothing as their answer to that question. Or they choose a glass of water. Or maybe a small piece of fruit.
That’s one friend out of every ten friends that you have. And you’ll never know it, because that friend will be able to hide it so easily by eating all of the same things you do when you’re together. She’s thin, but she’s not TOO thin. She’ll have pizza with you, and she’ll have chicken wings. She’ll drink beers and split your chocolate lava cake. But the whole time, she’s torturing herself in her head.
“All of this is going right to your gut. Can’t you feel those stomach rolls already?”
“You’re disgusting! Everyone can see your rolls.”
“It’s gonna take you weeks of cutting calories and exercising to make up for this!”
But people with eating disorders never eat, and they’re always so thin that you can see their bones and their hair is even thinning…. Right?
She’ll be plotting when she can overexercise throughout the following week to rid herself of the calories in which she just indulged. She will push herself, day after day, until she’s so close to fainting that her nose and her lips are tingling… But at least she worked off those calories. She might even go home that night and use her toothbrush to induce vomiting. Anything to lessen the feelings of guilt and diminished self-worth, even just a little bit.
Then in the days following, she might eat hardly anything at all. Just a little something here and there to keep her from feeling lightheaded. Now, after all of that, she’s confident enough to accept your invitation to hang out at the beach! Sort of.
You’ll go to the beach with her. She’ll lay there next to you, in her bikini. At first glance of her, you joke with her and tell her she’s a “skinny bitch” and that you’re “so jealous.” She laughs with you, but inside she cries. She knows that you shouldn’t be “so jealous.” You see a “skinny bitch,” but when she looks in the mirror she still sees someone who is ugly and overweight, and she can’t understand why anyone would be attracted to her. She undermines all of her internal qualities and can’t help but weigh her physical qualities and perceived flaws so much heavier. She feels pain. Deep, intense, heart wrenching pain and hopelessness, everywhere she goes, every day.
You’ll pack a full lunch, including a sandwich, maybe some potato chips on the side. She packed a couple sticks of celery and some water bottles. You make a snarky comment about what a “HUGE lunch” she has. She laughs with you again. This time she’s berating herself for even eating those celery sticks. It feels like her stomach is getting bigger and everyone on the beach can see it. Now she’s looking at all the other women around you in bikinis, and they all look so much more attractive. There aren’t enough towels on the whole beach that she could wrap herself in to make herself feel comfortable. If she could crawl out of her own skin and wash away in the ocean, she would. Why can’t she be like them? Why can’t she have that flat stomach and those muscular arms? She still has a little pouch on her belly and her arms still jiggle when she moves them, despite all of her efforts to restrict her calorie intake and exercise until she can’t anymore. Why can’t she be perfect, no matter how hard she tries?
Then she goes home after the beach, and she lays down in her bed and she cries. She cannot escape what’s in her head. She’s her own harshest judge, and she is ruthless. It has become so difficult for her to socialize with anyone, for fear that they’re also judging her body size and shape. Or for fear that they’ll continue commenting on what she eats, or call her a “skinny bitch.” Or for fear of her own thoughts that beat her down on a daily basis regarding the things that she puts on her plate and the image she sees in the mirror as a result. So she rejects invitations to social outings, anticipating the calories and the fat rolls that will come from it – because when do people socialize without food or drinks? Sometimes, it just isn’t worth the shame, the guilt that lingers afterward. She stays home, sad, lonely and angry at herself for letting her thoughts and obsessions with food and exercise consume her life. And she cries, because it feels so vain and superficial to have these thoughts. What would people think of her if they knew she obsessed over her own body like this? That these thoughts of herself occupied her mind so frequently? It’s HER mind, and HER choices of foods, so she should be able to control it. Right?
It’s so much deeper than that, but you won’t understand, and so she never tells you.
In the upcoming months, she is diagnosed with ovarian cysts and needs to be put on birth control pills. Her back stiffens and her chest feels tight when the doctor tells her that a possible side effect is weight gain. She fights back tears as she gets the prescription filled at her local pharmacy, and she can’t help but feel like a total jerk for feeling this way. It’s such a minor side effect, and yet it had her anxiety levels at an all-time high. She almost wished she was diagnosed with a fatal illness, just so she could feel justified in being so broken and scared over it.
But eventually she gets help. It takes her years of therapy to recover, and I use the term “recover” very loosely. This type of illness is a battle she will always be fighting. She’ll be in constant recovery, even when she has learned healthy eating habits again and can (mostly) set aside her social anxieties that revolve around eating. It’s a journey of learning self-love and compassion, rationalizing perfectionist tendencies and unrealistic ideologies, and listening to what her body is telling her, which will last throughout the rest of her life. Some days will be great, and other days she might backslide a little bit. This is her struggle, and the struggle of one person out of every ten people.
So…. what’s for dinner?
The next time you hang out with that “skinny bitch,” or anyone for that matter, think twice before you make backhanded comments regarding her eating habits or the shape of her body. It’s not okay.