A friend who is in early stages of recovery from an eating disorder just posted a request on FB that others who made 2017 resolutions involving weight/food not talk about them around her. My first thought was, it is cool that she’s asking this; there have been so many times in my life when I could have used a sign around my neck that said this, or little cards saying this to hand out to people. But then I thought, no. This message needs to go further than to just her current friends, and it shouldn’t be the responsibility of people like her who are currently suffering from eating disorders to tell the rest of us to be considerate and STFU.
In case you don’t already know how bad all the weight/food talk is, let me tell you in no uncertain terms, it is really bad. In the dining hall at college, lunch breaks at my jobs, eating meals with relatives, I’m constantly being forced to hear people talk about whether or not they have been ‘good’ (in terms of dieting/exercise). Would you try to tempt a person to drink while they were trying to stay sober, and make them feel ashamed for not drinking? If not, consider that your self-serving calorie talk does exactly the same thing to the people who have no choice but to listen to you, especially the people who are struggling with eating disorder symptoms that you may or may not be aware of.
Just to illustrate how bad this phenomenon is, one of the hardest things I had to do as a therapist-in-training was to spend my days with other therapists who considered themselves qualified to treat people with eating disorders. Someone would bring in a cake to celebrate a birthday, and the first piece would just get repeatedly passed around the table as if it were something dangerous or disgusting — with one comment after another from my co-workers about their weight, dieting, and exercise. This bothered me so much that I started always taking the first piece of cake, regardless of whether I wanted it, but I still felt upset that so-called “healthy” people could be so oblivious about the effect of their outrageous behavior on everyone else in the room.
Overcoming an eating disorder takes working like hell and I have worked like hell. My first 5 years of recovery were the hardest, but the next 10 years involved a lot of struggles and even now the problem flares up now and then. I realized early on that having to listen to other people’s shit could undo my progress, and that it was up to me not to let that happen. But I also didn’t want to be that person, the one who constantly lectures others on how obnoxious their behavior is to people dealing with eating disorders. Especially when I was in recovery, and others wouldn’t necessarily know from my appearance that eating disorders were a serious issue for me, I really didn’t want to have to bring it up. So I chose the only responsible decision I could think of, which was to isolate myself, and to particularly avoid spending time with other women. Though I had close female friends in high school (before my eating disorder), I haven’t spent time in groups of women or become close to many of the women I’ve met in more than 30 years, and I’ve missed out on getting to know great women as a consequence. This makes me sorry, and it makes me angry that anyone else should have to do what I’ve done.
Wherever you are in dealing with your food/body issues, ask yourself why you find it necessary to inflict them on the people around you, and do whatever it takes to stop. If you want to talk about these issues in private with someone you are close to, check how they feel about it before you proceed. And if you’re someone who CAN’T stop talking about your weight/food shit in public, even though this is likely to be causing other people harm, then I hope you’ll get help — whether for your own eating disorder or for your lack of compassion.