My dear blog readers,
It is time for me to publish one of the more potentially sensitive posts that I mentioned last week. This particular piece sparked a great deal of discussion about whether or not vague references fit within the guidelines or not. This piece was part of my inspiration for writing last week’s post about censoring folk’s stories who use words that make some people uncomfortable.
I pointed out that it is important to remember that discomfort and being triggered are not the same thing. I do everything I can to keep this online space safe for everyone. In order to do that, it means being able to publish pieces that are from the heart, are painful, are thought provoking, and that spark (what I feel) are essential conversations.
Obese bodies are very often treated differently than many other bodies. There are many assumptions about why a person is living in a bigger body, how unhealthy they must be, and how they have “done this to themselves”. Having an eating Disorder in an Obese Body is a piece by Maddi that has been revised more times than I can count. From the first time I read it, I knew that it needed to be published. I also knew that there would be people who would disagree with me because our guidelines are so clear. Maddi, shares her experience of the judgement, and misconstrued notion that having Binge Eating Disorder, or being over a particular BMI, is often not accepted as an Eating Disorder. It is seen as a lack of self-control or willpower. It is seen as the fault of the person struggling with what is actually a psychiatric illness.
Eating Disorders are not a choice and cannot have fault placed on the person suffering, or who has suffered, with this illness.
I decided that this piece was a significant conversation starter. It will resonate with many people who are facing life in a bigger body and the rejection and disbelief of family, friends, culture, and medical professionals. Medical professionals are not immune to societal influences and current beliefs about health, beauty, and acceptance.
This is not a trigger warning. This is an introduction to a piece that addresses BMI, the concept of obesity, and a difficult relationship with food. After many revisions, we have made it is safe as we possibly can without erasing or silencing an already silenced existence. It is time for the silence to be broken and for the gaps in the system to be addressed. There needs to be a shift in the “not sick enough for treatment” mentality or experiences. Thank you for your understanding and if you choose not to read any further, remember that you are loved and worthy.
For those of you struggling with ED in bigger bodies, your experience is real. It is valid. You deserve support and access to the medical care that you need. You are not invisible at Sheena’s Place. Having an Eating Disorder is not your fault.
Take good care of yourself, and remember to nourish your body, mind, and spirit.
Your blog moderator,
Having an Eating Disorder in an Obese Body
I am obese, class III. Actually, if you listen to my doctor, I am pretty far into that class III, but the classes just don’t get any higher than that.
I’m at high risk for joint problems, cardiovascular disease, diabetes… The list goes on (and on and on), and I can feel it every day. I wake up in the mornings, and I feel how unhappy my body is with me. It creaks and cracks just like an old house.
I’m never quite comfortable. I twist and turn at night, trying to find a position that doesn’t put too much weight on any one part of my body. My back gets worse and worse over time as I struggle to support my weight and my breasts get heavier and harder to support. Stairs knock the wind out of me, my legs ache walking to the car, and god forbid I have to walk any further than that.
Right now, I’m essentially carrying over double the weight that my body was designed to support. And it’s painful. And frustrating. And I hate it.
On top of the pain and discomfort, there’s the repeating thought in my brain that I did this all to myself. No one forced me to engage in symptoms, I have no thyroid problems, this is all about my relationship with food.
I don’t know if I’ve ever had a ‘good’ relationship with food… For so long, I’ve seen it as a source of comfort and calmness when I most desperately need it.
My eating disorder has been my primary coping mechanism for years, and it shows on my body. And even now, as I’m engaging less and recovering more, it still shows on my body. Even when I’m learning new skills, repairing my relationship with food, and focusing on nutrients, my Binge Eating Disorder is reflected all over my body.
Years of regular disordered eating has affected my body in troubling ways. Some ED behaviours can lead to a sufferer looking visibly ‘ill,’ but because of the way my body looks, I’m not seen as a victim of an illness, I’m just weak-willed.
The negativity surrounding bigger bodies won’t be news to any of you, I’m sure. Fat people are so strongly associated with laziness, weak will, and personal flaws that my eating disorder wasn’t acknowledged or diagnosed for years. For years, my weight was an issue. For years, I struggled to control it. For years, food was my comfort, my tranquilizer, and my tie to the world.
In the midst of panic? ED.
Had a bad day? Oh hey, dear old symptoms.
Anxious for tomorrow? My good pal ED to the ‘rescue…’
Can’t sleep? Guess I have even more time to be symptomatic.
But no one saw it as a mental health issue, including me. It took me a long time to come to terms with the fact that it wasn’t actually a personal flaw of mine, but the result of a disordered relationship with food. But even now, when I’ve accepted it, it’s hard to talk about it with others.
I share a lot about my mental health. I write a blog, I try and do my part to support others and be an advocate. But my eating disorder feels different. Even calling it an eating disorder feels wrong. Like I’m not allowed to use the term.
Obesity is so strongly correlated to personal flaws, that those of us with above-average BMIs from our eating disorders are offered less help, less support, and less sympathy. An article written by two UCLA scholars discusses two case studies, one of a child likely affected by Binge Eating Disorder, and another about a child diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa. While the parents of the child with Anorexia were sympathized with in their struggle to find help for their daughter, the single mother of the other child was at risk of losing custody of her child because of accusations of neglect. The article mentions that society views “anorexics as victims of a terrible illness beyond their and their parents’ control, while obesity is caused by bad individual [behaviour.]”
Though other factors like race, gender, social status, income, and familial structure can definitely be discussed as factors in these cases, my experience being a bigger size has shown me that there are different opinions of ED sufferers based on how their bodies appear.
Because my eating disorder is seen as an excuse, not a reason. It’s seen as a way to deflect my ‘personal responsibility’ for my weight.
Because my eating disorder is killing me slowly, it’s somehow less serious, less legitimate.
In my experience, some behaviours are assumed to take dedication and strength, whereas other behaviours are assumed to be a sign of weakness and lack of control. But when it comes to eating disorders, it’s just not fair to see it as anything other than a disorder. It’s not strength, but it’s not weakness either; it’s just a disorder.
I can’t compare my fight to the fight of those with other eating disorders, but I can tell you that it’s been a hell of a fight for me. My fight has been hard. It is a struggle. It is not about lack of motivation or willpower, it is not some flaw inherent in me that has caused me to not care enough to try — it’s a goddamn fight.
I am fighting for my health. But because I have a bigger body, no one believes me.
Maddi is a passionate mental health blogger and advocate. She started My Bitter Insanity as place for her to write about the serious mental illness she lives with, because she did not believe it was talked about enough. Maddi hopes to help normalize and destigmatize mental health discussions.
Work published on this blog is property of the writer/artist. Content on this blog is edited and approved by the moderator. Sheena’s Place does not specifically endorse any advice or content. This blog is not a substitute for medical advice. Please see your family doctor if you have concerns about yourself or your recovery. No one can recover alone.
If you would like to share your story, or other writings or art, please email your submission to Kmccarthy@sheenasplace.org
If you or someone in your life is struggling with an Eating Disorder, you can contact the National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC) at http://nedic.ca/
If you would like more information or to register for groups, visit Sheena's Place website at www.sheenasplace.org
If you are in a country other than Canada, please google your local or National Eating Disorders Centre.