By: Liam Fowler
CW: mention of disordered eating behaviors, eating disorders, weight and diet culture
I’ll never forget the moment I realized I needed to make a change.
I stepped on a scale for the first time since leaving home a year before to travel South America.
My life flashed before me; yes, in a “near death experience” fashion, but also in the sense that I vividly relived the losses that had occurred – the time that had been spent and damage incurred.
For the first time I quantified how much of me (my body and soul) I had left on the treadmill, at the gym, in the alternative-food isle of the grocer, and on the ingredient list/nutrition table printed not only on the back of packaging and imprinted in my own mind. In other words, all the time and energy I had unwittingly invested in diet culture.
It was that night that I sat down next to my mom in bed and said it was time; time to face it, to fight it, and to heal. Last week, almost four years later, I again sat in bed next to my mom after a long day. I had spent the afternoon training with the EDRSC, learning how to instill hope in those struggling with disordered eating and how to help in their recovery journeys.
I hugged my mom and together we reveled in the fullness of the circle. There, in that same space where I first chose recovery, I decided to use that experience to help others do the same.
It has been almost a year now since I went through those training sessions and became a member of the EDRSC. I have always questioned if my desire to study in the field of food (Dietetics) and work as an eating disorder counsellor were indeed genuine pursuits of my own inner-self, or rather decisions being made subconsciously by the sneaky ED voice that still sounds within. I now realize it’s more than coincidental how often this question also comes up among the influencers whose career footsteps I want to follow. There are dieticians who overcame their own EDs before counseling, authors promoting progressive anti-diet and intuitive eating rhetoric only years estranged from their own submission to diet culture, and content creators hoping to reconfigure the influence of the wellness world to define health more realistically.
As Anti-Diet Intuitive Eating Dietitian Christy Harrison (R.D.) puts it, for those driven to work in health and wellness fields by the influence of their own experience with eating disorders and diet culture, “the ‘life thief’ [i.e. diet culture] took an opportunity to dictate our futures while we were still malleable” (Anti-Diet, 2020). Fortunately, a recognition of this sneaky puppeteer and an awareness of our genuine intentions can allow us to harness this motivation to heal in order to help ourselves and others in the shared experience along the journey that is recovery. Christy differentiates between buying-into a wellness career in the interest of healing as opposed to feeding “functional” disordered behaviors; A “best-interest” carer is one who builds a practice that not only helps in healing their own ED, but also helps others through their recovery as well.
Christy clarifies in How to Get Back your Life; “I dedicated my career to helping people reclaim their lives from dieting because I know what it’s like to have your life stolen” (Life Thief, 2017). Being able to relate to one another’s struggles creates an integral commonality in peer-support. Sharing a personal understanding of the inner-workings (thoughts, feelings, emotions, actions) of disordered eating and the rollercoaster of recovery can help one feel that their seemingly unexplainable personal experience is in fact understood by others (and that it may likely be more common than they ever thought). This shared experience allows for the sense of community in the recovery process that helps one overcome their sense of isolation.
It is important to note that one does not have to have suffered from an ED to offer effective peer support, and one must be careful to distinguish between honoring an ED’s ability to define you versus drive you.
After countless examples of an ED’s power being harnessed and repurposed to heal, one thing always shines through. Even if the initial push into these pursuits was my ED hiding in hopes of roaring back another day, I am grateful to be on the path I am with these peers alongside me. The EDRSC is an accepting space where we are constantly reminded to honor the gold in our wounds; our desire to help others as we ourselves learn to heal.
While I still often feel tempted to define the time of my life that was stolen by my ED as time lost, I am beginning to see how I can redefine that time as a useful experience that put me on this path of sharing the experience with others; I can reclaim and regain the life lost by helping others struggling with the same issues.
Resonating Words of Wisdom from Sarah, The Poetry Hotel (@AlienHere2Love): “There’s so much of my past self that I don’t resonate with at all anymore, but I love [them] just the same. [They were] growing. [They were] doing their best. [They fought] hard to get me here.”