Picture this. You’re out to dinner with a friend, mulling over the menu, and decide—as a recovering eating disorder patient—to opt for something you consider “bold,” which essentially means, not a salad. You’re filled with nerves and pride over your decision (yes, really) only to find that your friend, who is eating disorder free, has recently decided to take charge of her health after years of excessive alcohol and late night pizza. Good for her, you think, but, shit, she’s getting a salad. It’s probably the only salad she’s had so far this week, but it still causes you to tense up into a ball of misplaced guilt. “I’ll have the salad, too,” you say. End scene.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about comparative eating (my mind is a thrilling place, isn’t it?). While it’s particularly common with recovering ED patients, it’s also something all women do (and men, to some extent) a lot. Not only do I see it happening on the regular, but I’ve also discussed it with many of my non-disordered friends. As with many things in life, food is often a competitive arena—who is eating better? Who is quote on quote healthier? Who is, we assume, more in control of themselves and their lives?
It’s laced with jealousy, usually a phenomenon that reaches its height in middle and high school when you’re an awkward, insecure baby-human who’s just trying to find out who the hell you are (but, mostly, are not, when compared to others). If I’m proud of anything about my still-super-flawed self, it’s that I rarely experience that anymore—I’ve become that chick who roots for everyone—even, and especially, if they are miles ahead of me—and I’m not mad about it. But that’s not often true for me in the food space, where I still turn bright green.
I do have an eating disorder, so I try to remind myself that physics are at play here, and not simply some inherent awfulness that I can’t seem to shake, but other people experience it, too, and I’m sure I did pre-anorexia (though on a lesser scale). The phenomenon has a lot to do with our warped moralizing of food—the faulty belief that the specifics of your caloric intake make you either good or bad. I mean, doesn’t it sound a little off that donut consumption should render you shitty while uncooked carrots make you a saint? I suspect serial killers would prefer the latter any day.
Though I’ve watched this habit in myself since day one of my recovery, and it has gotten slightly better, some recent events have me reevaluating how far I’ve come. For whatever reason, the last few weeks have brought with them a horde of dietary changes amongst my friends—most of them ordered by a doctor, and not simply faddish or for the sake of a thigh gap. But regardless of the reasoning behind them, I’ve found myself feeling more guilty than normal about my bedtime routine of peanut butter banana toast (which is something my doctor insists on since I tend not to eat enough during the day), or my penchant for goddamn froyo (which is like eating air, if air could give you cancer), or the simple fact that a pulled muscle has rendered it a lot harder for me to work out lately. My mind floods with thoughts of how much BETTER everyone around me is eating, how they’re saintly nibbling chia seeds, or “running off” their indulgences with 10ks, or going completely raw (#ugh).
And then there’s me—clearly the fucking worst—with a penchant for peanut butter amidst still-regular salads and the lack of a period because of how much damage I once did to my body. There is so much obviously wrong with my perspective, that I won’t even bother laying it out for you. Sure, I don’t “look sick” and sure, I eat three meals a day plus snacks, never work out more than 3x a week (if that)—but my body is still recovering, it still needs more than most people might, and what it needs least is restriction. What you and your madres are eating, well, it just doesn’t relate—it shouldn’t relate. I should leave it on your planet, and keep up with the rules of mine.
When I succeed in that, it’s freeing—and I suspect it would be for the rest of you, too.