Updated: Jan 16
We are constantly having toxic diet cultures shoved down our throats. Eating disorders are becoming more and more romanticized, which in turn make people have to grow up thinking they aren’t good enough. Nobody ever deserves to feel that way. So, it’s time we all band together to reject the beauty standards society has set for us.
Part I: Sumaiya
“So, as a child, I was naturally pretty chubby…I got comments all the time that I was too fat from a really small age.” Sumaiya is a very brave young woman that has recovered from having anorexia. Her young, impressionable mind was put under great pressure by people who thought they had the right to criticize the way she looked. “ Before it seemed like I was an outlier, and nobody wants to be an outlier, especially when you’re so young. I thought there was something wrong with me.” The bullying and feelings of not being enough only got worse as Sumaiya entered middle school. She would get hateful comments from her best friend, someone she thought cared about her, that completely stripped her self-confidence. “Instead of distancing from her and finding people that were nice to me, I was like, ‘ok, I guess I'm willing to lose a little weight.’” At first, Sumaiya’s friends and family praised her for the weight she lost. It started from just cutting out snacks to barely eating & exercising all of the time. At first, Sumaiya’s friends and family praised her for the weight she lost. “ There was a point of time where I felt like I was turning into someone that wasn’t me. It wasn’t me controlling myself, it was something else. All my emotions and thoughts were hindered by this other force.”
“Eating disorders are like a ball of snow, collecting more snow as it’s hurtling down the hill.” Sumaiya’s parents were finally able to see that their daughter was not being helpful, but hurtful towards her body. They forced her into recovery by going to the Stanford Eating Disorders Clinic. “At that point I didn’t wanna recover. Like I wasn’t going to the doctors and everything so that I could recover, like I was so hell-bent on sticking with my eating disorder till the end. I couldn’t imagine any other way of life.” This all changed when she came to two major realizations. The first one being that Sumaiya would never want her sister to go through what she was. She thought that she wasn’t being a good role model for her little sister if she didn’t fight against her illness. The second realization was that Sumaiya vital signs were at an extremely low point. Her doctor’s told her that if she kept up her behavior she could’ve been dead in a matter of a few weeks. “It was either recovery or death. It was actually really hard to choose recovery, it seemed easier to go with anorexia and die. I wasn’t afraid to die.” Understanding that she did have a life to live made all the difference. She started reading about other people’s journeys about recovery online, like on letsrecover.tumblr. “The prospect of freedom was so attractive to me. I couldn’t realize how shackled I was with my illness.”
“My journey to self-love and acceptance was not an easy one. I still have bad days.” Sumaiya’s journey all started with neutrality with herself. Being able to understand your own body is one of the greatest steps you can take to loving yourself. All the words you speak to yourself are never forgotten, your body will listen and internalize them. Sumaiya’s journey was full of days where she felt like giving up and going back to her old ways. “But through all that I know I deserve to take care of myself. I deserve to eat, I deserve to move in a way that makes me happy, I deserve to do all these nice things for myself.”
Part II: Amy Harman
“I am a licensed marriage and family therapist. I am also a certified eating disorder specialist.” Amy Harman knew ever since she took high school psychology classes that she wanted to help people deal with their own mind. The more she learned about how to do this, the more she wanted to work one-on-one with people. Harman chose a specialty in eating disorders because she once saw a woman, Margo Maine, at a conference. She talked about body image, women’s struggles, and the impossible standards women have to face. When there was an opening for a job at an eating disorder treatment facility. Even though Harman had no prior experience at the time, she got applied and got accepted for the job. “It was so fulfilling because it was also an issue that I feel very strongly about just as far as women's empowerment and standing up against societal standards.”
“There are a lot of different eating disorders, and I do treat all of them...eating disorders called other specified are the most prevalent and are a mix that you can’t put into one category.” All eating disorders negatively impact your relationship with food. From a biological perspective, starving yourself and limiting the nutrients your body takes in can actually change your brain. “Neurotransmitters are what regulate our mood. If your body is lacking nutrients and fuel, it's not producing the chemicals that balance your mood.” This is why many people who suffer from an eating disorder also suffer from another mental illness (depression, anxiety, OCD, etc.) On the other hand, this person could just have an eating disorder that triggers all of those unwanted feelings. “It's hard to tell, but when you treat somebody and they start healing from that healing disorder you can see that their mood is better.”
“That journey begins with being comfortable with your food. Being comfortable with your body. Having a better relationship with movement.” The little checkpoints in your journey to recovery are what make it so beautiful. Although relapses occur all the time, it’s all about finding your own way back to leading a healthier life. “There are many ways to be happy. There are many ways to be successful. There are many ways to have healthy and fulfilling relationships. You can have all of those things in the body you have right now.”
Eating disorders put you in a trance that are so incredibly difficult to escape. Struggling with an eating disorder is not something you are expected to do alone. You are worthy and deserving of help so that you can lead a better life. If you want to help someone struggling with an eating disorder, then just make sure you truly hear them out. Because even if you don’t know what they’re going through, you can always lend a helping hand.