Tuning Out Food Noise


A few weeks ago, I received an email from a longtime CR reader. She wrote,

“I am recovering from an eating disorder, and even though I am eating enough with the help of a dietitian and therapist, I still have severe issues with body image. When someone talks about exercise, or their routine, it creates tremendous amounts of anxiety for me. I feel so much pressure to look like the bikini models, with toned, flat abs and bulging forearm and leg muscles…I have been exercising more than I have been told to but I can’t get the “perfect body” pressure out of my head.

Just this morning one of my younger friends was talking in a Facebook group chat about how she is cutting back on calories to build muscle and have better abs and biceps, following a 1500 kcal diet, avoiding fats and pasta and such because they make you fat. It was so triggering and the idea of her having the perfect body was seriously unsettling to me. I don’t know how to get over this preoccupation. How have you dealt with this kind of pressure during your recovery? What is a healthy body, does it mean you should have abs and biceps? I would really appreciate your advice. Thanks!”

This email tugged so strongly at my heartstrings; to hear other men and women talk about their vigorous fitness and/or diet regimes can be an excruciating experience for someone who’s in recovery, especially the early phases of recovery. I’m reminded of the words of a therapist I know who specializes in EDs: she once told me that she won’t even keep a yoga mat in her office, because the sight of it might trigger one of her patients. This may sound a little extreme, but if you’ve ever been through recovery, then you know that it’s actually a perfectly sensible posture for a therapist/caregiver to take.

Eating disorders can be incredibly competitive in nature, fueled by the desire to more disciplined, more regimented, thinner, lighter, more active, stronger, more restrained, or leaner than everybody else. For me, one of the most painful parts of recovery was accepting that I simply couldn’t be the thinnest person in every room (a ridiculous mark of distinction that nevertheless made me feel special) while maintaining my health. I couldn’t exercise more than everybody else (or even as much as a lot of women I know) without feeling as though I was running my body into the ground. I couldn’t have the shape that felt desirable to me because it wasn’t reasonable. Recovery meant giving up my fanciful dream body, my punishing fitness routine, and my ludicrous belief that I could be an exercise-obsessed waif and a healthy woman at the same time.

Over time I came to accept this tradeoff. I realized that changes in my body were a worthwhile price to pay for feeling energetic, healthy, and strong again. I came to feel that having a robust, carefree social life was more important to me than having that “dream body” I’d been so intent on. I decided that the things recovery gave me–health, joy, connection, intimacy–were more important than the things I’d lost. But that didn’t make it any easier to hear about other peoples’ quests for “perfect” bodies, their cleanses, their fasts, their diet regimes, their twice daily spin classes. Such conversations would only open up my deep well of dissatisfaction with my new body–my recovered body, which I was struggling so hard to accept–and my feeling, however unfair, that in letting my disorder go I’d failed somehow.

Today, I’m further into my recovery than I was back then, and the kinds of anecdotes I’m describing don’t hit me with such painful impact anymore. I will confess, though, that I find it unpleasant to be around women or men who are talking about dieting, or even about any brand of nutrition extremism: elimination diets, juice fasts, crash diets, and so on.

When I hear about these regimes, I feel two things. The rational, mature half of me feels a sense of sympathy, because I know that flirting with deprivation is almost always bound to backfire. There’s also an irrational, petulant, and stubborn part of me that hears these things and feels an instinctual urge to compete. To interject with my own nutrition expertise, or (much worse) to prove that I’m no less capable of incredible feats of self-discipline. I don’t act on the impulse, which is good, but the whole thing leaves me unnerved and insecure.

You can have a great relationship with food, a restored relationship with your own body, and many years of recovery behind you and still feel triggered by what I call “food noise”: that great nimbus of conversation that includes, but is not limited to, detoxes, weight loss initiatives, slim downs, tone ups, dietary reboots, and/or lessons in why a particular food is the devil, or why a bite of some other suspect ingredient is sure to make you fat, sick, and nearly dead. And if you’re anything like me, the fact that these moments make you feel anxious becomes yet another source of grief, because there’s nothing more frustrating than realizing that you’re just a little more tender and vulnerable than you thought you were.

My best advice to anyone who’s experiencing this stuff is the obvious advice: focus on you. Tune out the noise. But that’s easier said than done, so here are some of the things I like to remember when I’m besieged by food noise.

1. I’m capable of examining things critically. Some of the food noise you’ll hear is perfectly sensible: a friend might tell you that he’s trying to reduce meat consumption, or eat more vegetables. Your coworker might say that she’s challenging herself to cook more meals at home, or play around with whole food ingredients. A family member who’s never been active in the past might tell you that he or she has just joined a gym for the first time, and is working out. Eat real food, get in the kitchen, get moving, focus on plants: it’s all perfectly reasonable stuff.

But if you hear about some elimination diet that sounds pretty darn extreme or ascetic or tasteless, or a “detox” that involves sipping juice for a couple of days in place of eating real food, or a fitness routine so brutal that it cannot possibly impart any joy to anyone, put on your critical thinking cap. Rather than allowing yourself to be seduced by the too-good-to-be-true promises that these plans make–age reversal! perfect skin! the body of your dreams! perfect digestion! agelessness!–try to evaluate them scientifically. Do they sound balanced? Evidence based? Well validated? Heck, do they even sound sensible? Do you trust the folks who are selling these plans?

If they don’t pass the critical thinking test, or the simple common sense test, then there’s a good chance that the regimes in question wouldn’t be right for you.

2. I know my body. We all have an intuitive sense of what works for us and what doesn’t. Here’s what I know about my body:

  • I feel good when I eat consistently throughout the day
  • I don’t feel good when I skip meals
  • Eliminating or drastically reducing food groups (carbs, fat) leaves me feeling dissatisfied, and it evokes a lot of the ED stuff that I’ve tried to leave behind me
  • I’m happiest when I eat food that tastes good
  • I enjoy eating in a way that affords me freedom to get out and about and socialize and travel and try things that are new and appealing
  • I enjoy being conscious of the quality of the food I eat, but I don’t enjoy pressure to be health-obsessed, or to scrutinize every morsel that passes my lips, and I never will again (because been there, done that)

Any way of eating that would seriously compromise any of those priorities probably won’t work for me.

It’s tempting to hear about some new fad diet or health craze or food elimination and immediately wonder if you wouldn’t be just a little slimmer and healthier and more energetic if you jumped aboard the trend, too. But try to remember everything you’ve learned from your experiences with food, and (if relevant) your recovery. Try to connect with your sense of intuition and ask yourself whether the plan in question would really be right for you. If there’s anything we can take away from our struggles with food, shouldn’t it be a sense of self-awareness? Listen to the part of you that is intuitive and wise. It’ll help you to sift through the noise, and regain a sense of self-assurance.

3. I’m responsible for taking care of myself. For me, getting carried away with a drastic diet, a mentality that is overly rigid, or any kind of excessive exercise would mean flirting with the old demons. And that isn’t a place I’m willing to go. My recovery–the balance I’ve managed to create in my relationship with food, in spite of a very long and troubled history–is very hard won, and it has to come first. And if that means tuning out when I hear too much diet chatter around New Year’s, or gracefully switching topics when a conversation turns toward calorie counting or detoxing, that’s fine. I’ll do what I have to do to.

Of course I can’t make diet talk and body talk and body shaming go away; no one can. That’s the world we live in, and our culture does not promise to release its obsession with body manipulation any time soon. But I can do my best to surround myself with influences that help to enhance, compliment, and sustain my recovery: healthful and caring friendships, the company of people who love to eat, blogs that celebrate the beauty of food. When I happen to hear or see something that feels (to me) triggering, I’ll try to find a respectful, polite way to put some distance in place.

4. Live and let live. When you struggle with food (as so many of us do), and especially if you have a particularly rocky history with it, it’s hard not to resent the world for presenting you with triggers. It’s hard not to feel a little angry at people who loudly discuss their plans for dieting, or working out, or even getting healthy (because to some extent, fixation on “perfect” health and “clean eating” is almost as prevalent as diet talk these days, if not more so).

But the truth is that it’s not up to you to censor how other people want to treat their bodies. It may be impossible for someone with an ED history to understand, but there are some folks who can go on a diet for a few weeks without ever getting lured into dark places. There are folks who can do a ten day juice fast and feel tip top and never have that experience trigger any sort of imbalance or negativity. There are some folks who can commit to incredible exercise and fitness routines out of sheer love of being athletic, who don’t have any interest in looking a certain way. It may not be how you’d ever feel if you embarked upon such initiatives. But it’s how other people feel, and it’s their right to feel that way.

However food noise makes you feel, try to understand that the triggers it evokes for you are personal. You have every right to be conscious of what you expose yourself to, to distance yourself from bad or painful influences, and to prioritize your healthy relationship with food and body at all times. But you can’t censor the world. It’s not possible, and it’s also not fair. Take care of yourself, and let others do the same.

Just as the idea for this post was coming into fruition, a nutrition client of mine admitted that, even though she’s years away from her ED recovery, discussions of nutrition or healthy eating still make her anxious. I admitted to her that I sometimes feel the same, and assured that I think it’s pretty normal. We were even able to exchange a laugh about it. If I have any final word of advice about this particular kind of anxiety, it’s that you find folks who can understand where you’re coming from. They may be friends, bloggers, folks you meet in a forum. They may be health care givers: nutritionists or therapists. But find them. Connect. Admit to how you’re feeling, and if you can, bring some levity to the experience.

To my reader who sent me that email, I hope this is helpful. And I hope it’s clear by now that no, I do not think a healthy body means toned abs and perfect biceps. I think that a healthy body is one that you are taking care of, with nourishing foods, movement that feels fun to you, adequate rest, life-enhacing relationships, hobbies you love, passions that sustain you, and a sense of self respect. That’s it. That’s the kind of health I wish you, and everyone.

Night, all.


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Categories: Food and Healing

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  1. Thanks so much, you’re speaking right out of my heart!
    I wish that some people without eating-disorder history will read that and understand better what it feels like to live with it – even if one is already eating “properly” for ten years and has a perfectly “normal” weight. The scars are still there (if invisible) and they’re starting to burn, when triggerd.
    Thank you – and all the best for you!

  2. I had to read this again, it’s still just as powerfully transformative, and places me a little further from the “perfect body obsession” path while bringing me back to the health and self-love path. Lots of love to you! ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. I’m still in recovery and treatment and still having a super hard time with everything you mentioned. I like when you remind us that we are not perfect and it’s hard work to be ok with our bodies the way they are. Your tips are helpful, especially #4.
    Thanks Gena.

  4. Well said! All of this is important to really take in … history of ED or none. Muchas gracias!

  5. Hi Gena, I can’t tell you how touched I am that you spent a post answering my question!! I have been so busy getting settled at college that I haven’t had time to keep updated on your blog, but I’m so glad that I saw this today because I really needed it. I had a discussion with my dietitian and exercise physiologist today about keeping limits on exercise, and this very evening my roommate was talking about a rigorous exercise regimen she was starting. I shut off completely and became overwhelmed with anxiety and discomfort. Whenever I start doubting professional advice and my own body now, I will look back at this post and remember your eloquent advice. I’m still far from emotional recovery, seeing a therapist frequently, but it means so much to me that there are people like you who have overcome such exhausting voices and noises from the mind. Thank you thank you a thousand times. <3

  6. I needed this post so much this week. I’m at a place where I’m starting to feel better about my body–not weighing myself regularly but also not afraid of the scale, eating balanced meals that I cook with my partner, and doing exercise that brings me joy and fits into my lifestyle. But a girl at my yoga studio commented on my weight the other day and it sent me whirling. I was so upset that in a place I go to unwind and learn and focus on myself that others were observing changes in my body. She meant it as a compliment, sure, but it’s not the focus of my practice (and frankly not a direct result of it, but other lifestyle changes that have happened lately), and nothing I want to discuss with an acquaintance. But this post gives me a place to shift my feelings on her comments, and other comments you’re bound to hear in any fitness focused environment so that next time I rebound faster, and maybe even have a pleasantly witty remark. Thank you so much.

  7. Gena, as ever you have something interesting and inspiring to add to the conversation!
    I do find it hard not to get into these conversations – if someone says they are interested in a juice cleanse I immediately want to start lecturing them on how unhealthy (I think) that is. I often find that I know more about the diet they want to embark on than they do and can’t help but go off on a tirade. I think I most certainly have an “if I can’t do it no one can” emotional response.
    A little off the topic but what I have been thinking about recently is how, my life having been dominated by anorexia for so long and being in and out of hospitals, almost all of my friends made since school have or have had eating disorders. So as well as being how I define and identify myself it has been a shared understanding and bonding that has led to relationships. However if I think about leaving the illness behind I start to wonder how many of those relationships could become triggering and how I can redefine my relationships with these people or if indeed I need to seperate myself from them completely. It’s a tricky task and also leads to me not being certain i *can* make friends without using that powerful connector…

  8. Wow, thank you so much for posting this! I just started a public health/nutrition program and while I’m very excited it’s also a very food noise intense atmosphere. I had a hard time putting my finger on why I felt so triggered until I read this post. I also wonder if there’s something build into disordered thinking that also has you systematically analyze others’ relationships with food. In the restrictive period, I, at least, spent a lot of time judging other people for being lazy and out of control with food. Now, post-recovery, I’ve mostly stopped doing that (except occasionally directed towards myself). However, when I hear people discuss food (something that happens a lot, obviously, in my program) I take in their appearance (and many in my program are quite thin and toned) and demeanor. Is that girl talking about paleo really just interested in paleo or is she looking for an excuse to eliminate foods? I sometimes find myself feeling a perverse sense of jealousy when I see someone who seems totally in control in terms of body and food (even though I’ve been inside and looked like that on the outside and found it miserable). Or, I find myself wondering if someone has truly found the magic bullet of having a “perfect” body and being “perfectly” mentally healthy engaging in behaviors I personally would find extreme, or eating quantities of food I would find insufficient. It all comes down to compare and despair, I guess.

  9. Such a great post!

    For years and years I struggled with food noise and I think it was one of the triggers of my relapse back in 2009. Even though food noise is no longer a trigger for me and my rational self is able to overcome by ED self, I still struggle with food noise. But instead of it triggering me it infuriates me. My parents are perpetually on a diet and my dad loves to talk about it. One way I deal with this is to just accept that it really annoys me, and bite my tongue. Then once my dad’s finished talking about it I let it go. Of course, this doesn’t always work. But I do think it’s important to acknowledge and accept (to some degree) how food noise makes you feel; as long as it’s not damaging.

    Not sure if I’ve made any sense in my sleep-deprived state but I just had to comment.

  10. Hi, Gena! I do not have an ED, but I loved how you coupled balance with joy. To me one of the strongest indicators that I’m doing something right, is that I’m joyful about it as well as it contributing to a balance in my life.

  11. Hey Gena,

    Thanks for writing this! I think there will always be a little part of me that will be on guard whenever anyone brings up anything regarding diet and exercise, mainly because I know I have to hold fast to what I know about myself — as you mentioned, the intuitive sense of what is true and right about my body, but that takes effort, and I’ve come to accept that that effort may be necessary for all my life (and I’m ok with that). Another interesting aspect of this desire to be “special” or need to stand out is the competitive nature that comes out even in other areas of life, where I ‘ll catch myself predicating my self-worth on being better than others. This has truly been damaging in relationships, because it’s a never-ending, solipsistic cycle that fosters paranoia, fear, and unrest — plus, among human beings, “better” doesn’t exist because there’s no linear comparison (not like numerical comparisons, e.g. 5>3), and any delusion of “better”-ness is fleeting and ultimately empty. Noticing my past tendencies to compare in the realms of food and exercise has exposed an unhealthy way of thinking about myself, even in other areas of my life, and to this day, I’m still working on embodying a self-worth that is a priori, inherent, dignified, regardless of who is around me and where I am.

  12. Thank you so much for writing about this. I have struggled with disordered eating but never a full-blown eating disorder, and I experience this all the time. Knowing it is something that other people struggle with too has helped me address an issue that I can tell was starting to weigh on my partner having to soothe my constant guilt and competitiveness when confronted with other people’s exercise obsessions and the current “cleanse” trend. It’s so refreshing to see somebody talking sense!

  13. I’m at a point where my recovery feels very safe, very solid, so I don’t find diet talk triggering in the least, nor does it bring out any latent competitiveness. I do, however, find some of the talk annoying, especially when the focus is on “cleansing”, something I have no time for, probably because my own recovery has been about overcoming a tendency toward abstemiousness and a bizarrely inverted reward system, where depriving myself made me feel good about myself (and yes, “special”).

    I would stay that my relationship with food continues to be constitutive of my identity, even years into recovery, but it’s now a very healthy relationship. I don’t restrict food, nor do I fetishize it (like so many in the “foodie” culture). My tastes run healthy – I live on fruits, veggies, nuts/seeds, superfoods, and legumes – but I don’t insist everything I put into my mouth deliver on nutrients. I’m big on eating for pleasure, to celebrate, etc. Where I used to take pride in being the only person in the room not eating, etc., now I love to be the one person at the table to order the raw chocolate torte (and finish it!). Still, getting here wasn’t easy, and maybe that’s the source of the annoyance I experience with people who have (what I perceive to be) tortured relationships with food.

    Earlier in my recovery I was more easily triggered – not to the point of relapse, but definitely into resuming restrictive patterns, etc. – so I did take steps to protect myself, avoiding diet talk, gym mirrors, pro-ana talk, etc. I had a therapist, but I steered clear of “recovery” websites. I know that many people in recovery choose to stay connected, with the goal of helping others, but it’s absolutely not something I could have done in the early years. I went about constructing a “recovered” persona, even when I was still 10 or so pounds underweight. I even tried eating “normally” (as in, unthinkingly) for a while, and stopped reading about health, nutrition, etc.

    I didn’t really re-engage with that whole world until I encountered it all again – by accident – as I got more and more in to raw foods. I found so much of the thinking – even though it was more about “cleansing” than about weight loss – eerily reminiscent of my thinking pre-recovery. Since re-engaging (a bit) in that conversation, I’ve realized just how far I have come and how solid my recovery is (at least as far as my relationship with food goes).

    I do try to avoid is diagnosing strangers, whether on the Internet, or in real life. I don’t assume every catwalk model, every skinny blogger, etc., has an eating disorder – because I know it’s not true. That said, there are strands of thinking out there that strike me as “disordered” because if I were to live that way or to eat that way, I’d be back where I was 20 years ago. That doesn’t mean everyone who counts calories has an eating disorder. Just that for me, to count calories would be “eating disordered.” Etc.

    One lingering dilemma that I live with is that my aesthetic preferences have not changed, even as I have gained weight, so I do deal with living in a body that’s a bit larger than my aesthetic ideal. Lots of people do and everyone has their own way of coping. Mine is “been there, done that, got the T-shirt.” I know it’s snarky, but it’s my own (immature) way of keeping competitive demons at bay. Having done it, I don’t have to do it again.

  14. Gena, this is a beautiful post. I, too, still struggle some with my eating disorder, even though I’ve done a lot of therapy to recover from the underlying issues. I have found a way to eat that is healthy and keeps me on track with food, but I will always have to watch out for things that trigger my compulsive overeating. That is usually when I’m in social situations when I feel deprived because I’m not getting what everyone else is eating (even though when I’m feeling sane I don’t want those things and even though I know I’m giving myself the message that I’m deprived). As a compulsive overeater I have had problems with excess weight. Fortunately, because I’ve worked on my issues, when I have regained weight after a diet, I have always managed to gain less than I did the previous time. I still struggle with body image, too, especially since I have lost two inches of height in my torso over the years. This, combined with what my mother called a ‘peasant build’ (wide hips, big rib cage) make it difficult to feel like I’m ever thin enough. It helps me greatly that my husband and I follow the same eating plan and we help each other to eat in a healthy way. I think getting to a point of being okay with what my body looks like is an issue of balance: accepting the way it is built and eating in a healthy way to keep my weight in check. I have been very tempted of late to try to eat in a more extreme way, even though I know that I cannot maintain that way of eating under the normal circumstances of my life, which includes a lot of travel. I just found your blog recently, and I really appreciate that you address eating disorder issues. I hope that more of us with eating disorders find your blog, because when you do posts like this they are very helpful.

  15. Thank you! Reading your words make me realize that I am not the only one who experiences these thoughts and feelings.

  16. Great post Gena – thank you for your insight, honesty and compassion – towards yourself and others. This is something I have struggled with for years and seems to be worse as of late :-(. Your words are a reminder of the need to take care of ME – that what someone else is doing does not impact my self- worth (ie: if I have run 5 miles and feel good about it, then suddenly hear about someone who has run 10 – I would often not feel good enough suddenly…but nothing has really changed about me in that time – only comparison has happened and that is never a good thing!)
    Thanks for sharing yourself, your knowledge and your insights!

    • That’s a really interesting point, about comparison, how it casts things in an unflattering light. Thank you, Suzanne.

  17. Wow; this post came at the perfect time! I was just talking to my therapist the other day about triggers and how to deal with them, and this is exactly what I needed to read! Thank you so much for all of the wonderful, insightful posts you write. I am currently in recovery and therefore your blog is a really great help to me! Thank you thank you thank you <3

  18. Thank you for this Gena. I’m a lot more able to tune out the “food noise” (I love how you put it!) than I used to be but sometimes it’s just easier to not put myself in a situation where I have to face it. For example, I’ve unfollowed a bunch of instagram accounts I used to because I noticed their pictures/comments were affecting me and deliberately redirect conversations friends start with me about crazy fitness regimes or health kicks. There’s still a little part of me that’s jealous that they’re “allowed” to go on extreme diets or exercise excessively whereas I know I can’t go down that route.
    Anyway, super advice, as always. x

    • We always have such similar experiences/feelings, Emma. I, too, have struggled to accept that others are “allowed” to approach extremes, and I can’t. Great comment.

  19. Dear Gina
    I so appreciate your blog and most recently this column.
    I have a question which relates somewhat – people constantly draw attention, condescend and poke fun at one’s choice to eat healthily. I make a point of not discussing it or preaching to others. But invariably when one eats with others it becomes an issue for them. (e.g. The endless labeling – Are you vegan, vegetarian etc and why? Do you think cauliflower has feelings?, I am “concerned” that you don’t get enough protein/calcium/whatever? Why can’t you just eat everything in moderation?) I have not found a way to respond civilly without giving offense as I believe “Id rather not discuss my food choices” inevitably will. Flipping the situation and cross-questioning or mocking others for eating junk would never be tolerated – not that I suggest one ever try. Your guidance on how to deflect the focus in a kind manner would be much appreciated.

  20. Hi Gena – thanks for this, and all the thoughtful and thought-provoking discussion you do about EDs. Every time I read your posts on this topic it raises a question in me that I am now spurred to ask, and perhaps you could address this sometime in a post if you feel you have a good answer. That question is: for those of us who have no experience with EDs personally but find ourselves in positions of authority with regard to people who do have them (ex. – daughter, employee, or student), how best can we talk to them about this and try to help? I am a professor, and several years ago I had a student who claimed to be in recovery but clearly was still struggling, as she would skip lots of classes and be mentally absent a lot of the time. When she was physically and mentally present, she was bright, capable, and energetic. She loved the subject of the class and was great at doing the reading and asking great questions – a model student, in many ways. But she — and this is where I start to feel angry about what EDs do to young women in particular — was being drained by her obsession with thinness, to the exclusion of other things in her life that she could have excelled at. She used the concept of “specialness” about her ED like you have mentioned here and elsewhere – that it was what was unique about her. But from my perspective that was utter nonsense – what was unique about her was that she was intelligent and thoughtful and a good student. She had the capacity to really excel, but her ED was stealing that from her. I tried to speak with sensitivity to her about this, and to nurture her into a self-confidence based on her intellectual capabilities rather than her looks, but a semester is only so long and she was gone for much of it and I fear that I never really had the impact I wished to have on her. And now as the mother of a young daughter, I fear that I don’t know what I will be able to do if she develops a disordered approach to eating. As a professor, I want to help students who might come to me with their struggles, but with zero personal experience I feel like maybe I don’t hold the same authority as someone who has struggled with this. Any thoughts on how those of us with some bit of authority or as parents can help to convince young women not to let EDs steal their power, their intelligence, and all that they have to offer the world?

  21. Fantastic post Gena! I needed a refresher on this after that “thigh gap” phase a few months ago. And #4 is something I always need to remember. I also keep another tip in mind for myself–don’t add to self-punishment. If I find myself thinking negative thoughts about my body (and it happens, as I’m sure you know), I remind myself of something good, and try to move on, rather than getting upset about being negative. It was an especially helpful thing in the early days of recovery when it happened more often, but remembering it kept me from spiraling into increasing self-deprecation.

  22. Great post, Gena, thanks! A lot of great advice hear, I don’t think I’ll ever stop noticing “food noise”, but being able to look at it scientifically and sensibly is the best defense. That and reminding myself how miserable it was bing in those grips.

  23. As someone who is in recovery from a 15-year eating disorder (and doing quite well, eating more healthfully and feeling stronger than ever before!), I’ve felt the competitive urges resurface since moving in with my sister, who is currently training for a marathon, was always the more “naturally skinny” sister, and was my role model and competitor growing up. I’ve been coping by reminding myself that my history makes my needs different from my sister’s and by noticing how my body responds to a more nourishing diet and gentle exercise. Needless to say, your post was reassuring and just what I need at this stage of the recovery process. Thanks for offering your insight and (repeatedly) reminding me that my experiences and feelings are not unlike those encountered by many other women. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Not unlike at all, Megan. I wish you strength, courage, and freedom in recovery. Keep it up, and know that life and happiness and freedom just keep expanding. <3

  24. Thank you for this post. I used to have an unhealthy and somewhat obsessive idea of what my body was supposed to look like, and then one day it all clicked. It’s okay for my body to go through changes, and it’s all about balance when it comes to what I eat and how I exercise.

  25. “Try to connect with your sense of intuition and ask yourself whether the plan in question would really be right for you. If thereโ€™s anything we can take away from our struggles with food, shouldnโ€™t it be a sense of self-awareness?”

    If you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere.

    Half-jokes aside, this is a great post. All priceless, practical ways of articulating our individuality to ourselves in the face of the cultural passive aggression we get about our bodies. Grand truths are sexy, but practical tools are absolutely necessary for incorporating those beliefs into your life.

    And I feel like #4, fully embraced, can open up worlds. I only manage it in snatches recently, but opportunities abound.

  26. Wow, this post gave me so much to think about! Can someone have an ED and be a regular size? Or will an ED always manifest itself through weight?

    • Tamara, it’s more than possible (quite common, actually), to have a normal weight but still struggle with an ED. Body mass index is used as a diagnostic criteria for determining certain kinds of eating disorders, but it can be very misleading, because many men and women with EDs are not technically underweight. They may be overweight or have a weight that’s totally “normal” by the charts, but still be struggling tremendously.

    • Hi Tamara,

      To echo Gena a bit here, I’m speaking from personal experience when I say that you can have an ED and be “regular sized”. Throughout my ED, my weight never changed substantially, but that was part of what kept my ED continuing for so long and why it changed course (though stayed disordered)–the sense of failure I felt at being unable to lose the weight I wanted fueled me to try another type of disordered eating. As Gena says, because my BMI never indicated that I was having issues, I was never diagnosed, but all that meant was that I never received medical help. I recovered without it, and I’m grateful that I was able to, but it does prove that outward size is no indication of how one thinks about their body, food, or anything else inside.

  27. Hi Gena,
    my name is Kimberly and I have only fairly recently stumbled upon your blog. I am so glad I did though!

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful and reflective piece of writing and it has given me much food for thought. I have never personally struggled with an eating disorder and hence cannot imagine what that feels like, but I can certainly sympathise with the feeling many women have – even those comfy in their own skin – that the constant bombardment of images of skinny women gives rise to comparison, dissatisfaction and ultimately a sense of sadness.

    I do wish to say though that my stance on juice fasts differs somewhat from yours. I personally have found them very helpful and have used them as a form of meditation and reflection. But I can now also appreciate that a fast may not be a helpful approach for everyone and that I need to be super duper cautious in recommending this to someone who may have had an ED in the past (not that I ever have, I may add). Thanks for making me more aware of this issue and thanks again for sharing.

    • Totally respect where you’re coming from re: fasting! I do have strong feelings about it, and of course that’s informed by personal history, but it’s always good to be reminded that different things are appropriate for different people.

  28. Gena, once again you string together a selection of words that I really, really, really needed to hear right now. I had lunch with Jordan Younger today, and we were talking about triggers such as What I Ate Wednesday posts and whatnot, and I admitted that I still look at content that triggers me. I scroll through Instagram feeds of skinny minnie models, read articles that shame certain food groups, etc. Even though I’m doing well in my orthorexia recovery, part of me still years for the comfort of restriction, of the pride I feel when I deny myself something. I get extremely uncomfortable when I hear of people drastically cutting calories, embarking on extreme exercise regimes, or going on cleanses. Even though I am in no place to do any of those things, I often feel lazy or undisciplined or like I’ve “fallen off the wagon” because I don’t participate in such measures. I feel lesser of a person than those who do, which is awful to admit. I have to remember what you said: that my body is personal to me and only me. I can’t diet the way mentally stable people do without stoking the fire of my eating disorder. I can’t do extreme exercise anymore because it fuels an ugly side of me. My “healthy weight” may not be what someone else’s is. My required food intake is different as well. I know this, yet I still compare myself to others on a daily basis. I fall prey to extreme guilt when I see other bloggers eating much less than I do. Comparison is so evil. It was just this morning when I looked around the yoga studio I was about to take a class in (a yoga studio of all places!), and mentally ticked off which girls I was thinner than and which girls I was larger than. Your words have successfully reminded me to think about myself, and stop this comparison nonsense. Sometimes it takes someone else (you) telling me what I already know in order to really drill it in. So thank you. You also reminded me that I could seriously benefit from distancing myself from known triggers. I don’t know why I still look at triggering content, but I do, and I should really stop. Your diligence when it comes to recovery is so, so, so inspiring. I love your ED recovery posts so much. They instill strength in me with every word. ๐Ÿ™‚

  29. I have been following your blog for sometime now although I have never commented, but I was so drawn to the email and to your response, I felt I needed to offer my gratitude. I believe the woman who posed the question is brave and insightful, and I think your response is beautiful and articulate and authentic. I feel very fortunate tonight to be a part of a larger community. Wishing everyone a wave of serenity this evening.

    • Bobbi, the person who posed the question is brave and insightful indeed. So glad you are a part of this community!

  30. After a couple of years in recovery, I am still extremely uncomfortable with “fat talk” and diet discussions. I’ve found that people are okay with boundaries around this, though. I try to explain that talking about dieting around me is like talking about how wasted you got with an alcoholic. It’s fine that you did it once. But, if someone talks about Weight Watchers around me every day, they probably aren’t the kind of person I need to be around because they don’t care about my well-being. And most people understand that some people shouldn’t drink. Once you explain that it’s the same way with you and dieting, they’ll get the picture much more clearly. Same with the fat word: My friends know that I won’t engage.

    • Great comment, as I’d failed to really address how to put up boundaries. It’s great that you can articulate your boundaries to your friends, and I’m glad that so far you’ve found that folks are receptive!

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