During my freshmen year of college, I caught a parasite. I lost an extreme amount of weight in a short amount of time. Although I felt horrible and had intense stomach pain, I also began to feel noticed. I did not realize that I was being noticed for my bony figure, though, because in my head I saw myself transforming into the skinny women I saw in magazines. And I liked it.
Then, I began to count calories. Instead of convincing myself to regain weight, I wanted to stay skeletal. I kept mental notes of each calorie I consumed. I refused to eat any dessert and instead focused on all of the healthier, more diet-friendly foods in the dining hall. I looked up various ways to burn calories, and believed those silly blog posts and magazine articles that supposedly reveal secrets about “fat-burning foods.” At the same time, I was exercising at least twice a day. I wanted to be the one who didn’t gain the freshmen 15. Before I knew it, I was burning upwards of 1,500 calories a day and eating about 1,000.
I was not starving myself. No, I went to every meal in the dining hall with my friends. I meticulously picked out the foods that I knew were healthy and low in calories. I was restricting my diet to protein and vegetables only: no carbs, no artificial sugar. Some would say my diet was healthy, that I had immaculate and enviable willpower. Enviable maybe, at first, but overpowering and all-consuming as it continued. What people didn’t see was the girl who suffered from extreme self-consciousness, the girl who was embarrassed by what she looked like and spent a lot of time envying the bodies of peers and women performers. I spent hours looking at pictures of bodies online— Taylor Swift’s legs, Jennifer Anniston’s arms, anyone’s abs but my own.
I suffered from Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS). I was not starving myself, nor was I binging and purging, yet I was going to unhealthy extremes to maintain a very low body weight. And although it was triggered by an actual medical problem, I was suffering from an eating disorder.
This is National Eating Disorder Awareness (NEDA) Week. The theme this year is “I Had No Idea.” The goal is to point out the misunderstandings that people have, and rumors that people spread, about eating disorders. Eating disorders are not fad diets. Eating disorders do not only affect women. Eating disorders do not always result in skeletal figures. Eating disorders have different origins for different people. Thirty million U.S. men and women will suffer from an eating disorder in their lifetime, according to the National Eating Disorder Association, and 95 percent of sufferers are between ages 12 and 25.
By the time sophomore year came around, I had lost so much weight that my clothes no longer fit and all of my bones were visible in a bathing suit. I distinctly remember sitting on my couch one afternoon, looking through Facebook pictures, picking out which girls I wanted to look like, wondering how they got their bodies to look like that. How were they so perfect? I couldn’t stop comparing, even though I knew that my negative body image and body dissatisfaction was heightened by doing so.
I had to snap out of it. I started seeing a therapist and a nutritionist. My therapist advised me not to buy or pick up another magazine showing idealized women’s bodies ever again. Although both traditional and digital advertising are hard to control, the decision to stop buying magazines was one that was completely within my control and could help me resist obsessing over society’s unattainable thin ideal.
I have not bought a single “women’s” magazine since 2011. Not a fashion magazine, not a cooking magazine, not a fitness magazine. Trust me, this choice is not always easy. It’s hard not to stop at the kiosks at the airport and buy the newest issue of Cosmo or Us. It’s hard not to bring a bag full of magazines with me on a train or a plane or anywhere I could possibly get bored. It’s even hard not to stock my bathroom with tabloids to keep up on the daily gossip.
But resist I must. Otherwise I see this:
Flatten your abs Fast!
7 Yummy Fat-Melting Foods
Sexiest. Body. Ever. 4 Steps. 6 Minutes a day.
Nearly every magazine boasts headlines promising fat-blasting secrets or weight-loss tips. Models typically have olive complexions, are extremely skinny (yet big-breasted) and have perfect skin. They’re sexy, they’re perfect. There is always something wrong with how we look, but never anything wrong with our friends or the celebrities whom we admire. Research shows that a woman’s body image is affected by what we see in the media, and I argue that that effect has only intensified within the last 20 years.
The day I stopped buying magazines, I decided to actively stop comparing myself to every woman that came my way. It was the day that I started to learn to accept my body. Whether I’m truly ignoring what I see, or if I’ve simply developed a heightened awareness, I’m not sure. But I know that I’m now able to navigate the Internet while being mindful of the unhealthy messages inherent both in advertisements as well as in the average look-at-me photos posted by my peers on social media.
This week, if you had no idea, please understand that eating disorders are diseases: sometimes fatal mental diseases. Try to understand that your sister, your mother, your girlfriend, you, may be suffering from insecurities that can lead to unhealthy practices. Try to understand that each person who suffers has a different story—but each story can have its own positive resolution.