What eating disorders actually look like

By: Anna Shapiro ~Guest Writer~

Throughout my entire Xavier career I have spent a whopping total of 20 minutes in the dining hall. I sat with a group of friends after class sipping a black coffee while I watched in awe as the people around me nourished their bodies with everything from salads to French fries.

I don’t have social anxiety. I was never afraid of the hustle and bustle and crowds in the dining hall. I have an eating disorder, and the room full of food that I knew I could not allow myself to eat filled me with more anxiety than the sense of impending doom that one feels when class starts in seven minutes and you still haven’t finished your research paper. There are a lot of misconceptions about what an eating disorder looks like. I told myself for 10 years that I didn’t have a problem because I wasn’t falling out of a pair of size 00 jeans. The reality is that eating disorders affect people across all levels of intersectionality. The concept of a thin waif striving to be beautiful is inaccurate and toxic.

I show up every day of the semester at my non-waifish size in trendy outfits and bold lipsticks, conveying a sense of confidence that is, in reality, entirely foreign to me. People assume that those with eating disorders are constantly hiding their bodies in baggy clothes and fainting on their way to class. I get dressed up to a T not because I love myself and want to show that off, but in hopes that by dressing well, I can “distract” people from the body that I loathe so much. I make jokes about going on “caffeine cleanses” while I sip on my third diet energy drink of the day at 9:30 in the morning. Everyone laughs, and no one seems to realize that I am not kidding. No one realizes that I get home to do homework in the evening and cannot concentrate because I’ve been awake for 14 hours and haven’t consumed a morsel of food.

Anna Shapiro is a junior English major and is a guest writer for the Newswire from Cincinnati.

Let’s get this straight right now: Eating disorders are more than an immense desire to be thin. They are a toxic combination of perfectionism and control and the misguided belief that one is an undeserving person. Eating disorders are not diets gone wrong, and you can’t just decide to have an eating disorder. Eating disorders develop when nothing in life is going perfectly enough for your inner perfectionist, and you decide that the only way to “take control” is to take control of your body. Some of us restrict down to levels of starvation, others exercise excessively, some eat like crazy then make themselves sick. Many people do a little bit of everything. Eating disorders are often glamorized by the media, but there is nothing glamorous about starving your body to the point that even though you may look healthy, your hair is thinning and your pixie cut has only grown about an inch in almost a year because your body has no nutrients to spare on superfluous things like your hair.

Why am I bringing this up? This week is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. Why do I care? Because like a lot more people than you think, I have an eating disorder. I am currently on medical leave seeking treatment 70 hours a week in town and asked the editors to let me write this piece even though I am not currently taking classes. Why? Because as someone who has struggled for years with the concept of “I am not sick enough because I don’t look the way that someone with an eating disorder is supposed to look,” I just need to put it out there that there is no “right way” to have an eating disorder.

Eating disorders are mental illnesses, just like depression and anxiety, and it’s time that we start treating them as such instead of putting them on pedestals as excellent examples of willpower and the strive for beauty.