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“Well you look fine now” – disability and eating disorders

I went to see a counsellor a few years back, it was about 6 or so months after my health problems had started. I took a deep breath and decided to speak, for the very first time to anyone, about my disordered eating.

I spoke quickly and breathlessly, not daring to look up at the woman, twisting my fingers and fidgeting. I blurted out about how I’d starved myself for almost a year, eating only a slice of toast a day if I felt I’d earnt it. Exercising hard every day until I felt faint.

I blabbered about how I’d been starting to recover when the pain had started and was feeling more and more triggered to starve, especially as the lack of mobility meant the weight had piled back on and I was now overweight. I felt helpless and out of control and craved the control of the ED back again.

After I’d purged myself of all this pain I’d been holding in, she looked me up and down then said five devastating words. “Well, you look fine now.”

In that one phrase she told me that being triggered to starve wouldn’t be bad thing.

In that one phrase she told me that being overweight meant I couldn’t have an eating disorder.

And that latter point is one I’ve come across time and time again.

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This is genuinely how a lot of people view overweight people with eating disorders, especially if the eating disorder involves bingeing in any form. We’re not suffering a mental illness, we’re just greedy.

As my joint pain means I can’t exactly exercise, I know I’m seen as even less likely to have an ED as I’m not even seen to be trying to lose weight. I drive distances that most people would walk, and I am aware that all people see is a fat woman with no visible sign of disability. And because of how fat people are portrayed I just tick all the boxes for being lazy and an overeater.

Walking around the supermarket is fun, I’ve actually had people laughing at the food in my trolley. Which is lovely, to know that they’ve looked at my trolley full of food for a family of four and assumed (because of my weight) that it was all for me. This is even tougher as my youngest is struggling to put on weight, so we have to give her high calorie options, eg. full fat milk and cream, fried food.

While I know they were wrong, it still hurts.

I’ve written before about the hyperemesis. It’s too long and too horrific for me to want to go into it in too much depth again today. But let’s just say, 9 months of puking near constantly, not being able to eat, barely being able to manage sips of water, constant pain from the retching and bile, and constantly being in and out of hospital for IV drips. It was horrific. Well, the one comment I heard most from people when I talked about not being able to eat or keep food down was “well, at least you can afford to lose weight”. Not sympathy. Judgement on my weight.

And so when I see a meme like the one above it’s hard to look at it and see the humour, rather than be reminded that it’s exactly how people see those of us who are overweight.

 Edited to add:

I have been unsure whether to include this last bit, but with a few things going on at the moment (eg. #droptheplus) I think I need to get it off my chest. It may offend some people I know, and for that I apologise.

This meme recently caused an argument amongst a group of women I know.

The one thing we all had in common was a history of ED and related mental health issues.While our individual experiences varied, we at least had one thing in common. For some of them the meme made them laugh as they were viewing it through an ED lens, it was a dark joke about the hell that is bingeing.

For others of us it was too hurtful as we were viewing it through a lens of being overweight, as I’ve explained above.

And that’s all ok, we’re all allowed different viewpoints, and I can see how laughing at the meme could be quite therapeutic.

What I found most upsetting was when I pointed out how different experiences might change how we viewed it, I was told that it absolutely couldn’t be the case. And that it was all down to different types of humour.

At this point I should point out, the woman saying this has never been overweight. She has never had anyone tell her that she can’t possibly have an eating disorder, or that an eating disorder wouldn’t be too bad as she could stand to lose some weight. In her mind my experience of ED and hers are basically the same. She doesn’t see any difference between experiences of being overweight and being slim.

It’s something that I’ve noticed with the #DropThePlus campaign, a slim person says, “this is my experience of the plus size label” and then just cannot (or will not) see that a plus size woman might have a different experience of it.

It’s just too common for our experiences to be dismissed in favour of someone else’s narrative.

2 thoughts on ““Well you look fine now” – disability and eating disorders

  1. What that counselor sad and did was wrong. Disordered eating is just that, its eating patterns that are disordered. Fat or not, disordered eating is still extremely harmful! I have been there (though my experience was much less severe than yours) and I get it. No one looked twice at what I was eating, or more accurately, what I wasn’t, simply because I was fat.

    No matter what anyone says, YOU know your body better than anyone. You know what makes it feel good (feeding it) and what makes it feel bad (starving). You do what makes YOU feel better. If that is eating comfort food, then eat. If it is driving to save spoons, then drive. Whatever way you decide is best to take care of your body.

    Remember,you are the one living in your body, not anyone else. Take good care of it (it’s hard to love it if you abuse it). Especially with a disability, no one knows better than you what your body needs. Nourish it with tasty food, and take care of it with rest.

    Anyone who says different can take a long walk of a short pier!

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