Food Logs, Selfies, and Transformation Pictures in Eating Disorder Recovery
Yesterday was Eating Recovery Day and therefore I wanted to take a moment to honor the subject of recovery with a topic that has been pressing on my mind for some time now. Ever since I started my Instagram on mental health advocacy I have been questioning how to both engage with those on Instagram who are navigating eating disorder recovery while not triggering myself into unhealthy behaviors. I have searched #eatingdisorderrecovery time and time again to try and find like minded individuals who might find my account helpful and who could in turn inspire me. The sad truth of my explorations on Instagram is that for every inspiring, recovery minded post there is a struggling, eating disordered minded one next to it and for someone who does not identify as recovered, but as trying to find recovery, seeing these things can be really detrimental.
The minute I type in that hashtag I am met by dozens and dozens of food log posts, underwear selfies, or feeding tube portraits and I can’t help but feel my heart sink. “You are missing the point!” I want to scream through the screen to whomever is navigating recovery in this way because what the posts about meals and body image show me is that the person is still searching for outward validation. Someone to comment that they are “still so thin” when standing in their underwear or “a true fighter” as they have a tube stuck through their nose or how “perfect their plate looks” when everything is unnaturally laid out and colorful. When for me true, authentic recovery is when I wake up in the morning and the mirror is not a concern and my breakfast is not a topic of conversation and a feeding tube is not a sign of strength, but instead I think about those outside of myself. I think about how to pass along the torch to the next person in line for the recovered life. I think about my friends and family and my school work. I think about things larger than how I look in the gym mirror and whether or not to tag my workout photo with #healthyisthenewskinny when I know in reality that I am still manipulating my weight in one way or another and therefore that word “healthy” becomes a dangerous lie for anyone who scrolls past the Instagram post and finds themselves envious of your still boney arms and thigh gap. “Why don’t I look like that when I am in recovery?” Others on Instagram, those silenced by the connotation that to post you have to be “super anorexic”, ask themselves. And, I wish I could then leap through the screen and hug every single person doubting their body in relation to the realness of their disorder and whisper, “Don’t let these posts fool you,” to those feeling lesser in the eating recovery world because of them.
But even more so than the food logs and countless selfies, the posts that I find the most harmful for myself to see are the transformation pictures. Boney after boney girl alongside a new, still extremely thin, individual with #recoveryisoworthit attached to the caption. I see these vastly transformed bodies going from being a complete skeleton to a fit, thin model type and my mind goes, “well, you certainly don’t have an eating disorder” merely because I don’t have a dramatic transformation photo that outwardly shows the struggle with my eating disorder. In fact, during the most violent years of my disease I appeared quite healthy and my weight never fluctuated more than 5-7 pounds despite the abusive cycle I was in with food. And though I know the truth about my struggle and I know that eating disorders don’t look like anything and I know that I was sick during those years same as the skeleton girls on my Instagram feed, yet I cannot seem to find it within me to validate this.
Why? Because society in addition to the eating disorder community has instilled within me a belief that in order to truly be a recovery warrior, to really have an eating disorder, to have your struggle be significant enough to earn outward support you must first fall below X amount of pounds. You must be in inpatient treatment with a feeding tube stuck up your nose, being wheeled around in a wheelchair first so that when you find recovery you have a starting reference for your transformation. As if you have to first convince everyone through a sick photo that “yes I had a severe life threatening illness” in order to own an eating disorder recovery story. When no one would question a cancer survivor’s legitimacy if they were to claim to be in remission. That is the sad truth. Not only is society preaching to me that I have to be ultra thin to have an eating disorder, but the eating disorder community is sending me the same messages. The people who struggle with the same disease as me are pitting themselves against one another by trying to one up each other with who hit the lowest low weight before entering recovery. Who has the most dramatic treatment story. Who climbed out of the deepest hole. And, tell me how exactly does weight translate into struggle? How does a number, a photo, a weight restoration show what is happening inside of someone’s mind? The answer is, it doesn’t. So my request is this, think twice before posting a transformation photo. Not because I don’t want those struggling to honor their progress, but because those in recovery from an eating disorder need to remember their audience. Every person that scrolls through and sees that transformation photo is going to be comparing their struggle with that post. It is detrimental. It is not inspirational. And it only further reinforces the stigma that we need so badly to break. The stigma that eating disorders only look like one thing.
This is precisely why I chose to post the “transformation photo” on my feed yesterday because it visually showed nothing. No struggle. No body change. Just a happy smiling girl over and over again when in reality the two years when those photos were taken I landed myself in treatment centers and ER’s more times than I care to mention. So no, I don’t have a boney photo from when I was underweight that I wish to publically post because that is not the point. The point is not for me to flaunt my sickest pictures to gain validation of my struggle. The point is for me to be able to speak about my struggle and people to believe me. I want my words, not my body to be the voice of inspiration.