Is Activism a Career or an Indulgence?


Kaitlin Irwin

Most eating disorder sufferers would agree that even once recovery begins, the act of being around food can still be especially distressing. The treatment and recovery process becomes even more difficult when others assume that because you’re eating and cooking now, then everything is okay. The truth is that recovery is a lifelong journey, and circumstances will change periodically.

Those who struggle with ED become fighters, using their arsenal of coping skills, support systems and personal growth to battle the demon that is an eating disorder. Things become even trickier once these people have the freedom to live their day-to-day lives as they wish, without the presence of a treatment program or professional. For instance, I struggled with anorexia for five years before seeking treatment. After an intensive outpatient program, therapy and loads of support from others, I am living my life as an average 25-year-old. I no longer have check-ins with my treatment program, and I’m not going to therapy right now.

Basically, it’s as if I have a second life, one where ED rarely visits. And when he does, I know what to do. Still, I know my limits, and I know what kinds of situations are going to trigger ED thoughts. This is the constant battle I was referring to earlier. Maybe I don’t have a day-to-day struggle with what I eat or how much I exercise, and I’m no longer concerned with numbers and size tags. Yet there are times when I feel ED’s presence, and I’ve noticed that there are certain circumstances in which he sees an opportunity to strike.

So, I do my best to avoid those circumstances (if possible) while using my coping skills. As much as I love riding my bike, I need to make sure I don’t overdo it (as in ‘I’m probably burning so many calories, whoo!’) I enjoy discussing and reading up on nutrition, but I sometimes catch myself indulging in it as a form of self-righteousness (as in ‘I know how to eat properly, but you don’t.’) It makes me wonder about ED sufferers who delve into careers in nutrition, exercise or eating disorders treatment.

Obviously, every single person is different, and my struggles aren’t necessarily what other people experience. When I really think about it, I do believe that the majority of ED sufferers can end up in careers that focus on food, exercise or ED without having a risk of relapse or some other issue. I only speak from my personal experience that going into these kinds of job fields would probably become self-indulgent or triggering.

Plus, becoming a psychologist or a mental health professional never appealed to me, so I’m glad other people are willing to take those jobs! Yet, as I try to figure out what my career is going to be, I find myself wanting to make a difference in the community at large, particularly in regards to body image and eating disorders. Is there a way for me to educate others about EDs, as well as challenge people’s perceptions of food morals, without slipping back into old habits? I think so!

Sure, those with a history of ED need to be careful when pursuing degrees and jobs in nutrition, exercise or other ED-related fields. There can be a lot of temptation to revert back to ED behaviors or patterns of thinking. Of course, a huge benefit to helping other ED sufferers, as someone who has been there personally, is that you become a true source of knowledge and hope. It forms a unique connection that many other professionals can’t achieve.

Lastly, people who pursue these careers can become sources of inspiration to others, as they serve as living proof that a healthy and successful life beyond an eating disorder is possible. ED sufferers are no longer being quiet, and it’s a great thing.

Kaitlin Irwin is in recovery from anorexia. She spent her college years struggling to hide her illness. With lots of support, patience and an Intensive Outpatient Program, she embraced herself, flaws and all.

This piece originally appeared on, NEDA’s website for young adults.