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The Challenges of Eating Disorder Recovery in a Higher-Weight Body

Emily Locke

From a young age I was taught to believe that thinner equaled better, and larger equaled lesser. My dance teachers reinforced this, my father reinforced this, and the media reinforced this. Eating disorders are typically associated with thinness, and while that can be some people’s experience, it is not everyone’s. Those of us who may not appear to have an eating disorder still have a valid struggle and it is important to talk about. It is important for our eating disorders to not be dismissed simply because of our size or the number on a scale.

About three and a half years ago I went into treatment for binge eating disorder. One of the first things I noticed was that all of the other clients were much smaller than I was. I assumed that the other clients were wondering why on earth is she here? I did not think they would believe that I had an eating disorder because of my being at a higher weight. I felt like I didn’t belong in treatment because of the way that I looked, rather than the severity of my eating disorder. I held onto this irrational thought process and felt insecure and lesser than the other clients the whole time I was there. That’s partly because at the time I too, associated eating disorders with thinness. 

That is how they are portrayed in the media, and that is why for so long I didn’t even think I had an eating disorder – simply because of how I looked. I knew that my behaviors were disordered, but I also knew that my body didn’t look like what I was taught to associate an eating disorder with, and so I thought that I was fine. I thought that I was perfectly healthy for a very long time. One of my most significant milestones in my recovery was genuinely admitting that I had an eating disorder, and that I needed help for it.

Here I am several years later and finding myself with those familiar thoughts. Not because I am back in treatment, but because being the only larger roommate in my college apartment suite has brought up those uncomfortable feelings. My roommates are incredibly sweet and have become some of my closest friends since being at college, and considering that when I started at North Carolina State University in August of last year I knew literally no one, that feels like a big deal. However, that doesn’t change the fact that when I am around my roommates I feel very insecure about my size and the way my body looks.

My roommates are certainly aware that I have a history of an eating disorder as well as other mental illnesses. I have never really discussed it in depth though. Partly because it hasn’t come up, and partly because I find myself wondering will they understand when I say that I struggle with an eating disorder? Do they wonder if I am currently struggling with my eating disorder? Do they even associate an eating disorder with someone who is in a larger body? I don’t know, because I’ve never asked.

Truthfully, a lot of people’s eating disorders do not fit the cookie cutter idea of what is portrayed in the media, or even in some textbooks. Eating disorders are not one set of criteria fits all. Eating disorders are serious mental and emotional disorders that can have dangerous repercussions on one’s physical health. Regardless of what I have physically looked like, my eating disorder has and always will be valid.

Emily Locke is a college student, writer, and dancer. She is from Portland, OR but attends North Carolina State University, and plans to major in English with a creative writing concentration. She has battled mental illnesses from a young age, and as a result is very passionate about raising awareness for eating disorders, anxiety and depressive disorders, and promoting a positive body image. She is currently a NEDA column writer, and hopes to someday be a published author, and eating disorder activist. To read more of her writing and follow her journey, check out her blog.

Image: Isaac Brown, Stocky Bodies