BY KATE FARRELL
Look anywhere and you’ll find a claim for what the healthiest thing for you is. Our society is obsessed; from one superfood to the next, to one glass of wine a day to juice cleanses, “health” seems to keep changing every single day. And consider this, there are more than 7 billion people on this earth, how, could there be one definition of health that is perfect for everyone?
My eating disorder was always striving to find that perfect definition of health. I got it in my head that if I figured that out, I could stay fit and secure. For some reason, if I was healthy I thought I wouldn’t have any problems. I would be a better person being healthy, morally, physically, emotionally – I would be secure. It started with an innocent diet, as it always does. But the thing about someone who has the genealogy that is susceptible to eating disorders (as I do, lucky me!) is that you physically can’t stop dieting once you do. People with different brain functioning can stop, physically I couldn’t. Suddenly it wasn’t just cake that became bad. Sitting was bad, missing even one day of exercise was bad, exercising for only an hour was bad, too much fat was bad, then all fat was bad. Of course, this spiral isn’t something that is unfamiliar, we live in a culture that’s obsessed with dieting. We’ve created a morality around food; eat a salad and you’re a good person, but suddenly you’re “so bad” if you eat a cheeseburger.
When I started my recovering journey, I thought that it would just be about eating some food and moving on with my life, going right back to working out all the time and constantly being on the move. I was living in a nice little dream world though. I had to learn to rethink my definition of health – and that isn’t something that came easily to someone whose idea of “health” was also their safety blanket, coping mechanism, and whole world.
So what have I learned? (And honestly, what do I have to keep learning every day?)
That in my recovery, and in life in general, health isn’t going to the gym everyday and eating a sugar-free/gluten free/dairy free/meat-free diet. Healthy to me is doing literally nothing all day and eating cake with my friends. It’s being able to have movie marathons with my housemates and baking late night brownies with my sister. It’s being able to go out for dinner and eating a little too much because the food, and the company, are just that good. For me, health is putting away my running shoes and taking a long shower instead. It’s eating all my meals and all my snacks, regardless of the amount of activity I did. It’s sitting down on the bus, sitting down while I do my homework, instead of constantly standing up (trying to “burn”). It’s having two helpings of dinner when my body is telling me I need more. It’s not denial or starvation, it’s not overexertion and pain. It’s not just physical either, it’s going out with my friends instead of going to the gym because that will improve my mental health, something that is equally important.
I struggle with the idea that this has to be my new health if I want to recover from my eating disorder. I struggle not only because of my disease but because I live in a culture that reinforces my unhealthy behaviours as good things – over exercise and dieting is rewarded in our world. It’s hard to try and explain to someone that the most healthy thing for me to do is actually to grab a coffee and snack with my friend instead of running. It’s isolating to try and fight this battle, but we are here fighting it. I say we because every day there are people who are doing things to improve their own health that may look different than what you have to do to improve yours. So please remember, there is no one version of health. There is no “right” way to live. Everyone is at a different point in their life, and that means a different version of what healthy means to them. You don’t need permission from anyone to find yours.