Life is a Menu: Beyond the stigma and struggles of eating disorders

Tyler McNeil

Creative Editor

In July 2013, a little over a month before my first semester at Hudson Valley, I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa. If I flip back the pages to February of that year, hearing my physician ask, “have you ever considered that you might be anorexic?” would be nothing more than a sour punchline.

Being at 5’10 at the time, I went from 195 lbs to the about 120 lbs in a matter of five months. Beforehand, I didn’t understand eating disorders. I considered them nothing more than a cry for attention, a media side effect or a product of commercialism in regards to compulsive eating. I was wrong. I was part of the problem.

This month is host to National Eating Disorders Awareness Week from Feb. 22 to 28. February is also the month I started restricting two years ago. For about 11 million people across the nation and 24 million people worldwide, this is not a jovial anniversary but a somber reminder of the burden of eating disorders they have had for years and sometimes decades. Rich, poor, black, white, male, female, introvert, extrovert – eating disorders are not picky.

Eating disorders are not only the product of personal anxiety and a need for control but for many women, it’s the product of a toxic culture. The female body type portrayed in advertising is only possessed by five percent of American females. Pressure to be a billboard figure is at home, school, work and even through leisure. It’s hard to identify what you are and what you’ve been cultivated to be.

Men are less likely to seek treatment as they consider anorexia “a woman’s disease” according to the American Psychological Association. In the beginning, I was more concerned with the stigma of being a male with anorexia rather than having one of the deadliest mental illnesses according to the American Journal of Psychiatry. I was one of 10-15 percent of Americans with bulimia or anorexia that are male.

I’m now at what is considered a healthy weight, but some things haven’t entirely changed. Calories are still staggering numbers to read on a daily basis and scales are not always easy to deal with, but they no longer govern my existence. I’m fortunately at a healthy point in my life as of now, but a positive perception of malnutrition occasionally returns during times of self doubt. Being free of the stigma associated with eating disorders is the greatest thing I’ve had to gain while living with one.

The battle ahead hasn’t been won but it’s far from lost. The weight off your back can be the healthiest pounds to lose, a perspective about eating disorders is the healthiest thing to gain, and the stigma off your plate is the best use of space.

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