Disclaimer: This post speaks about Eating Disorders/Disordered Eating Patterns. These topics may be triggering to those who have dealt with or are currently dealing with these issues.
I’ve been wanting to talk about National Eating Disorder Awareness week because there’s a very prominent intersection between diabetes and eating disorders. I've shied away from talking about my past with disordered eating on this platform and there are a few reasons why that I want to talk about. The first reason was that I didn't want to teach anyone how to have an eating disorder. A lot of my disordered eating behavior came from learning about other people's disordered eating via social media whether they were speaking retrospectively or practicing those habits in real-time. I'd give examples but that would be doing exactly what I want to avoid. This leads to my other reason, I felt like nobody would believe me if I wasn't giving concrete examples of the torture I was putting myself through. My body never outwardly exemplified what society expects disordered eating to look like. I don't think anyone would've taken me seriously if I told them what I was going through and I couldn't put my brain up to a microphone for people to listen to the incessant thoughts I was having about food and body image.
The reason I'm talking about it now is that I feel the most comfortable with where I am in my relationship with food and my body and I also feel comfortable with the platform I've created on Instagram through Balance & Bolus. After over three years of emotional captions, silly videos, etc. I've been able to establish way more of a connection with my followers and have built more of a relationship with them than I could've had in the first year. Through these relationships with them and myself, I feel ready to open up more and share my experience at this harrowing intersection between diabetes and food.
This intersection was unclear to me for the longest time. I didn’t understand the impact my disease would have on my relationship with food. Nobody talked to me about how diabetes would change this relationship for the worst. This might be due to the fact that for 15 years, not a single member of my healthcare team had personal experience with diabetes. They didn't know the repercussions of running through flashcard set after flashcard set with me making sure I understood the carb counts of apples and slices of bread. This started at the ripe age of 7.
Food became numbers. Numbers that quite frankly, controlled my life. I needed to know these numbers in order to give a proper bolus so that my moods don't swing and I don't get sick. Food was also being villanized in the media, "carbs are bad!" and "fat makes you fat" and here I was with a metaphorical magnifying glass looking at the nutrition label of every single piece of food I consumed. I became hyper-aware of the carbohydrates, fat, protein, and calories I was consuming. This became a problem when I went away to college and my body started to change. My hips grew and all I could hear every time I went to eat was, "moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips." I started having these loud and intrusive thoughts about food and I would blame those numbers. The carbs. The calories. So I tried to control those numbers and in turn, deprive myself of them.
I realized what over a decade of reading nutrition labels, hearing “can you eat that?” and being skipped over when cookies were being handed out, did to me.
I sought therapy in my senior year of college. Luckily, this was before my disordered eating behaviors became life-threatening. But they still were damaging and I was absolutely sick of it. I was hungry and exhausted and I just wanted to be happy with who I was so, so badly. About three months into therapy I brought up my diabetes and it was like this invisible lightbulb went off in the room and my therapist and I locked eyes and went, "oooooooooh." Things started to make sense. I realized what over a decade of reading nutrition labels, hearing “can you eat that?” and being skipped over when cookies were being handed out, did to me.
I began healing my relationship with food and myself in therapy. In the same year, I began writing my senior dissertation on the Slow Food Movement where I researched the emphasis on slow food, the enjoyment of food, how food connected the world. I realized I wanted to pursue a degree in nutrition because I could combine this passion for food with my passion for helping other people living with diabetes. I think food is a common thread in this big, yet small, world. I love learning about cultures through dishes and listening to stories between bites. But those joys can be lost in the same world that promotes eating disorders through diet culture and puts a magnifying glass up to calories rather than the flavors.
Through my studies of food and nutrition, I've been able to learn how food works in our bodies. How important food is. I think this was part of my healing process because I started seeing food as this beautiful source of energy rather than an enemy. I saw it as the tool I needed to enjoy my favorite things about this world. I have my good days and I have my bad days where those thoughts become louder, but in those moments I say "I see what you're doing, and I'd like you to stop so I can enjoy this delicious meal."
I hope in my career as an RD, I can be a bridge between a life with diabetes and a life with joyful meals and adequate energy that we need to live the most fulfilling life. A diagnosis with diabetes shouldn't come with an eating disorder like some kind of sick happy meal. There needs to be more talk about this intersection and more fight against the diet industry that is poisoning people through media. I hope to be ever-present in those conversations.