Eating Disorder Awareness Week: an open letter to diet culture
Meet Laura Phelan, a Harley Street Eating Disorder Specialist and Co-Founder of Beyond Body Confidence. To mark Eating Disorder Awareness Week in 2019, she dismantles diet culture in an open letter from the HAES (Health At Every Size) Community:
Its been a while Diet Culture and alas we meet again. This time you are worth 62 billion dollars, how the f**k did that happen? Simple, you wreaked havoc on people’s insecurities and convinced them they have to shrink their bodies in order to live a happy existence.
Quite frankly that is the biggest load of rubbish I have ever heard. Because here’s the thing, with 1.6 million people in the UK alone suffering from an eating disorder and 10 million women reported to be depressed about the way they look, I would say I have a case against you. Ever heard of Set Weight Theory? It’s evidence that our bodies will fight to maintain a given weight even if this weight is tampered with or manipulated.
This leads me to my next point which is Health at Every Size which, a weight inclusive paradigm, to move towards equity and access for people in all bodies, whilst also elevating the voices of those who are most marginalized. Unlike you, it seeks to change peoples relationships with their bodies as opposed to demonising larger bodies and making everyone fear being fat.
I thought I would give you some more insight into how I know first-hand how damaging you can be, you see I myself developed Anorexia at the age of 13 and have been in recovery for over 12 years now. Prior to this I was shy, didn’t have a lot of self-confidence and when embarking on what I thought was a ‘healthy eating regime’, didn’t realise the drastic consequence it would have on my mental health. I soon became obsessed with calorie counting, over exercising and controlling what I ate, and you made that a lot easier to do.
Off I would go to the shops knowing I could pick up any magazine and keep this obsession thriving with the next weight loss ad. Nowadays all you need to do is turn to Instagram to see how you have seeped into people’s lives. Luckily for me, through years of therapy, family support and a conscious daily battle to fight the thoughts and behaviours that had gotten me so ill, I started to pull through. I still longed to be smaller, I still longed to control my food and had severe body image and self-confidence issues for years after but I knew I had to keep going. Life after recovery is a life of freedom and opportunity and these days, I look to show up in life in a much bigger way. I bet you hate that don’t you? People out there liking their bodies, no longer pumping money into you via their self-doubt debit card.
Here’s the thing, just because I am healed and free from your grasp, doesn’t mean everyone else is, and oh boy do I want to change this. One of my biggest goals is to change the stigma attached to eating disorders in that you have to be in a thin, emaciated young female body to be struggling. They do not discriminate, they can impact anyone, at any age, at any time. I also want to change the rhetoric that our worth lies in our bodies in ANY WAY, we are so much more than what we look like, fat or thin, short or tall, healthy eaters or not.
I know I have a fight on my hands but luckily, I am not the only one in the army of dismantling you. Just look at the growing Health At Every Size Community, the other professionals and advocates like myself, the Body Positivity Community and movements such as “ I weigh”, by Jameela Jamil.
You shouldn’t start something you can’t finish Diet Culture and let me tell you I and billions of others are here to finish YOU.