By Koli Marie
Diet culture is hard on everyone in society, but especially hard for those who are in eating disorder recovery or struggle with disordered eating. The constant message, that we aren’t good enough as we are, is painful. It often feels like no one understands. I recently discovered the impact of this lack of understanding in a setting from which I expected better -the academic world.
I am currently taking a Child Development course called Child Health and Nutrition. Recently, an assignment called “Eating Analysis” was given. It required students to keep a food journal for a week and post it on a public discussion forum.
As someone who struggles with disordered eating, this assignment didn’t help me to learn about child health or nutrition. All it taught me was that I still struggle. I didn’t like the fact that I had to track and list my food intake. None of the people in my life liked it either. They were shocked, disgusted, and enraged. Then, I told them that my food intake would also be posted in a discussion forum for my peers to see. Their shock, disgust, and rage grew, as did their concern.
I felt validated by the reactions of those who care about me, and chose to email my professor to see about an alternative or an adjustment to the assignment. I offered to email my work to her privately, instead of posting it on the discussion board. I disclosed my disordered eating and the shame and embarrassment surrounding it. I have yet to hear back from her.
This assignment was incredibly triggering for me. It’s wrong that I was asked to post highly personal information in a public forum. It felt like walking out on stage in my underwear and waiting for everyone to laugh. It’s also wrong that I felt pressure to reveal a very personal part of my life. My heart was in my throat for weeks. I just wanted the assignment to be over so I never had to think about it again.
So what happened? I finished the assignment. I did it, and I was mostly honest about what I consumed over seven days. The result was an increase in my disordered eating. I found myself eating less, feeling guilty when I ate certain foods, or feeling guilty when I ate at all. Food should never make someone feel guilty, and we know there is no such thing as a ‘bad’ food. There is no morality in food, and that’s the lesson we should be teaching children.
After processing all of this, I am planning to approach the chair of the department, in hopes of getting the outcome that best serves my mental health, and the mental health of my classmates. There is no way that I was the only individual who was damaged by this assignment. I want to stand up and say that this curriculum needs to be more inclusive and respectful of people like me, who struggle with their relationship with food. That is my experience and it’s okay. I’m healing.
Healing is a process and it’s different for everyone. It comes at different times. Healing is a very personal thing, but at the same time, we need help, compassion and understanding from members of our community. In this case, the “community” failed students who were in dire need of a little compassion and understanding, and set their healing back.
While I hope there will be a positive outcome for my classmates, I have made the decision not to continue in this particular program. I’ve made that choice for my own mental health, because as much as I love working with children, nothing is worth sacrificing my own personal healing. I’m going to be pursuing my English degree, and hope to keep writing, advocating, and supporting young minds as they learn about food and bodies.