We all make comparisons, it’s not unique to people with eating disorders and it’s not only while struggling through one that I made them, I still do. However, the intensity and frequency of comparing myself to others was more significant when I had an eating disorder; I constantly looked at other people and measured myself against them, not only in body but in everything else I’d also found lacking.
The person I was with an eating disorder was someone trying desperately to fit in with everyone else and meet the expectations I felt were set by others and those I’d laid for myself. Constantly looking for approval; for the next compliment, for more attention, for a new goal, and a new achievement. All the while I engaged in my ED behaviours and drowned out anything that might fuel me to do so.
At first, I made comparisons between my body and those of others, weighing myself up against them. Their thighs, their collar bones, their jaw lines, their cheeks, their ribs, their hips, and pressing them onto myself trying to impress their figures upon my body. I couldn’t look at someone without seeing all the things I thought I couldn’t have. It took a long time not to notice people for their bodies first and their smiles second.
I became aware of the lack of authentic joy I gave people. I struggled to return the smiles other people gave so freely, instead hiding myself away and turning from them.
I compared how much I was struggling and how little people seemed to care, to what I saw of others around me. Always too much, but never enough to justify feeling like I could reach out. Soon after, I began feeling behind everyone else, both emotionally and mentally. I didn’t get their jokes or their freedom to express themselves or their ability to let their bodies be liberated of the rules and boundaries I’d set down and down again.
It wasn’t until well after my recovery that I began the journey towards discovering my own hidden depths I previously couldn’t reach. Finally reaching those trenches I’d buried myself in, the comparisons couldn’t reach me as easily here.
While I still compare myself and my struggles to those around me, I know that I’m valid in how I’m feeling and worth the 19 letters it takes to say the ‘I need your help please’ that brings my best friends to my door with soft words and engulfing hugs.
While I still compare myself against others, it does not engulf me. I instead choose to look towards myself for reassurance and comfort and push myself forward, not necessarily to be better but to be more authentically me.
Nowadays, the harder to overcome comparisons are to the person I would be without the eating disorder. I found myself studying nutrition despite having a stronger interest in arts and biology. These are passions I both still hold very dear, and I apply them to my work however I can. Despite loving what I do now, I can’t help but think about the possibilities I missed out on. I wonder about who I would be without having starved myself so much that I wanted others to eat for me. In my work now, I strive not to make people eat but to support them through the many barriers that prevent them from achieving their best. Something I wish someone had done for me, something I wish I had let someone do for me. Now I try to merge who I am with who I wanted to be and I find myself whole.
It is in our nature to compare, but it is our choice what we compare ourselves to and to what degree we choose to let that inform our choices.
By Majella (Max) Jones, He/They, Peer Mentor at EDV