Lacy described how social media was a huge component of the negative feedback loop in which she found herself trapped at the depths of her Eating Disorder (ED). Food blogs were especially negative for her, especially many ‘healthy living’ blogs, which are thinly disguised diet blogs. However, Lacy was also able to turn social media around from a detriment to a tool of empowerment on her road to recovery.
Lacy’s disordered eating started in her mid-20s when, after having her heart broken, she went through a rough patch where she couldn’t eat or sleep and was crying all the time (girl, been there. Too recently). As might be expected, she lost a significant amount of weight, and in our skinny-obsessed society, immediately began receiving compliments. “I felt terrible, unloveable, like there was something wrong with me,” she said, and yet “people I vaguely knew started to validate [my eating habits], telling me how good I looked.” The validation was addicting, and as a result Lacy became extremely orthorexic, obsessing about her food.
Orthorexia is not talked about a lot in relation to EDs or even within the ED community (or vegan community, for that matter). As Lacy’s ED worsened, the group of foods she deemed ‘healthy’ enough to eat continued to shrink smaller and smaller. It wasn’t a conscious decision to avoid foods in order to lose weight; rather, it was because she was genuinely fearful of these foods. At the same time, even though she was not living her healthiest life, she was told by exercise friends that she was “so good” for restricting her food intake, and expressed a desire to have her ‘convictions.'
In response to the extreme hunger her orthorexia generated, she began to obsess over food blogs. At one point, she says, she had over 1,000 recipes cataloged and stashed, none of which she ever used. The Army did a study of men who were deprived of nutrition, and found they began to exhibit similar behavior- obsessing over recipes, foods, and eating. As Lacy describes it, it wasn’t the food she was hungry for- she was hungry for the life of a person who truly enjoyed food. For Lacy, at this point, food and her body represented only fear.
Like many sufferers of ED, Lacy was isolated by her disordered eating. She couldn’t go out to eat with friends because she was terrified of the food. She slowly lost all her real-world connections to people, and all that was left was the blog world, in which she was very interested, but for which she was creating nothing.
When Lacy began getting involved in various recovery communities, she was able to take a break from social media in order to deal with her phobias surrounding food and body image. Those recovery communities helped her reconnect with people and make new friendships. EDs involve shame, secrecy, and isolation, so having person-to-person connections is a crucial part of recovery. As Lacy said, “when my time was occupied, I wasn’t looking at food blogs on the internet all the time."
With her emotional health in recovery, Lacy was able to re-engage in social media on her terms, and in a way that was healthy for her. In stark contrast to her earlier experiences, approaching social media with honesty felt fantastic. Many of the blogs and accounts with which she began to interact were people who had healthy relationships with their bodies, and Lacy began to draw inspiration from blogs that "focus on stuff other than pretty food." Some of her early inspirations include:
- Insanity Punks- "here were people engaging in fitness, but not to change their appearance- to get strong and feel positive about themselves."
- Krissy Mae Cagney, weight lifter
- Jess Baker (the Militant Baker), body positivity
- Carrot Quinn, hiking the Pacific Crest Trail
- Rachel, Rebel Grrrl Living
When Lacy began blogging, herself, she says, "it was a pivotal element to my self-esteem. The mental switch to liking myself was the last to come." Before her ED, she'd never liked her body; it was incidental to her existence. Post-ED, she says, she realized that you don't need any change in order to like your body- you can like it exactly as it is. Of course, she acknowledges, it can be risky to put out personal content, especially that concerning physicality. But the important thing to remember is that there is a community out there, and you can find support in it.
Overall, the blogging community can be powerful or detrimental- it all depends on your approach to it.
I get emails like “I hate myself and I don’t know what to do.” That situation is different from witnessing someone who appears to have an ED- people with EDs themselves have "ED radar," but it's not always the appropriate judgment. Making a judgment based solely on appearance can be shitty and misleading. Usually someone will drop hints- if it's someone I know, I will take notice of things they say and how they talk about themselves, and try to comment on self-deprecating patterns in their speech. I take different tactics depending on the situation. Sometimes people will drop hints to me without knowing how to come out and say they’re struggling. The way to any kind of change whatsoever is small steps, but it’s scary. If you’ve gone down that rabbit hole, there are so many coping mechanisms you’ve created, you think you need to do them to survive either physically or emotionally. Just offer yourself as a constant form of support and a listening ear. Say to them, “I know it doesn’t feel like there’s another option, but there is."
What advice would you give to health professionals dealing with these issues?
I remember when I first starting my drastic weight loss, and I went in for a check-up. My Nurse Practitioner noticed, and said “you’ve lost so much weight.” I immediately asked “is that bad?” and she said “no, you look great!”
That was horrible. If someone has an ED and they don’t want to talk about it, to a certain extent you can’t make them. But again, there are hints and openings that health professionals should notice in a consultation. Health professionals shouldn't qualify weight/body issues by, for example, asking about BMI, the specific quantity of weight lost/gained-- they just need to listen to their patients. Nobody will recover without wanting to, and some people aren’t ready to hear they have an ED. But there is a real problem with physicians telling people they need to lose weight in order to be healthy- that's not okay, and it's not correct.
How do you tell your story in a relatable matter without seeming like you're looking for sympathy?
People are adults, they can handle themselves. They are capable of having boundaries. I have conversations with people who are easily triggered, and that’s okay when they assert those boundaries. There’s a lot of shame and guilt, especially for how ED affects our loved ones. Getting rid of that guilt and shame is helpful for everyone. All I am is honest and a lot of people have told me that that’s helped them. Nobody should feel bad about their story.
I recommend the book The Buddhist Brain- it reinforces the idea of putting out the energy you want in your life until it becomes genuine- ie, 'fake it till you make it'. It's about re-carving new cognitive pathways in your brain.
As a fellow survivor of ED, I am very appreciative of the fact that you focused on the emotional aspect of it, rather than the details of how you did it. At the lowest point of my ED, hearing other survivors talk about their coping mechanisms and disordered behaviors only gave me ideas to fuel my own disordered behavior.
How do we as content creators be inspirational rather than aspirational?
It’s the shared responsibility of both blogger and reader. It’s not bad to share your cool stuff that happens! Conversely, don’t be shy to share things that you struggle with. For me, I try to think of that responsibility around comparison more as a reader than as a writer. Never say anything is ‘clean.’
“Clean is for underwear, not food!” (everyone, starting using this hashtag posthaste)
Our society is so food-centric; moreso in veganism because our community is based around a dietary choice. While it’s important to be honest with your struggles, I want to know if you have any negative experiences with honesty?
I get trolls sometimes! I am really invested in blogger communities in a positive way.
"People really hate when women try to love their bodies.” (at this point the talk was paused as the room exploded into raucous applause, I may have heard [or shouted] an 'Amen' or two)
I am fairly normative so the hate I get is about stuff like the length of my shorts, but there are body positive bloggers whose images are not so normative and they get tons of flak, so I try to support them and make connections with them.
Like Monique said, it’s okay to delete the comments. Or save looking at them for a good day when you’re feeling like having a laugh. Your audience wants to support and love you, so it’s okay to delete.
Thank you, Lacy! That was so inspiring, I came out of conference room A/B READY TO KICK SOME SERIOUS ASS. And anyone who knows me knows how much I love kicking ass.