Just because it doesn’t happen to you doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen

Months ago, when the New York Times published a piece about the former Biggest Loser contestants, I noticed a reader comment that has stuck with me ever since.

As a rule, I aggressively avoid comment sections of…pretty much anything. But there it was, highlighted in the sidebar, in all its judge-y, preach-y glory:

“Sorry. But cravings are not orders at gunpoint. Wanting to eat doesn’t mean you must eat.”

Oh. Well. Okay then.

It isn’t just the insensitivity to the article’s subjects, who were baring very personal, obviously very real struggles. Or the fact that the commenter plainly missed the point of the article entirely: that after their weight loss, these people have to consume alarmingly low quantities of food each day to maintain their new, seemingly “healthy” weights — and no one quite knows why.

It was the breezy dismissal of someone else’s experience that made me sputter.

I am happy that the deafening compulsion to eat never happened to you, sir or madam, because I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. But it happens. It happened to me, and it happens to a lot of people.

This is exactly the kind of attitude that makes people with eating disorders like bulimia and binge eating disorder hide in the shadows. Why can’t you just stop eating? Why. Can’t. You. Just. Stop.

I don’t know this person’s story any more than he knows mine, but I know that many people in this world have never been on diets in their lives. Many of those people are men, who have traditionally existed outside the diet culture (alas, this is changing, but not in the way I’d have hoped). Or they are naturally, genetically predisposed to be thin. Maybe both.

They’ve never felt the outward pressure to starve themselves to be a different size, AND they’ve never felt the inward drive to consume once those hunger chemicals go awry, spinning into chaos and hopelessness and disappointment and confusion.

But anyway thank goodness for the super helpful advice!!! Wanting to eat doesn’t mean you must eat!!! Everybody just stop eating, okay?!?!

This comment fires me up every time I think about it, and it drives me to keep talking about stupid, dangerous stereotypes about dieting and weight and food. But beyond this sphere, it reminds me that I have so much to learn too.

In a moment of history that feels intractably divided, I have to remember that I only really know my own experience, and assuming otherwise makes me no better than this rude commenter. I need to be willing to listen, really listen, and believe. Just because something hasn’t happened to me, doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.

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