When I was thirteen, I lied to my best friend about having bulimia. I wanted drama. (This was middle school, after all.) I wanted attention. Most importantly, I wanted someone to talk to me about my relationship with food.
I do not want to delegitimize eating disorders. These mental illnesses are genuine and scary, deserving of our attention and care. Instead, I also want to give legitimacy to those facing mental health issues that do not come with a diagnosis. Their problems deserve just as much attention and care.
I didn’t have an eating disorder, but I thought about food a lot: I wrote rules for myself in a code language and pinned them above my desk. I kept a hand-written food journal before the days of calorie counting apps. I watched everything that my friends ate and compared it to my own meal.
I wanted to talk about food with my friends, but I felt like I didn’t have a legitimate claim to a conversation. I thought that I needed a diagnosable problem—either bulimia or anorexia—to be taken seriously. I thought that it wasn’t right of me to ask for attention when my friends had real problems, problems with names, while all I had was a food journal.
Now, I know that I shouldn’t have lied about having bulimia. I should have told my friend that I was struggling and looking for help navigating the world of food. Even without a diagnosis, I was showing signs of minor mental health issues. I have always been lucky to have thoughtful friends who help me work through made-up problems and the real ones underlying them. But I know hard it feels to seek help if we think our problems aren’t “real” enough.
So I gave my bad relationship with food the label of “bulimia” even though I had never purged. I felt like that label would give an appropriate level of…