September 26, 2023
September 26, 2023

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Creating Space in the Margins

Years ago—what feels like ages ago—I remember finding an old notebook of mine from a history class I took once upon a time. In the margin of said notebook were food calculations and lists, the evidence of my personal history with an eating disorder. I found this notebook while cleaning out an old shelf and I recall now that when I found the pages, I felt a sense of grief for that young woman. The person I was, from which I felt so far removed those years later, and feel even more of a distance from now.

This sad young woman who lived life according to a calculator and equations was stuck in all-or-nothing thoughts, battled inner demons and was so afraid of growing up that she barely lived at all. This feels like a lifetime ago. And yet, the feeling I had when finding this notebook was also one of relief. Looking back on how trapped I was and how unbelievably liberating it was to know that any notebook margins would be filled with doodles or reminders, not food rules or numbers.

This, dear reader, is the reality: moving past dependency on one’s body for a sense of self-worth is actually what yields freedom. But this is not to be found in the promise of diets and weight loss. Our diet culture obsessed world promises us that when we achieve the body we “hope for”—a body type created by a billion dollar industry that promotes a lack of maturation and completely ignores our individual needs—THEN, we will be free. This is the furthest idea from the truth.

When people pursue weight loss they become trapped in a cycle; there is typically restriction and deprivation sometimes in the name of aesthetics, other times in the name of health. (The pursuit of weight loss, even if stemming from a striving for health, does not work; instead, a recognition of current patterns, tendencies and an exploration of alternative recommendations are what can lead to the health that the individual strives toward.) And sometimes people just believe they will “feel” better about themselves. But here’s what happens, reader: the person is not able to manipulate body size and then feels like a failure, leading to self-blame and a negative internal dialogue. Or, at other times, this is possible but short lived, once again leading to that self-deprecation. And for others, they are able to change body size or shape but then live a life acting as a slave to maintain this change: skipping social events, living life counting and engaging in compulsive behaviors. It may only be when their children begin ridiculing their own reflections that they see the impact of this lifestyle.

This is not a carefree life. This is a life of overwhelming rules and feelings of defeat and blaming oneself rather than the system. This is a mindset that is fed to us, one where we put ourselves down in a system that promotes a certain ideal, rather than celebrating ourselves and having our bodies—this physical shell—become the least interesting thing about ourselves, regardless of what society says.

Recovery or a life that strikes against diet culture is one that allows for freedom. This life includes acceptance and the ability to spot diet culture and to feel feelings of frustration or sadness or anger all while recognizing where on one’s hierarchy of values the body lands. It is a life of eating intuitively and respecting all bodies, regardless of size. A life free from isolation due to outfits or forced episodes of exercise in order to allow oneself to eat. A life that mourns the systemic issues that tend to marginalize certain body types and a life that includes acceptance of this grief, while also pursuing the wonder that life can hold—regardless of size. A life free from diet culture and free from an eating disorder is a life of emotions and goals and freedom around food and ultimate acceptance of one’s body. How lovely it is to be accepting and even welcoming to one’s body, rather than rejecting.

There is so much more to life than being stuck in a cycle of self-destruction. And moving beyond this cycle is possible. Recognizing that there is nothing wrong with your body is possible. I believe that this is possible at the individual level, and we must reflect on the change necessary at the communal level as it is hard to be accepting of oneself in a world that does not create space for you. Create that space. Not simply in the margins of a notebook but in your mind for yourself and in the world for others.

Temimah Zucker, LCSW, works with individuals ages 18 and older in New York and New Jersey who are struggling with mental health concerns, and specializes in working with those looking to heal their relationships between their bodies and souls. Temimah is an adjunct professor at the Wurzweiler School of Social Work, an advocate and public speaker concerning eating disorder awareness and a Metro-New York supervisor at Monte Nido. To learn more or to reach her, visit

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