April 16, 2024
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April 16, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

How Comments Led to Struggle

I am both blessed and grateful to be a public speaker on the subjects of eating disorders and mental health for over 10 years now. It started when my then-therapist was asked to speak in a school and if she might know anyone who would like to come and share a personal story. I was unsure but replied yes, knowing at that point in my recovery that I hoped to someday be able to help others and pursue the social work degree I had been after since I was 14, specializing in this area. And once I started, I never wanted to stop. As a former student who stuttered when asked to read publicly in class, I took part in drama productions in high school, helping me feel more confident in front of a crowd. Years later I still felt nervous, but was invigorated by my mission. Now I’m grateful to not experience any pre-speaking jitters—exposure therapy truly worked, over time—and speaking has become one of the areas I am most passionate about.

Two weeks ago I presented at a high school in Brooklyn through SAFE’s eating disorder division, The Mindful Eating Project. I’ve partnered with the Mindful Eating Project since it came about in 2022 and have been so humbled to present with them in schools and on social media live events. This presentation in mid-March included an alumnus of the school, sharing—for the first time—her story of recovery. I then stepped in as the eating disorder therapist, providing a psycho-educational perspective, tools surrounding prevention, information on hope and healing, and a view of general myths and misconceptions. Esther—who was so authentic, graceful and inspiring—gave permission for me to share one aspect of her story for my column, as it feels essential for me to drive home her message on another platform.

Esther noted that when she was in high school, she spent a few weeks on trips with school and then a friend’s destination wedding, which accidentally led to a change in her eating habits; she found that due to scheduling, her eating shifted and people began to comment on her body. And they didn’t stop. And Esther, who until then truly did not think much about her relationship with her body, consciously wanted to maintain what she was doing to be able to maintain the positive comments. She did not know she was going down the rabbit hole of an eating disorder. She believed it would be innocent, that it was about “feeling good” and that she would have the control to stop. But she did not, and this desire to continue receiving comments was the gateway toward her suffering, which impacted her mind, body, and soul.

People tend to deny the connection between our thinness-obsessed culture and suffering; everyone agrees that an eating disorder is a problem, as the second leading cause of death amongst all mental health diagnoses. But we tend to want to pretend that dieting can’t possibly be connected, that feeling good in our bodies is something else completely. They aren’t even different sides of the same coin; they’re just different etchings with the same message—the same exact spectrum of struggle. This is why I believe so many schools are actually afraid to have eating disorder speakers, not because they fear the speech will stir up issues (a trained speaker will not do so), but because they themselves don’t want to face the reality: They do not want to face that dieting, disordered eating and the pursuit of changing how we look as a means of improving self-worth actually need to stop. It feels like a way of life for so many, a very black-or-white message in a world filled with color: Look a certain way and all will be okay. And yet, it’s all connected.

When I speak, people tend to ask about prevention, whether it be in a parent session, staff training, congregational program or to students. And so I always tell them: Stop making jokes about appearance and stop commenting about people’s weight—especially complimenting weight loss. One never knows—weight loss could be related to a terrible medical diagnosis, grief, or an eating disorder. Or it could be that final straw in the complex recipe that leads to eating disorders or disordered eating, driving the person further in. Do you want to contribute to this? If your response is, “No, that wouldn’t happen from a simple compliment,” then Esther is living proof—and thank God she is here to tell her story—that yes, little comments can, and did lead to her suffering.

The comments need to end. The jokes need to end. Digging our heads in the sand around the nature of eating disorders and disordered eating needs to end. Promoting nutrition classes in schools that advocate for restriction, but not discussing how to prevent and manage eating disorders needs to end. We, as a loving and unified community, need to come together and accept that these changes—changes we can all make—need to start now. And if it feels too hard—despite an eating disorder therapist telling you that this is prevention—then I beseech you to look inward as to what is getting in the way. We can create an atmosphere of acceptance, of lower rates of those suffering. But it will require your efforts, so please—let’s come together and end the comments for the sake of all of those around us, and for ourselves.


Temimah Zucker, LCSW works in New York and New Jersey with individuals ages 18 and older who are struggling with mental health concerns, and specializes in working with those looking to heal their relationships between their bodies and souls. Zucker is an advocate and public speaker concerning eating disorder awareness and a metro New York consultant at Monte Nido. To learn more or to reach her, visit www.temimah.com.

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