A Survivor's Story of How Words Can Help or Hurt

by Kylie Jensen
Dietetics Student Senior WMU ED Survivor

When I was in high school, my mom would pack me the most beautiful salads you have ever seen. The lunch ladies used to compliment how beautiful and healthy the salads looked and early in my junior year, one lunch lady had asked me if I was trying to lose weight. A minor thing to discuss really, since my struggle with orthorexia, anorexia nervosa, and then bulimia nervosa have been promoted, like most, from a multitude of things.

Many of people have interviewed me about my experience and many fellow classmates and friends have asked for my story. And they always ask, “What started it.”

I hold all the traits of the typical ED survivor:

    •    Genetics: a bad relationship with food and eating disorders run in my family.
    •    Competitive sport: I was a competitive dancer for 16 years.
    •    Intellectually inclined: I graduated high school with a 4.6.

I could continue to list off some of these characteristics, but I think you get the point.

So when I began to open up about my story and reflect on what really did ‘start’ it, I began to notice patterns. My struggle began with a repeat of one simple comment, “have you lost some weight? You look so good.” Now I am sure a lot of people would just love to have someone ask them this, but this type of comment makes me sick.

As humans, we are already so fragile and when Ana began to control my body and mind, I reached my breaking point. I lived two separate lives. The “good” life where I went to school smiling about the new way I looked, telling everyone about how healthy I ate and how good it has made me feel, and preaching about my new amazing way of life on social media. This kept the compliments coming, and Ana happy. But then when I was home alone in my room, running my hands up and down my chest noticing bones I have never before, Google searching and Instagram searching “anorexia” and shaking it off, wiping the tears away, I was living the “bad” life.

Ana left me in constant debate with myself. The devil on my shoulder grew big and strong screaming in my ear, “you look great, but not great enough. You are better now, but not the best.” While the angel on my shoulder shrunk smaller and smaller whispering, “you are stronger than this. You are not okay. You are not yourself.”

Now, as I finished my Junior year of College, four years later, I can’t help but think how things would have been different if that lunch lady had asked how I felt instead of if I was trying to lose weight. Maybe, I would have told her I wasn’t. Maybe I would have told her I felt great but she wouldn’t believe me, and get me help. Maybe, my struggle would have ended a lot sooner.

If we stopped commenting on other people’s weight loss/gain and asked instead, “hey how do you feel? How you doing lately?” could we help eliminate ED? If we notice people really restricting themselves nutritionally, judging their body in the bathroom mirror, and asked them this simple question, we could change someone’s life. We could help them when their little angel on their shoulder is crying out for help.

I am trying to be the person I wish I had. It does not take a toll on someone to just ask them if they are okay and really listen. I hope that any one who reads this will understand how greatly our words and actions impact everyone around us. Be the person who takes ten seconds to ask someone if they are okay. Be the person to notice that maybe they’re not. Be the person you would have wanted yourself to have when there was a moment in life where you were at your breaking point.