My cell phone buzzed on the side table as the text came in, causing me to look down at the screen as I braided my hair. I saw the message but I also saw the clock 6:26 p.m.
Shit. I'm later than I thought. I am not a late person.
I grab the phone off the charger, skip the last mirror check—because at this point this is exactly what they getting—and we head out the door.
"...get excited the room is packed!" Isn't that what everyone wants to hear on their way to a public speaking engagement? especially while running late?
The truth was I wasn't nervous only because I'm rarely nervous for this kind of this. The nerves never seem to help any and what's the difference between two people and two hundred people, right? For me, the hard part of presentations, public speaking and pitches always came after, when I would sit and replay my words, picking apart each opportunity to do better, scanning for every imperfection that served to reveal to the crowd a little bit more of the possibly truth that I had no idea what I was doing. Now, however, I try not to do that either. I ask for the critiques right away. I send follow-up emails to potential clients owning any mistake I made or just let them roll, because most often they did something embarrassing too like drip mustard on their pants or show up fifteen minutes late.
Come As You Are, I think to myself as the Jeep barricades towards campus. What a hell of a theme...
Yesterday was the beginning of National Eating Disorder Awareness (NEDA) Week, and I spent a portion of my evening kicking it off that a room full of college students at the University of Dayton to discuss the complicated nature of eating disorders and diet culture, and ways we can uncomplicated those things through conversation, keeping a critical lens, and, yes, even self-care.
The 2019 #NEDAWEEK theme is "Come As You Are" in order to bring more inclusivity into the community and conversation around eating disorders. It's dedicating the week to making sure those who don't often get thought of or talked about as struggling with ED (aka anyone who isn't thin, white and a woman aka a huge portion of the ED community) are highlighted in the conversation. It also recognizes the different ways in which we can struggle with these experiences and that there is no single place you need to be in your relationship with food and body to be welcome to this conversation.
"This NEDAwarness Week," the home page says "come as you are, not as you think you should be."
I thought about this as I approached the room in which I'd be speaking. The walls were all made of glass and I could already see a mass of students sitting in tightly packed rows, sitting on the floor, and standing against the side walls. I could see, too, how many young men there were. I could see home many types of students had chose to attend this campus health session rather than the two or three others happening in the same building.
It was, at this point, I was asked again if I was nervous. Maybe I should have been but Come As You Are, right?
What struck me most about last night's discussion was the level of engagement in the room. Heads would occasionally nod and I think, at one point, I even made a few of them laugh (Catholic school jokes never do me wrong). It struck me as profoundly hopeful that they stared back at me even as we talked about things that, let's be honest, not many people want to talk about. A small handful of students came to ask questions at the end. The questions ranged from: Can you tell me about that podcast? to How can I lead my wellness groups while being mindful of promoting problematic behavior? As I fell down the rabbit hole of HAES and body autonomy with a dietetics major, I started to see the other side of this "Come As You Are" theme. The idea of coming as you are, even if you don't identify with having an eating disorder or experiencing disordered eating or body habits, and even if you don't quite understand what all that even means. Come As You Are even if you're a little wary, Come As You Are even if it makes you a little uncomfortable...
because this is how the change is made.
That dietetics major doesn't have to believe the same things I believe. He doesn't have to change how he feels about intermittent fasting overnight because he met one woman who told him to be critical of what he's learning. But what he already did was a start: he considered it. He stayed for the conversation, and he questioned the blind "shoulds" that the world had thrown at him, and was open to the idea that there were different ways of doing dietetics.
So that's my challenge for you this week. Join the conversation and Come As You Are. You don't have to celebrate #NEDAweek by buying a sticker, making the donation, or even using the hashtag. You can do it by helping us remove a little bit of shame from the conversation and by being critical of the "shoulds" in your own life. Still not sure what that means? Here's a few specific ways you can celebrate #NEDAWeek regardless of where you are in in our journey or how you relate to the conversation:
Educate Yourself: Read some literature about eating disorders, diet culture, body acceptance. Follow different body types on Instagram: fat folks, people of color, people with disabilities, etc. Here's a few pieces I've written as well:
Keep a Critical Lens: ask yourself why you're doing things and why you believe certain things to be true or untrue about your body. Question any statement that starts with "should" -- says who? and why?
Don't Comment on or Explain Food Choices: just let people eat, yourself included. Make the choice that feels right for you and allow others to do the same.
Don't Comment on Weight Loss or Weight Gain: unless you're invited to do so, let other people's bodies be. Weight and size are not always indicators of health, and assuming as such is dangerous. Commenting on weight loss can often encourage problematic behaviors or serve to hurt someone's sense of self
Talk About It: don't understand something? ask! There's a comment section here for a reason and I promise that I'm nice (okay niceish)with ourselves in the midst of shame, we’re more likely to reach out, connect, and experience empathy.