Do eating disorders matter at all?

That seems like a fitting title for what I want to discuss today. More important things are happening in the world now. Discussing eating disorders at all seems elitist, superficial and ultimately discordant to many at the moment.

 Sophie Charlotte: Flickr.com

Sophie Charlotte: Flickr.com

Nonetheless, there’s an important reason in my mind why eating disorders matter more now and not less. And no, it’s not actually because Trump is president; it’s because we live on a finite planet of dwindling resources with too many of us here (and aging) at one time. We are sliding into a bickering rating system for how much more important various social injustices are in comparison to each other.

The Women’s March of Saturday January 21st was about as broad and unifying an effort to counter the fight to stay on any particular rung on the social justice ladder as we’ve seen lately. And even then, transgendered, indigenous and black women correctly pointed out that the march side-stepped the inconvenient truth that, of the women who even voted in the US election, 53% of white women voted for Trump (not to mention many transgendered, indigenous and black women felt decidedly unwelcome at the march itself as well).

We will struggle to unite much of anything in the months and years to come. If I were to use another analogy (musical chairs rather than rungs on a ladder) then the time to unite was when there were still enough chairs in the game that everyone could have a seat. If you are already on the sidelines, having been left standing when the music stopped at some point in the distant or more recent past, then it’s understandable you are not really vested in cheering on those still circling the dwindling chairs.

We are mammals. Mammals have a predictable set of responses to overpopulation and dwindling resources and primates in particular have a long evolutionary history of getting downright evil in those circumstances. And we habitually identify the evil in others, always failing to identify that allowing an unexamined fight/flight/freeze threat response in ourselves precipitates the evil within us, and not just in others.

All that pretty much confirms that eating disorders don’t matter at all, right? But they do matter. Yes, we are mammals and, worse yet, primates. But primates can also look after each other. They can protect the weak, the injured or (in our civilized case) those with no chair to sit on. And they do all that by being both afraid and thinking at the same time.

An eating disorder is an anxiety disorder. Having that twitchy threat response system in the brain is not exclusively a drawback in life, assuming you can navigate it rather than it navigating you. Someone with an eating disorder in remission (or being actively managed too) is someone who can apply their anxiety-prone nervous system for good. And we need good in the world.

There are plenty of people naturally predisposed to having a resilient response to setbacks that occur in their lives. I don’t know whether natural resilience is more or less robust than one that is developed through practice, but I do know that getting an anxiety disorder to work for you, rather than against you, makes you resilient.

Therefore, if an eating disorder is standing between today’s you and the resilient you who might navigate whatever the future holds and help those who might need a hand, then nothing matters more than an eating disorder. Or, more specifically, nothing matters more than an eating disorder standing between you and your ability to both be and do something good in the world.

If there is anyone who truly knows how to examine the fight/flight/freeze response and refuse to behave in mindless reaction to it, it’s someone who has navigated a recovery effort from an eating disorder.