"Just Eat"

This past week, the ever-fabulous Jenni Schaefer hosted a book club for her new book "Goodbye Ed, Hello Me." Besides the fact that I love love LOVE this book, there was one section that Jenni discussed in the book club that really hit home with me, a segment titled "Just Eat (Seriously.)"

Here's Jenni's short video:

Even now, knowing all that I do about the wisdom of eating and food as medicine, the phrase "just eat" still grates at me. Now, it's not the "eat" part of that phrase that irritates me, it's the "just" part. Whenever I was deep into the eating disorder, I could almost sense my mother wanting to shake me and shriek "Why don't you just eat?" I had lots of reasons then: I'm not hungry. I do eat, you just don't believe me. I ate earlier. I'll eat when I'm ready. I don't feel well. Now I realize the answer to why I wouldn't eat was much simpler, and much more difficult to conquer. I wasn't eating simply because I was scared to. Trust me, if I could have gotten myself to eat, I would have eaten. But I was way too scared to contemplate eating anything.

I think when people who don't know much about eating disorders say things like "just eat," it feels to me like they're treating my eating disorder as a choice. You wouldn't tell a diabetic to just produce some insulin, dammit, or tell someone with epilepsy to just stop having seizures. Not that someone with diabetes or epilepsy is helpless in the face of their disease, but they don't have a choice in the fact that they have their illness, either. I also think it's hard for people with no experience of eating disorders to grasp just how difficult eating is.

And yet, there's a wonderful simplicity about "just eat," similar to the phrase "just do it." There are no shortcuts around eating- you just have to do it. You don't have to like it. You don't have to think it's necessary. You don't even need to want to eat. But you still need to eat. It's just food, after all.

Eating isn't a simple cure for eating disorders. Weight restoration doesn't make you "fixed" or "cured" or whatever. But without eating, recovery becomes impossible.

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Kim said...

Oh yes, the "just eat" grates at me too. It's so, so simplistic. I think this bothered me because I'm not a dumb person, and the implication was that I was making this dumb choice. Even after all my loved ones know about anorexia, I still think the "just eat" lingers as the catch-all solution. It's been hard for me to see myself as a competent adult when I can't "just eat" like a "normal" person. Lots of judgments abound! Your blog has really helped me see this as an illness. That removes so much of the shame and helps me get on with the business of recovery.

Eating Alone said...

As bad as this seems to me, I would say it to other people with eating disorders. You can't say it to me cause I know better, but I'm allowed to say it to you. Got to love the way my brain twist's that logic around in my head.

Anonymous said...

I "just ate." And it SUCKED. And now - this is some crazy twisty logic, too - I actually resent people who are still sick, bc even though i understand how hard it is to "just eat," i feel like i *had* to do it so they should too.
i want to wail - "its not fair i want to be sick, tooooo!"
Of course i DON"T really want to be sick. I have come so far, and gained back sooo much of my life.
But that voice is still there and so is the anxiety that food gives me.
And i chew and I swallow and i chew...

Anonymous said...

I JUST finished reading this book! Damn, I love Jenni Schaefer- I've recommended her books to everyone I know dealing with an ED and their family/friends. It's so true though what she said- hearing "Just eat," from someone who understands or has gone through the process rather than just a random-o is much different- because I remember times where I literally COULDN'T eat because like you said, I was terrified to- and I kind of forgot how to.
However, you gotta eat to recover...it's pretty much a prerequisite!

Stina said...

I think a lot of people who don't have an ed really view the whole disease as taboo. It's hard to understand why someone would restrict what they eat or why someone would eat large volumes of food in secret if you are someone who has a healthy relationship with food. I hope those with these misconceptions read your post!

Laurel said...

I can relate to this so much. I was told so many times to "just eat", or "here's a carton of ice cream, just eat it". Some people were just totally oblivious to their words.

Angela E. Lackey said...

The "just eat" comments really bugged me, and I had to restrain myself from saying - "WOW, It's that easy? Why didn't I think of that?" If I had a dime every time I heard that phrase, I would be on a tropical island and not in cold, cloudy, snowy Michigan.

But the truth is, I'm still afraid to eat. I'm just now more afraid not to. It's still a minute-by-minute struggle. Sometimes I wish I could be alone on that tropical island with NO food and no reminders of food or diets or any of this crap.

And Anonymous, you're right - it does suck. I hated every freaking Ensure I had to suck down to gain the weight back.

Carrie Arnold said...


It DOES suck. It's scary and difficult and I have plenty of days when I wouldn't mind if the fridge and cupboards were magically empty (although coffee, you can stay). Giving myself permission to utterly and completely HATE recovery was actually empowering and helpful.

Your writing is very powerful- you have quite a gift.


I have Bora Bora travel sites bookmarked on my computer to look at when I get overwhelmed by life, ED, whatever. You're welcome to join me on my trips there!


now.is.now said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cathy (UK) said...

To be told to 'just eat' is really annoying, and can make a person with anorexia nervosa (AN) feel really hopeless and misunderstood. Nevertheless, in order to recover from AN one MUST eat. Period.

A friend sent me some of Jenni's videos and recommended her book. I know she is an inspiration to many, and she's doing a great job in this way. However, I just cannot identify with her experiences, which seem to be integrally linked to body image. My AN was not.

If my recovery from AN and integration in life had depended primarily on liking my body then life would have been fantastic.

Katie said...

I liked Jenni Schaefer's first book - although like Cathy said a lot of it was to do with body image, I took her ideas and applied them to myself. Seeing anorexic thoughts as symptoms of an illness rather than things I believed was the thing that most helped in my recovery. I always hated people saying 'just eat' too. No question that you cannot recover without getting to a healthy weight, and that many of the symptoms lessen with proper nutrition. But when you're ill it's not a choice - when the alternative to your current action is so terrifying that you would rather die than change, that's not a choice. I still wonder sometimes how I managed to turn things around and recover from a low weight at home without my parents or treatment team forcing me. If it was as simple as a choice I would not have been ill for 13 years. But I still did it, so...hmm. It's funny, I understand the thought processes and some of the biology behind my anorexic behaviour, but I don't understand my recovery half as well.

Angela E. Lackey said...


You're the first person to say they couldn't relate to Jenni's experiences. I couldn't either and I felt really guilty about it - I thought, well she's an expert and everyone turns to her books, why can't I get anything out it???

My AN was not completely tied up with body image(I think it was triggered by several stressful years and fueled as a weird coping mechanism), and my ongoing struggle to leave it all behind isn't either!

ghost girl said...

that is my anon comment up there - i am navigating the recovery blogs and i usually feel too intimidated to comment..just wanted to say thanks Carrie & Angela, for responding to my comment. These blog posts and responses are helpful to me, i just get social anxiety even on-the web!

Caitlyn said...

"Just eat" is the worst comment someone could say to you when you're trying to recover. If it was that simple then I would "just eat" and there is this voice in my head that doesn't allow me too. I love your blog. It has been such an inspiration to me. Come check mine out if you want! I just created mine yesterday.

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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