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I have a love-hate relationship with food. Often, I refuse to eat anything despite feeling hungry. Other times, when I feel very stressed, I do the opposite and gorge myself with every type of dessert the dining hall has to offer. But most days, I eat a balanced, nutritional diet. I’m aware of what I eat, and I watch to make sure I’m consuming the types of nutrients I need.

I’ve found it difficult to discuss this eating problem of mine with other people, mainly because admitting that I struggle with food is almost always followed by either “but you’re so skinny” or “you don’t need to lose any weight.” The problem with this sort of response is that it makes a false assumption that any eating issue must be due to body image insecurity.

My troubled relationship with food has always been first and foremost about control. This is an incredibly common root for any eating problem. It is on the days when I feel like my life is spinning out of control and I am stressed about the amount of work I have left to do that I refuse to eat. It is a symbolic gesture of regaining control over my life, because the amount of food I put in my mouth is the one thing over which I have absolute control. When I start binging on chocolate cake, it usually means I have reached a state of incredible stress and have given up on being in control.

Of course, I am not denying the role of body image insecurity in anyone’s eating issue, including my own. I would be foolish to do so. After all, I grew up in Korean culture, where being skinny is the norm and people are even more willing to criticize someone’s body than they are in America. My relatives are happy to comment that I gained weight, or even that I should lose a few pounds.

Ultimately, however, I never viewed my eating problem as something to do with body image, because the root, to me, was still about control. Eating problems are always complex and multifaceted, and the problem is that a response like “but you’re so skinny” or “you don’t need to lose any weight” does not address the complexity of the issue. It makes a problem out to be about a singular desire to look thin and then delegitimizes it by dismissing its importance or relevance. I feel like people who said things like “but you’re so skinny” to me didn’t understand that I had a problem. I wasn’t dieting. I had a problem, and I was actively trying to solve it.

Actress and model Portia de Rossi, who published an autobiography titled “Unbearable Lightness: A Story of Loss and Gain”based on her battle with anorexia nervosa, said on TheEllenDeGeneres Show that if you suspect someone of having an eating issue, you should comment on the fact that they are losing control (you look sick) rather than on their weight (you look too thin). That is because it has been well-documented that for a lot of people, eating problems signal the desire for control more than anything, and commenting on someone’s weight or appearance does not really achieve the same effect. If anything, said de Rossi, saying “you’re too thin” might be counterproductive because some people who struggle with an eating disorder may greet it as a source of pride.

Last academic year, Colter Smith and Kelly Hatfield started dialogues about the effectiveness of the As I Am campaign on campus. I would love to see the Princeton community extend this dialogue further into the misconceptions about eating problems and the appropriate ways to support people suffering from these issues. Too often, we ignore that eating problems can be caused by issues other than body image, and this makes it harder for people to address the root of the problem.

Erica Choi is a sophomore from Bronxville, N.Y. She can be reached at gc6@princeton.edu.

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