“Anorexics Think You’re Fat” and Other Logical Fallacies

January 1, 2013 § 18 Comments

I want to thank you all again for the outpouring of love and support I’ve received in the past few days. I wish I could reply to every comment, but sometimes I’m at a loss for words. I’ve gotten everything from advice for recovery to people sharing their own struggles.

Though I know everyone means well, there is one strain of comments that seems odd: tips for healthy weight loss.

This is no personal attack on anyone, but I’d like to take this opportunity to clear up a few misconceptions about people with eating disorders. I’m not new to the world of blogging, nor am I a stranger to the online community made up of young boys and girls just like me, all of them struggling with disordered eating, self injury, depression… the list goes on. And it’s surprising how often I am told—by very well-intentioned people, I might add—to simply lose weight “the healthy way.” I can’t count how many times I’ve been schooled on nutrition via the Internet.

Whenever I receive these types of messages, I can’t help but laugh at myself. Why? Because I know more about nutrition than any one person should know. My mother’s constant talk about her diabetes led me to know what a carbohydrate was before I could write, and ever since I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism in 5th grade, I’ve latched onto every bit of information I hear. I shudder to think that I took runs on the treadmill at 12 years old, counting the calories I was burning off, and that even now I spend my free time researching nutrition, mostly looking up the best foods to eat on my completely vegan diet. I know that you should have carbs before a workout and a high-protein, low-fat snack afterward. I know that refined sugar is terrible and that quinoa contains every essential amino acid, that spicy food raises your metabolism and that the body has no need for dietary cholesterol. I don’t think my problem was ever a lack of nutritional knowledge. If I wanted to lose weight the healthy way, I would have no problem doing it. So why don’t I?

The answer is simple: eating disorders are not about food or weight. They are ways of coping with feelings of self hate and helplessness. Not to mention the addictive “high” that comes from starving and watching one’s weight fall lower and lower—I can’t speak for anyone else, but when I am on a streak of restriction, I find myself nearly manic, completing my work at lightning speed, sticking to my schedule like clockwork, and, when the inevitable insomnia comes, staying up all night planning or burning extra calories (I’m surprised I’ve never woken my roommate doing sit-ups at 3 AM). All this in spite of the headaches and fatigue and the nagging thoughts that I’m doing irreparable damage to my body. Binges then feel like rebellion, compulsions to eat oneself into a blissful food coma. Of course, it never quite feels like that when it’s over.

After a point, though, it becomes more difficult to eat than to starve. Imagine, if you can, having a person following you around every second of the day, chiding you for every bite of food you put into your mouth, constantly telling you that you are fat. It’s funny, because even the word “fat” has different weight (no pun intended) for someone with an ED. Weight becomes the measure of success. The skinnier you are, the more self control you have. The number on the scale is inversely proportional to your worth as a person, and it is never, ever enough.

It never was about losing weight—that’s just how it manifests itself.

This is also why another assumption—that people with EDs, besides thinking that they are fat, also think everyone else around them is fat—is simply a myth. I’ve had many people in the later stages of their EDs tell me that they only think of themselves as fat, that even people who are bigger than them don’t get that label. “Fat” is just a word to express disgust with oneself. Fat = failure.

What I’d love for people to understand is the sheer hypocrisy of this disease. The thinking doesn’t make sense—we can’t expect it to. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t look in the mirror some days and think I was the sexiest thing on the planet, or that I don’t eat three slices of pizza some days simply because I want to. But I’d also be lying if I said I didn’t feel horribly guilty after those days.

Try as we might, we can’t put a box around ED behaviors. The causes are sometimes hard to identify, but they are often the same ones that lead to drug addiction, alcoholism, self harm, and other self destructive behaviors. In a mentally healthy person, a diet should never lead to an eating disorder. And unfortunately, a lesson on nutrition is not enough to turn around the behavior of someone entrenched in one. It would be nice if it was that simple.

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Exposure

December 29, 2012 § 16 Comments

EDIT: I finally looked through my e-mail and found the message that told me I got “Freshly Pressed.” In the e-mail, the editor said of my post, “[W]e know it will resonate with lots of other people in the community, and hope that readers will share stories that will give you (and each other) strength as you move toward self-acceptance.” I have a better understanding of why it was featured now. I certainly hope it had the desired effect, and well…I admit nothing but good has come out of the response to “Shedding Skin.” I hope this means the road to recovery for me and the many responders who, too, suffer from eating disorders and other mental illnesses. Thank you all again.

I’m a bit angry. Or, rather, confused.

When I first made the post “Shedding Skin,” I figured it would go completely unnoticed. I see that today it was selected for the “Freshly Pressed” page. To reflect the thoughts of some of those who commented: why? Why should something like this be featured?

Though I only posted it ten days ago, I’ve come to my senses about some things since then. When I reread “Shedding Skin,” I see the delusional ramblings of a girl surrendering to disordered thoughts. That post does not tell the whole story—that is, that I realize exactly how deluded I sound at times and that I am constantly looking for ways to recover from disordered eating, self harm, and OCD behaviors.

However, the end of that post is what disturbs me and makes me question WordPress’s decision to feature it:

Call me insane.  But I will be thin.  I’ll be thin if it’s the last thing I do.

At the time of writing that post, I was prepared to literally starve myself to death. Do we see the problem here? Are we featuring this post because it’s fascinatingintriguinga peek into the twisted mind of an anorexic? Yes, it’s interesting to read about mental illness from the perspective of the afflicted, but “Shedding Skin” comes to no logical conclusion and answers no questions. I feel that its only function is shock value and morbid entertainment. Even if it was “good writing,” I think by featuring such a post, we are further romanticizing and dramatizing mental illness. I regret writing out my story in the way that I did. At best I was using writing as therapy. But I wasn’t helping myself or anyone else by talking about weight, posting triggering calorie amounts, and attempting poetry.

This is not Girl, Interrupted or Wintergirls. This is real life, and people die from this. Reading that post is like watching a car wreck, and I don’t think we need more car wrecks on the news. I hope some of you are right and that my writing has the power to help somebody…but for now I am convinced otherwise.

On a different note, I greatly appreciate the many supportive comments I’ve received (and am still receiving), encouraging me to seek help. I’m not sure what direction I’m headed in right now, but I have taken all of your words to heart. Thank you.

Shedding Skin

December 19, 2012 § 143 Comments

It’s hard to believe, in the state I am now, that there was ever a time when I was happy with myself.

You see, I’ve never been thin—I’ve always, always been the fat girl, and though no one ever said anything, I could tell.  I could tell when all my friends went clothes shopping without me, when no one asked me to homecoming, when my horse riding instructor praised the other girls and told me to work harder.  Logic, of course, tells me: it was because I was fat.  I lived with seething hatred of this body for years, but only recently did this hatred manifest itself.

At 175 pounds and 5’5”, I was, less than a year ago, just beginning to fall into the pit.  One night I dragged a shaving razor across my thigh and watched as the bad feelings poured out.  I put a bandage on it and swore to never touch a blade again.  But the next night I did it again and soon there was an arsenal in my bedside drawer and red zebra stripes covering my hips and wrists.

It was around this time, too, that I decided I needed to rid myself of my second skin.  I was huge, fatter than fat, disgusting, a whale.  At first I tried something called intermittent fasting, which involved fasting for 24 hours at least 2 times a week.  The other days I was allowed to eat normally.  The idea was that it would cut calories effortlessly, while the pattern of fasting would rev up my metabolism.

While intermittent fasting is a legitimate method for losing weight, I couldn’t imagine that my parents would approve of me refusing food 2-3 days out of the week.  Thus to complete my fasts, I began coming up with all manner of crazy ways to hide that I was not eating.  I woke up early to avoid my parents’ prying eyes as I had my breakfast of green tea.  When they got suspicious, I crumbled bits of toast onto a plate and left it out on the counter before hiding the uneaten evidence in the trash.  I made excuses to my friends at lunch time and hoarded sandwiches in my room until I could eat them again, though soon I began throwing out the whole brown bag.  Later on, I mastered the art of spitting my food into a napkin, and once chewed and spit two whole slices of toast, unnoticed and without swallowing a bite, right in front of my father.

As the pounds began to drop off, I became more obsessed, restricting even on my non-fasting days.  By spring I was eating 300-600 calories a day and beating my ass on the treadmill to make up for mistakes.  At 150 pounds, people began to notice.  “Oh, you look like you’ve lost weight!” they’d say happily, never suspecting something could be wrong.  My friends all paid more attention to me.  When I asked a boy to prom, he happily accepted.  And my riding instructor couldn’t stop telling me how much better I looked (skinnier girls look more elegant on horses).  I got nothing but positive feedback and I was over the moon.  After all, for someone as fat as I was, losing weight could only be a good thing.  But I still wasn’t skinny enough. No, not even close.

By summer I was falling victim to binges, and my self-hatred grew even more vehement.  As much as I jammed my fingers down my throat, I could not bring my mistakes back up.  After nearly slitting my throat one night, I finally told my mother that her daughter sliced up her skin.  I didn’t tell her that I wanted to die, nor that my nightmares consisted of fat-laden food that I could not stop eating.  No, I told her about the cutting, and she was kind and supportive and everything a mother should be.  And so I stopped cutting.  I found peace and I stopped starving.  With the pressure of senior year gone, something shifted and I was, for that blessed three-month period, happy.  At least I think I was.

And here I am now, in college—an art major, no less—with dreams of becoming a medical illustrator.  After moving into the dorms, it didn’t take long for the blades to make their way back into my drawer.  My weight has settled at 145; though this is the lowest I’ve ever been and is considered a “healthy weight,” I cannot be satisfied with it.  With every bite I put in my mouth, I can feel myself losing control.  There is too much here for me to handle, and I need the comfort of starvation again.  It’s disgusting, I know, and it’s wrong and no one—none of you—should ever think this way, but I’ve been eating less and less these past few weeks and making excuses again and I can feel the cold fingers of these thoughts wrap themselves around me, pulling me back into the arms of hunger.

This goes beyond wanting to be skinny.  I have pegged food as the enemy, you see, and I am finding that I can only feel sane when I do not eat.  I am strong when I starve.  I am powerful, I am in control.  I can feel yesterday’s mistakes and poisons clearing out of this disgusting body and soon, soon I will be clean and pure.

Call me insane.  But I will be thin.  I’ll be thin if it’s the last thing I do.