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.