“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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§ 18 Responses to “Anorexics Think You’re Fat” and Other Logical Fallacies

  • kanundra says:

    I’ve taken to reading a few posts with tags ‘anorexia and bulimia’ as I always do. But I agree you on the fact that sometimes people ‘like’ the wrong sorts of posts, and like you say give ‘tips’ … I don’t understand it either, but hey ho. And I know, none of it makes sense, heck I still don’t think it does, I am in recovery, but never fully recovered. Not sure that there is a word. I deal with it, day in and day out. Think I will even at 70… 🙂 Keep going and keep fighting though.

  • horselearner says:

    I haven’t liked this post because I like the fact u r struggling. I have liked it because u r very articulate in how u express yourself and I appreciate your honesty. X keep going as best as u can and keep writing x

  • Yes, exactly! I was anorexic for years and years. I, like many others I suspect, am often drawn to any writing about disordered eating. You do it well, I’m glad to have found your blog. You’ve said many things here that really resonate with me, typing here in my nice California living room, my ten-year eating disorder now 20 years behind me (but it seems, never quite gone, wholly receded in the past…) My illness was never ultimately about food or weight – even I knew that, at the time. Starving was merely the vehicle. It seems to me people would sort of understand this, tacitly, and not bother with food or diet-related advice (like you I have an encyclopedic knowledge of nutrition and cooking) – as you say, if it were that easy, well, gosh, it would just be that easy 🙂 The good news is, when you are ready for it to be that easy, it actually is …at least, I have found that to be the case sitting here in a healthy future that I did not suspect in those ED days would ever really be possible for me. Keep writing, for the help it is to you, but for others as well, who are drawn to your experience and appreciate and learn a little from your sharing.

  • ahealthybean says:

    Well said – you really are a wonderful writer. I read your FP post and my heart went out to you… and then I was also perplexed by
    the (well intentioned) diet advice provided by commenters.

    I know that, for me at least, the methods by which I controlled my weight were just the symptom of a deeper problem. ED became my crutch when breaking the cycle of another form of addiction (trying to replicate the feeling of being “in control”) and it very much overstayed its welcome! The real causes were my feelings of being overwhelmed and hurt in response to some things that had happened / where my life was at, and an unhealthy self esteem.

    I can’t pretend to know what you’re going through, as it’s different for everyone, but I do want to say it can get better. I kicked my ED to the kerb (after several attempts) about 6 years ago now and enjoy a mostly healthy relationship with food, my body and myself. The keys for me were processing some emotional stuff, starting a wonderful relationship with my now-husband, and starting to study nutrition (because of my newfound appreciation for the body and all it does, not because of diet tips!).

    Thank you for your honesty and insight in talking openly about your struggles – the more people do it, the better EDs will be understood by the wider community.

    All the best, J xo

  • ahealthybean says:

    Sorry that was such a long comment@!

  • 1) You are a brilliant writer, keep it up! 2) I know exactly what you mean with the ‘healthy eating’ tips. I spent much of this year in hospital (I have anorexia, slowly recovering though) and a dietician saw me every day. I knew more than her about food. 3) Your writing comes from the heart, and that is all you can do and all anyone should ask of you. Live laugh and love – happy 2013 xx

  • It’s not much, but I just want to say that I understand what you are saying more than I ever thought I would. I just wish I could ignore that person that tells me to stop eating, to stop wanting food, to stop putting anything other than water into my body.
    Thank you so much for being so honest.
    I don’t feel so alone when I read what you write.
    Good luck with all you wish to do, and Happy New Year.

    -Naomi

  • MzMotivator says:

    WOW WOW WOW!!!

    I don’t know who you are but I just want to say a massive thank you for all you have said in this post. I have learned so much from reading it. You have really helped me to begin to understand what it’s like for somebody with an ED and I don’t think I could before.

    Thank you. Please keep writing =)

  • grooms86 says:

    Well, I’m not sure how much detail I want to go into on here but here goes… I also have an eating disorder. By which I mean I have an unhealthy relationship with food. By which I mean I’m a compulsive eater. It’s a little sad that I’ve wished many times that I were anorexic instead (just like sometimes I wish I had cancer instead of depression) but I’ve been given what I’ve been given. As it is, I can relate to your blog very well, except for the starvation parts. It’s not about the food. It’s about release and control and emotional disorder. Anyway, that’s enough about me. I liked your post. I agree you write very well, and you speak to a lot of people with your posts. Thanks for blogging.

    • glassrabbitbone says:

      I agree—I didn’t talk about it much here, but I’ve also dealt with binging and, just like restricting, it’s always emotional. I wish you the best in overcoming your eating disorder. ❤

  • klyse3 says:

    Your point about ED being about control and reaching goals, even the starvation high is so true. People think it’s about the food, but it really, really isn’t. Thank you for writing about your struggles. People need to hear the truth, no matter how ugly. I’ve struggled with this most of my teen years….right now I am somewhat healthy, but still struggling. I wish you the best.

  • It’s awful that our modern culture can drive people to hate themselves. I read an article once about a mother who put her 6 yo daughter on a diet and then showed her a previous “fatter” picture of herself and said – “Don’t worry, THAT girl is gone forever!” Like “that girl” was somebody else and not the same child who expects to be loved an accepted no matter what her outside is like. The poor girl started crying, and the dumb mother thought it was happy tears – I beg to differ. I hope that someday you can separate yourself from those earlier toxic influences and move forward with a healthy mind and body. Wish you the best.

  • You are an amazing writer and so strong for sharing your story to the world! I hope you keep fighting!

  • I absorb your words & somehow think to myself, “this was me but with more guts!”
    For a sec, I’m amazed that you managed to lose all that weight, that you had the willpower to deny yourself food & be so brutal to repeated cut yourself about it! I say amazed with a smile!
    Then, I feel like there is someone else who suffers from the exact reason I started this blog (Hypothyroidism/Hashimoto’s) & I take it as confirmation that I too have to have guts to stick to my plan!
    Your words show me you are def strong enough to overcome your battle, but with an addictive personality like me you MUST replace one fix with another! A healthier one! Good luck 🙂

  • This is like when you tell depressed/suicidal people to think positive. Anyway, let me add my voice to the chorus and say that you’re an amazing writer. I really and truly hope that you overcome this, even if it’s crawling on your hands and knees. And thank you for sharing your struggles and your journey.

  • I’ve seen a lot of blogs from people struggling with anorexia. It’s usually a toss up between thinspo posts and people who are actively working on recovering, but your blog has been the only one that has explained to me the thought process behind this. Much of it is logical in its own way, but no one has ever spelled it out like this. Thank you for that! I think I can come away from this being a more empathetic and understanding person.

    Keep writing, and I hope you are well.

  • Oiseau says:

    Agreed on every point you made. It is not about exercise, healthy eating habits or eating the right foods to maintain a trim figure–it is all about control and perception.

  • Sasha says:

    Well said. Even my doctor, of who I needed a referral to get any kind of specialized help, asked me why I wanted to lose more weight. Really?!! I told her that is why I am in therapy, you know, to find out. I finally just had to give her some anorectic pat answer so she’d sign the freaking sheet and let me go. When I went for my blood test the girl was wishing she could be “a little bit anorexic” so she could lose those last 10 lbs… and another nurse said the same thing.

    My size, my weight, the number on the scale, the size of my clothes, the amount of food I am eating, the amount of time I am involved with any anorexic behavior has an entirely different meaning attached to it different than what the public thinks any of that means.

    No, its not about weight, it’s not about food, and its especially not a phase or a fad. It’s 24 hours of misery, depression, denial, and despair. Do people really want that just to lose weight? And do they really think we can even remotely see what we actually look like? My closest friend is over double my weight but she looks perfectly normal to me.

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