Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about eating disorders–why some people are more susceptible than others, why it takes over lives so quickly, why no one talks about it.
There is almost a cult-like fascination with hip and collar bones among today’s teenagers. For some (and far too many), this fascination with skinny goes beyond flirtationship and into an abusive relationship. These girls affectionately call these diseases Ana (Anorexia) and Mia (Bulimia) and create pro-Ana and pro-Mia sites dedicated to these… alter egos/imaginary friends/monsters.
Once upon a time, I had an eating disorder. Those words feel strange in front of me. I have had countless conversations about calories, meal-planning, and good carbs versus bad carbs, but I have never straight up admitted to anyone that I had an eating disorder. And only a handful have admitted to me.
To whisper the word “anorexia” or “bulimia” is like farting in the middle of a prayer; everyone hears it but no one wants to point it out and confront the noise-polluter, for fear of contaminating the holy atmosphere. Consequently, the word would merely float in the air, undetectable if not for a slight stink.
I think for me, what I was most afraid of was having someone say, “But you’re not even that skinny. You just want attention.” It hurts that people still believe eating disorders only manifest externally when in fact it is like a parasite that, upon entering your psyche, begins to consume you from the inside out.
For those of you who have never had an eating disorder, the best way I can describe it is that it is like having your soul torn in two. Your entire life becomes a string of good days (in which you eat just barely enough to not faint) and bad days (in which you “indulge” yourself with white carbs and therefore go to bed feeling fat, worthless, unloveable, hopeless, and miserable). You live in constant fear of gaining weight, of other people seeing that gross jiggle in your legs as you walk, of people hating you because you are fat and ugly. You freak out every time someone offers you food, every time you see food, every time you think about food. You stay at home more often because when you go out, your friends will want to eat and then what will you do? There would be nowhere to run.
Eventually, you develop an irrational fear of mirrors because it is painful, yes painful, to look at how much fat one body can carry.
For a while, every time I broke down and wanted out, I would swear off dieting and return back to normal eating habits. But I would relapse. This, my friends, is the world of yo-yo dieting. The eating disorder will seduce you back in its clutches. It will tell you, You can lose weight. Imagine how amazing you will feel in those size zero jeans. You can be everything you ever wanted to be–thin, beautiful, popular, intelligent, and wanted. All you need to do is halve your caloric intake and run instead of eat dinner. You can do it. All you need is a little self-discipline. But it’s never like that.
Self-discipline has little or nothing to do with having an eating disorder. Self -discipline is finishing your homework on time even when it’s 2am and you’re about to give up. Self-discipline is sprinting that last 100 meters and getting the best 5K time you have ever gotten. Self-discipline is not denying yourself the necessary components to survive in hopes of a ridiculous, fruitless goal.
I find it interesting to note that occurrences of Anorexia among middle-aged women are rapidly rising in the US. No doubt these mothers are passing their unhealthy, self-deprecating habits to their children either consciously or unconsciously. Anorexia, among the women in my family, is considered to be sad (obviously) but also a sign of determination, and willpower. I will even go so far as to say that the word is always passed around with a twinge of envy, like, “I’d be sick but at least I’d be skinny.” Imagine a girl who has just gained a couple pounds from puberty and her mother asks her, “Why are you eating so much ice cream? Don’t you have any self-control?” or maybe she is more subtle, perhaps cutting a smaller slice of cake for her daughter than for her son. Under such circumstances, how could the daughter not develop an unhealthy relationship with food?
Fathers aren’t completely out of the equation either. Fathers unconsciously send signals to their daughters and sons about what kinds of women he finds attractive. Children are very intuitive; if the father stares at a slender, flawlessly-tanned woman in a bikini for a second too long or if he turns his nose ever-so-slightly at the sight of an overweight woman, this will no doubt affect the way his daughter thinks they should look and the way his son will later perceive women.
Ultimately, I overcame my eating disorder. If not, I would not have been able to write this post. What motivated me was to think about my long term goals. Would any of them be furthered if I lost ten or twenty pounds? Luckily, I do not aspire to be either a model or a trophy wife, so that is a definitive no. Obviously, this thought alone did not turn my thinking around 360 degrees. Recovery is a slow, frustrating process, requiring the tenacity to push through relapses. However, my days counting calories, meticulously planning my meals, and thinking suicide was the only way to ever get out of this prison that was my mind, are still intact in me on a visceral level. I still feel hurt and personally offended when people make fat jokes, however harmless. And sometimes I will see photos of girls who have taken their disorder to the extremes and cry. Because I can feel what they have and maybe still are going through. Because I can remember the shame I used to feel for merely existing in this form. Because I want to lift her and everyone under a similar circumstance up over my shoulders and carry them to recovery even if they only exist in my mind as photos.
To quote the song “Pretty Hurts” written by Sia Furler (she’s awesome by the way), “Perfection is a disease of a nation.” You are not flawed.