*Trigger Warning: eating disorders, negative body talk, weight, BMI*
There is a part of me that feels guilty for writing about my eating disorder while clearly far from recovery. The de-stigmatization of mental health has opened channels of discourse for people undergoing depression and anxiety to open up about their suffering, yet there is seemingly an expectation for individuals with eating disorders to “recover” before being able to eloquently articulate this illness. Perhaps it is due to the physical toll that eating disorders prevail on the body. Of course, not everyone with anorexia will look sickly thin but it is undeniably its main external symptom. After a few sessions, my psychologist told me that my BMI was considered too low to even continue talk therapy because my weight indicates that I might not cognitively benefit from the sessions. This is potentially another reason for my guilt as well: if I am not healthy enough to even proceed with typical therapy then who am I to publicly publish a piece about anorexia?
Anorexia is marked by paradoxes. The desire to shrink one’s body and take up less space seemingly denotes the body with an even bigger presence, making one’s appearance more conspicuous by making it smaller. I have, ashamedly, felt both thrill and discomfort when family friends demonstrated concern towards my weight loss. Anorexia is historically viewed as a feminine disorder, yet it can take away perhaps the most prominent indicator of our womanhood: mentrustation. Thinness, in itself, is both deemed as beautiful yet horrifying in its excess. Anorexia is, on the surface, about achieving control through having a meticulous grasp on one’s body and diet, when in reality you are losing your sanity in the midst of a terrifying illness. Anorexia restricts the body of food and nutrients, which in turn causes pervasive and intrusive thoughts about food. The abstinence from food causes fantasies of it to pervade your mind (see the Minnesota Starvation Study). I’m living proof of this notion: I’ve spent countless hours watching”What I Eat in a Day” TikToks and YouTube videos, mentally salivating at the food I would deprive myself of. There is an endless amount of contradictions that this disorder puts forth, which myself and others experience on a daily basis.
Anorexia, I believe, is like an addiction. There is the constant compulsion to look at myself in the mirror when I wake up and before I go to bed, to see what changes my dysmorphia can attribute. I wait for specific times to eat. If I am hungry before it’s the time that I deem as “lunch-time” I will simply wait it out. I don’t even want to know how much time I’ve wasted just because I am hungry and have no energy to do anything. But despite my knowledge that my eating rules and fear foods are arbitrary and superfluous, it takes considerable time and effort to be able to challenge them. For those with an eating disorder, emotions often override what we know logically.
It is extremely hard to find essays and articles on anorexia from someone who is in the liminal space of suffering and recovery –– albeit, these two stages are never truly separate anyways and often intersect. Therefore, with my lack of exposure to writing from this angle, it is hard for me to fully encapsulate how I feel. I don’t want pity, or people telling me I am brave for speaking out yet I also do not want to feel like I am screaming into a void –– another contradiction of this disorder that afflicts myself and many others. In real life, I refrain from talking about my anorexia much, out of shame and also out of protection for my family and friends to not mimic my behaviour. I do this because anorexia, perhaps more than other eating disorders, is unfortunately glamorized: by many it is seen as a means of willpower and control. But as many Pinterest quotes have told me: no food is unhealthier than an unhealthy relationship with food.
I often imagined myself publishing a piece about anorexia once I could say I was ultimately recovered, or at least when I felt ready to broadcast my recovery journey to family and friends. This is not the case. Currently, I am trying to put weight back on after realizing that the loss of my menstruation cycle could lead to infertility in the future. But I cannot say my reasons for attempting recovery are entirely earnest: I read that in order to get one’s period back, some anorexic patients have had to put on more pounds than their initial starting weight. This, as you maybe could infer, made me quite wary, despite having an extra pound or two on me than I was before my dramatic weight loss is far from a bad thing. Since the summer of 2020, the timeframe when my weight was last healthy, I’ve lost ten pounds –– at my lowest, an extra three. I also want to recover so my mother no longer looks at my arms with a bit of fear in her eyes. Like I said before, I do not possess either the thoughts nor language to fully articulate why I want to recover. Refrain from using me as a model of Eating Disorder Awareness, but note at my very core, I strive to heal
If you are going through anything that is reminiscent of what I have described here, I really do commend you. I also thank you for reading this essay, or rather, a disordered brain-dump. I would offer you platitudes of “you are not alone” and “you are more than your body,” but I imagine that you have heard them before and have a hard time integrating them into your life. Despite those phrases still being true, I won’t endlessly repeat them. I hope you and I and others all get better, because we, quite frankly, we either do or die.
For more information on anorexia nervosa and other eating disorders: