Lack of numbness

When you have been undereating for a while it hurts to eat normally again.

We tend to assume that the pain and anxiety and distress is about gaining weight, but I really wonder how much that is true and how much of it is what we from the outside assume and even sympathize about.

Re-feeding has several effects and weight gain is only one of them. Eating after malnourishment brings on medical issues of its own: the stomach empties slowly, food passes slowly through the system, metabolism is slow and then speeds up to unnatural rates, gas, constipation, bloating... not fun. But necessary.

But the symptom that we talk about least is the fact that undereating is anxiolytic for some people. It makes anxiety and other emotions go numb. If you are an anxious person - and most eating disorder patients were, before they became ill - undereating is like anti-anxiety medicine. Eating normally again brings back the anxiety - and more. If you had inadequate coping skills before, imagine trying to re-enter a world of feelings including those around the damage your eating disorder has done to your life and your relationships.

Beginning to eat again would seem like a relief, but it is often the hardest part.


  1. It's nice to see you blog about this Laura. It gives a more balanced view than simply Maudsley, refeeding and genetics.

    To start, genetics itself is not enough to give someone an ED. If we raised an individual in a hypothetical vacuum, I don't think they would become ill. These are interactive illnesses and require an environmental component

    An article I think you posted under the "Families need science to provide more than hope," suggested that mental illnesses may be neurodevelopemental as opposed to neurodegenerative (as in MS, Parkinson's, Huntingtons, etc.)

    I took this to mean that although mental illnesses affect individuals with biological predipositions, there are perciptiating environmental factors which are diverse depending on the individual.

    This means that even AFTER recovery and weight restoration, individuals will need to be aware of their triggers (perpetutating, percipitating, etc.) and therapy can be important to uncover these. In addition, an individual may have bad body image, low self-esteem, shyness, perfectionism BEFORE the ED and these will remain and must be addressed afterward. Family environment may also need to be addressed (I do think there is a place for family therapy in ED treatment because it is helpful for families as a unit to understand how their interactions can affect the outcome of the other members and may have perciptiated an ED (NOT CAUSAL but perciptiative) Additionally, relationships can be warped by EDs and may need repair after a long illness.

    Eating disorders are not a choice, but there are things one can do purposefully in recovery to ensure that relapse doesn't not occur. There are also things families and friends can do to moderate their behaviour. An individual must shape their life to safeguard against things that make them vulnerable and perhaps build a tolerance for circumstances they cannot avoid.

    I am not even going to get into the psychological/developmental damage that EDs can do to a person over long term (delay getting a job, driving, making friends, etc.)

    This all makes therapy a necessary and helpful component.

    Some thoughts :)


  2. I agree with you 100% on this Laura... I hate to describe anything to do with AN as a 'benefit'... but one of the main 'benefits' of AN for me was that it numbed my anxiety.

    When I was starved and adhering precisely to the rules and rituals of my AN I was tranquilised.

    When I started to re-feed I felt utter panic. This panic was not "OMG I will get fat" - it was just panic that I struggled to explain. I felt emotion that I didn't know how to describe or to deal with - and without all my ED rituals/routines I felt 'out of control' - as though there was no coherence to my existence.

    Fab post... :)

  3. That is exactly how I feel about it.
    When I first started recovery it was so hard to eat again, and the effects caused me increased anxiety and worry. It makes so much sense how you say undereating is like an anti-anxiety medicine, every time I feel anxious I immediately turn to undereating to calm my anxiety.

  4. Laura, I am constantly amazed at how well you do understand the nature of the "beast." I know so many people who have watched and attempted to help family members, who've read--and this post would not make sense to them at all.

    As someone in "remission", I thank you for your empathy, as well as for your beautiful ability to explain this. And I applaud you, standing ovation, for your continuous fight against this on every level.


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