a little anorexia isn't so bad....

Why is it SO HARD for people to get their minds around eating disorders as a real and distinct mental illness?

There are a few reasons but here's the most difficult barrier: WE AGREE WITH THEIR SYMPTOMS. We agree that people should be afraid of gaining weight, should be pressured to be thin, that more exercise is better, and that food should be a daily battle of morals and good character. We think extreme measures to manipulate our body size are understandable and obsession with the scale is a healthy behavior. Not eating and not enjoying food are considered virtues. Our collusion with these ideas blinds us to when they are symptoms of something terribly, terribly wrong.

It's horrible, but a life-threatening mental illness causes symptoms that are so normalized by society that it can make the ill seem normal and the normal rather sick!

We don't do this with the symptoms of Tourettes or schizophrenia but our society's collective inanity about appearance mimics the horrific suffering of the most deadly mental illness to the point where it is not uncommon for people to actually express, OUT LOUD, envy, as in "I could use a little anorexia, myself!"

That's REALLY sick.


  1. Yeah, this one really resonates to me. I don't like hearing that phrase, at all. One friend said it to me - wishing that she had a 'touch' of anorexia - in spite of knowing the myriad health problems I've had because of my ED. I tried to explain to her why it was hurtful and why I never wanted to hear her say it again, but she kept trying to insist and make her point that it was a compliment (?) to my dedication and focus, or something. Our friendship gradually weakened after that...

    Anyway, I'd say that this is probably the single hugest issue standing in the way of my recovery now. I accept that the ED lowers my quality of life, and I want nutrition badly so that I can get my brain back (I know that my cognitive function has greatly suffered), and I know my organs and all that need repair as well. Also, if I'm honest, I'm worrying about my heart just quitting on me one day, and I don't relish the idea of my husband finding me dead - he doesn't deserve that. I guess I don't, either.

    So, I want my brain and body back. I want my life back. I know I need a minimum of 2500-3000 calories a day or more and that I need to go light on exercise and all that, no matter how much weight I gain in my midsection, etc. I don't want to halfway do refeeding - I want to get it done. I'm afraid of but at the same time strangely intrigued at the idea of all foods being 'legal' and available to me, at the idea that food is medicine and energy as my husband reminds me.

    I want it, I do. More than I can recall consistently ever wanting for the past 12 years.

    I am so stuck on external reactions, though. Yes, I'm underweight, I have no period, sure, I could afford to gain. But weight-wise, I'm barely anorexic. My body doesn't scream 'ZOMG SKELETAL' when I'm walking down the street. The people who've bothered to comment on my body lately just compliment me for being small and at a 'perfect' size.

    I want to get better, and maybe it sounds so silly, to jeopardise my life over this, but it's so hard for me to wrap my head around the idea of gaining weight from a 'perfect' weight. I can hear the comments already, about me picking up weight and questioning why I'm letting my figure go. Maybe I'm being unfair to the people around me - maybe they won't comment. But I know that because of how I look, they know I'm not 100% well, but I don't read as 'sick' either. I have no idea how to make myself go through with the stress and frustration of the refeeding process whilst looking so normal. I always fall back into thinking that it makes sense to just go ahead and lose more now, so that at least when I refeed it will make sense to the people around me whilst I'm doing so.

    I cannot handle people picking at me about my weight again. Like, seriously, I don't know if I can deal with it if people question why I'm gaining up from a 'perfect' size. I would rather just continue suffering than gain and relapse hard when the comments start up.

  2. Ariane, I sympathize with your struggle and admire the way you are thinking it through. The world doesn't understand what you are going through, and that's natural. But if you think about it, why would the IGNORANCE of others be in charge of what YOU need? If we wait until the world makes it safe to be who we and and do what we need we waste our lives.

    It may not be possible to completely stop worrying about and anticipating the comments of others but you can still "do it anyway." It is what you'd want to do for others. You wouldn't expect your own off-handed, uninformed conversation to influence someone else to, say, delay taking their insulin, or to turn down an item they are allergic to, or an asthmatic to leave a room full of smoke. The perceptions of others are just a small thing in our worlds, and something we will never completely control nor should we care enough to let it deter us. Maybe it is a symptom of your illness that you care enough about the thoughts of others to let it have any effect on what YOU need and do? If so, that symptom may fall away as you get better. You may find that as you get better those comments (if they happen) will roll off you without harm and you may even laugh. There is an enormous boost and empowerment to taking a "sod off" attitude to others who don't have our best interests in mind!!!

  3. Laura, thanks so much for your response. I've been mulling it over all week. And now with your entries from August 29th and 31st making me cry... thank you SO MUCH for saying what's needed to be said all these years! I wish I could send this information to previous practitioners. I wish I had known back then what I know now. No wonder I've gotten worse and worse or at best stagnated, when stuck in a state of semi-starvation (at best). Ugh.

    Anyway... it hit me clearly yesterday... I was standing in the kitchen, and it hit me. Right now, I'm not brave enough to move past worrying about what other people think. It occurred to me... OK, media messages and size zero and all that stuff didn't CAUSE my ED, not at all - but I'm basically letting the way that people prize thinness dictate when I start to do what I need to do for myself.

    If it were a world where every person's particular size were celebrated, and not, 'Oh, you lost weight? Good for you!'... I wouldn't worry about being ridiculed or losing the, hmm, complimentary things that people say about how I look. I guess it's lame, that all that means so much to me, but... hmm. it feels like one of the few things I have. So to lose that and go back to being normal, or worse.... I really wish that it didn't matter, that being large or smaller and everything in-between were all OK and equally celebrated - or not celebrated at all.

    I'm not strong enough now to tell everyone to 'sod off'. And I guess I don't trust that with a few meals and an extra 30 pounds I'm going to feel confident enough to tell everyone to sod off, either. I really want to do this all the way, not gain and freak out and fall back, I'm so sick of that... but I don't want to let that fear hold me back, either.

    I have no idea what to do. I really do want to do the right thing, I'm past shrugging and saying I don't care. I do care, I do want it for myself, after all these years. I thought that would make it easier but oh, well.

    Anyway. This latest entry from the 31st gives me so much hope. So much. Because, if you understand, if you're helping the ED community and others understand what the real deal is when it comes to EDs... then maybe there's hope that I can educate the people around me and help them help me get better, if that makes any sense.

  4. Ariane, there is a concept that may help you: "theory of mind." Some researchers have noticed that a diminished theory of mind is common in those with both autism and anorexia. This is an issue that can be addressed in treatment. Finding that balance between seeing ourselves through the (judgmental) eyes of others and being so unconnected to how others see us is a challenge - and for those caught in a malnourished state even harder to develop.

    The best way I know of to overcome the trap you describe is to put ourselves in the hands and care of others who can "do the thinking for both of us" for a while. If not family, then treatment professionals or members of the community or friends. It's temporary, but it takes the patient out of the non-stop second-guessing and doubt. When YOU are well, you may be able to "pay it forward" to help someone else some day.


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