A few weekends ago, I sat around a campfire talking to a boy.
Get enough to eat? He asked, peering down at the paper plate of leftovers in my lap.
So full, I moaned – tossing it to the side in that disgusted way eating disorder brains have when they want to show everyone that they “know” how full and gross they are for, ya know, eating.
((I’M SORRY I ATE SO MUCH AND AM SUBJECTING YOU TO IT, we want to scream.))
Oh, ED brain.
You sure? he asked – scoping my plate.
I nodded, catching his eye. Why you askin’?
He shook his head, but I already knew.
Ah – my blog, I guessed. Took a gander?
I’m sorry, he said. I know I promised I wouldn’t, but I wanted to make sure you’d be okay.
I shrugged. You’re not the first, but I hope it didn’t overwhelm you.
He shook his head; his mouth opening slightly, then closing.
What? I asked.
I just, he trailed off. It was hard to read.
I’m sorry, I said. But hey, 80% truths. I write 80% truths about 80% truths.
He shook his head. It wasn’t your writing.
He fingered the lid of a beer with his forefinger.
I just- I went through this before Linds, he paused – catching my eye again. Brought back that time I guess.
I mentally slapped my forehead. Of course, I thought.
Close, he repeated – breaking eye contact. Yes.
He mumbled his relation to her, and then he looked at the ground. She’s not really, he paused again. She never got better. Nothing I did ever helped, he said. I worry about that with you. If one day you’ll just fade.
You can’t fix her, I said, realizing how stupid it was as it came out.
((I HATE WHEN PEOPLE SAY THAT. Like DUH, we KNOW we can’t fix people.))
I didn’t want that, he said. I just, I wanted her to be better I guess. I thought she’d grow out of it or something. I didn’t know it could get so bad.
No one does, I suggested. Everyone thinks eating disorders are a cry for attention.
He tightened his mouth.
I opened mine; nothing came out.
Sometimes saying nothing at all, I realized, relates more.
He leaned over; grabbed my hand. We changed the subject.
The rest of the weekend I thought of our conversation, but said little.
Just sat there, fingers twiddling, waiting for the moment I was alone.
Alas, three days later, I did what so many others do as well: I Facebook-stalked this person – fingers clicking at lightening speed.
SO SICK, I thought – pushing picture after picture – convinced that I was doing it out of “empathy” or “sympathy” or some other bullshit self-preoccupied adjective.
What is it about anorexia that turns us into voyeurs?
You know those Youtube videos where a scientist is pulling out a bee sting, or that one where someone pulls out the world’s biggest ingrown hair and you can’t help but stare at the pus dribbling out of it?
Two girls and one cup? (Throwback reference, I know)
It’s like that. I can’t look away.
I spent probably 10 minutes on this girl’s life. I saw her 2009 Halloween costume. LOOK AT HOW THIN SHE IS THERE, I thought – mouth gaping open.
Poor girl, I thought, as I clicked frantically, like I was shooting heroin into my veins.
OH, she’s way sick here, I thought at a 2011 picture.
How is this girl still going? I wondered as I reached 2014.
By the time I was done ogling her very apparent disease, I went back to her Timeline and sighed.
I wanted more.
Clicking on her latest picture, I stared at it again. I analyzed her features.
So sick, I thought – wondering what she looked like underneath clothes. Imagining her bone structure like a porn addict fantasizing busty blondes.
Is there such a thing as an anorexic addict?
As my roommates came home from the grocery store, I quickly switched tabs and went back to Netflix.
Like a true addict, I had had my fill of making myself feel a mixture of both guilt and jealousy.
I was jealous, I recognize now and not in a way that would have me go back, but of that “look.” The blatant bone structure protruding out.
The other day I was on a run through the city and I passed a woman with that same “look.” The skin hanging off the bone. The sallow eye sockets. The frailness in her strut.
She couldn’t have been older than 30.
I turned around as I passed her; one last peek at her legs.
Maybe it’s more of an eating disorder thing in some ways, but the truth is our culture loves anorexics.
So many of the emails I receive are from people that feel the need to “qualify” their eating disorder.
“I read your blog and even though I’m not super skinny and never have been… I struggle with eating disorders.”
“Thanks for your writing. I don’t have anorexia but I binge eat, which is – I KNOW – gross.”
I GET THESE MESSAGES ALL. THE. TIME.
It’s like unless you’re walkin’ around looking like you’re a pogo stick, you don’t get to say you have or had an eating disorder.
I realize it has that same kind of freak show effect, right? It’s like when you see someone who is clearly wasting away you can’t help but stop and – out of surprise – take a look. But, what I never understand is why I still always feel a momentary pang of jealousy.
In rehab, it happened often which is why I always talk about treatment so candidly. I want people to understand that while rehab can help give you the tools to get back on your feet and get off your ED train – it is also a place that can exacerbate every eating disorder fantasy and jealousy you’ve ever had.
Rehab is where people go because they’re literally going to die if they don’t. I saw patients who were so sick I could barely even look at them.
How can you let it get this bad, I used to wonder. Don’t you want to have a life that’s outside of a wheelchair and IV tube?
However, even experiencing all that didn’t stop me from still creeping on this girl’s Facebook a couple weeks ago, and desiring her self-control.
I wanted her tenacity. I thought of the dresses that hung without whim. I thought of my sickest “anorexic days,” which were different than my sickest “bulimia days” or “exercise bulimia days” or “binge days,” and I missed it.
In the most selfish sense possible, I was jealous that she “beat” me at ED, and this guy would always have a piece of him that was drawn to her because she is sick.
I missed the self-control. There’s no denying the validation. It’s why anorexics stay in the cycle the way they do.
Binge eating sucks. You feel out of control even in the best of binges. You hate yourself in a way that you defile yourself like a hyena ravaging a meal; bare-teethed and growling.
Bulimia? Nah. You’re puking over a toilet with saliva running down your chin. Your throat bleeding. Anorexia, on the other hand, is often done with what appears like grace.
Thinness is like this symbol in our culture of beauty and class. You just simply don’t eat. You say “no” when others say “yes.”
You’re complimented on your self-control. You’re complimented subtly with the ever-present comments of “Well, she can wear that ’cause look at her. I could never fit into that.” Or “Ugh, I wish I had your discipline.”
We’re changing the conversation, sure. We have the body positive social media sites and I do believe our millennial generation is starting to give a middle finger to the 90s Kate Moss look – but it doesn’t mean that cultural shifts happen overnight.
“Has she lost weight? She’s so tiny now,” we’ll say out of misplaced concern.
It’s not always concern. It’s jealousy disguised as concern. Half the time, I think the girls saying this are crying on the inside – wishing they had the will power to be anorexic.
The media loves it and so do your friends. We love thin girls and the speculation of their self controlled sickness.
I looked at this girl’s pictures again the other day. I went to her first picture. I clicked on it.
Her bones staring back at me. I remembered the times I was sick; the times I stepped off the treadmill and in the gym locker room, pushed my socks off my sweaty feet.
The foot odor of my 15 mile run wafting through my nose.
Fixating on the scale in front of me.
Fear of gaining. Fear of the work not paying off.
Relief followed by another pound lost.
Feeling my shoulder bones with my hands. Wrapping them around me.
Feeling the loss of breasts. The looseness in shorts.
Collecting my dirty clothes, pushing them over my head.
Walking out to the car.
Save me, I’d scream to the steering wheel. It’ll never stop.
I sighed – staring at that picture.
My boss walked into my office.
Momentary relapse, followed by momentary sanity.
Get the fuck off this, I thought, as he motioned me for a meeting.
Force yourself to move on. Get out of your head.
Get over yourself, I have my roommates tell me when they see me peering at myself in every direction in the mirror before we go out.
Challenge yourself to not self-destruct. Challenge yourself to get out of the wave pool.
You think this shit is important. That bones showing will make you feel better about whatever it is you’re really dealing with.
Happiness never came with anorexia. Not at my thinnest; not at my fittest.
It was a constant game of maintaining an impossible figure that I knew couldn’t last.
You can’t live with anorexia and succeed.
You will lose. You will f-ing lose.
Sure, you may feel good when others compliment you. You’ll have spurts of confidence in a dress.
But you won’t survive.
It will condemn you the same way heroin overtakes an addict. Your brain will change because you’re starving it.
Your body will shut down slowly.
You will lose.
And you will lose everyone around you because you will be intolerable to be around.
You will lose your job because you can’t focus out of hunger. I did – I can attest.
You will lose your memories because you’re not there.
You will lose years – and people around you will pass away because it’s life.
And you’ll sit at their funeral and remember that the last time you saw them – you ripped your hands out of theirs and told them you’d come back after a run.
Anorexia is a pretty girls disease with an ugly soul.
You will lose.
So figure out how to not lose – and when you do – fail at it a few times.
Fail at it like I failed the other week.
Fail again because you’ll miss it.
Fail again because we’re human.
Fail and fail and fail.
And when you’ve failed enough – sit back – and think to yourself. “Is every memory worth a shoulder bone? At my worst, did I enjoy life? Was I fulfilled by relationships? Was I honest? Was I aware of everything around me?”
In your rational brain, there is a whisper telling you to stay with it. There’s a whisper telling you to change the conversation with your friends about someone’s illness.
There’s a voice telling you “you’ll lose if you do this.”
One day – when you’re ready – make a decision, and don’t.
11 thoughts on “Anorexia: Everyone’s Favorite Eating Disorder”
Literally just screenshotted multiple sections of this. I’m in awe of the way you write and how succinctly you can put experiences into words that I cannot articulate myself.
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This is the best fucking thing I’ve ever read about eating disorders, like ever. I’m gonna print this out and frame it as a reminder to myself.
Thank you for taking time to write that and make my afternoon. Appreciate it more than you know, lovely human.
Not gonna lie, all I could think about reading this post was how I was dying to see this “sick girl’s” Facebook photos too… Anorexia is competitive and an addiction. Usually I’m pretty good at getting over myself and moving on and being present in the world as you describe, but sometimes it’s hard… The brain just latches on and letting go feels like giving up. I’m still struggling to learn the difference between surrender and giving up in this whole business of recovery. …
I just found your blog, so I realize this comment is past the posting date …
It sometimes seems like low-weight anorexia is the public face of eating disorders; the “socially acceptable” one; maybe even the one more easily, superficially, understood. But coming from that place, I can say the another perspective of that supposed privileged status is the inability to “pass” in society, to be able to plausibly pretend you are just fine and fly under the radar …
If you want to walk about in the world without acknowledging that you may or may not have a mental illness; if you want to function in ways that you excel or are functional that have nothing to do with anorexia, then it becomes more difficult to hide or evade questions, comments, the unspoken questions, the sense that you need to make up for your visible vulnerability or potential liability, disability, dysfunction.
When you are visibly underweight to the extent one would assume anorexia, you can’t really avoid the stigma of what people might surmise about someone who might have that diagnosis; what that might mean about them. That kind of anorexia physicality brings to question whether you might be a good choice for a job; a volunteer position; for a roommate; to be a room-parent or a parent-driver; whether you are a travel-abroad liability; whether you can or will go the distance; whether your gifts outweigh the certain “something wrong in the head” that must accompany anyone who could walk around with beliefs or behavior that result in that kind of body.
If you have any other eating disorder (except maybe obesity), you are likely just as tortured or more, but you don’t have to wear a physical badge displaying it. You can put on the “fine” mask more easily, from a physical standpoint, if you aren’t drastically underweight. Moreover, other people feel more comfortable around you; other ED patients don’t resent, fear or avoid you.
One of the worst things to hear in recovery is “you don’t look like you have an eating disorder.” Sometimes the words are said in the brief silence and quick appraisal that follows. My Ed crows with delight, and I die a little inside. As a curvy woman living with bulimia, I don’t fit the poster child look of an eating disorder. For years, I even convinced myself that I no longer had an eating disorder because I wasn’t concerningly thin. That is why I don’t share with everyone, especially men. Not because of shame, but because I dread hearing those words.
This right here. Thank you for writing it. I completely agree. While I was always fairly petite in stature, I felt the exact same fear of having people tell me that my pain was basically, not valid. There is no poster child of ED – the media and the culture likes to think there is because it’s more salacious to stare at anorexia but it’s jut not the case – and it’s a stereotype we can only break when people (like you) have enough bravery to actually voice it. Thank you for your comment. Sending love to you <3
One of the worst things to hear in recovery is “you don’t look like you have an eating disorder.” Sometimes it’s said in the silence and quick appraisal that follows. As a curvy woman living with bulimia, I don’t fit the poster child look of an eating disorder. For years, I convinced myself I no longer had an eating disorder because I wasn’t concerningly thin (not for lack of trying). So every time I hear that, Ed crows with delight, and I die a little inside. That’s why I don’t share with everyone – especially not with men. Not because I’m ashamed, but because I dread hearing those words.
Thank you for your blog and honesty. I struggled for years with bulemia. Food is still a demon I fight every day. Some days I fight better than others. Some days I give in and binge though I don’t purge…and your right….I feel that disgusting feeling come over me and realize I’ve succumbed to my “disease.” Other days I restrict so much I’m surprised I have any energy. And some days I feel “normal”…well normal for me. I know this is something I’ll never fully get over but each day of “sobriety” is 1 more day of health under my belt. I’ve learned how to make healthy choices and want to encourage those around me regularly. It’s funny how knowing you inspire people helps make you stronger and makes me want to stay on the right path. I wish you the best in your recovery. Know that YOU CAN DO THIS! Keep at it. I am 14 years clean…and even though I struggle, I never want to go back to the hell I was in before. Do I want self-control, compliments and attention? Of course, but life healthy is so much better than it was when I was sick.
Thank you for this post X