First I’d like to say thank you – so much support and kindness has been poured out to me through this blog and your comments. Your words DO make a difference.
Today I thought I’d just do a quick, short post – or my version of short, which seems to be other people’s version of ‘normal length!’
Reading Gel’s recent update on her chicks, and how they are adapting to being able to go outside after being weaned inside – I had a sudden light-bulb moment.
Gel’s chicks have never had a chicken ‘mamma’. Instead, Gel is their mamma. And she’s done a good job. But Gel can never teach them chook things like a chicken mamma could. Like dust-bathing. Dust-bathing seems to be a behaviour that chickens are born just ‘knowing’. It’s natural to them. It keeps their plumage looking good, and free of mites (and looks like fun, too!)
Let’s have a bit of a demonstration here!
What does this have to do with my blog?
Well, nobody taught Gel’s chicks to dust-bathe. They just instinctively did it. They were born with the instinct to perform those behaviours.
The first time I ever self harmed, I didn’t know that people even did such thing. I’d never heard or read about it, I had never encountered the term ‘self harm’. The closest I had come to that, was knowing that people did commit suicide – and thinking of wrist slicing – but apart from actually actively trying to kill oneself, I never imagined that anyone would harm themselves on purpose.
I still don’t understand what led me to do it. If I remember correctly the trigger was piercing my finger on the sharp edge of a tin and seeing the blood. But I don’t think I will ever understand how from that, I had the idea of actually causing harm to myself.
It freaked me out! And I hid it. From that day on, long sleeves became part of my daily clothing. Nobody would have ever known, had I not at some stage blurted it out to a counselor at uni. I was freaked out by what I was doing and asked her if I was crazy. To my shock and surprise, she calmly asked me how many stitches I had needed! I hadn’t needed medical care – I only scratched at that point – but to realize other people did that nearly blew my mind.
I wonder, looking back, why that lady didn’t bother to seize on that admission as a way in and ask me what was actually wrong. She brushed it off as though people did all the time and we never spoke of it again. It went secret again for years until it got to the point where I had to get stitches and no longer could keep it hidden.
Likewise, nobody ‘taught’ me to starve or not drink enough. It’s a behaviour that came naturally too, aside from my mother’s own abuse of food as punishment, I remember feeling some sort of inability to eat despite being ravenous and liking the food at age 4, and hiding the food to get out of eating it. At 5, I had weekly IV’s due to being so severely dehydrated from my refusal to drink, even when it was a green rehydration solution that I actually quite liked.
I was a very ‘goody-two-shoes’ sort of kid, so I wasn’t doing it to be ‘bad’ or to get attention. I only wanted to please my mother. Refusing to eat or drink definitely accomplished the opposite of that. So it wasn’t something I was doing because I wanted to, either.
I do think that many of us are born genetically ‘wired’ to develop these behaviours. I believe I was born with the eating disorder, which in turn, was then triggered by events during my life. It’s also been found that starvation can itself trigger an eating disorder – and I can see that being possible since I had a history of difficulties from childhood.
Maybe eating disorders are leftovers from a day when we needed to adapt to survive times of famine? I think Shan Guisinger‘s theory is very interesting.
Anorexia nervosa (AN) is commonly attributed to psychological conflicts, attempts to be fashionably slender, neuroendocrine dysfunction, orsome combination ofthese factors. Considerable research reveals these theoriesto be incomplete. Psychological and societalfactors accountforthe decision to diet but not for the phenomenology of the disorder; theories of biological defects fail to explain neuroendocrine findings that suggest coordinated physiological mechanisms. This article presents evidence that AN’s
distinctive symptoms of restricting food, denial of starvation, and hyperactivity are likely to be evolved adaptive mechanisms that facilitated ancestral nomadic foragers leaving depleted environments; genetically susceptible individuals who lose too much weight may trigger these archaic adaptations. This hypothesis accounts for the occurrence of AN-like syndromes in both humans and animals and is consistent with changes observed in the physiology, cognitions, and behavior of patients with AN.
I’d love to know what you think!
My eating disorder is an ugly beast of an illness. It’s made me old, dried out my skin and hair, ruined my teeth. Sucked my bones of nutrients, damaged my organs, and stolen the light from my eyes, the smile from my lips.
When I’m acutely ill, there is absolutely no point in painting my face, or dressing with style. Instead I dress to camoflague a body that shocks and disgusts and incites passerby to stare and spit. I don’t believe that clothes ’look better on the hanger’ than on a fleshed body – as many claim they do – but the hanger sure beats my body. My body makes clothing ugly.
I don’t want to stand out in any way. I seek to hide. To slip by unnoticed. The hell I live is beyond the imagination of most who haven’t been there, and I don’t want them to glimpse my shame and despair, lest I infect them in some way – pull them in and drown them with me.
It is not a glamourous life.
I have quite a number of friends with eating disorders, severe eating disorders, just like mine, who have modelled, or do still model. Or aspire to model. I see their facebook pages every day – I see the continuous stream of photographs. Smiling, laughing, posed to perfection.
Here the wind whips my hair. Here I shake my hair as I laugh joyously. There I sink my teeth into a huge dribbling wedge of melon. I sip delicately from a glass of wine, or twirl on pointe shoes. I am glamourous in evening gown, or I’m an adorable pixie in a summery dress that shows off every single rib. Even in the dark emo shots, I am a glorious ethereal creature. Everyone wants to be me.
Yes, even me. I have lived with my eating disorder for most of my life. I know first hand the utter hell they live, even without having read their cries of utter distress on a daily basis – and yet, I want their lives so badly. I want to look like that. To be so beautiful. So glamourous, so perfect. To have people want to photograph me, to make inspirational posters from my own likeness. I want to look amazing in every single thing I wear no matter whether it is a hessian sack or there not be much more than bones to hang it on. I want to go to parties.. and I hate parties, I freaking hate them.
We are fighting the same illness – and yet we are so completely different. I know the majority of this I see is a sham – it’s a mask. A carefully maintained and perfected facade that hides the fact that these girls have shattered bodies, shattered dreams, shattered lives and shattered psyches. There are many ways of hiding – hiding in full view can be as successful as being completely out of sight.
I don’t understand these girls. And I doubt they understand me. But they make this monster look desireable. They make me want it – someone who has been there. What must those who have not yet experienced the reality of this think? I’m not talking about taking care of one’s appearance. I’m talking about flaunting something deadly, fully in the knowledge of what message is sent to others.
It is sweet deadly poison.
I’m actually glad I read this book – even though I expected it to be a complete food-and-weight-obsessed take on how to handle helping your child with a weight problem. I feel like it’s given me a lot to think about, changed some of my views on this delicate subject, and given me Dara-Lynn Weiss’ side of a story that you had to have your head in the sand to have missed when it broke last year.
Weiss famously wrote an article in Vogue magazine about how she put her then six year old daughter, Bea, on a diet, when told by her paediatrician that Bea was clinically obese. She was absolutely vilified from all quarters. There were supporters of her side – but they were mostly drowned out by a worldwide cry against her – she was called abusive, disordered, cruel, a bad mother, people said that child protection should be notified and so on.
I have to admit, I was one of those who was horrified. After reading Weiss’ book, I’m still not ‘with’ her, but I’m not against her either. What is certain to me in reading is that her actions came from a deep love for Bea and only wanting her child to have the best life possible. Bea was definitely aware of her size, aware and sad to be ‘different’ from the other kids, already had experienced comments and teasing. And there were also the health issues to consider. Obese children do mostly grow up to be obese adults. Now I know that a lot of people will argue the health at any size and Obesity isn’t necessarily unhealthy points here – but let’s just put those picket signs down and remember that this is the story of one mother, and her own daughter, a daughter she is charged with making health decisions for. Parents struggle with so many difficult choices when it comes to health – to immunise or not, for example – and judgement is rife. But it comes down to her right to make the choice for her child, depending on what she thinks is the best choice.
Weiss did take Bea to a nutritionist – in fact, she started out doing everything the way I’d probably have hoped someone whose child was obese would do – take the whole family to the nutritionist. The entire family have various issues and they work hard to follow the plans given to them – at this point their program is of the ‘green light, red light’ kind where they are allocated certain numbers of green lights and yellow lights to eat each day, and taught which foods and how much of them constitute each green, yellow or red light. Fruit and vegetables were ‘free’ as snacks.
I think this is where Weiss strays off the path. She has said that she has her own disordered relationship with food – and it’s obvious throughout this book. Weiss panics if Bea is wearing different clothes when she’s weighed – for example jeans instead of leggings – because of the weight difference. She refuses to allow Bea a snack before an after school appointment at one stage in case Bea weighs slightly heavier. She obsessively plans and re-plans her and Bea’s food plans, and obsessively embarks on a mission that many people with full blown serious eating disorders will remember well – to find out the calorie counts of as many different foods as possible, and to seek out ever lower calorie items. She gushes about the use of frankenfoods and artificial sweeteners in place of real nutrition because ‘low calories trumps nutrition’ and panics over lapse as small as 100 calories or so for Bea. This is not normal behaviour.
Especially, this is not normal behaviour for so young a child. Bea is growing. She’s 6 years old, 7 years old. Not only is she growing, but her relationship with food IS going to be affected by this for the rest of her life. And she IS pulling against the forced restriction. She’s constantly asking for snacks (fruit being free) to the point of having four or five or six snacks of fruit between each meal, and binge eating fruit into the night to the point of being uncomfortable. That is the behaviour of someone who is either starving, or deprived. I know from my own feelings of deprivation and consequent lashback into bingeing or hoarding food – that it can stick with you for LIFE. Bingeing and hoarding behaviors are also very common in foster children who have been deprived of food or food has been tightly controlled.
Then there is Bea’s lack of honesty when quizzed about what she’s eaten away from her mother. She’s scared of ‘owning up’ to having had three slices of pizza at a pizza party and tries to tell her mother she had only one at first. And when an unplanned ‘event’ happens in which Bea is faced with an array of food without her mother and herself having a ‘plan’ of what she can eat – she eats pretty much some of everything. Given that the point of some of these events was for the children in Bea’s class to try out food from other cultures, sampling a little of each offering was actually normal behaviour, but Bea probably would have been aware she was doing the ‘wrong’ thing, and definitely aware when she had to ‘own up’ to it to Weiss.
Then there are situations like at parties – where Bea wants another dessert or is still hungry, but has already eaten everything she’s ‘allowed’ to have. Weiss cops a fair bit of criticism from the other adults for not allowing Bea another cake or even to have the salad offered because it’s covered in a dressing. I do have to say, the other adults were not helpful. We don’t know what another child’s dietary issues might be. Bea might have been on a special diet for allergy reasons or she might have been diabetic and I’m sure the other adults wouldn’t have been so unsupportive then. And waving a food under the nose of a kid whose mother has just said NO to, is definitely not helpful, thoughtful, or kind.
Personally, I know very little about weight loss for kids. What I have heard (and believe) is that it’s not weight loss that’s important – it’s weight stabilisation – and allowing them to grow into their weight. In calculating what her daughter’s weight goals should be, at least Weiss kept her projected height in mind, but she was way too stuck on 77 pounds. If it was 77.2 pounds, that wasn’t good enough. To her credit, this weight was barely out of overweight into ‘normal’ for Bea’s height, so at least she wasn’t unrealistic on her weight – but just the general obsessiveness and inflexibility was a huge red flag for me throughout the book.
In the end, how is Bea? She’s lost the weight. She definitely seems happier, but at the same time, she still feels like a fat kid – she’s said she will always feel like one on the inside. She still needs to have her mother control her food intake – or it inches up again fast. Over time, though, Bea shows she is able to control her food intake herself and demonstrates this ability on a 3 week camp. This, here, is where I start to worry the most. Although Bea did very well – I feel like she’s too caught up in the ‘restrictive’ and ‘controlled’ eating – and it can very easily tip over into anorexia. That part of things just sounded off, and too good to be true to me.
Weiss was approached by Vogue magazine to write about her daughter’s weight loss journey after she expressed interest in writing a book about it. She was counselled to not include Bea in the photographs, but caved in to Bea’s pleas to be included – a choice she later regretted. I would not have liked to be in her shoes with what followed the publication of that article.
Overall, it was an interesting book, but unless you are already interested in the subject or share an obsession with food, weight, and dieting – it could be extremely boring. The book pretty much is a lengthy account of the process from beginning of diet to end. Weiss obviously has done a good amount of research for the book – but suffers from confirmation bias – in that she’s set out to justify her choices and seems to have cherry-picked whatever research backs her up and excluded that which doesn’t. Despite this, there are some good and salient points that she raises – for example, even the ‘healthy’ choices in restaurants and in school cafeteria food containing far more energy than a child needs in one meal, and actual energy content differing to the provided nutrition statement. I do now see her point in that had she been less strict with Bea, Bea would most likely still be overweight, because there just are not healthy choices there for kids to make – even those that ‘seem’ healthy are far too large or aren’t as healthy as they appear.
I still don’t think Weiss went about helping Bea become healthier the right way, and I worry about whether Bea will end up with a serious eating disorder in the future. But I now see Weiss’s side of things and feel she was justified in making most of the choices she did – and only meant well for her daughter.
The decision of Vogue to publish “Weight Watcher” in the April 2012 issue about a mother’s story of her 7 year old daughter’s weight loss journey is irresponsible. Dara-Lynn, mother to Bea, subjected her daughter to a rigid diet complete with mixed messages around food, stigmatizing remarks, and damaging body image comments. Voguemust take responsibility for publishing an article that normalizes disordered eating and contempt for bodies.Experts and advocates in the field of eating disorders and obesity do not support the approach used by mother Dara-Lynn and urge her to evaluate her own relationship with food and body image.
Vogue’s decision to run this article adds to the child’s humiliation and shame. Bea is not an adult who can determine whether or not her journey should be public. With the publication of this story, readers from all over the world are privy to BEA’s story and she will likely be increasingly judged, based on her size, over and over again throughout her childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. This is worrisome for her overall health, including mental status.
Laura Discipio, executive director of ANAD comments: “Dara-Lynn stated that Bea has not exhibited symptoms of intense psychological damage, yet the article reports “tears of pain fill her (Bea’s) eyes as she reflects on her year long journey.” Dara-Lynn was engaging in behaviors that most clinicians and parents would agree were detrimental to Bea. The methods and tactics used by Dara-Lynn in front of Bea’s peers coupled with public shaming in a well-read magazine may indeed produce long-term psychological damage, including an unhealthy relationship with food and her body. ANAD advocates for overall wellness not weight, including help for emotional, physical and social well being.”
Chevese Turner, CEO of BEDA adds: “Research indicates dieting at such a young age can actually result in weight gain and eating disorders, which have the highest death rate of any mental health illness. Childhood is a dynamic period; professionals and parents need to think twice before prescribing or implementing a diet. They must also consider that research shows stigmatizing, shaming, and bullying around a person’s size can also result in weight gain and eating disorders. Every good intention can have a negative outcome”
We invite Vogue editors and Dara-Lynn Weiss to contact BEDA or ANAD so they can talk to experts and others whose life of pain and struggles around food began with eerie similarity to Bea’s experience over the last year. We also ask that concerned people respond to Vogue editors with their dismay at using this child’s experience to sell magazines.
The Condé Nast Building
4 Times Square #12
New York NY 10036
212-286-8398 or 212-286-2860
I would love to hear what you think. Should you ever put a child on a diet? And if you do, how would you go about it? Where would you draw the line and say you had gone too far?
Hello! I just wanted to quickly pop in and share with you my special, challenging day – and most of all to wish you all a wonderful, happy New Year.
I can’t believe that 2012 is coming to a close already. It goes so fast!
I met up with two special friends for a Fashionista High Tea at a pretty amazing place, the Palazzo Versace hotel on the Gold Coast. We had high tea in this amazing room – the Le Jardin restaurant -
High tea was sublime -
Of course, I take terrible photos. Focus on the FOOD, and the surroundings! The pool was amazing. We are all going to have to come back at some stage and get ourselves a pagoda!
That can totally be a New Year resolution.
I’m not really big on actual formal resolutions any more. I used to aim for the sky, far higher than I could possibly hope to achieve. It meant for me, that I fought harder and usually achieved more than had I aimed for what was ‘reasonable’. That was one of the secrets behind my high achievements of my younger years.
The biggest secret was that I was obsessive and relentless and pushed myself, body and mind, beyond the limit – and this contributed to my eventual break down. I guess there are ‘reasonable’ limits on most things for a good reason.
I often think just how much more I could have achieved in my life, had I stuck to limits that were reasonable for me. I might be in a career now, I might be married, or at least have a partner and kids, I might be a totally different person in a totally different position to now.
But we can’t waste more time with regrets. We only have right now – our future is made up of a series of ‘right nows’ – and it’s by making right now the best we can make it that we ensure our future will also be the best it can be.
And that’s what I’m going to focus on in 2013. Trying to make every moment count. Trying to continue the good things I’ve managed to achieve this year, and add more, but not overwhelm myself to the point of relapse.
In 2012, I achieved 2.5 years hospital free, and with a fairly stable weight at around 15 kilos heavier than what I used to fall to, and 5 kilos heavier than what my discharge weight used to be. I started volunteer work, graduated from physiotherapy after 18 months, started ballet classes, moved suburbs, completely cut off my biological family, and grown in many other small ways. I’ve taken up some more hobbies like gardening and sudoku, been painting and in an art show, and I’ve been stretching myself so much more socially – getting out there meeting friends and DOING things with them instead of letting the social anxiety part of things cut me off.
I’ve eaten out so much, eaten so many new things. Like Christmas dinner, birthday meals, just meals at restaurants and picnics, high tea today. A couple of years ago, there was no way I would even put a speck of that stuff in my mouth, or keep it in my body, and that’s before we even get into the ‘in public’ stuff.
I’ve even gone swimming in a public pool and at the beach, and I’ve slept over with friends twice.
And I’ve started proper therapy and am working hard, making good progress.
It’s been a great year. And there is so much more to come.
In 2013, I just want to keep expanding on these things. I want to increase my work hours so I can get a real job, and keep on volunteering because it’s good for my spirit. I want to do more ballet, and tackle the crippling anxiety that I have to fight to get to do it every single time. I want to do more things with more friends more often. I want to enjoy my own time more, doing more things I like or find meaningful or constructive rather than sleeping my life away or being sucked up by all ED thoughts and activities. And I want to progress even more with the therapy, and hopefully be able to achieve some peace – to that end, I already have an intake appointment lined up with an independent ED-based counselling/therapy service provider early in January and hope that when my 10 psychologist appointments are up, this fills the gap. (I also found the courage to ‘fire’ my private psychiatrist.)
I’m not making any ‘absolutes’ though – because we never know what is going to happen, and I think that as long as I’m going in the right direction, that is what matters.
I hope all of you have a wonderful, safe, happy new year, and that it brings better times – better health, peace, stability, healing. I hope that the good things are only a sign of things yet to come. And despite wishing you all so much more, in the same breath, I wish you all enough.
Okay, enough of my long winded ‘quick’ post! Go celebrate, go sleep, go see out 2013 in a way that makes YOU happy, and start the new year in a way you mean to continue.
And thank you all for being so supportive and lovely to me throughout this year of blogging.
(Ps, Shalimar has informed me of her desire to spend the new year eating, sleeping, catching lizards, and repeating it all over again )
I do a lot of pretending.
I pretend a lot that I’m going better than I really am.
I pretend that I’m happier than I am, or at least, not as unhappy as I really am.
I pretend that I have a lot more hope than I do in reality.
And I pretend that I don’t really want to be ‘thin’.
I don’t know what to say to explain that one!
No, I really do NOT want to be emaciated, or even ‘too thin’. I feel like such a failure, and that everyone can SEE it when it’s that obvious. It’s not a nice look at all, in fact, it can be quite disgusting. Have you ever seen someone who is emaciated’s bottom? There is this big… concave HOLE there. And the anus that is usually hidden by flesh is.. stretched out in the middle of that hole. Too much info right?
Grossed out yet? Imagine LIVING WITH THAT. Still want to be thin?
And yet, I would give anything to go back to being almost 15 kilograms less than I am now. I don’t care how gross it might be. I don’t care about people looking down on me or treating me horribly because of it. I don’t even care that it might kill me. I am too much, and I will always be too much. At least in my mind, I am too much. I know in reality I am not, far from it. But to me, always too much. Always. And even at my lowest weight, I never even started to not be too much.
My body image is SO distorted. Even when I was at my lowest weight, on a good day I would see a normal, maybe rather fleshy person. On a bad day, I’d practically be able to roll myself around. And yet, under all that, my wise mind was constantly saying “But I’m too thin. I know I’m too thin. The ‘numbers’ say I’m too thin. And yet what is this incredible fleshy hulk I’m hauling round with me every day?”
Every now and then I’d catch a glance of what I called “Michael Jackson” in the mirror – a glimpse of how I truly was – and scare myself terribly. But that lasted for a glimpse and a few moments post-glimpse – before “too-much” loomed over me again, threatening to squish the ‘me’ right out of myself.
Okay, I know my nose is bigger and it’s REAL, but yeah. Scary stuff.
One of the common myths is that people with anorexia and/or bulimia enjoy their disease, enjoy the ‘thinness’ that many of them achieve. I think the reality would be closer to we don’t even get to experience it let alone ‘enjoy’ it.
How do I really see myself?
Imagine your body is SO heavy and huge that you find it hard to move. You find yourself very weighed down. Sluggish. One of the reasons my dancing started to fail in uni was because, yes I’d gained some weight initially, but after that, even though it was plunging DOWN, I felt heavy and unable to MOVE properly due to having so much flesh stopping me. It was a complete utter delusion.
You can’t walk with your legs together because your thigh rolls prevent that.
You can’t put your arms down properly to your sides because the rolls of fat under them and on your torso are too huge.
And it all feels SO REAL. So completely utterly REAL.
It’s not just about the body image way of being ‘fat’ either. It’s about being that aforementioned ‘too much’.
I experience the world as though I’m towering over everyone around me. I am more tall than I am short, but I’m not THAT tall, and I still feel this way when the person next to me is actually a lot taller than I. The same with width – I feel monstrous next to everyone else, even if the person beside me outweighs me by 100 kilos.
Even without the comparing of size, I just feel too much ME. I’ve spent my life trying to squeeze myself out. Trying to disappear. To be invisible. Apologising for taking up too much space, for being so wrong, for being so grossly overimposingly massively HERE.
The way I experience my own size against that of the world has also see-sawed along with my actual weight, except that it’s strayed ever further than reality each time. The first time I ever lost weight, I felt tiny, I could feel myself and see myself shrinking. The world became huge, but only in relation to my own size.. Then I was refed, and although I grew, oh boy did I grow bigger, the world seemed to stay the same size. Each time I went down after that, the world got bigger while I stayed the same size. And each time I was refed, I grew bigger and the world stayed the same size. Can you understand that? We were becoming more and more skewed the more I lost and gained, I growing ever bigger, the world ever smaller.
Whoever invented those carnival mirrors, I wonder if they knew what this was like to live with?
This is just how I see my own face! My brain stretches it out so that it appears smeared.
So my problem is, I guess, that it’s so hard to live in a body that you feel so wrong in, one that you constantly wish you could literally unzip and step out of.
And while I struggle so much with my body image, I guess I have had to get to a place of maturity – listening to my wise mind and rationality over my discomfort and my desire to strive for something I find more pleasant to both see and be.
Not everyone has reached that place.
Eating disorders are NOT about food, shape, weight – that is surface stuff. That is the language of our culture. That is the language we fall to first, when we are not happy, worried, anxious, have problems, and have no other way to express them but “I hate myself, I am so ugly, I am so big, if I lost weight, my problems would be better.” But food and weight and body image issues are often triggers for eating disorders to begin – and for the malnutrition that they cause to trigger the cognitive deficit and irrationality that leads to it becoming a mindset and something that overpowers us easily.
It’s very dangerous to be constantly giving us images to which we are expected to conform when they are physically not even possible for most. So many of us are struggling to even accept ourselves, let alone find ourselves acceptable in context of the rest of the world… and we are bombarded by reminders that apparently we never WILL ‘size up’.
And here I will end my ranting and leave you. Do you feel you ‘size up’ or are you too much? Is your body image distorted, or normal, or can you even tell when you only see what YOU see? How do you know if what you see is the reality?
If you have an eating disorder – how much do you feel it’s about food, weight, body image? Do you find that if you take those issues away, you still are stuck with your disorder and the problems that are underneath?
Do you find yourself yearning for something that is forbidden and dangerous? How do you deal with that?
And – if I don’t get to post again before midnight tomorrow - HAPPY NEW YEAR!! May 2013 be the happiest and most positive year all of you have lived to date – with better things on the horizon. xx
I and many of my friends were greatly offended by a recent article by Rachel Cusk . It presented pure fallacy, a personal observation of what Anorexia is all about by someone who had never had any personal experience – the closest she had gotten was a friend working with anorexic patients. She got it SO WRONG .
This rebuttal sets the record straight.
I don’t agree that it’s a choice to have an eating disorder. Nobody asked the little four year old me if I wanted one. Nobody gave me a choice. I didn’t want to hide my food or refuse to drink. I was hungry, and I liked to eat. I’d never thought about my body in terms other than “This is me playing!” and that it could wear dress up costumes, could run, jump, dance… I didn’t know anything about eating disorders or weight loss. I’d never even set eyes on a glossy magazine. I idolised my mother and father, and wanted only to be the best ‘good little girl’ I could be so they would be happy with me and love me more, so it wasn’t about having power over them or defying them, either.
As I grew older, still completely clueless about eating disorders, still without a care when it came to weight, I still never had a choice about the eating disorder. There was this thing that just was, in my mind. It was just there, as though it was born with me when I was, and grew as I grew, until it reached a point where I could no longer avoid being influenced by it. This thing told me, no, demanded that I not eat, that I exercise more. I didn’t even really hear the demands at first – later it was like something screaming inside my head. There never was a choice not to do those things – they were what had to be done, and there were no other options open to me. Not a single one.
And so, I obeyed it. It just had to be done, and I just did it. Hunger was unpleasant, pain was unpleasant, but disobeying this thing, that was far worse.
Have you ever felt like you are so trapped that you could thrash and beat at the walls, scream your head off, do everything you could to change your situation and you would be simply wasting your energy and breath? Known that for certain – without a doubt? That was what it was for me. And if I did try to beat it, the consequences always dissuaded me from trying again.
It wasn’t until I was at least 18 years old that I even began to learn about what eating disorders were, or accept that I might have one. You find it very hard to believe you have a disorder when you are just doing something you HAVE to do, that you have no choice not to do. A disorder should go against the grain. A disorder should cause more distress than it alleviates – this was the other way around at that time. To not obey caused instant, lasting, intense distress. To listen, to fulfil the demands on me – I found that soothing. Calming. It made me feel invincible. It reminded me that I was strong enough to withstand the hurt being meted out by the people in my life at that time, because I was used to pain. I thrived on pain. And pain made me stronger. This proved it to me, because my dancing went from strength to strength the more I exercised, and the more I exercised, the less time I had for eating. To feel I was dancing better left me on a high, along with the cognitive and physical effects of starvation, I was in a constant giddy, light headed state of ‘not being there’.
And I didn’t want to be here, there, or anywhere at that time. I’d been hurt so much, and the hurting never stopped. Every where I turned, I was wounded. Like a little creature seeking to just survive, I crawled away to hide best that I could while still being there amongst my abusers. I crawled away inside myself. They saw my shell, they no longer saw me.
Indeed, when I left that hell that I grew up in, not a single member of my family actually knew who I was. Not a single one of them knew the real Fiona, only the outer carcass, only the robot who simply humoured their demands and acquiesced to their ways, because it wasn’t worth the extra fighting to do otherwise. Who learnt to never show them what actually mattered to her, lest it became a target too, and used against her.
In all these years, I never chose to have the eating disorder. Not once did I consciously choose to lose weight. I never chose to restrict my eating. I never chose to not allow myself to eat or to drink. I never chose to force myself to overexercise. I did not have a choice at all – ever. Those things were simply things that were as natural and unconscious to me as breathing, as my heart beating. We don’t think about and choose every breath we take or every beat of our hearts. And yet, we breathe. Our hearts beat. The eating disorder ate away at me from the inside out. It was never something I thought about, wanted, or chose.
There are six year old children needing treatment for anorexia in growing numbers. Eight year olds. Nine year olds. Ask a six year old why they want to lose weight? Will they tell you they want to be a model, or on the cover of the latest Vogue magazine? Will they tell you that it helps them to cope with an uncertain world, or with fear or pain, or that it makes them feel strong and in control? That they do it to manipulate people around them?
I can pretty much promise you they will say none of those things. Because they never chose to have their eating disorders either. For them, as it was for me, the eating disorder was something that they were born with, a pre-existing predisposition, determined by genetics, not by them. And it lies there, waiting, under the surface. It lies there like a crocodile under the skin of a silent lake, only its eyes above water, waiting for something tasty and alive to wander into it’s path. A menacing, hidden danger, no less a threat for its temporary invisibility. And at some point, life conspired to throw them into a set of conditions that triggered off that lurking monster, brought it out of hiding and into full battle.
All that waiting made for a very hungry monster indeed.
At about 18, all that had happened – and was happening still to me – came to tipping point. I simply was no longer able to stand up against the tide, as I had fought so hard to do all those years. It knocked me down like I was nothing at all, swept me over the edge, and then I was falling. Falling into anorexia.
And I fell hard.
It was never a choice.
Years later, when I finally accepted my anorexia, accepted the bulimia that had come with it, accepted that I needed help, was out of control, was dying – then it was my choice. I had an army on my side to fight it, and it was my choice whether to join them, or to fight against them as enemies. And too many times, I did see them as foes. It took years for me to realise they came for me, not against.
I never had a choice about having an eating disorder.
But I do have a choice to fight it.
Did you choose to have an eating disorder? Or another illness or disorder?
** I will likely not be around online much for the next few days so please excuse late replies to your comments, I’ll get back to you as soon as I can – thank you for reading
It’s something that has puzzled me for years now.
Greta has been writing some really good stuff lately – and her latest talked about how her friend was dieting, and Greta was trying to dissuade her from looking for ‘solutions’ to her problems in all the wrong places.
By the time you are old enough to realise that much importance is placed on weight and appearance in our society, you are also old enough to have figured out how to diet. Old enough to have seen ads on TV and in the paper for diets and all the promises they make. Old enough to have friends or peers at school discuss their own eating and attempts to whittle themselves down to as small as they could possibly (and impossibly) become. Tragically, kids are getting caught up in this at younger and younger ages these days.
What puzzles me is – why do we keep going back to dieting? Why do we fall, hook line and sinker, again and again for the SAME OLD THING that didn’t work last time? And no, it didn’t.
Anyone who says to me that they are back on the X diet plan, because the X diet plan totally worked for them last time – gets a serious eye roll from me. Honey, it worked SO WELL you need to do it all over again? That’s not success. That’s failure. Success would be not just losing that weight – but it never coming back again.
Did the X diet teach that person how to eat properly? Obviously not. But it’s not just the X diet. It’s the South Beach. The Atkins. Slim Forever. The Carbohydrate Addicts Diet. The Low Fat diet. Eat your weight in eggs only diet. Super cleanses that promise to eradicate all toxins and take half your liver and intestines with it. Calorie counting. Low GI. Sweating buckets with wraps and muds. Getting it all sucked out of you. Jiggling your wobbly bits. Chopping up your tummy…
Sheesh. If diets and cleanses and the zillions of diet aids worked, wouldn’t we just have one or two tried and tested regimes that were passed down from generation to generation? We wouldn’t need to come up with an amazing new diet for every issue of the latest magazine! Weight Watchers would have changed their program every few years. Why? Why change something that is working? Because it doesn’t work!
You can go and do one program on Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig et al, then regain your lost weight with interest just in time to try their next brand new plan! At least you will never be bored.
We all know this. We have to. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and again, hoping for a different result. The first time any of us went on a diet, we would have had complete proof with the regaining of the weight – that it didn’t work. So why didn’t we leave them alone after that?
Are we suckers for punishment?
Maybe. But what we ARE suckers for – are promises.
Most people who go on a diet, don’t go on it just for the weight loss alone. Even if they think that’s all there is to it. I mean – why lose weight at all? Sure, some people are overweight or obese and feel they need to. But that’s just a small proportion of people who are actually dieting. And – why don’t those people do what IS tried, tested, proven to be true – which is a lifestyle change. Balanced eating, no restricting, no gimmicks. Slow weight loss, but overall health for the long term?
Because it’s boring. And you have to work hard for it. It doesn’t provide any instant gratification.
And it doesn’t promise to fix your whole life.
Because weight loss can’t fix our whole lives. All it can fix is your weight. And that is only if your weight actually needed fixing in the first place.
Losing weight will not make you happy.
Losing weight will not make you popular.
Losing weight will not make other people treat you better.
Losing weight will not get you a job or a pay rise.
Losing weight will not make you smarter, kinder, funnier, more fashionable, etc etc etc.
Losing weight will only mean you have lost weight. And all the things you are now, all the problems you have now, will still be there.
Come on, people – stop buying into the lies over and over. Show some brains. Show some self respect! Realise you have value that goes far deeper than what you look like. Realise that those who truly love you will never make it contingent on what you weigh or what you look like. Remember that healthy doesn’t always look the same for everyone, healthy is dependant on our behaviors and attitudes in every single area of our lives, and it’s totally just as possible to be overweight and healthy as it is to be underweight and terribly unhealthy.
I don’t want to be a vacuous idiot who thinks that because she’s able to wear certain clothes and look a certain way, she’s all that. I don’t want to be that shallow, that stupid, that useless. I value my ability to think properly. I value my ability to love and be loved. To keep friends, because I am a good friend.
As Judge Judy has said – looks fade. Dumb is forever.
Dare to reject society’s pressure to make yourself fit into their little boxes. Dare to be different, unique, to be YOU. That’s true courage.
Being the same? – that’s just lame.
I’ll leave you with something more pleasant – most diet foods offer us little to no nutritional benefits from eating them. You may as well eat the box. Or give it to your cat
In the every day fight to reclaim my life and my health, one of the hardest things is to give up. That’s right – I said give up. We all know how important it is to not give up fighting to live and break free of the eating disorder. To not let depression overpower us, to not let the persistent thoughts that tell us we are worthless, stupid, bad, fat, whatever, stick without refuting and correcting them with the truth. But I don’t mean giving up all that.
One of the (very many!) reasons I stayed so sick for so long, which is still a reason – is that I find it so very difficult to let go. To give up the eating disorder’s habits, the rituals, the comforts. To give up even the aspects of it that torment me – feeling and seeing myself as fat and worthless, torturing myself physically and mentally, and so on. Hardest of all, I think, is to give up on ever having the body I thought I wanted.
I have come to realise that it doesn’t matter what kind of eating disorder you have – anorexia, bulimia, EDNOS, binge eating disorder,exercise obsession, orthorexia – if you want to be free of your disorder, you have to give up on the body that it promises you.
You can’t hang on to the eating disorder AND get better. So you can’t hang on to the lies that it feeds you either, and get better. While you are hanging on to some body ideal, you won’t recover.
It makes sense and goes without saying that someone who is underweight with their disorder needs to give up on weight loss (ever again – I mean never ever ever again) because it too often triggers the disease all over again – and because while you are trying to lose weight, you are denying yourself of the nutrition your body needs – (I am not going to dig too deeply into this aspect as I do not have much more than a layperson’s understanding of it), those who are overweight (and normal weight) also need to give up on the ideal body. Even if you are normal or overweight, having an eating disorder means chances are VERY high that you are actually malnourished – and you need to allow your body to renourish itself just as much as someone suffering from anorexia needs to. (Yes, it’s possible to be overweight and malnourished.)
When you are constantly trying to lose weight or ‘improve’ your body, you are in some way restricting what you give it, but more importantly, your focus is on YOU controlling your body. You are still trying to force it into some ideal without listening to it. And that’s an important part of getting better – listening to your body. Feeding it, looking after it, giving it everything it needs – without trying to cut down or cut back in any way. No matter what your weight is, your body has been through a really tough time with your disorder and it needs to recuperate. It needs to be able to trust you in order to start being able to function again as a healthy body should. And it can’t repair itself in all the ways it needs (many unseen and unfelt) when complete balanced nutrition might not be forthcoming or exercise constantly wears it out. (For a really good, insightful post about the relationship between your body’s trust in you and bingeing see Mundanebrain’s post.)
Apart from still being engaged in a war physically, hanging on means you are also not focussed totally on getting better. You still have at least part of your mind held hostage to the disease. And you are still basing your happiness on something you do not have right now. Something that may not even be achievable, or sustainable for the long term. Something that might make you very sick or even kill you.
While you are focussed on that “I’ll be happy and everything will be a lot better when…” dream, you are not dealing with what is making you unhappy or sick, finding out what made you need to obliterate those problems and almost yourself, too – with the eating disorder and the food and weight and clothes sizes and numbers and exercise and all that chaos. You are not even living in the right now, but off with the fairies in the future.
Heads up, people – it’s not your body that is the problem!! As long as you are trying to fix your body, your real problems are going to go unchanged.
Giving up on ever having that body is so hard for me. I still have a lot of weight to gain despite having gained so much already. I still am not coping with this weight gain at all. And I would love, dearly love to lose it, just dump it. I am highly aware all the time how easily I can do that if I choose, like the more than a hundred times I did that over the more sick years (going by the number of admissions for weight restoration!) But I know that if I do that, dump this weight – that’s it. I’m sick again, I lose all the ground I worked so hard for, and yes, it’s going to kill me.
I DID, in my teens, believe when things were rock bottom, that if I fixed my body and got my lean, strong dancer’s body back, all my problems would go away. I’d be the best dancer. I’d be happy. Wanker would go away and leave me alone. My family would have some sort of epiphany and personality transplant and actually become caring and loving and decent. Even when I’d lost my dance career I still believed that when I got my dancer’s body back i.e LOST weight, I’d get it back again. Can we say screwed up, insane? Definitely not rational. At the time I didn’t even know I had an eating disorder, everything was just a mess that was crumbling around me. But now I know better. I know that weight loss will NOT fix anything – it will make it worse. And yet it’s still really, really hard to let go.
What I miss most about it was that feeling, that comforting feeling of being convinced I was doing the right thing, I was working on the solution, that everything was going to be okay. Now I know that the only way I can guarantee that everything will be okay is to identify what the actual problems are, accept them, and ask for help to fix them.
I will never get that feeling back, not just because I know how untrue it is, but also because I will never again starve myself and exercise obsessively the way I did back then. However losing weight is still my predominant thought much of my time. I can’t do something properly, need to lose weight. I catch sight of myself in a window – fatty boomba, lose some weight! I just can’t stand my body or being in it. And despite that I have no choice, I have to tolerate it, and hope that with time the thoughts become less. I hate being so aware of it and so caught up in it because it really is a very shallow way of thinking and being, and there is so much that’s far more important. It’s also not pleasant to have everything you do overshadowed by that constant criticism. But I have to toughen up and learn to stay with the pain and fear. Tolerate feelings that aren’t nice to feel – because feelings will never kill me. Feeling fat won’t hurt me, but acting on those feelings might.
Letting go means getting humble and admitting that you aren’t okay, you aren’t in control, in fact you and your life are a mess, and things can’t go on this way. There is nothing to be ashamed of in accepting this. In fact it takes courage to do this – because we have so much pride as human beings and are so scared of failure. It’s not a failure at all. It’s being realistic and owning your own truths.
I now know and accept that it’s my life that’s screwed up, and myself, and that I will never fix it by concentrating on my body. Even if my body is ‘perfect’ I will still be sick and miserable. And if I want to work on my problems and have any chance of having a happy, healthy, fulfilling life – I have to let go of trying to change my body and let it look after me. And in order to let it look after me – I have to look after it. I don’t know what my future holds, but I know that I will be able to deal with it now, because I’m no longer in denial. I’m no longer sticking my fingers in my ears and singing “I need to lose weight and then everything will be better” – instead I’m taking a deep breath and facing my real problems head on.
Still got a long way to go – but what’s most important is that I’m definitely headed in the right direction.