I wrote this post before I remembered it's nearly Christmas. Never mind!
I sometimes find myself wishing that I had the power to send out a message to every single person suffering from an eating disorder. I know I wouldn’t be able to cure them, or maybe even help at all- but there are some things I really wish I’d known when I was restricting my intake. There are lots and lots, but here are a few of them:
1) You will never feel sick enough.
I remember writing on pro boards ‘nothing special happens when you hit a goal weight. Fireworks don’t go off, you don’t decide to stop dieting. You just find a new, lower number’. That goes for everything- weights, intakes, purges, whatever. You’ll never feel like you’re sick enough and people have died trying to get there. This applies to every single eating disorder.
2) ... but it’s normal to not feel sick enough.
I felt like I was a fake anorexic, an imposter. On support boards I thought ‘if they really knew how much I ate, how much I weigh, they’d laugh me out of here’. I remember the first time I found somebody else saying they felt that way- it was so shocking to me. Then somebody else said they did, then someone else, then someone else. It felt like a confession to say ‘butI’mnotarealanorexic’, so it was so strange to see hundreds of other people echoing that exact sentiment.
3) Binging is normal.
This is one of the main ones I’d like to tell people. I mean ‘normal’ in a ‘normal for eating disorders’ way- obviously it’s not healthy behaviour, but it’s not vile. Many, many anorexics binge eat. It’s a natural response to hunger, to deprival, to coming out of restriction, to many things. It doesn’t mean you’re weak or a failure. It’s a natural, biological response and-
4) Binging can be stopped by following a healthy diet and not purging.
If your body is binging as a response to starvation, starving yourself afterwards will only ensure you binge again.
5) One snack, meal or day doesn’t change anything.
It’s easy to believe that one ice cream cone will make you gain 2lbs unless you immediately compensate, be that through exercise, purging, restriction, fasting or anything else. That’s bullshit. I’ve had enough slightly large meals or days where I ate more than usual, and my weight hasn’t budged. Yours won’t either, because:
6) Your body is not magical.
No, you cannot survive on much less than everybody else. Yes, you need fat in your diet. No, it’s not okay for you to remain at a very low BMI. If you can ever say the sentence ‘no, that wouldn’t be okay for somebody else, but for me-‘, stop right there. That is 100% eating disorder. If it wouldn’t be okay for a friend, it’s not okay for you.
7) Thinking about food a lot is normal.
This is a huge one for me. I remember, in IP, a nurse gave me a sheet with two scenarios on it- ‘I’m hungry so why don’t I feel like eating?’ and ‘I’m not hungry, so why do I feel like eating?’ I said the second one described me best and she got so damn confused. ‘Are you sure you don’t mean the first one?’ Yes, I was sure. I didn’t obsess about food in a calorie way- well, I did- but I was referring to the staring at chocolate bars, to watching people eat things, to looking up recipes just to stare at the pictures. I wanted food so badly. It was all I ever thought about. I remember whispering ‘I think like a fat person’. No. I thought like an anorexic. Finding out that that was normal was such a huge weight that was lifted from my shoulders.
8) Eating disorders don’t make you interesting.
I’ve known other people with eating problems. I liked those people for their sense of humour, kindness, love of animals, the way they made me laugh, common interests, intelligence- I liked them for them. When they were starving or in a binge/purge cycle, it made me want to cry or hate them or shake them or avoid them. They weren’t the people I knew. They weren’t beautiful or interesting or mysterious- they were sick, and it was awful.
9) Your eating disorder isn’t your fault.
Eating disorders are nobody’s fault. Especially not yours. You’re ill- you aren’t a bad person for that.
10) You can get better.
I genuinely, 100% believe every person can get better from an eating disorder. Maybe thoughts will still linger, maybe it will always be your ‘Achilles heel’. But life can get so, so much better if you only give it a chance.
Love (and merry Christmas!)