In my teens, I read a lot of books on eating disorders. Alternating between anorexia and bulimia, I was interested in the science behind it; the effect starvation and purging has on the body, the personal accounts. I didn’t want recovery – most of the books were bought by my mother in a futile attempt to shock me into eating ‘normally’ – but I did notice one glaring issue which never seemed to be mentioned.
How do you diet when you’ve had an eating disorder?
My answer is: with a lot of struggling and heartache.
There seems to be an assumption that if you have ever had an eating disorder (or are experiencing bulimia or binge-eating), you won’t ever feel the need to diet. This is wrong on so many levels, mostly because weight gain happens to the best of us. The difference is, when you’ve somewhat recovered, you no longer want to go down the route of starvation or calorie counting, and simply want to lose weight in a safe manner. It’s very difficult to do, and I’ve found it almost impossible.
Currently, I’m slightly overweight and would like to lose about a stone so my clothes fit properly again. I would also like to eat healthily to help my body deal with poor health. However, having eating disorders lurking in my past means that every time I start trying to lose weight with the best of intentions, those feeling of control and inadequacy inevitably come back and I find myself fighting a demon I thought had been destroyed. I’ve tried so many times to lose weight but without fail the old issues rear their heads.
I will be the first to admit that I am a weak person, especially when it comes to willpower. I enjoy a good binge, but not the feeling of total desolation afterwards. I enjoy having control over my body, but not the inevitable calorie-obsession it brings. For all intents and purposes, I am no longer anorexic and doubt I ever will be again, but my mind doesn’t know that. When I try to lose weight, it panics. It convinces me to restrict and remove as much ‘bad’ stuff from my body. I have litle control over this, and I can only assume it’s the same for others.
There is no greater expert on nutrition than somebody who has had an ED. We could be the best dieticians and nutritionists. We learned from the university of eating disorders.
However, all the knowlege in the world doesn’t help when it comes to struggling with the mindset left behind from anorexia and bulimia.
The ED mindset is a strange place and although I’ve experienced it myself (and, to some extent, am still experiencing it) I can’t begin to explain it in a way which makes sense. Written down, it seems ludicrous that such thoughts would ever seem rational, yet they do.
Why don’t ED books cover this subject? I can’t be the only person who would like to lose weight without submiting to the old thoughts and feelings, yet it is NEVER mentioned. Perhaps it’s seen as a trigger subject, almost taboo in a world where weight loss is everything. Yet it’s a real problem, and one which seems to have no easy solution. I’d hazard a guess that a lot of cases of recurring EDs are possibly due to attempts at dieting gone wrong.
And dieting is a massive industry. Just look in your local supermaket or phamacy. Pick up a newspaper or magazine. It’s everywhere, further confusing the mind of people who are trying their best to lose weight in a sensible way. Pills and shakes offer quick, easy weight loss. Diet tips galore. BMI charts in GPs surgeries and hospitals. We’re constantly being bombarded with images and suggestions of weight loss, and the importance society places on it.. Is it any wonder we get so messed up and confused?
It’s not just food, either. Try going to the gym to get fit when you’ve had an ED, and see if you can restrict your levels of exercise. I certainly couldn’t; when I was fitter and more mobile, I joined the local gym in an attempt to tone up after extreme weight-loss after eight months of sickness (an infected gallbladder). I started out with wonderful, sensible intentions but soon found myself going every single day, for hours on end. Two hours on the treadmill, an hour on the cross-trainer, an hour on the bike, followed by a swim and half an hour on the rowing machine. Every day. Yes, I became much fitter and did tone up, but I was simply finding another way to control my body. I panicked if I couldn’t do the right amount of exercise, became reliant on it. I buzzed off the feeling of achievement, even as my muscles started tearing from so much overuse.
Yet when you join a gym… they never ask if you’ve had an eating disorder or an addiction to exercise.
I appreciate that most people would simply lie when asked, but it still seems irresponsible. I suppose the owners of gyms don’t really care as long as they’re getting paid.
What this rant comes down to is that nobody is a superhero. With the best of intentions, we can still fall off the wagon. An eating disorder is a form of addiction, but unlike alcohol or drugs we can’t avoid food forever. We have to develop a relationship with it which is less damaging than it used to be. EDs don’t just disappear once you become a normal weight. They’re always lurking, waiting for when you’re feeling vulnerable.
- Does this make me look fat? (joycannis.wordpress.com)
- Anorexia (41staid.wordpress.com)
- 14st, 2lbs (halfwaybetweenthegutter.wordpress.com)
- Eating Disorders and Substance Abuse (addictionts.com)
- Pregnancy and an Eating Disorder (jillwillrun.com)
- The other time I had an eating disorder that you don’t know about (head-heart-health.com)
- Why I hate hospital. A cautionary tale of Bulimia and it’s costs. (faithandmeow.wordpress.com)
- Carrie Arnold: ‘Why My Struggle With Anorexia Wasn’t Just About The Weight’ (blisstree.com)