What exactly is anorexia?
It’s a difficult question to answer.
We can turn to the dictionary, which defines it as the following:
an·o·rex·i·aˌanəˈreksēə/nouna lack or loss of appetite for food (as a medical condition).an emotional disorder characterized by an obsessive desire to lose weight by refusing to eat.noun: anorexia nervosa; plural noun: anorexia nervosas”
But it’s really so much more than that. My eating disorder is a means of attempting to establish order in the midst of chaos. It’s a desperate way to regain hold of your life when you feel it’s slipping out of your fingers. It’s the destructive, painful effort to try and create a routine that blocks your mind from dwelling on reality, which you believe to be more excruciating. It’s not eating because the thought of putting anything in your body seems ludicrous and evil. It’s obsessively counting calories and doing the math to determine how much exercise you need to do in order to compensate for the little intake you have. It’s body dysmorphia that manifests itself in the form of behaviors.
If we turn to my good friend Wikipedia, it defines body dysmorphia as the following:
Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), also known as body dysmorphia or dysmorphic syndrome, but originally termed dysmorphophobia, is a mental disorder characterized by an obsessive preoccupation that some aspect of one’s own appearance is severely flawed and warrants exceptional measures to hide or fix it.”
For me, this is the part that rings the truest. Having had an eating disorder since I was just ten years old, I’ve been living with body dysmorphia for about a decade now. I’ve had it proven to me by means of the body tracings I’ve done and by the comments others make about my appearance. They see someone small, thin, diminutive. I see someone gigantic, fat, and altogether disgusting.
Every day I wake up to a brain without much of any thoughts in it. I’ll check to see what the weather looks like outside. On this particular day, I’m grateful for the clouds, because they match my depressive mood. Some mornings are easier than others. But some mornings are absolutely terrible. Today happens to be one of them. There’s no real rhyme or reason to why I wake up in such a sad state. It’s just one of the many roadblocks to recovery that my eating disorder likes to throw in my way.
I’ll stumble down the stairs still halfway asleep in my pajamas, which usually are something baggy since my feelings of body consciousness are the most heightened at the end of the day when I head to sleep. Then I’ll wander into the kitchen and pull out the measuring cups. I’m completely relegated to a meal plan, which involves a certain amount of exchanges comprised of various food groups: grains, fats, proteins, fruits or vegetables, and fluids. The thought of consuming more than what the bare minimum, the skeleton of my diet, is, terrifies me.
This is a remnant of my old behavior of restricting.
You see, I can be free of major behaviors and still have traces of them left behind. True, I haven’t given into my desires to restrict and overexercise in two whole months now. That’s a monumental accomplishment. But it doesn’t mean that this journey is easy or that I’ve somehow conquered my disorder. It still finds little ways to attack me with every move I make and every thought I have.
After I eat my breakfast, which usually is somewhat easy because the feelings of body consciousness haven’t quite set in yet, I then move into the next part of my daily routine. I do my hair, I pick out my outfit for the day, and I do my makeup. Usually the outfit is very comfortable; seldom will I wear anything that contours closely to my body. Even if I don’t plan on going anywhere, I still do all of these things out of habit. This is partially because my disorder causes me to be hypersensitive about the way I look, and partially a compulsion.
This is a manifestation of my OCD.
And my OCD is part of what drives my eating disorder. It’s not that I have a goal weight or appearance in mind. In fact, that’s impossible; everyone has a different idea in their heads about what is “attractive” or “appealing”. Anorexia has very little to do with aesthetics. Like I said earlier, it’s an attempt at establishing a sense of control. If you can control what exactly goes into your body and how much energy and calories you expend as compensation, your disorder is happy. And trying to fight my perfectionism at the same time I fight my disorder is an extremely difficult battle.
After I’ve gotten myself ready to face the day, I then try and keep myself occupied to try and keep the nagging negative thoughts at bay. This usually involves a combination of social media, movie watching, art, and other small tasks that put together take up the big chunks of time in between meals.
It’s a well known fact that people with eating disorders have increased portions of their thoughts dedicated to the topic of food. I am always thinking about when my next meal or snack is and what I will eat during that time. This isn’t because I’m looking forward to eating or because I’m excited about the prospect of making something to consume. It’s because I am extremely anxious about having to eat. It’s nightmarish. My brain and my body don’t trust me yet.
This is also the driving force behind my discomfort with my physical appearance. Bloating is a very real part of eating disorder recovery, as is weight gain. They’re unavoidable if you want to achieve the end result of a healthier body, both physically and mentally. But that doesn’t make them easy to deal with. They’re excruciatingly painful to endure. I’m constantly being assaulted by hateful thoughts. Too fat. Too wide. Too plain. Too ugly. Too boring. Too hideous. Too disgusting.
I try and counter them. Normally this involves staring at myself in the mirror from both the front and the side and trying to remind myself that this is a temporary phase; that the weight will in fact redistribute. I’m not doomed to always carry it in my stomach and face. There’s very legitimate scientific reasoning behind why this is where it goes in the early stages of recovery; because my body doesn’t trust me to take care of it yet, it tries to insulate the vital organs first.
If the thoughts become overbearing, I step away from the mirror and read an article or two about weight distribution or someone’s successful recovery to try and motivate myself.
After breakfast, I have five more occasions where I have to eat: morning snack, lunch, afternoon snack, dinner, and evening snack. Every meal is a challenge. Every bite requires me turning off my brain to avoid the thoughts that plague me afterwards. Robotic, mindless eating is the only way I manage to get through meals. I genuinely don’t process the way food tastes or feels. I don’t stop to think of whether or not it’s something I “like”, because my brain is so accustomed to thinking of food and eating as the enemy. As the day progresses, these thoughts grow stronger and stronger, as does the body consciousness.
I prepare for bed by wiping off all my makeup, putting up my hair, and slipping back into some comfortable pajamas. Then there’s always the final, awful ritual of staring at myself in the mirror through blurred vision before I finally head to sleep and give my mind a break from the constant barrage of negativity.
True, I’m far along in my recovery. True, I’m doing things that wouldn’t have been possible just a few months ago. If I think about how far I’ve come, it’s amazing. I was in the hospital in February; it’s only just about June now. I’ve become somewhat used to the way I look and feel, and I’ve managed to keep my urges to use behaviors at bay. This is because more than anything, I want my normal life back. I want to be able to wake up in the morning and not hate the way I look. I want to go through my day without having constant thoughts about food. I want to learn how to keep my anxiety, depression, and OCD at bay. I want to go shopping, spend time with friends, and travel. I want to see the world and experience it to its fullest. I want to go back to karate and exercising in moderation. I want to be me again. And I know that the easiest way to get to that person is to embrace the way I am now and take recovery for everything it’s worth.
Every morning I contemplate giving up and regressing. That’s how powerful anorexia is. It’s the demons whispering constantly and maliciously in my head that I’ll never be good enough, never be loved, never be worthwhile. It’s the doubts that recovery is worth it. But every morning I decide to get up, do my routine, eat, and stay compliant. Every day I decide to stick it to my disorder.
Because at the end of the day, no matter how disgusting and gross I feel, I know that this is just a transitory phase. This is a fleeting moment in the grand scheme of things. I have so much more living left to do. Anorexia has taken enough of it away from me. It’s time to start living every day of my life to the fullest.
To anyone else struggling with any phase of recovering from an eating disorder: whether you’re actively using behaviors and are really sick, are just in the beginning stages of weight and health restoration, are somewhere in the middle like me, or are fully recovered but still have difficult moments… stay strong. You are so worth it. Life is so worth it. Life should be full of smiles and laughter, full of time spent with family and friends, full of the outdoors and beauty and nature and the little wonders of the world, full of amazing memories that you look back on during the hard times and that you tell to others because you’re proud to have had them. Recovery is so worth it, and so are you. I can’t reiterate or stress that enough. It will be painful. It will be a challenge. It will require every ounce of strength and fortitude you have in your body and mind. It will require you to do things you don’t believe you’re capable of. But you are. You can and will recover. Just stay the course, and remember that there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. You might be relying on blind faith right now, and you might not see that light at the moment, but it’s there.
It’s always there. Never give up on yourself. Never give up on living.