Yesterday I told you my story: why I became anorexic, how it played out, and how I started the road to healing.
Today, I want to share what I’ve learned from this experience. I hope it will be helpful to you if you or someone you love is facing a similar situation.
9 things you should know about Anorexia Nervosa
It’s not about food. Not really.
It’s about control. My life was out of control. My parents could not be made to see reason. My siblings would not cooperate. My grades were never as high as I wanted them to be. The popular girls measured their status by how thin they were – and I was a nerd. Even though I knew it wasn’t true, I hoped that if I could be the best at this, I might have found a way to be accepted. I knew I could be the thinnest (ie: best). I knew I could control food. It was one thing that was utterly mine.
It’s not about what you weigh.
That’s merely a tangible yardstick of your success. I cared about what the scale said not because I had a goal weight in mind, but because the numbers were real and clearly indicated that I was “winning”.
Forcing me to eat would not have helped.
People tried. They failed. All that did was to strengthen my resolve. I would not be controlled. Now, I understand that in cases more serious than mine this is the only way to save a life. However, unless you get to the heart of the problem, this solution is only temporary at best.
Fighting amongst yourselves does not help.
Blaming one another for my sickness is counter productive. I am trying to distract you from yourselves and unite you in a fight against something that matters. Please stop fighting.
Tiptoeing around me would not have helped.
People tried that, too. Even though I stubbornly refused conversation, I longed to be heard. A sincere airing of issues and a resolution to start improving would have been of immeasurable value in the early days.
Focusing on healthy nutrition is only a beginning of a cure.
An unexpected side effect of my experience with anorexia was that I learned that food could make me very sick, and abstinence from food could make me much better. I knew I’d have to start eating again eventually, but I now felt empowered to make choices that would support my body‘s unique requirements, rather than contributing to my general sense of malaise. However, when well-meaning friends and family tried to give me dietary advice, I was deaf. What they advised did not match up with my experience, and my anorexia was never about diet, anyway.
I destroyed my body in more ways than I ever anticipated.
Even though I would never talk about anorexia at that time, I did read about it. I told myself I was simply proving that I was NOT anorexic, but I think I was actually looking for tips. Perhaps I wasn’t reading the right material, but I can’t recall seeing much to prepare me for the devastation I wrought in my body. My hormones have never been balanced since then. I developed endometriosis and battled for a long time to fall pregnant. I lost a baby. My hair is strange. I have heart palpitations. And I have a slew of food allergies and intolerances that make virtually every meal a minefield. I was not expecting any of that. I thought I could turn it off like a switch.
I have become the Food Police
My years of research into nutrition have resulted in a Mama who insists that her kids eat three healthy, balanced, Paleo meals each and every day, and get plenty of snacks and fresh water. Sugar is not tolerated. Starch is only allowed on VERY rare occasions – and even then, never gluten. My girls know more about the effect of GMOs and processed foods than most people my age. I never force them to finish the food on their plates, however, and go all Mama Bear on anyone who does. I also invest a significant amount of time into keeping food and figure separate. My girls think of themselves and others as perfectly beautiful creations of God – regardless of their size. Ugly is on the inside: poor manners and cruelty, not looks.
I will never be WELL – although I AM better.
What I discovered is that I have will power. For months after my appendectomy, I didn’t want to eat. I had conditioned myself to resist the urge. But I knew I needed to, and I had discovered that I could control my instincts and my body with my strong will. I used that, and it worked. I rechannelled my energy into learning about excellent nutrition, balanced exercise, and a sense of perspective. I stopped trying to be the top of the class, and focused on being the best version of me that I could be. The irony was that I did better than I might otherwise have done as a result of my new, improved attitude. I became a nicer person, too – more tolerant. I stopped trying to make people be what I expected them to be. My parents began to heal their marriage, I focused on the friends who brought out the best in me, and I learnt to be less selfish and more attentive.
While it’s not a path I would ever recommend or choose again, I am much better for having walked it than I would otherwise be.
I am still walking this path. When my life feels like it is spinning out of control, my thoughts often head straight for fasting. It seems to be a short-circuit in my brain, thinking that not eating solves everything. It doesn’t. I know that. But I sometimes need to remind myself.
If you’ve faced an eating disorder, or you love someone who has, you’ll know what I’m talking about. The neural pathways that led us to such extremes are hard to rewire. Let me know your experiences in the comments below. I’d love to connect with you on this important topic.