My Eating Disorder: Lover, Best Friend, Tormenter

Posted On Friday, 13 December 2013
My Eating Disorder: Lover, Best Friend, Tormenter
You're back! Glad to know I didn't scare you away with Part 1 of my turmoil and trouble with ED. And if you're joining me for the first time, ED = Eating Disorder, not Erectile Dysfunction... because that would be a completely different kind of blog (see Part 1 of the blog here).

When I last left you, I was talking about all the ways an eating disorder can envelop you, taking you to the deepest, darkest places of your soul. It's a sickness – and it really IS a sickness, mentally and physically – that seeps into every pore of your being. It becomes the absolute most important thing in your life and does not care who (or what) is sacrificed in the process whether it's friends or family members... or husbands, marriages.

A positive? You get really good at math. In the good old days of my eating disorder, I was constantly calculating calories consumed vs. calories burned in my mind, figuring out just how many hours of exercise I would need to burn off that apple I had for dinner. To be honest, I still do this to some extent; I'm just eating a more "acceptable" amount of food.

An eating disorder never gives you a rest. It consumes every second, every minute of your day, from the moment you wake until you fall asleep. I even dream about it.

Just last night I had this incredibly vivid dream about a girl who was severely anorexic. She was in some sort of office building, but was hiding where no one could find her. All of her friends and family members were there. Initially they were searching every floor for her, but as the dream turned, they quit. They said, "She will come to us when she's ready. But she was dying. I knew it. She didn't want to come out. She wanted to simply slip away in the arms of her ED. When she finally appeared, I could see her so clearly... gaunt, with a feeding tube in her nose, and being pushed along in a wheelchair by some sort of manly angel. One of her family members ran to her and swept her up into his arms to carry her away. Her father, I supposed; I hoped. He lifted her like she was a breath of air.

I woke up crying. Because at one point I wanted to BE that girl. I still struggle today, in the basement closet of my being, with wanting to be that girl. That's how strong of a hold an eating disorder has on you. You tumble down the rabbit hole with it and never want to look back.

Even if you die.

And people are dying. A lot of people – women and men, teens and adults. In fact, did you know that eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness? More than depression, schizophrenia, and the psychopathic-ness you see on Criminal Minds.

Wait, let's get this straight... people die from wanting to be skinny? Or from making themselves throw up multiple times a day?

Yup. In fact, some studies suggest that the mortality rates for eating disorders range from 4-5%. This could actually be on the low side, however, because oftentimes the reason for death is attributed to things like heart failure, organ failure, malnutrition or suicide... even though the core reason for those resulting conditions was the eating disorder.

It is estimated that 8 million Americans have some sort of eating disorder, although that number could be much higher due to under-diagnoses (I've even seen figures up to 24 million). Adolescents are increasingly at risk. Like I said, I always hated being a fat kid. But my real issues started somewhere between 14 and 15 years old. Here's some proof:

• Anorexia is the 3rd most common chronic illness among adolescents

• 50% of girls between the ages of 11 and 13 see themselves as overweight

• 80% of 13-year-olds have attempted to lose weight

All of these figures are quite staggering. Almost too crazy to believe, actually. But it's OK. You can be skeptical. Flabbergasted. In denial. Denial is acceptable! Most of the people who suffer from eating disorders or disordered eating are in some sort of denial, so join the club. We're in denial of what's normal, of what's right. Excuses become our expertise, our haven.

Imagine this... you are faced with this troubling scenario. You are at a holiday party. There is food everywhere. Pastry puffs. Chex Mix. Little Smokies. Pick your poison. You eat? Or you don't eat? If you're like me, you don't eat. Eating means you'll feel uncomfortable, miserable and want to hide in a dark closet the rest of the night. For strict anorectics, eating comes with even more severe hatred of one's body and in some cases an instant desire to disappear... like, that instant and forever. For bulimics, eating is OK; except you'll eat too much and then have to find a place to discreetly puke. And when I say "place" I don't necessarily mean a bathroom. Bulimics condition themselves to be able to get rid of food almost anywhere, whether it's a toilet or a plastic bag.

(To be clear, I was never bulimic. Sometimes I really wanted to be. I can remember this one day I was a freshman in college and someone brought monster cookies to class. Who doesn't love a good monster cookie? I don't know what came over me but I ate one. I immediately regretted it and wanted it GONE. NOW. That's the closest I came to bulimia. What it all comes down to is that I just can't bring myself to willingly throw up. I was a really good anorectic, but bulimia? I saved that for others.)

So, back to the party: you make up any number of excuses, ranging from "I'm watching my weight" or "I already ate" to "I have really bad food allergies." My most recent one, which is actually very accurate, is "I don't eat in front of people; it's just this weird thing I have about food." Most people are confused and embarrassed and quit asking questions at that point. I mean, wouldn't you?

The point here is this: we get really good at hiding and lying. In the past I'd do anything and everything to protect my eating disorder from being poked and prodded, especially by those who have no understanding of what I'm going through. The lies I've told over the years have become so good, so fine tuned, that even I almost believe them as truth.

Now, at this point you might be getting a little irritated with me; even angry. You might be screaming at your computer screen, "Why doesn't she just get HELP dammit!?" I get it. Sometimes I scream that at myself. I tried psychotherapy for a couple years. It didn't help, and at $150/hour it was a quite spendy "investment" (which insurance didn't cover) that really just perpetuated my issues. Other than my therapist, I've never gone into a physician's office and said, "Hey, doc, you know what? I think I have an eating disorder. Let's do something about that." I'm perfectly happy and sad all at the same time to deal with my issues on my own. Don't get in the way of ED, and we'll all be OK.

I'm not saying that if YOU are suffering that you shouldn't do everything you can to get help. You should. But here's the reality: chances are, if you're like me, you won't... or if you do, you'll relapse. That's awfully glass-half-empty of me, but it's true. Studies suggest that up to 40% of anorexia patients relapse within the first year of treatment. There's no real cure anyway; it's like any other addictive habit. If you are an alcoholic, you'll be an alcoholic for life. You might not drink like one anymore, but it will always be with you; your constant companion.

For me, it's a slippery slope. I try to be healthy in my every day habits. I exercise and when I DO eat, I try to stick to organic, whole foods (OK, and let's be honest, the occasional late-night Taco Bell). But there's always that little devil on my shoulder who constantly tempts me with how easy it would be just go back to those days... when I could look in the mirror and see my ribs; when I felt on top of the world for being so mentally strong; when I fully embraced the day-to-day competition with the numbers on the scale and the calories in my mouth.

When I had a crystal clear purpose with each waking moment: get thinner.

It would be so easy... after all, I'm an A+ student. I'm pretty good at everything I do and I was really good at not eating. So, as we've skipped down the golden brick road of this blog, you've probably been hoping that we've reached the point where I will offer you some sort of wisdom or other nugget of truth that will at least give you some hope, some promise. But see, I'm not a wizard... I don't have the answer. I may never have the answer. I'm just a woman behind the curtain who told you a story.

Thanks for listening.

P.S. If you DO want to get help, and I really, really encourage you to do so, the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD) has some great resources and even a help line!


References

"Eating Disorders Statistics." Anad.org. National Association of Anorexia Nervoxa and Associated Disorders, n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2013.
"Eating Disorders Statistics." State.sc.us. South Carolina Department of Mental Health, n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2013.


Sylvia Anderson

Originally from Minnesota, Sylvia moved to California for the sun, sand and warm temperatures. She graduated from the University of Minnesota with a degree in English and Communications, both of which she has put to good use in her work with RadioMD as Senior Editor.

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