Tuesday, December 4, 2012

My Anorexia Had Nothing to do with Photoshop

To be honest, I was never the type of girl to read Cosmo or worry about fashion. I was too busy reading every thing ever written by J.D. Salinger and Stephen King, riding horses and dreaming of competing at the Olympics. Most of my adolescences was spent as a working student at riding stables. My attire consisted of barn clothes for the most part. I cut my hair short since it spent countless hours under a riding helmet and it seemed rather pointless to fight a losing battle against hat-head. I was half tom-boy and half nerd, which was pretty suitable for an introvert like myself.
My horse, Elwood, and me in Redlands, CA. We won High Point that day in Dressage. This was a few months before I had to sell him and move to Alaska when I was 16 years old.
My older sister and I weren't particularly close at the time so I didn't really have anyone to show me the ropes regarding make up and hair or putting together cute outfits. I didn't have a boyfriend in school and therefore didn't attend any dances or social gatherings (did I mention I was a nerd...and an introvert). I also didn't have any weight issues, ate what I felt like eating and didn't do any extra exercises outside of the mandatory P.E. classes and working at the barn.
 
Me at 17 getting ready for Prom. This was taken after being treated for anorexia. I obviously had reverted to my old non-eating habits.
My experience with anorexia falls outside of what most of society thinks triggers such behavior and outside of what the anti-media community believes contributes to this illness (even though I watched plenty of T.V., looked through my mom's women's magazines and watched movies).  For me, anorexia was about control and later turned to self-punishment and then habit. I didn't want to be a model, I didn't feel the pressure to look a different way, and I honestly did not start off with a distorted body image...I was cognizant that I was "normal", maybe even fit. If anything anorexia was a way for me to rebel and be a non-conformist due to some major changes in my life (we moved from California to Alaska the summer before my senior year of high school). I think it's a dangerous assumption, especially for those directly affected by eating disorders, to view this as strictly a weight issue.Trying to convince the individual (or the world) that photoshopped pictures and under weight models are the root of this disease may totally miss the mark in an attempt to place the blame on 'some one else'.**
 
Tell me I should eat and I'll tell you I'm full. Tell me I'm too thin and I'll drop a few more pounds, not because I feel fat...but because I can, regardless of what you think. That was my mentality. When I was finally hospitalized (I was 16 years old, 5'4" and 84 pounds) and forced to take in calories, I found something else to control...my water intake. Water has no calories and obviously would have no impact on my weight but I refused to drink it anyway...and often dumped it into the pillow I sat on to protect my bony body from bruising.
Admittedly, after several months of starving myself, I was terrified of gaining the weight back...terrified that I wouldn't be able to stop the weight gain. I clung to my old habits convinced it would provide a cushion for the inevitable weight gain that comes with age. But this was not the root cause of my illness. So, when it came to trying to win this battle and save my life, I was lost and confused. Most of the doctors I spoke with had little to no experience with anorexia and dealt more with drug abuse, teen alcoholism and the occasional schizophrenic. Assuming that I was only concerned with being thinner was the wrong approach. And while I did get a rush from watching the numbers on scale drop it was only because it meant I was the winner, the one in control.
What caused me to get help? I caught a glimpse of myself in the bathroom mirror...naked...from behind. It was the first time I just saw only an image and not me. What I saw reminded me of the pictures of concentration camp victims...hollowed out buttocks and a spine that was so bony it appeared to be outside of my skin. I was exhausted, scared and although I had often desired to just fall asleep and never wake up, I knew I didn't want to die after all. I asked to go into inpatient care some 350 miles away from my parents and school.

It was not an easy task to recover and it was necessary for me to relearn how to eat. I gained a lot of weight, not just because of my metabolism, but because I forgot how to eat and now knew what it was to 'diet'. Strangely enough, having never had a weight issue before, I soon succumbed to the classic yo-yo dieting, the latest and greatest dieting trends and a 20 year battle of dieting because I had starved myself and forgotten how to eat.
By taking control I really lost control. My body recovered but my mind still hasn't (at least not fully). I find I am more affected by the media now then I ever was when I became anorexic. Affected by the 'new science' behind weight-loss, green smoothies, paleo, the raw food movement, skinny rules, the thousands of diet books, inspirational Facebook posts and Pinterest images depicting the "perfect" body.
I became consumed by food rather than consuming food. It became so much more than fuel for my body...it's the enemy and the comforter, the problem and the solution, the life giver and the life taker and (for many of us) it becomes our all-consuming identity. But in all reality...it's just food...calories that keep the living alive and healthy. Food is not meant to be a punishment or reward. It's not something we 'deserve' because we worked out hard or missed a meal the day before. It's sustenance...just like breathing in oxygen (ya know, we don't say we deserve a big ol' healthy inhalation because we've been 'good'). It's a function of nature.
I have an idea that a lot of us are more alike then maybe we imagined...the chronic dieters, the anorexic and the weight-loss maintainer. Our next meal (or lack there of) is always on our mind, calorie content flashes through our mind when we look at the bakery display and in the back of our minds (maybe just for a fleeting moment) we realize that food is dictating our lives instead of fueling our next adventure.
 
We eat or don't eat for control, we eat or don't eat to hide our emotions and eventually we eat or don't eat because we have forgotten how to feed ourselves. Yet we often prefer to remain in our own little group, unaware of how similar we are...that the overweight person who we view has no self-control is the farthest thing from us, the restrictors...the ones who can turn away even a leaf of lettuce for fear of weight gain. Conversely, the binger or maintainer can hardly fathom that someone who once weighed 84 pounds as an adult can contribute anything to a conversation regarding dieting or the hardships one encounters in maintaining a healthy weight. I think we could learn a lot from each other.
 
The body is miraculous. If left to it's own devises it figures out how to survive and maintain balance. But we interfere and throw a wrench in the gears. We break this symbiosis and then sometimes spend a lifetime trying to figure out how to fix it again. Just like a drug addict or tweaker...we take it apart, try to put it back together and, when that doesn't work, we go look for the next fix. Maybe one day I will actually learn to get out of my own way rather than buying yet another diet book.




 
 
**This is my own opinion based solely on my personal experience with anorexia 20 years ago. There is plenty of research out there to support or deny specific root causes to this illness. What I believe is that the mental illness comes before the pounds come off. Otherwise, everyone who reads Cosmo or looks through a Victoria's Secret catalogue or watches the 100's of movies or TV shows with thin actors and actresses would be anorexic too.

12 comments:

  1. Another strong blog...thank you!

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  2. Thanks so much for reading and commenting Laura. You're awesome! xo

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  3. What is currently keeping me awake at night, you ask? The thought of gaining five pounds over our three-week Christmas vacation so that I can spend the rest of the next year trying to take it back off. I think of ways to keep off the pounds, mostly through forgoing meals until it is completely unavoidable (family dinners and binging while buzzed on vodka). I wish I knew how NOT to obsess about food, diet or exercise. What are the chances that I am NORMAL? That I'm not alone?

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  4. You hit the nail on the head, from my personal perspective. For me it was (is) always about *control*. I couldn't control much in my life, but I dammit, I could control my weight and win the battle with my own body. Funny how odd and destructive that seems now. Still learning... Excellent post Lynn!

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  5. I'm so sorry u went through that Lynn. I remember getting the call from your mom and crying when she told me u were in a hospital for Anexoria and how thin u were. I was afraid I would lose my best friend, forever. Stay healthy! I love u!

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  6. You are one of the most intelligent, insightful women I've ever had the pleasure of knowing, Lynn. I relate to this post on so many levels. Thank you for writing what, for some, is so hard to put into words.

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  7. Thank you for sharing such a deeply personal story. My best friend in elementary school was anorexic. I had no idea what it meant until she was hospitalized for frostbite one winter and my mom explained it to me. I was only 11 or so and I remember feeling jealous that she had such control over her food (sick, I know). I thought I was fat (I wasn't until later in life) and wanted to be skinny too. It's amazing how the brain can twist things around and things get out of perspective.

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  8. Thanks so much for reading Lisa. I actually had quite a few friends who "wished" they were anorexic as well...of course that was early on in my illness, before it became deadly and I was just a skeleton. It's hard to understand that it can't be turned off and on like a switch. Trust me, I often wonder how I had that kind of will power back then, and then I remember it wasn't will power at all but a sickness full of depressed thoughts. I completely understand the twisted thoughts and so glad you didn't venture down that road.

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  9. Thanks Ellen, you always make know what to say. xoxo

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  10. Yes Jody, it's quite a conumdrum...controlling something but ultimately losing control. Writing this has made me realize there are a few things I really am not 'over'...so I am still learning too.

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  11. You're definitely not alone...and maybe society has made this obession we all have appear "normal". It's every where, on every magazine...how to avoid gaining weight this holiday season, etc. I just can't imagine that allowing soooo much thought of food, calories, exercise, food restriction and self-loathing about how horrible we are if we gain 5 pounds is actually 'healthy'. I'm certainly not one for throwing in towel but there has to be some kind of balance...some way to enjoy a meal with family and not have voice in your head screaming 'do you know how many calories you just ate?!?!? You're going to have to run 10 miles tomorrow and skip dinner to make for THAT!!". You know?

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