“You can get the monkey off your back, but the circus never leaves town”
― Anne Lamott, Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith
This is one of those posts that has sat in my ‘drafts’ box for several weeks as I’ve tried to summon up the courage to identify and write about my atitudes. Then this week rolled around, and in some parts of the world it has been Body Image And Eating Disorders Awareness Week (BIAEDAW), and so I thought it would be good to get it done for that. But fibromyalgia leapt up and attacked me for a few days this week and I find it is Saturday (in my part of the world) already. I’m just scrapping in.
Body image and eating disorders are hard to write about, and I think the reason for that is that they are so personal. I also accept for people who don’t suffer from problems of either, it is hard to get your head around just how much of a struggle it is. After all, “why not just eat your dinner and be done with it?” Or “just stop bingeing, stop vomiting” … sure it’s simple. But it’s not.
What about the view in the mirror? “Just don’t look”. That could solve the problem but the reality is I don’t need to look in the mirror to struggle with how I look. My mere physical existence can be too much for me some days, and it’s not a case of how everyone at some times hates what they look like. It’s much more than that, and it invades every part of life.
It’s impossible to escape food, and to escape our physical bodies. If I never had to eat again I think I’d be sorted, but as it is, I have to eat regularly to maintain that physical body I still loathe, and so I can’t hide from either.
One of the things that can be difficult is the normal, everyday task of a trip to the supermarket. A lot of people struggle with this chore, for a variety of reasons and in the past I too have regularly run from the supermarket crying, leaving half a trolley of groceries standing in the aisle. It just simply got too much for me. I know for a lot of people this is about anxiety, but it wasn’t so much that for me.
A trip to the supermarket, or where ever you buy your groceries, can be a great experience (apparently) through to a nightmare, depending on a number of issues. For me there are two issues that affect my experience. One is the availability of money to pay for the groceries, but the much bigger issue for me is that of my attitude to food and my body.
For nearly 20 years I have had a diagnosed eating disorder, of varying degrees of severity. I used to fit (pun intended) into the Anorexia Nervosa category but more recently have been classed as ED-NOS. That sounds like it should be a food additive on nutritional information labels but actually it means ‘Eating Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified’. That can be defined for me as having disordered eating patterns and attitudes while I don’t meet the medical category of anorexia anymore because of regulation of menstruation and weight. So for me it was a good thing. It was heading towards recovery.
Recently my psychiatrist told me that he didn’t think it was an issue anymore although accepted there were still problems with my relationship to food and weight. Somehow I suspect it will always be a battle although now that I am committed to life , it makes an enormous difference to putting food in my mouth.
While there are different categories of eating disorders, commonalities can be seen. But how an individual’s eating disorder plays out is exactly that, individual.
My reaction to walking into a building full of food (known as a supermarket) will have similarities to others with ED-NOS (and other types of eating disorders) but there are also big differences. I need to be clear in that because what I share here is my experience only. It is not necessarily the case for anyone else.
Here’s what happens for me when I enter a supermarket, depending on my mood, even down to what I’m wearing, and how physically comfortable I am;
- I’m going to prove I don’t need/want any of this.
- I’m going to let myself have whatever I want.
- There are too many choices and I can’t decide on anything.
- This food is ‘out to get me’ and make me look fatter.
- Everyone else in the supermarket sees me as a fat slob who can’t control her desires.
- I don’t deserve any of this.
- I can’t afford any of this, and I’m going to deprive myself.
- I’m going to choose wisely what I need.
- I’ll choose all this food but then put it in the food bank bin, because they need it more than me, and I really can’t bear to have it in the house.
- Get me out of here… fast!
It’s a battle of wills (the whole way) between the healthy Cate who knows she needs and deserves food, and the disordered Cate who can’t deal with all the decisions about something she really doesn’t want to think about anyway.
Sometimes I can go through the whole store and purposely walk past what looks good and what is my favourite, just to test myself. And as my eating disorder has always been about claiming control on my out of control world, I can do this really well. It’s just that I get home and have nothing. But hey, at least I’ve saved money this week!
Usually I don’t know which of numbers one to ten will be the issue on any given day. I am getting more aware of my attitudes now and can identify what the problem is. Sometimes I can now re-think, and sometimes it’s actually just best to go home and try again tomorrow.
Another thing that I struggle with is shopping with someone else. I hate it because not only am I making the judgements on myself the whole way but I assume the other person is also making these judgments on me. Last year while I had my parents living with me I struggled with this, and would often end up without the things I needed. It simply wasn’t as easy as putting the food in the trolley and then paying for it.
My bet is that every person with an eating disorder will battle with this everyday chore. There is a huge element of ‘I don’t deserve this food’ for many and I know that there will be different issues for every person. So if you know someone with an eating disorder, spare a thought for them this week. Everyday, and even mundane, tasks are far from easy.
“I am angry that I starved my brain and that I sat shivering in my bed
at night instead of dancing or reading poetry or eating
ice cream or kissing a boy…”
― Laurie Halse Anderson, Wintergirls
- What is the DSM IV Diagnostic Criteria for EDNOS? (eatingdisorders.org.nz)
- People with Eating Disorders Describe Challenges (fox4kc.com)
- Imagined Ugliness (infinitesadnessorhope.wordpress.com)
- Hope For Discarding The Imagined Ugliness (infinitesadnessorhope.wordpress.com)
- The Butterfly Foundation for Eating Disorders (thebutterflyfoundation.org.au)