I have a few gripes with the treatment of eating disorders in popular culture, particularly in books and movies that are supposed to be specifically about eating disorders (and, presumably, anti-eating-disorder), and I’m sure I’ll get around to breaking them all down, but possibly foremost among them is that, in general, they make eating disorders seem like the exclusive realm of thin girls.
The reality is that you don’t need to be thin to be a disordered eater.
Take it from a 220-pound bulimic.
I haven’t always been this heavy. I’ve been heavier, and I’ve been lighter — a lot lighter. In the 16 years since I first started bingeing and purging in earnest, I’ve swung from about 140 pounds at my smallest to close to 240 at my heaviest.
140 pounds doesn’t sound light, although it’s probably in the low range of what my body is supposed to weigh. But when the popular image of an eating disorder patient is a waiflike white girl who could be so beautiful if she would just eat a little bit more, it’s easy to feel like an extra-failure when your eating disorder doesn’t even get you to underweight. And if you’re a disordered eater, there’s already a big part of you that feels like a failure all the time.
Ironically, my most serious long-term weight gain, the gain from which I’ve been trying to come back for more than half a decade, followed my discharge from therapy. It wasn’t until recently that I realized just how profoundly I was failed by the course of treatment I underwent for bulimia, although I’m not angry or resentful. I was working with a group of providers who were functioning as individuals, not as a team, and who were used to dealing with eating disorder patients who didn’t look like me. And from a purely functional perspective, they did their job. My bulimia has been far more under control since treatment than it was before. Yes, I still relapse. But I was, largely, given the tools I needed to keep from bingeing and purging.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t all I needed.
The Missing Piece
My eating disorder treatment accomplished a few good things: It got me to stop seeing foods as Good or Bad. It gave me some techniques for thinking about my hunger and satiety. It helped me look a little more closely at some of the emotional issues tied up in the way I eat.
But it ignored one critical component of my health: I was then, and remain now, overweight. And not just a little bit overweight, like, I should cut some carbs or watch some portion control. I am much heavier than my body is supposed to be, to the point that I feel it’s detrimental to my health (and I’m not alone; before she knew I was bulimic and sent me to therapy, my primary care physician was gently but firmly encouraging me to take off some weight).
My course of treatment successfully managed to get me mostly away from bingeing and purging, but it didn’t do anything to equip me for learning how to lose weight safely and gradually. So now, eight years later, I’m still trying to learn that on my own.
That’s a big part of the motivation for this blog, honestly. I have a lot of feelings about food and eating. They’re tangled up in my head. And I’m putting them out there in the hope that sharing them — even just with my WordPress backend, should no one ever stumble upon and read this — will help me make sense of them.
Let me be super crystal clear here: Blogging is not a replacement for therapy. That should probably go without saying, but I’m gonna say it anyway, because I’ve been an active bulimic on the Internet, and I know how easy it is to twist somebody else’s story into my own weird, convenient reality.
So here’s some tough love, if someone should happen to be reading this, and you are an active bulimic or anorectic or EDNOS-aholic, and you do find yourself thinking “Well, if she’s not getting professional help, why should I?”: CALL YOUR FUCKING DOCTOR. If you are starving yourself, if you are habitually bingeing, if you make yourself throw up, if you exercise to the point of collapse, if you’re taking pills of any kind, if you have 1,489 rules governing the way you eat, THAT’S NOT A DIET. THAT’S A DISEASE. I know because I have one, too, and I have been to treatment, finished treatment, and now I’m looking beyond treatment because even though I almost never make myself throw up anymore, I have some questions to answer for myself about how to find the spot in my health where I feel comfortable — my medium.
An eating disorder is not the golden ticket to thinness, and thinness doesn’t necessarily signal a disordered eater.
I’ve been a thin bulimic, and I’ve been a fat bulimic. I was equally as broken at both ends of the spectrum. I felt as much like a failure at 140 pounds as I did at 240. Don’t assume the heavy folks in your life think your “eat a sandwich” jokes about skinny people are as hilarious as you do. You never know which of them may be living the same struggle and feeling even worse about themselves. At the end of the day, normal eaters may not be able to fully empathize with anorectics, but at least it makes sense — you poison your relationship with food, you get thin.
Putting all that effort into an eating disorder just to stay fat? Now that’s crazy.