A long time ago, this blog became a little less about homesteading, and a lot more about who I am and what I stand for. Today moreso than before.
I’m writing this for myself, for my family, for my friends- and anyone else who is sharing in this struggle.
Give me a second. I don’t have anorexia nervosa- that is, I don’t have a body dysmorphic disorder. I don’t think I’m fat. I don’t desire to be thin. I don’t not eat on purpose.
Anorexia is a stress-induced eating disorder. People like myself who have anorexia are so stressed out that they feel like they can’t eat without throwing up, and may throw up if they try to eat, even if they don’t want to be sick. Telling signs of anorexia include not realizing how little one is eating, or thinking they’re eating more than they are, perhaps even lying about how much they’ve eaten or not, not realizing about how much weight they’ve lost, making excuses for eating habits or weight loss, eating rituals, binge eating, etc. Anorexia can also be a medical condition- people going through chemo can have anorexia because they’re too sick to their stomach to eat.
The eating rituals are my dead giveaway. I’m not going to go into detail too terribly, but I rarely eat in front of anyone that isn’t close to me, and for the most part, I consume the majority of my calories between 4pm and midnight because I’m too nervous to eat all day.
I have a lot of reasons to have out of control stress levels, all of which are understandable, but none of which are healthy. I have severe PTSD and panic attacks from being a domestic violence and sexual assault survivor. I also have caregiver burnout from caring for two special needs children. The result is fibromyalgia, which causes chronic pain and fatigue, which makes me unable to work, and therefore is coupled with financial stress. It’s a vicious circle.
I first started noticing how little I’ve eaten when I was working a few years ago, and took a photo of me in my work attire. I realized how much weight I’ve lost and how gaunt I was. But when I went to get help, I was branded as just being a little stressed out, because most physicians don’t understand the difference between anorexia and anorexia nervosa.
Twenty pounds (yes, you read that right), four pants sizes, and an entire pregnancy later, I realized things had gotten a bit out of hand. I’m disappointed at how many doctors and councilors I’ve seen who didn’t take me seriously when I addressed this issue. In fact, one doctor told me that I “looked ideal”, with a BMI of 19. I wonder if I’d look ideal if my hair started falling out…
And yet, it feels out of control. I often stand in the kitchen gazing into the refrigerator and cupboards, gagging at the thought of tasting any of their contents. It takes an hour of yoga twice a day to get lunch and dinner in me, I’m so tense. I try to take afternoon naps, and unless I’ve taken something to sleep, I’ll lay there, eyes glued to the ceiling, thinking of everything known to man.
That feeling, as a rollercoaster dips over the crest, plummeting downward- that’s what I wake up with, and live with all day long.
Can we also just take a second to point out how there’s no room for self-love and weight GAIN in American culture? I get it- two thirds of Americans are overweight and half of those are obese. But what about the other third? I GET that we are an air-brushed culture, socially accepting of skinny-bashing, and “real women” foodies. Every vegan blog I look at seems to be aimed at perfectionism and weight loss- oil banning, sugar banning, refined foods banning, exercise pushing chronic dieters.
I just want to saute my onions and garlic in olive oil and use Daiya cheese instead of making my own fat-free version. I want simplicity. I want to eat and feel good about it without the shame of having the audacity to be thin and eat whatever I want.
I want to eat and feel good.
So what can be done? Well, first and foremost, therapy. Done and done. It’s an ongoing process.
But I also wanted to share my thoughts on strategies for other people who are struggling, and the people around them. The people around me.
So if you’re a fellow anorexic, this is what I think we should do:
Get therapy. Be honest.
Allow yourself to eat whatever you want, as long as it’s food. Not booze.
Double everything and butter everything. Screw food rules. Stop making food rules. Cake for breakfast. Extra salt. Extra sugar.
Take time every day to try to relax. You will suck at this for awhile. But it gets easier. Everyone has their thing. Mine is Youtube.
Try to care about your appearance, even if it’s basic. File your nails. Comb your hair. Go to the dentist. Worry less about your baggy clothes.
Keep your bigger clothes, but go buy clothes that fit that make you feel good.
I bought a full length mirror- it has been helpful to see my entire body, and to notice both positive and negative changes.
Buy yourself snacks. Stick them in your car, purse, backpack, nightstand, and office desk.
Keep a food diary and take pictures. I have had a lot of luck with a program called myfitnesspal.com. Actually using measuring utensils to measure your food could be a good idea if that feels like a safe choice.
Lay off the caffeine- it’s an appetite suppressant and amps you up.
Drink plenty of water. If you can’t stomach food, try to keep your blood sugar levels even through juice or a sweetened drink, because once they plummet, you’ll feel woozy. Avoid soda because its also an appetite suppressant.
Practice mindfulness. Meditate. Listen to music. Journal.
That’s all I got so far. Now for the part that means the most to me.
For family, friends, and supporters:
1. Don’t talk about it. Eating disorders already consume the people who suffer from them, adding to their anxiety. If they want to talk about it, let them broach the subject. If you’re concerned, ask them when a good time to talk about it would be. Try to be careful about your comments. Don’t minimize the situation, but don’t try to be their hero. I can’t stress that enough- DO NOT TRY TO TAKE CONTROL OF THE PERSON OR THEIR EATING HABITS. It has the opposite effect. Leave it to the professionals, and support their healthy decisions.
2. Don’t make excuses for them. There’s no legitimate or healthy excuse for not eating. It’s ok to have empathy. Not sympathy.
3. Don’t make judgements about food or eating. If you see them eating an entire bag of chips, say nothing. It would be incorrect to say, for example, “Couldn’t you eat something healthier?” or “Are you really going to eat all that?” If you want to say something supportive, say, “I’ve had those before, they’re good,” or, “If you’re hungry, maybe you should eat something WITH that,” (like something healthy like an orange, for example). Careful with that last one.
4. Don’t take food from them, even if they offer it- which they will. Infamous lines of an anorexic- “I’m so full, I can’t eat these last few bites,” as they push their plate towards you and say, “Do you want the rest?” Say, “No- but you should eat those last few bites before you start to feel full! You can eat them! You don’t want them to go to waste…” This is NOT the same as pushing food, which can have a backlash effect. Saying things like “Eat THIS” or “You should eat x” will stress someone out due to the pressure.
5. Don’t make negative comments about their body, even if it might seem complimentary, i.e. “You’re getting so thin!” Instead, try to comment on their positive attitude, their vibrancy, alertness, or patience. “That’s cute, is that a new outfit?” is pretty benign.
6. DO lead by example- so if you’re hungry and having a snack, ask them if they’re hungry or want a bite. Don’t show disdain if they refuse, or lecture them. Shrug it off. Anorexics usually have no idea how long it’s been since they’ve last eaten or if they’re even hungry.
7. Don’t lecture- listen. You’re not their therapist. This is a long long healing process that won’t be fixed overnight. Instead, offer to listen to them vent, or help them do something that makes them feel good.
8. Don’t shame. Anorexics are largely closeted because of shame, which only makes it worse. Instead, be supportive of their journey, and recognize their milestones. If you notice them gaining weight, don’t compliment the weight, compliment on the success of taking care of themselves.
9. Do what you can to help minimize their stress. This could be anything from helping them run errands, listen to them vent, or help them do something that will inevitably help them relax, like going to a yoga class or watching a funny movie. Ask them what THEY want, don’t tell them what they need.
10. Help them laugh at the things that bother them without invalidating them. If an anorexic says they’re stressed out because they don’t like the way any of their clothes fits anymore, depending on your relationship with them, it might be ok to say, “Well, if you donate them, some poor person will be STYLING!” or even, “At least you have room for a food baby!” This example is particularly true for people who do NOT have a body dysmorphic issue. I often joke about how I have a hollow leg or how I have to make double platefulls of food because my son grazes off it.
So this is my coming out, this is my journey, and this is my heartache. Thanks for listening <3