Beyond The Scales

Eating disorders are about  more than just weight. They’re  about control, perfectionism, boundaries, families and emotions.  They  represent a way of thinking and relating, both to yourself and to others. Recovery therefore, isn’t just a matter of BMI. It means challenging long-held beliefs – e.g; that life can be seen in terms of black and white. That emotions are bad and sharing them makes you a ‘burden’.  That control means safety.

Anorexics for example, are often far more focused on making plans, getting things right and getting things perfect, than other people.  They find it difficult to live in the moment or let go of mistakes.  They can quickly become obsessive and value routine and familiarity.  They often have very little sense of self and look to others for affirmation and identity. In some cases their eating disorder is what gives them identity – they want to be free of it, but are terrified of or unable to imagine who they are without it.

I was first diagnosed with anorexia when I was about 13 and struggled with it for the next four or five years.  Although by 18 I’d  recovered physically, I found that psychologically I was at the same stage as I’d been when the disorder began.  My emotional development had been frozen.

For me, anorexia worked by sublimating other fears into the desire to be thin.  But instead of dealing with those fears, it just smothered them temporarily.  As my eating habits normalised, they resurfaced. Getting better meant facing them and covering the emotional ground I’d lost. That was just as scary as gaining weight – but much more difficult to explain.  I looked better – and older – on the outside. But internally, the emotional battle was just beginning.

From the outside, though, what was everyone thinking?  Phew!  I’m so glad all those difficult struggles are over.  The scales are right, everything’s fixed.

Can you see a problem here?

2 thoughts on “Beyond The Scales

  1. So very true that as we begin to look ‘better’ that that battle is just beginning. I think that this is perhaps the most dangerous thing about the popular belief that eating disorders are all about the pursuit of the thin ideal. Support drops off once some weight is restored, but it I’d often only post weight restoration that we have the capacity to begin to deal with some of the emotional baggage. It also means that people often feel like they need to get worse to get better, because they cannot access services until they hit a sufficiently low weight.

    I find it so disempowering when people don’t ask how I am, but look at me and state ‘you’re looking really well’. Sometimes I feel like screaming and shouting in reply – ‘I’m not actually doing so well. I’m fighting the desire to swallow a bottle of pills and never wake up. It’s taken all my energy to get dressed an turn up here today and you assuming how I am is not making it any better.’ But of course I don’t say anything. I smile and nod and say thanks whilst trying to just keep breathing, knowing that this moment will pass.

  2. Hi M

    Yes, can really identify with all you’ve said. I guess it’s hard for others to know what to say. They want to be encouraging – but sometimes it feels like you’re going mad because you look one way and feel the opposite. It can also make you feel even more alienated from your body than usual..!

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