Tag Archive: Anorexia Explained


The following post is something I already published on a different blog. Call me lazy, but sometimes I’ve simply explained something as well as I can. No point reinventing the wheel, right?

Anorexia is a shapeshifter of an illness, deceptive in more ways than amyone could imagine. Don’t be fooled by the media perspective. Although anorexia makes its victims LOOK the same, the ways in which it infects each person, the periods of infliction and the ways it gets into someone are never the same. 

As some readers may know, I’m in a ten bed specialist unit and each person here carries their very own strain of Anorexia. 

Ive always been a fan of analogy. What follows is the story of how the illness got to me…

A small, blue clad child stands in the grey playground; back turned from her playmates; tiny hands pressed tight against her eyes as she chants numbers in a voice higher than it is loud.

Behind her, a group of dishevelled children move with silent, exaggerated care; the thrill of tension bursting from concentrated rosebud lips and then, delicious stifled screams as the blue child swings round, sudden and bellowing and the clenched stealth and stillness break, pouring a cool, white rush of pure delight over each small figure, even as they fight to keep the tension in their form.

Grandmother’s Footsteps.

The aim of the game was for the players to manage to creep up behind the person who is ‘it’ without being seen to be moving. ‘It’ could turn around at any point and the other players would have to instantly freeze. Those who were still moving when ‘it’ turned around were immediately sent back to the starting line.

Why am I writing about an old playground favourite?

You may well ask.
And quite simply, it is what came to mind when a despairing loved one asked me how on earth it got to this point.
Perhaps Anorexia’s approach is different for an adolescent or college student, perhaps it walks with a different gait, I can’t really speak for others. I can barely even trace its steps towards me. What I do know is that the illness wears many masks and easily poses as the smallest giggling schoolgirl until you turn away, reassured that it isn’t getting any closer.

For a 31 year old woman, Anorexia began as a wonderfully refreshing experience of exercising after giving up smoking. It’s steps were light, triumphant and exciting. Continuing to feel healthy, my body began to tone up and I lost a few pounds.
It doesn’t hurt to cut out a few foods in the name of being healthy, right?
Less bread, less cheese, less meat, less pasta.
Next time I checked behind me, Anorexia was a few steps closer and although a part of me knew it, another part didn’t really believe it would be interested in me. I was too old for that sort of thing. I was too ‘sensible’, too grounded, too self aware.
I turned my back.

No red meat. Only a few mouthfuls of pasta or rice. No bread. No cheese.
I swung round. Anorexia froze. I couldn’t tell if it had moved or not.
No meat. No carbs. No dairy.
Low calorie fish, salad leaves, fruit and water.
And where once I thought 6 stone would never be possible, now I dream of 5 and a half.

And Anorexia is playing. Oh definitely. It’s creeping now and it’s not bothering to freeze and I’m not bothering to turn my back.

Its steps, so quiet and so disguised at the start, are heavy and quite careless.

I can no longeer stop them in their tracks by turning around. I can’t make the fearless freeze.

Now my mind is full of the footprints and although I know tracks can be covered over, I’m not sure how and so the game has become a dance. My shapeshifting partner, both a close friend and a worst enemy, simultaneously giving and stealing life. One moment its steps bring elation, the next, bottomless despair. One day I dance with fluid grace, the next with lead-soled boots.
One thing I do know is that in reality, Anorexia Nervosa is about as much of a game as Russian Roulette. It has a higher incidence of death than any other mental illness and has clamied countless lives over the years.  Treatment is more effective the earlier the illness is caught but getting GPs to to take it seriously can be a problem (though why this is still the case, I don’t know).  You would think that in today’s social climate, any hint of onset of Anorexia, Bulimia or any other ED would be treated as serious enough to warrant immediate intervention. 

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It was clear from an early age that I wasn’t ever going to make a scientist. Certainly, the most memorable things from my physics lessons involved throwing wet paper towels at each other, and the time when I fell off my stool because Leon Kavanagh pushed me too hard.

It’s really Mr Thomas that I blame for my ignorance on the topic of magnetic force. He had bad breath and liked to lean over your shoulder to illustrate his point. Awful as it is to conform to the stereotype of the bored teenager, surely it’s even more awful to conform to that of the fairly greasy, and very definitely sleazy, Physics teacher!  All this to excuse myself for what follows; a very unscientific reference to a very scientific process.

It’s possible that if you belong to a certain generation, you’ll have had one of those arched magnets lying around the garage. You know the ones… a U – shaped piece of metal coated, in part, with bright red plastic.bare magnet

I loved ours. My dad’s. As a kid, I’d be content to mess about with it, trying to get to that point where I could move the screws / nails without the magnet actually picking them up. You know THAT point? What was it that was SO satisfying about THAT point?!

Anyway. The magnet is something I often refer to when I’m attempting to explain something about the nature of Anorexia and, moreover, the PURPOSE that it serves. Because it does HAVE a purpose. And just because there may be no apparent reason why a person is dogged with this illness, doesn’t mean that it’s a completely random occurrence.

Although I am writing mainly about Anorexia Nervosa, sufferers with other eating disorders will identify with the fact that before they even had a hint of their illness, they were chronically anxious. In my own experience, I had suffered with almost crippling anxiety and panic attacks for many years before Anorexia hijacked my brain. I have heard so many other patients refer to their inability to manage everyday anxieties, stories of phobias, extreme panic, fear.

Whether it was recognised in childhood or not, I would hazard a guess that it is actually an anxiety disorder, generalised or specific, that underpins Anorexia.

And so, a sort of Anorexic blueprint, is born.

The child who is very frightened about being left alone to survive in the playground; the one who studies to be the best and so is the best and then lives in fear of not being able to keep being the best; the person at work who is held up as being exemplary, and is terrified of being ‘found out’ because he or she has no self belief and feels like a fraud. Anxiety. Anxiety. Anxiety.

You may be reading this and identifying the fact that this is something we ALL experience. Perhaps it is… but everybody manages their fears in different ways, and Anorexia, whilst still being a severe and enduring illness, often begins as a means for managing fear.

Imagine a tabletop covered in iron filings. Horrible little bits of grey, scattered all over  Try to scoop them up and they go everywhere…

Now imagine that each of the filings is a different ‘free floating’ fear.iron_filings copy

So many different things to cope with, too many. It’s all very out of control and you can’t rest because you’re in a constant state of hyper alertness; a state where heightened anxiety is natural because everything, EVERYTHING feels like a bit like a threat… a challenge… The filings don’t shift, if anything, they seem to multiply.

Anorexia is a magnet.

And it’s bigger than anyfilings drawn to magnetthing else.

And it’s really powerful.

Due to a force that I should at least have some understanding of (but don’t because I didn’t bother in my Physics lessons) the filings are immediately drawn to it as it hovers over the tabletop, sucking up every little shred of metal.

It’s what Anorexia does. All the individual anxieties stick to it…. fuse with it… until, one day, they don’t really exist any more and all that’s left is the illness. One giant entity. One focus. One fear.

That of never being able to be thin enough.

Simple?

Yeah. About as simple as physics.

The hardest thing is the terrible realisation that you’re not holding the magnet any more and that it, in itself, is far, FAR stronger than you; As if somehow, cruelly, the incorporation of all those little grey shards, has strengthened the force that then turns on the sufferer him/herself and begins to diminish them.