Tag Archive: Defining Anorexia Nervosa


Despite almost never writing these days, I am still here and I still have the DESIRE to write, just not the accompanying drive to action. However, I find myself here with minutes to spare and the determination to put something down.

Because it’s important.

To be fair, I know I’m over reacting, which, naturally, doubles my irritation, but it would seem that I’m not beyond being stung by a throwaway comment. Damn.

I’m angry and frustrated with myself. Even more so because I should be better… and bigger… and past it… and all those things that I expect of myself. Obviously, I am not as immune or as desensitised (read: ‘protected’) as I think.

I spent a lovely weekend with old friends. It’s the first time I’ve made a reunion in a long time, and I’m so glad I went. Earlier, I was showing my youngest sister some photos and happily telling her about it, until she asked if everyone had been understanding of my… condition. Well. They were, yes.

I mean, my old friends from way back. They knew me pre illness. They know me. They love me.

Just one teeny statement though, managed to blow a hole in my surface.

“It is a choice. Anorexia IS a choice”

No it’s not.

“It is”

What do you say?

Even a few minutes walking round some rock pools don’t elicit any responses. An unexpected shot. And yeah… I have to admit, I was a little wounded.

So this is my belated response.

I’ll tell you what’s really weird… and not to be written lightly… When someone suffers with Anorexia, it can be so acute, and so very life changing, that it appears odd that it remains something ‘in the abstract’. For example, despite the knowledge that Anorexia is a MENTAL illness, if a radiologist did a brain scan, a patient with an eating disorder (and maybe their loved ones) might almost expect to see large shadows obliterating whole sections of their brain. (Nowadays of course, neuroscience and improving technology seem to be making it possible to identify all sorts of quirks and trends in the structure of the brain). But for most of us who battle this dominant demon of hunger, it remains an imagined shadow, or a toxic spillage seeping into hidden cranial cavities. Of course it won’t show up on a scan. It’s too deadly for that.

I KNOW it’s different. I know it can be a temporary coping mechanism for some, and yes it can be something of a cry to be heard, or even a teenage tantrum for a minority, but for many of us, Anorexia is as impossible to CHOSE as meningitis is to contract. You just wouldn’t think to announce to someone with brain cancer that their illness is a choice. I KNOW it’s “not the same… yade dade yada…” but I’m telling you, this thing that plagues me… this THING that has destroyed a whole decade of my life, isn’t a matter of choice. It’s an illness. As present and as torturously painful as anything physical.

Eating disorders can’t just be selected and applied. They begin so small that they’re invisible; and by the time they’re making changes to your body, they’re bedded down hard.

Choice DOES come into it. But not there.

I’ll tell you where next time.

In the meantime, telling your sick friend that they chose their illness, is as helpful as a kick in the teeth.

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There can’t be many instances where your loved ones raise a glass to toast your  mental torment but then again. there probably aren’t that many cases where eating a beef sandwich is an achievement worthy of celebration.

Perhaps those in the loop will actually understand the bizarre situation I’m writing about, but if you’re a ‘normal’ person, you might struggle.

Wait..! Did I just use the term ‘normal’?

I can hear some of the cries of protest. “…But there’s NO SUCH THING AS NORMAL…” Protestations jet from all corners of the philosophical, semantic and *wince* pedantic realm. No such thing. Everyone’s weird. Everyone’s normal. There IS no normal.

But there IS. There IS in the tangled, screwed up world of we Eating Disorder folk. If you disagree, you might want to read on because I’m going to tell you about what normal is, often by arguing the case for what it’s not.  (If that goes over your head, don’t waste mental energy on it. Reading on will give you a clearer idea.)

“Normal” is our friends who happily pick a sandwich in a deli without an onslaught of mathematical conundrums running riot in their brain. “Normal” can actually have ANY kind of drink they like without even a whisper of a ‘value for calories’ haunting their thoughts.

Normal can choose food to satisfy their taste buds and not to keep them as light as possible. Normal doesn’t even think twice about adding one extra raspberry to their (carefully weighed) bowl of lowest calorie cereal.

Normal doesn’t consider black coffee a ‘snack’ or stir-fry an indulgent meal. It wouldn’t cast a suspicious eye over the size of a tangerine, or swear that an apple has the potential to be fattening. Nor would it question the amount of calories / fat / carbohydrate in a carrot. It wouldn’t distrust the carefully stated amounts of these ‘anorexic-life-threatening’ printed on each product, or regard cauliflower as an enemy to be avoided at all costs.

You see..?

Normal doesn’t experience eating as a trigger for a sort of inexplicably acute mental pain. It doesn’t really begin to understand that ‘food’ is merely an assortment of numbers. (Despite our health conscious Food Standards people’s best efforts!) It doesn’t ‘get’ that a carrot is 35, a berry, 2 and if you throw in a spoonful of yoghurt you’ve exceeded the limit. (Scrape half away, then share some with the sink…)

Normal might be conscious of the numbers, but it’s not ruled by them. It doesn’t carefully bite each Malteser in half to ensure it has exactly half the stated amount. It doesn’t have to ignore the body’s cries for rest in order to complete the requisite amount of high intensive ‘burn off’ exercises before or after a calculated amount of food.

Normal doesn’t FEEL fat growing ON them if they eat something frightening. It doesn’t feel the rush of shame and disgust if they slip up and allow too much food to enter the forbidding mouth. It won’t suffer an onslaught of blind fear, the compulsion to induce vomiting or crapping or even the wild urge to cut fat OFF any given part of themselves.

I realise there are degrees of ‘normal’; a continuum even. This illness, any Eating Disorder, defies all concept of normality and in doing so, isolates sufferers in a sadistic and divisive way.

As someone who, for almost thirty years, was pretty ‘normal’ about food, I feel somewhat justified, perhaps even qualified, to attempt to explain that there really IS such a thing as ‘normal’ in the world I, and so many others, inhabit.

The next nine years of my life have literally been stolen from me.

I find it incomprehensible that for almost three decades, I could actually EAT a meal without attaching any feelings or significance to the food at all. Nor can I recall how I might have RELISHED the chance to actually SIT DOWN and watch a whole film without the raging impulse to burn off calories, the torture of that insane edict.

It’s too hard to properly explain how Anorexia has unpicked and rewoven my ‘normality’, but I hope, in some small way, I’ve conveyed the havoc it wrecks upon its victims, some too young to ever have experienced the luxury and freedom of normality

I hope these descriptions may bring some small solace to those who don’t feel understood and information for those who want to understand.

There’s no such thing as normal, but there is ‘abnormal’, and this illness is one example of that.

Someday, I hope to eat again, with the freedom of that first part of my life.

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Doesn’t do a lot for my point, but I do love a bit of Edward Monkton…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Redefining ‘Normal’

ribsAnorexia Nervosa: A disease which manifests in the relentless starvation of the body and the mind; a denial of a basic human need; a refusal to satisfy the gnawing hunger for nutrition.

It never ceases to amaze me then, how an illness defined by such dreadful starvation, manages to devour so much.

And make no mistake, whilst the body turns to bone and the organs starve to standstill, Anorexia is eating.

It eats your flesh and then gnaws at the bone. It sucks on your brain until your mind is an empty city, a fragile ruin where thoughts move slowly and decisions make tears.

It devours your life, your work, your relationships; chews up the potential for a future and spits it out in a dark mess of would have beens and might haves.

It feeds on the hearts of your loved ones; a painful suckling in the darkness of the night, a sharp breaking away in the cold light of the morning.

Like a parasite, it swells and fattens as its cotton – mouthed host withers.

And it only stops, when it has eaten everything; from the body, to the life, to the dreams of its victim.

You won’t find this definition of Anorexia in the BMJ, or the DSM or the ICD.

But I swear, this is one of the truest definitions and criterion you’ll find.