“Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.” Except when your answer to being skinny is rooted in self-hate and starvation. Then skinny feels exhausting, then skinny feels weak and lethargic, then skinny feels like you can’t think straight, then skinny feels alone because in order to make up for the meal you ate today, you have to spend 4 hours on an elliptical, instead of going out with your friends. That is what “skinny” felt like to me. A quote revered by many in the pro-anorexia community, I used to repeat this over and over in my head, when it became especially difficult to resist food because of my extreme hunger. No matter how many times I said this, no matter how many times I did refuse food and lose weight, it did not promise me the freedom I desperately sought for. What is freedom when you have to run to the bathroom to throw up the food you’ve just eaten? Not caring if anyone can hear you. What is freedom when you have to calculate how many cough drops you’ve had in a day to soothe your aching throat? What is freedom when you pass up things you used to enjoy because you’re past your calorie allotment for the day and you know you can’t be in any place with food because you can’t handle temptation? What is freedom when you have to weigh yourself multiple times a day? What is freedom when all you feel is pain? When starving yourself doesn’t make you feel better but worse? With my journey to freedom, I only became more limited.
From the time we are born, we are inundated with pervasive messages about food, shape, and weight, and we believe them. In order to be attractive, you need to be thin. In order to be happy, you need to be thin. In order to be successful, you need to be thin. THIN is the answer to it all. It is the remedy for low self-esteem and feelings of unworthiness. These are all myths! It is the belief in these myths that will perpetuate your disorder. From a young girl who loved life, enjoyed food, looked forward to when I could go to my grandmother’s house and eat rice and beans that tasted like no other, my relationship with food became steeped in guilt. It was no longer a source of energy and fuel to me, but a system of bartering and balancing. One misstep, a few calories over my allotment meant not eating the next day, meant working out double, meant throwing up foods I was not “allowed” to have. You pay for what you eat quite literally. There was always a cost simply by just eating. In my mind, eating was earned, not deserved. Full of confusion and resentment, a jumble of self-destructive thoughts and animosity, I took even more drastic measures to quiet the voice in my head that said I didn’t deserve to eat. Losing weight became my sole purpose for existence. I gave it more of a place in my life than it ever deserved to have. Think about how important losing weight, being thin has become to you. If all the energy you have is solely devoted to losing weight, what does the rest of your life look like? Have you accomplished anything else? Or has this kept you from achieving what you truly want? Maybe all you want is to be thin and then what? A therapist I had once asked me, “Did it somehow gain more space than it was entitled?” Years later, that has stuck with me ever since, because I know the answer is yes.
Think about your life currently. All the things you want to do, all the places you want to travel to, all the foods you want to try one day. Is your eating disorder keeping you from doing those things? With the current state of the world, we are limited in what we can do at the moment, but what about when this is over? This will be over soon and I want you to remember that this is only temporary. So when restrictions lift and we are able to return to school/work, will you still feel limited in what you want to do and achieve? Think of the negative impact your eating disorder has created in your life. Think about where it gets in your way. Think about the effect it has on your loved ones, on your physical and mental health. It may be difficult to consider how it has affected you and the people around you. I acknowledge this. Maybe the very thought of how it has changed your life feels like it’s too much to bear. When you have been stuck in the same mindset for so long, it is hard to recognize how it has impacted you negatively. If you feel this resistance, push past it and reflect on your worst days with your eating disorder. The times you’ve felt anxious around food, the times you’ve felt weak, the times where you’ve studied for a test or tried reading something and literally could not concentrate or make sense of the words because you felt like your brain was in a fog. These are all symptoms of starvation, deprivation, and malnutrition, signs your body is not getting what it needs. Consider all of these things and get curious about how you truly want to live your life.
Now that you have looked at your eating disorder in a different way, does this align with what you want out of life? Be explicit in what you want. If your eating disorder has kept you from achieving those goals and dreams, it may be time to change some of your behaviors. Do not think of it as giving up, rather letting go of the hold it has over you, letting go of the negative emotions that are tied to this, letting go of all the restrictions and limitations your eating disorder has put you under. This did not come out of nowhere and it did not happen overnight. In ways, you have developed your eating disorder to protect you from something else. It may make you feel safe, calm even. However, the very thing you have resorted to for comfort, is now harming you. These behaviors may have made you feel special, may have made you feel in control, may have made you feel like you could finally be “good enough”. Maybe you have used your eating disorder to understand yourself better, to find out who you are and be comfortable with that person. You may have not even realized how much you have used this to cope with other experiences in your life. If you suffer from a restrictive eating disorder, you may have viewed your body in relation to everything else by understanding it through food rules and over-exercise, it may have felt like the only way to feel good about yourself. But is that truly the only way to feel worthy, to deprive your body of the very thing you need to survive? Does that make sense to you? Or could you challenge those views in some way and allow yourself other possibilities? Appreciating your body will take you a lot further than punishing it will. This has warped your sense of self and has tied it to the superficial. Is that how you want to define yourself? Through your appearance? Not the way you make people feel? Not the way you are caring, or funny, or an intelligent person? Where do those go on the list? Are those not important to you?
The eating disorder makes you think the only thing important about you is how well you can restrict, how many hours you devote to exercise. Look at all the accomplishments you’ve had in life in the body you have right now, were they not achieved whether you weighed x amount of pounds or not? Was weight a contributing factor in any of those accomplishments? There is more than just one way of doing things, there is more than just one way to view and value yourself that does not include appearance. Not saying that it shouldn’t be on the list at all, but it should not take precedence over everything else. Is it a body size that draws people to you or something else about you? Still, the eating disorder voice is loud. It is powerful and relentless and it’s not going to give up without a fight. “How will you ever feel attractive? Admired? Special? Safe? Powerful? Proud? How will you ever feel accomplished again? If you don’t workout for hours a day, use laxatives, purge, etc., you will get fat. You will gain so much weight. Starving is the only way to achieve the level of thinness you want.” Your eating disorder thrives off of your fears and insecurities, it is entrenched in them. The fear of not being good enough, the fear of failure, the fear of gaining weight, all of these fears keep you stuck.
In order for you to be ready to change, you first need to acknowledge what this has done for you. What purpose has this eating disorder served in your life? It may be difficult to think of it in that way. However, it has served some purpose or else you wouldn’t have developed an eating disorder in the first place. Maybe this has become a coping mechanism for you. Feeling bad about yourself? Start losing weight. Count calories and you won’t feel stressed, worried, or guilty. Not feeling like you are unique? Starving yourself is a special skill that not everyone can do. This is your talent, this sets you apart from everyone else. Now you can compete, no need to feel inferior, you can be the thinnest now. The eating disorder voice acts as if it has an answer for everything, as if all of your problems can be solved by losing weight. This is magical thinking. No matter how much you weigh, you will encounter problems and if anything an eating disorder just creates more. Even though it has served some purpose, think of the pain it has caused you. Think of when you may have gotten to a goal weight and still felt no different about yourself. How defeating it is to sacrifice so much for so little in return. As difficult as it may be to acknowledge these things, you can work to change these thoughts. Disrupt this thinking pattern because you are just enough as you are, despite the voice you hear that tells you you’re not. “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.” Except skinny is not a feeling. The feelings most of us are truly trying to obtain are happiness, peace, joy, love, acceptance. Those feelings can all be achieved without the need to be “skinny”.