The current trend is for everyone to say that anorexia isn’t ‘about the food’. That’s what people say when they’re trying to sound knowledgeable and as though they have an insider perspective on what’s going on inside your head.
Personally – and you have every right to disagree with me – I think that it’s very important that we remember that anorexia is all about the food. And, not only is it all about the food, it’s all about the fear of gaining weight; the fear of fat, as well.
It’s very easy for me to say to people that my anorexia isn’t about the food. In fact, it’s preferable to make it sound that way because then – in my head at least – I don’t have to do the eating until I’ve sorted out the ‘actual’ problem, whatever I’ve decided that is. If you tell people you don’t have a fear of gaining weight then they take the focus off gaining weight and you take the focus off gaining weight and you focus on the other things that you have decided are the main problem and you don’t gain weight. And, in your head, you have ‘won’.
And what happens when you don’t gain weight?
You don’t get better.
It’s as simple as that.
I used to think that, if I changed my life significantly, I would recover without the need to think about the food and the eating and the weight. I tried lots of different things: moving out of my family home; moving back into my family home; knitting, exercising, making new friends, wearing different clothes, in the hope that one day I’d wake up and be cured, and it wouldn’t be about the food or the weight anymore and I could just pick up my life where I left off and carry on with enjoying cheese and fish and chips.
I’m not going to lie: it was a really painful learning curve, but I came to realise that it was never going to happen. I could change all the things I want but, until I focused on the food and the weight and the eating, and tried to learn how to do these things normally again, I’m wasn’t going to make any progress in getting better.
It was really painful. Really, really painful. It hurt so, so much to admit that I was frightened of food and I was frightened of weight-gain. It felt that I had to admit to myself – and to other people – that my body was my own and that the reason I was grossly underweight was not because my OCD was preventing me from eating; was not because my fear of sitting with other people was the reason that I refused to eat. It meant that I had to admit that I needed to change my body, and my eating habits, and stop hiding behind the things I had been telling people were my problems because they were good screens to hide behind; good ploys to use (in fooling myself and others) that other things had to be ‘sorted’ before I gained any weight.
It meant, perhaps most awfully, that I had to admit that I thought that allowing myself to have a normal body weight was far superior in my head to the thought of the people whom I love and care for being happy.
The weight did have to come first. The fear of gaining weight, and of becoming fat, did have to be admitted and faced up to and challenged and changed. I did have to stop being the frail, underweight whisper of a person that I was, and make myself eat the foods that I felt it was personally unacceptable for me to eat. And I certainly had to gain some weight.
And there was other stuff I had to sort out – there’s still other stuff that I have to sort out – but the weight had to come first. It just wouldn’t have happened any other way because there was no way I could have made any headway into recovery if I was still lying to myself about OCD and homesickness and feeling sick being my biggest problems when it was blatantly obvious that they were not.
And, do you know what? It was horrendously hard and painful, but the results are actually rather wonderful. I will probably never cease to marvel at the relative quiet inside my head, or the fact that I can join my family in dinner and actually enjoy myself and their company and the fact that I am beyond lucky to have them.
In the end, that it took being brutally honest was actually a ridiculously small price to pay.
I would like to add here that this is a very personal situation – it might not be the same for you – you might have other things going on that are a precursor to recovery. Please do not take this as anything other than my story.