Most people assume being free from Anorexia means one day I stopped berating myself for being fat and started to love my body. But I never thought I was fat. I never hated my body. It is a myth every person with an eating disorder has body dysmorphia. I was painfully aware of how thin–how emaciated–I was.
Anorexia is a mental illness basing itself in compulsive behaviours and food restriction.
Despite knowing how underweight I was, for 10 years I could not make the changes necessary for me to gain weight. The true torture of an eating disorder is the accompanying rituals nobody tells you about. Things such as OCD-like exercise, movement compulsions, and the routine surrounding eating times, structure, or the food you consume.
These rituals start off small and inconsequential, rapidly webbing outwards from there. Doing some extra exercise here, and consuming a little less food there. Another reason not to sit down and rest here; one less type of food I am allowed to eat there.
What began as a relatively simple and innocent 40-minute gym routine morphed into an involuntary 6-hour daily exercise compulsion. An innocent bid to lose 5lbs turned into an uncontrollable weight plummet, making me unrecognisable to my closest friends. How was I to know I had the genetic predisposition for Anorexia? I was unaware even a small amount of weight loss meant I would be caught in a downward spiral into the deadliest of all psychiatric illnesses.
If someone had told me, I would not have believed them. I would not have entertained the idea a body loving teenager could develop this illness in a matter of months. An illness often misunderstood as being about low self-esteem and an obsession with appearance.
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Anorexia is not about wanting to look good or body image.
This mental illness is the chameleon of all mental illnesses. It wears the symptoms society wants it to, presenting itself as a diet gone too far or a severe case of low self-esteem. In reality, it is neither of those things. It is a mental illness that has been killing people since the middle-ages.
Anorexia hides in virtue. It bases decisions on martyrdom, fooling the sufferer into believing their subsequent actions are logical. They are vacuuming the house every day because they want a clean house, not because it gives them an excuse to always be moving. I wasn’t eating that slice of birthday cake because it was bought from a store possibly using trans-fats and GMOs, not because it is full of calories and fat.
The greatest trick my eating disorder ever pulled was convincing me it didn’t exist.
Freedom from Anorexia is the ability to eat whatever I want when I want it.
But it is also so much more. It is the ability to watch a movie in the middle of the afternoon. In conversations with others, I am not preoccupied thinking about what I will eat or when I will exercise next. Instead, I am fully present with them. Sometimes, it is saying to a barista in a coffee shop “I have to have full-fat milk in my latte please.” It is the ability to be spontaneous rather than tethered to my rigid daily routines of work, housework, and exercise.
Freedom from Anorexia is knowing I have and will always have a mental illness, but recognising I have the power to manage it and to prepare for it, never allowing it to seep into a dominant position in my brain again.
Freedom from Anorexia is being able to pick the larger slice of cake. It is not about being guiltless in eating the cake as much as it is about knowing I am being vigilant in eating it, remaining free from the grips of starvation.
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