By Adam Stephens
Content Warning: This article discusses issues relating to eating disorders.
In an odd way, I discuss my body and eating disorder all the time. When I talk to someone about not having a sweet tooth as a result of declining something, my disorder has deemed to look too good for me. When I have to argue the case for brown rice over white rice because my disorder thinks that if I eat white rice I’ll put on an ‘immoral’ amount of weight – this one also applies to sweet potatoes over potatoes, oatmeal over coco pops and broccoli over literally anything else. Please, anything else.
It’s also there when I ask someone if I look different from the day before because my disorder thinks, on balance, I probably do. Almost every day I tell people about the restrictions the disorder imposes, the self-deprecating judgement it provokes and the mental damage it causes.
Why don’t all these people ask me if I need help? Partly because I’ve probably already told them that I can (probably and reliably) eat three apples in under two minutes; how can someone so accomplished require assistance? It’s mainly because no-one can see the disorder, yet everyone can see a person laying out a comprehensive, occasionally brutally personal, but always evidence-based argument for brown rice’s sovereignty over the grains.
Why don’t I tell people it’s the disorder talking and not me, apart from it meaning I’d lose my debating street cred? It’s the same reason I have had to look back over this to change when I have put ‘my disorder’ to ‘the disorder’. THE disorder has a voice and it sounds like mine but more abusive. Irrelevantly but interestingly and definitely worryingly, it is also slightly but noticeably deeper. Despite its more favourable pitch, it is difficult to distinguish what the disorder is telling me and what I know to be true. The disorder, playing the role of me, makes me think that I need it because it has already made me think that if I give up control, I have failed.
Anything from asking for help to eating a biscuit is classed by the disorder as ‘giving up control’. The ironic reality is that I wouldn’t be giving up control; I’d be taking away power from the disorder. It doesn’t matter though because the essence of the disorder isn’t based in reality. It’s very post-modern like that.
Having a body and a eating disorder demands that you disconnect from reality to whatever extent the disorder progressively demands. You’re not allowed to see what’s really reflected back at you in the mirror. You’re not allowed to believe the compliments people give you. And you’re definitely not allowed to see any good in yourself. Not that there is any. Just if there were, the disorder wouldn’t let you see it. Not that there is anything to see.
Having a body and eating disorder also demands that I am always thinking about the rules my disorder has set. The disorder thinks that I shouldn’t be too small but I definitely shouldn’t be too big. Apparently, the entirety of that spectrum lies only a kilogram of bodyweight apart.
It is for this reason that I am so thankful for the incalculable numbers of websites telling me what I can and can’t eat, how I should be working out, and how I can look like Chris Hemsworth without the personal chef and trainer, 2-a-day individually designed workouts and genetics that just makes the laughter stop.
It should be said that I have never actually been diagnosed with a body or eating disorder. There is a formal diagnostic process and multiple inventories that can be filled out, and I have not done either of them. My therapist helps me with, what both of us intuitively refer to as, a body and eating disorder because body and eating disorders are undeniable. They demand to be recognised. Everything about them is abnormal; the rituals, the thought patterns, the obsessive behaviour.
As soon as a person with the disorder articulates what the disorder makes them constantly think, it is often unmistakably ridiculous. They demand to be recognised but they hate to be explained. That is why I decided to write this. I think that if I help to explain rather than indirectly discuss the disorder, maybe I can also take away some of its power rather than give it control.
Image: Utsman Media via Unsplash