In the first part of this post, we talked about some of the most irrational aspects of eating disorders: the idea of perfection as thinness; how it messes up with our brains and makes us have absurd ideas; how it controls, twists and destroys every aspect of our life but we still think it’s fine; the rituals it forces us to follow, and its fixation with calories. Today, we’re going to explore some more… and see what we can do about them whether we’re in recovery from an ED or helping someone who is.
This is a clear example of the lack of rationality of eating disorders. The number that appears on the scale may say you’re malnourished, but what you see in the mirror is that you should get even thinner. That is, there’s a conflict between an objective reality and a subjective perception. Which one do you give more credence to? Bingo. And in modern times this has exacerbated because of the boom of subjectivism. Reality must not conditionate what one thinks anymore, but what one thinks is what constitutes reality. However, fortunately, some of us are still stopped in our tracks.
The greatly strong fear to get caught leads you to live in a constant state of paranoia and suspicion. This was what sadly lead me to throw my journal to a dumpster and stop writing for a while.
When my mother wasn’t at home and I threw out the food, I always used to think that in fact she could be pretending and be hidden in some place of the building. At one point I even suspected she could have installed hidden cameras. If I threw out things in the thrash bags of my building’s bins, I pushed them to te bottom in case she would check them (?), if it was in the street’s bins I used to go away from home in case she would look in the ones that were near.
Many times I couldn’t sleep thinking of the hidden food I had and if during the night she might search for it and find it. And I always had to be thinking of new excuses to justify everything I could get caught doing, how to explain that actually it all made sense and was not at all due to an ED.
Thinking you’re such a good liar
This leads me to the next point. In my fantasy, I was like a secret agent. I really believed no one was noticing, that my lies were very smart and my plans perfect. That I was more intelligent than my mother and all the doctors. That when I repeatedly stated that I was naturally so thin and that I didn’t eat many things because I didn’t like them, everyone believed it.
Now it makes me “laugh”, and I see that the only thing missing was carrying a poster announcing I had anorexia. Granted, this has to do with the distortion of body image: I couldn’t see how obvious it was. My body was that walking poster. So if you also think that you’re very smart and are tricking people, know you’re the one that’s being tricked by your disorder.
Being willing to do anything
An eating disorder also requires an irrational bonding. A steadfast loyalty. Never questioning what it tells you, and never putting anything above its demands. Never contrasting opinions with others or believing what professionals and scientific articles say. Being willing to lose everything: family, friends, health, studies, job and even life. It means selling your body, mind and soul. That’s why it’s very difficult to convince someone with an ED to choose recovery by threatening her with all the terrible consequences it can bring to her. It’s not as if she didn’t already know them. But for her there’s something greater than all of them. The best solution is to give that place of honor to Whom it rightly belongs: God.
One feature that makes you think the eating disorder is so rational and scientific is its fixation on numbers and calculations. It’s all based on a system of compensations between calories in and calories out. If one time you eat “too much”, you either restrict more the next time, or do more exercise (or some people purge).
However, it’s a system that’s full of holes. To start with, you’re always going to overestimate the food and underestimate the exercise, “just in case”. And one of my obsessions was to have a margin, that is, to always compensate a bit more and try to stay in a weight that was even lower than the one I wanted to be at (which was already very low), so if at some time I had to eat more or wasn’t able to do my workouts I would have enough margin. But those times never came and the margin kept increasing.
But, anyway, this system that seems scientific is not so, because our body doesn’t work like that. It’s not a machine, but an organism. It doesn’t get fatter if one day you eat more, it doesn’t get thinner if one day you eat less, and by no means it keeps account of what you did one month ago to compensate something you’re going to do today.
This is another big irrational paradox. You don’t care about your health, you’re ruining it and you know it but you proclaim nonchalantly that “being thin is more important than being healthy!” and “better to die skinny than to live fat!”. And, nevertheless, health influences you. When they say that people have to eat less and do more exercise, you feel you’re doing things right. I, in fact, used to feel healthy and strong when I worked out, as if it were good for my body, when actually it was eating itself, breaking my own muscles to obtain the energy it needed.
Flagrant contradiction with your values
The last great point of irrationality that I want to highlight is how your eating disorder can be in contradiction with all the rest of ideas you have; it’s basically as if you were living a double life, but in the moment you think it has nothing to do and it’s compatible. Therefore, you may love your family, but you don’t care that they suffer seeing you like this. You may value honesty in friendship, but you don’t care about constantly lying to everybody. You may, as in my case, be pro life and go to all the demonstration, while you’re treating your life as if it had no value. You may even (yes, as in my case too) want to fight against world hunger while you’re more malnourished than many of the people you want to help.
That’s why in recovery it’s so important to trust. The ED wants to make you believe that everyone is wrong except you, and therefore they’re all your enemies. It’s very difficult to accept that others’ criteria is the valid one, and what you think, feel deepest and even see with your own eyes, is false. And to take steps towards what they say it’s going to be the best but you see as your worst nightmare. But that’s why I like recovery stories. Because I used to think the same, and now I can tell you that trusting is worth it.
I also recommend to learn. Knowledge is power. Once you’re ready and it’s not triggering to you, try to learn about how our body works, metabolism, nutrition, etc. This has been very helpful to me so as not to get tricked by my thoughts. Like, ok, I may feel one thing, but I know the truth is this other thing.
And if you’re a loved one of a people with an ED or in recovery, I want to stress that it’s irrational. Therefore, I know you want to understand, but that’s not possible, because it doesn’t fit the logic of normal parameters of thinking. It’s not about understanding, but about embracing. Embracing that person with love, because no matter how controlled she is by the illness, deep down she’s still there.