There’s something I’ve been looking for in the books I read and the programs I watch on eating disorders. I devour this material with overly eager eyes. There is something in it that teaches me something very important about myself. There are echos of thoughts I have had myself and actions based on choices that are familiar and close. I want to figure it out and understand it and be free of it. Thin, by Grace Bowman just brought me several steps closer.
She begins by describing her life prior to anorexia. In the third person, she looks at herself from a distance.
She folds in her secret. She sits tight on the lid. And she tries, tries, tries to be the thinnest that she possibly can. The limits are gone. A world of eating-related happiness and unhappiness has opened up and swallowed her whole.
Then there are just tears. Endless streaming tears. There is not even any energy to push them out; they just fall out apathetically. And secretly, there is a sense of pride and accomplishment. She now has a title: she is real and authentic. If she was an anorexic, then she was going to be the best anorexic she could be.
Here is another tale of a descent into anorexia that began very simply. A small diet. A completely normal affair.
Parts of the book are separated by time. When she describes her past it is from afar and from a place of recovery. In the first person she analyzes herself through the all-seeing eye of hindsight. These are the parts I found most valuable.
Anorexia nervosa is not about stupidity or playing up; it is an expression of something else. The body becomes a symbol to try and put across that expression, whatever it may be. The body finds a language to discuss things which cannot be articulated, or which haven’t yet been acknowledged or explored
Anorexics come to the (wrong and misplaced) conclusion that their shape is their identity, and that it is their shape that controls their future. Of course, it does end up controlling their future, but in the most destructive and irreparable way.
Both of these sentiments echo strongly within me. I often feel a kinship with the expressions of those who have suffered from eating disorders. I don’t see it as a you have this or you don’t type of thing. I think many of us lie on the edges of it an although our expressions are not as extreme or destructive, they still aren’t quite normal or healthy. How many women do you know who seem to be completely at peace with their weight and food? I cannot think of one, including myself.
As Grace begins to try to recover, she talks about how difficult it is when everywhere around her, the world is obsessed with thinness, dieting, and nutrition. She finds herself surrounded by a society on a diet, women constantly picking at their bodies and trying to reduce their weight.
They talk about which diets they have tried, and their exercise regimes. I am an expert on this. Pick a celebrity woman and I will know what she does and doesn’t eat, and which parts of her body she does and doesn’t like.
That is the thing about anorexia; it uncomfortably reflects back society’s ideals gone wrong, the misshapen view that perfection and happiness are attainable through the body.
When you see an ad for a weight loss method, a common refrain is “I’ve got my life back!” As if weight were the only factor keeping life from balancing to perfect happiness and bliss. This is false. Weight is not the end all be all of happiness. The thin person is not necessarily happier than the heavy person. Yet we are taught to see it that way. Lose weight, live happily ever after.
It is almost openly acceptable to have an out-of-balance relationship with food and exercise, to be addicted to thinking about it, to be eating food or not-eating it. All of these addictions form their own set of internally constructed rules. We equate our success with what we weigh.
I would take the word “almost” out of that sentence. It IS acceptable to be out of balance about eating and weight. Reading this book reflected to me my own lack of balance.
No, I do not have an eating disorder. I am currently feeling as healthy about food as I ever have. But it has become a part of my life consumes me. I counted practically every calorie I ate for almost two years. I never went over my “RDI” for an entire year. It became easier to weigh and measure and record than not to do it. There was no more guessing. I took off the unhealthy weight and I created a much healthier body. Along the way, I created a much healthier mind. I found out that I could like myself even absent perfection. I realized I could be good enough just as I am. I stopped using food to numb my problems.
But I’m not all the way to where I’d like to be. I think about it too much. I’m caught up in it. I talk about it and think about it and write about it pretty much all day long. I am doing it right now. I know I can’t just not think about food anymore or I will end up right back where I was. I know that to maintain this, will require some attention to what and how much I eat for the rest of my life. But I need to find the balance again between doing this and the rest of life.
Half-way through reading this book, I stopped counting calories. I have a plan of action, which I will write about in my next post. But I am very thankful to this book for bringing some things to my attention.
Finally, I want to be a person someone like Grace could have looked to who does have a healthy and normal relationship with food and my weight. I don’t want to be one of the women she painfully listened to talking about eating or not eating this or that. There will be no more goal weights for me. My goal weight is the weight I am right now. I will live in my body as it is at this moment, in every moment.
This book was unusual in that at the end Grace seems to be fully recovered and sees everything with incredible clarity. It is her self-reflection that is most valuable.
It took me time to realize that my problems were not marginal, it took me time to realize that what I went through was not as obscure as people had made out. I stood back and started watching other people. I realized that my symptoms were just reflecting what a lot of people were doing at different levels, but somehow I had taken it to far, I had stepped over the boundary line. I was made aware that my problem needed attention, unlike the voices I hear of people who make themselves sick “once in awhile”, or don’t eat for a couple of weeks “here or there” , or who binge and then starve, but “get on with life”. These are the people who don’t make it to the categorization stage. who don’t get the “anorexic” or “bulimic” or “overeater” label, but who slide between controlled and uncontrolled and feel it is acceptable to do so. And they feel this because it is condoned, not only by outside forces, but from within us, from within our female communities. We take pride in our dieting achievement; we admire and are jealous of our friends’ self-control.