Tag Archives: misconceptions

overeating and anorexia: a dialogue

“yes, it is possible to lose too much weight,” said joshua seth in one of his submissions to the carnival of eating disorders, talking about courtney love’s unfortunate adventures with all kinds of eating disorders.

my first reaction to this was, “well, yes, duh!” but then it got me to thinking. while we read and hear about anorexia in the media, like with many mental health issues, unless it’s in our face all the time, it’s actually not “duh”. it’s not self-explanatory.

there is an interesting dynamic that can take place between people who undereat and those who overeat.

“oh i wish i was skinny like you!” is something that people whose anorexia does not manifest in radical or overly visible weight loss often hear. hearing this can be crazy-making, because the cognitive-emotional reaction often goes in two opposite direction at once. one is a wistful, almost helpless “if only you knew that i’m not skinny-beautiful, that i’m skinny-sick”. the other is a prideful, judgmental, “it’s because i have discipline, you fat cow!”

once in a while it happens that two people at the opposite spectrum of eating disorders sit down and talk and realize that they have a lot in common: a constant preoccupation with food, body image and weight. not infrequently, it plays itself out in similar ways, for example, going to great lengths to avoid situations where certain types of clothing are worn (e.g. weddings, beach); not eating in public; excessive weighing; crushing feelings of guilt over every morsel that is eaten; an obsession with diets; an intense craving for junk food, etc.

and every once in a while, these conversations reveal that eating disorders are precisely not about what the preoccupations are about. a significant proportion of people with eating disorders suffer from depression and anxiety. somehow, at some level, food – eating or not eating it to excess – turned out to be a useful tool for coping with overwhelming thoughts and feelings. granted, at some point the coping mechanism doesn’t work anymore and then a person is burdened with the eating disorder on top of everything else. but that’s usually some time – even years – down the road because another common denominator of eating disorders, similar to drug use, often start out quite pleasant. for the person who eats too much, chocolate tastes good, and the one who doesn’t eat enough, knowing that a lowly feeling such as hunger can be beaten down and ignored can give a heady feeling for control.

“yes, it’s possible to lose too much weight” – and let’s add, it’s dangerous to do too much of a lot of things. one thing that we rarely do enough of, though, is talk to each other and share our experiences. and dialogues between overeaters and anorexics – there’s definitely not enough of that, and i honestly believe it would help everyone.

p.s. there is a movie about this topic, disfigured. i haven’t been able to get it yet but am looking forward to seeing it. anyone been to it yet?