anorexia, appetites, and avoidance

gaining by aimee liu is a fascinating book. it’s about surviving anorexia and bulimia, and about and for survivors of these eating disorders. however, it’s so well written, and such a great mix of scientific information, journalism and autobiography, it would be a joy to read even for people who are not primarily interested in the topic.

one of the experts mentioned in the book is harvard psychiatrist david herzog. i was particularly intrigued by what he says about appetites – and he talks about appetites of all sorts, anything we might hunger, yearn, even lust for. here are some of his thoughts on how people with anorexia experience appetites:

“appetites are scary for them. emotions must be tightly controlled. to do that, my anorexic patients in particular convince themselves emotions are unnecessary. i don’t need anger. i don’t need delight.”

herzog talks about a woman who was so disconnected from her body that she did not know she was pregnant until she was in her 7th month. she and her child are fine now but she remains in therapy because achieving emotional intimacy with her son is a challenge. “the fear is that sensation will overwhelm me.”

an appetite is a desire. a desire is a pursuit, a going-after, a grasping.

what herzog describes is avoidance.

i think now of the buddhist middle way: neither pursuing pleasure nor avoiding pain. and for all things: neither pursuing nor avoiding.

what a very difficult thing for us humans to do, and how greatly misunderstood it can be.

a person who is anorexic seems to not only avoid but also to crave, to pursue the avoidance (incidentally, the chapter in liu’s book that contains these quotes is headed “avoidance”). the need to avoid the fear, the fat, the appetite and all the feelings and sensations becomes overwhelming. nothing else seems to matter.

“appetites are scary for them. emotions must be tightly controlled.”

i think we all have appetites that scare us. we all try to control emotions. sometimes that’s a good thing. it’s called civilization.

and once in a while, someone is driven too far by those fears and makes the conscious or not-so-conscious choice – influenced by genetics, society, a particular family environment, or perhaps by a combination of them – to seriously restrict what they eat.

too much avoidance could equate, then, too much civilization? too much avoidance of the wild beast’s appetites?

is part of the task of the person who wants to recover from anorexia to become a bit less civilized?

and where does everyone else in this civilization, in this well-tamed society of ours, need to become a bit wilder?

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