“You don’t look anorexic.”
“Obviously you’re not underweight.”
Stuff like this just isn’t helpful. It’s not helpful at all. I read it as you’re not thin enough to have a problem. I think lots of other people do, too. There is no weight criteria for an eating disorder. I have been bulimic for a long time. It’s not a case, often, of trying to be thin. It’s not a case of not liking food. It’s a complicated thing, full of emotions and beliefs.
My own eating disorder started after I suffered a sexual assault. It was a response to a trauma that I internalized when I couldn’t speak to anybody about what had happened. I felt scared and alone and overwhelmingly anxious, and it was putting that feeling into something to get it out of me in some way. It was throwing up sometimes. It was abusing laxatives at other times. That came to a head when I lost complete control over my digestive system and became – aged 20 – semi-incontinent, and that’s the truth. It’s not romantic or cutesy. It’s painful and heart-wrenching and soul-destroying.
It’s headaches and feeling faint. It’s binge eating 8,000 calories of junk food in one sitting after you told yourself you weren’t going to purge anymore, that you were in recovery – and then self-harming instead. Just swapping one method for another, really, because an eating disorder is a form of self-harm. You might develop it as a coping mechanism, and – the thing is – it feels good at first. It feels like a good thing. It feels safe, and comfortable, and supportive. Then it starts to feel scary not to engage with it; it starts to feel scarier to not listen to that voice.
It’s losing and gaining that same five or ten pounds for months and months, for years and years and no one is any the wiser. It’s developing food rituals that you aren’t even aware are rituals until someone tells you that they can’t eat lunch with you today, you have to go by yourself, and then locking yourself in a toilet and crying until your throat feels raw and closed up and your voice sounds hoarse because you can’t face walking into a supermarket and buying your own food. It’s then going hungry, and it’s the anger you feel at that person you trusted and who has made you go hungry, and it’s the dawning realization that they didn’t make you go hungry – that you just couldn’t go and buy your own lunch by yourself. It’s the self-hatred, then, and anger at yourself for blaming them. It’s feeling like a terrible friend and a terrible person. It’s realizing all of this and still feeling that anger at them, and not being able to do anything about it. It’s realizing that the realization that it isn’t their fault doesn’t make the anger go away. It’s feeling completely and utterly dependent on a very small number of people you feel comfortable enough to eat around. It’s feeling clingy because of this, and needy. It’s a fear of developing one-sided friendships because of your need, three times a day, to be in a safe environment with people you love for you to feel able to eat.
I have been underweight, I have been a “healthy” weight, and I have been overweight, and I have struggled at all those points. Eating disorders are tough no matter your weight. If you are underweight, then yes, recovery may involve gaining weight. If you are not, then it may not. Weight, however, does not determine the validity of your eating disorder. What it isn’t about – ironically – is weight.