As evidenced by my last post, and by many of my feeling surrounding my Showcase, the world presents enemies to recovery from an ED at every turn. Weight has become an issue that is completely fair game to make a part of everyday discussions, and it’s not just teenaged women ho discuss “bad foods” and the tightness of their jeans or the pudge on that actor. That’s why this guest post from psychcentral.com really spoke to me. Hope it does for you, too.
P.S. Regular programming to resume shortly.
by Elizabeth P
Every time I go over to a friend’s apartment I am faced with a dilemma.
Inevitably, at some point in the evening, I have to excuse myself to use my friend’s restroom. More often than not, upon opening the bathroom door, I find myself face to face with what for the recovering disordered eater constitutes nothing less than the barrel of a cocked gun: the bathroom scale.
Yep. I have to admit there’s nothing more dangerous to me and my recovery than being alone in a closed room with something that has the potential to reveal my weight to me.
Every time I step into a friend’s bathroom, my eyes shoot straight down to the floor to scour for the potential instrument of my doom.
When I finally locate it, I have to admit that most times I want nothing more than to just hop on that bad boy for old time’s sake and evaluate the damage of my new philosophy of intuitively eating (i.e., eating when hungry and stopping until full without consideration of calories or nutritional content but in consideration of taste and desire) and exercising (similar, only you move as you feel the need to without worrying about burning calories).
This is particularly so because friendly gatherings always involve eating or imbibing of some kind; I can’t help but think how nice it would be to know how I should adjust my participation in these activities to keep those little digital numbers as low as possible.
But I always succeed at resisting the temptation. I know that if I step on that scale whatever I see will not please me and will only serve to pique my anxieties.
If I weigh too much, I begin to think of myself as the farm prize pig that has no ability to control the urge to consume everything in sight and lounge around all day idly.
If I weigh too little, I start to get paranoid about relapsing and worry whether I’ve been unconsciously trying to eat less and whether or not I’ll end up back in a psych ward.
Either way, I leave the bathroom with eating disordered thoughts dancing the samba in my head and, when I get back to my friends, I’m not as likely to follow the conversation and be with them mentally.
In other words, my night is squandered.
But I get so upset about seeing those damned bathroom scales for more than just the temptation to weigh myself and the negative thoughts that temptation brings. The presence of a scale in a friend’s apartment signals to me the fact that my friend worries or keeps track of his or her weight.
The scale means that my friend, whom I respect and enjoy being with, who is intelligent and caring, gives a damn about controlling his or her weight, something I can’t really afford to do without swan diving into a relapse.
Even though I don’t get on the scale, I’m brutally reminded that my battle is one that not everyone is forced to wage and that many, most unfortunately, do not even recognize for what it is: a valid fight against a ferocious and deadly enemy.
So this dilemma I face each time I visit a friend’s bathroom makes me think about the general struggle of a survivor of an eating disorder in today’s society. In particular, I often wonder if the high relapse rate for eating disorders can be directly related to the inundation in our society of messages that weight loss equals success and happiness, control over food equals discipline, and some foods will kill you while other foods will make you healthy.
I like to think that the average person would encourage an underweight anorexic to eat whatever they want but would they do the same for someone who is overweight and anorexic (yes, you can be anorexic AND overweight, nuts to the DSM-IV!)?
What’s more, would they be OK with encouraging a weight-restored anorexic to indulge from time to time with a Big Mac or a milkshake? Would they be able to encourage a recovered, weight-restored exercise bulimic not to take a run or join a gym?
Most importantly, would they be able to recognize how unhealthy they are in dabbling in such eating disordered practices as avoiding certain types of food, binge eating, obsessive calorie counting, and negative self-talk after eating what they think is “bad food” or “too much” without actually having an eating disorder?
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There’s also the question of whether the vast majority could accept the truth about eating disorders — that they’re real, hereditary illnesses sometimes set off by episodes of physical and/or emotional abuse, not mere lifestyle choices of the vain and vapid.
Would they also be willing to accept that unrealistic societal standards, and not only those concerning the realm of beauty but also concerning academics, career, interpersonal relationships, parenting, etc., fuel these illnesses?
Would they be willing to acknowledge the unseen victims, some as young as six, seven years old, of the now ubiquitous War on Obesity?
Would they be more likely to recognize the bathroom scale as a tool of self-destruction for many, even those without eating disorders who unwittingly pimp out their own self worth and self esteem to those little digital digits, playing right into the hands of the billion-dollar diet and exercise industry?
Those of us who have suffered from an eating disorder do not have the luxury of speaking about it openly because of the stigma that surrounds these diseases and mental illnesses more generally.
Our experience with our illnesses and our battles to overcome them have provided us with amazing perspective on the dangers of perfectionism and engaging in disordered eating and what really matters to us in life.
But they haven’t helped to change the way those around us see the world. So we sit silently as a friend laments not being able to fit into his or her jeans anymore, while our teachers, coaches and relatives unwittingly pit pressure on us to perform well even if it means compromising our well-being, while popular chain restaurants publish calories next to each of the menu items.
And I reenter the party after a bathroom break with a smile on my face and my mouth shut about the very serious stare-down that just took place between myself and a common household object.
It’s really enough to drive someone to the brink of insanity and I would know — as a recovered anorexic, I’ve been there before.