The eating disorder and the most important lie.

Is it irony if, after I say “no trigger warnings,” I offer one? This got a little graphic, perhaps. A person with an active eating disorder might have problems with the content towards the end.

An eating disorder will lie like a dog in order to get its way. It has no principles and no ethics. It has one reason for being: the eating disorder is trying to kill you.

It took me a long time to believe that, even in the face of overwhelming evidence. Like imminent death because of what I was doing.

The lies an eating disorder tells are countless. The most obvious are the ones about physical appearance – I’d love a dollar for every time I called myself “fat.” Bonus money if I added “disgustingly,” “pathetic,” or “grotesque.” The lies are both general and specific, ranging from “you’re revolting” to “your thighs are enormous.”

The most important lie, however, is one I came to understand while driving home from the supermarket this morning.

The most important lie is this: you can’t recover.

I believed the big lie absolutely. I believed I’d die from complications from bulimia long before I managed recovery. How embarrassing that would be. I hope they mention it in the obituary as a warning.

And yet somehow, despite believing the big lie, I changed. It took work. I didn’t snap my finger and, poof! recovered. I went to therapy. I read the books. I did the journalling. I put in the work. I also decided I wasn’t ready to die. I’d been dancing close for some time, but as I stabilized in recovery, I made a commitment and chose life.

I stopped throwing up first. Then I stopped purging other ways. No more hours on the treadmill if I ate dinner out. No more laxatives after a night at the movies.

In the early days, I also increased my restricting. I wanted a thin recovery. Time passed and I stayed stable. Then I got hungry. I ate food like it would be gone forever. I indulged in everything that’d been “forbidden.” I’m levelling out now, relaxing some on the greed. I’m coming to food and exercise in a way that more closely approximates the dysfunctional normal plaguing the North American woman.

I backslide sometimes, of course. I haven’t thrown up though. I’m insanely improved in that regard. I’m so far from where I was, I can hardly believe it.

It’s hard to take the credit. Though who it would go to then, I can’t say.


People should know the truth about the most important lie.

I “knew” for years that I would never recover. I knew I couldn’t do it. My eating disorder reminded me of that fact time and again. How many times had I tried to quit and failed, she’d ask? It was easily in the thousands – I just wasn’t strong enough.

That’s the lie that the most important lie is built on. “You can’t recover” stands on the shoulders of “you’re too weak.”

I’m too weak? Really? Considering the things I’ve done, that contention seems wrong. I wish I’d challenged it sooner.

I’ve lived for months on fewer than five-hundred calories a day while holding down a job or going to school. I’ve faked my way through life and done a pretty good job while I was functionally starving. That’s a lot of things, but it’s not weak.

What about exercise? What about the hours and hours of work that were never enough? The forever on the treadmill and stair-climber, the weights and calisthenics, the exercising through pain and injury, the risking of permanent harm or death? That’s ill-advised (it’s not nice to call people “stupid”), but not weak.

Then there’s the people who purge. People like me.

This is where the trigger warning comes into play.

Making yourself purge on the regular is definitely not weak. You’ve no idea what that takes, especially in the early days when the horrifying is less natural. The physical punishment you put your body through because it doesn’t want to do the nasty things you’re asking it to is extreme. The body has self-preservation instincts. An eating disorder forces you to override them.

Purging is hard work. It’s fingers down the throat, ripping up fragile skin. It’s stomach acid along with stomach contents, burning as it splashed out into the bowl. It’s downing bottles of water and then forcing your hands deep into your gut, inducing more and deeper heaves, shoving hard enough to bruise. It’s shredded hands and gums, and doing it anyhow. It’s threats from the doctor and doing it anyhow. It’s disregarding the warnings if it promises to help get food gone. It’s getting released from the hospital after things go sideways, only to do it again.

To execute an eating disorder takes a spine of steel (it’ll also turn your spine into a sponge. I’m just saying.)

You’re not weak. You absolutely have the strength to recover from an eating disorder. Considering what once I did in the service of my eating disorder but have mostly left behind, if I could drop-kick depression, I’d conquer the world.

People with eating disorders can kick serious ass.

An off-the-cuff offering that was percolating in my brain. I’m now back to the kitchen to finish putting away the groceries.

Marginally shameless plug: I put together a book of my most popular blog posts and it features several pieces on my eating disorder and work on recovery. You can read more about it here.

NEDA (National Eating Disorder Assoc. symbol)

By Em

I like writing. Words help me unpack my thoughts so things can start to make sense. Once I have both myself and the universe figured out, I plan to take up macrame. "Writing is an exploration. You start from nothing, and learn as you go." E. L. Doctorow

8 comments

    1. That’s a good but very complicated question. The reasons would very from person to person, but in the end, I think perhaps the ED is taking maladaptive coping and escape to an extreme. But there’s no benign ED. It’s always evil 😐

      Liked by 1 person

        1. It’s funny how “growing up” has so little to do with chronological age. It’s also not consistent. Some people can be adults about X, but not about Y. We’re an interesting species.

          Liked by 2 people

  1. Why DO you post a trigger warning. Did you surmise that was the best course of action based on the feedback you received or was it something else?

    You say it’s hard to take credit for your recovery; was there a specific moment when you decided to change things or was it a collection of smaller changes? Did someone impact that or was it mostly you?

    “You’re not weak. You absolutely have the strength to recover from an eating disorder.” I don’t have an eating disorder but these closing remarks struck me as rather profound. Like they would motivate me to kick it to the curb! Well done.

    Liked by 1 person

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