On a bit more of a serious note than late, today I’m feeling like waxing philosophic on the nature of the beast. The beast, obviously, of ED.
I don’t know if this holds true for all who suffer from this disease, but I have personally discovered a great many ironies associated with my relationship with ED. Firstly, I am a self admitted “foodie”. I love to cook, I love grocery stores and most of all I love making beautifully plated and flavourful meals that impress. I’ve been told many a time that my dishes make healthy eating look good, even by some of my peers who would rather down a pepperoni pizza than lift a finger in the kitchen. I will admit, many a time I’ve taken photos of my more inventive meals, proud of their presentation on the dinner plate.
Is it my disorder that makes me prone to admiring food? Perhaps, but I’d argue that I always appreciated a well-plated meal full of flavourful offerings. The tricky part is that in focusing on the aesthetic nature of the food, I sometimes put off eating it until the meal is “perfect”. Eat something that doesn’t look beautiful? Not so much.
Another irony of my love/hate relationship with food and exercise is the societal reinforcement of my behaviours. I’ve touched on this in the past as a driving force behind social isolation. As a general rule, society does value thinness as a beauty ideal, and promotes dieting at every turn. It is nearly impossible to leave the house without being bombarded with messages extolling the virtues of diets, weight loss, and increased physical activity. The focus on health promotion is certainly not my issue, as there is an obesity problem in modern society. My problem is with the automatic assumption that self worth is inextricably related to outward appearance, and the judgement calls that are made based on how a person looks. Sociologically, society revolves around symbols and interpretation largely guided by our own cultural lenses. In our society in particular, appearance becomes an apparent clue into a person’s state of health. An overweight individual might be viewed as someone up against health problems, and urged to exercise and eat more healthfully. An individual who is withering away might equally be labelled unhealthy, and encouraged to seek medical help for an eating disorder. Perhaps each of these individuals have been accurately judged, but there is a possibility that they are both happy, healthy and embarrassed by these accusations.
Looking at me, one might not suspect how deep my disorder runs. Medically, I have a “healthy” (if low) body mass index. Without exploring the potential fallacy of this scale of health measurement, this fact has created difficulties in dealing with both members of society at large and even medical professionals. It seems to me that too often we, as human beings, are wrapped up in what we “know” about the link between physical health and physical appearance to allow for any deviation from the norm. It is important to realize, however, that diseases do not always look like diseases. Having been diagnosed with Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified, I can identify with the difficulty of accepting one’s own diagnosis given the outward judgement of the situation. Those who know me well might notice lost weight or bags under my eyes, might pay attention to lackluster hair or brittle nails. To an outward observer, however, I might have always been this thin or I might have had too late of a night, causing the dark circles.
Most importantly, those who know me well would notice something that goes far beyond my physical appearance and is a much more sound indication of my state of health: the things that this disease has robbed me of. Struggling every day with this disorder, I am not the person I once was. The happy and good-natured girl who loved to spend time with friends and family is hidden somewhere under the anxious, sad and easily aggravated shell. Do I put on a face that resembles the amazing individual who is MIA? Yes. But ultimately, the demons I face in the form of ED exhaust me.
I have no solutions to propose, just as I have no valid explanation for these ironies and the others that my disease entails. I simply suggest that in the future, a second thought might be given to the automatic associations we make on a daily basis about people we do not know. The more I learn about my eating disorder and those of others, the more I realize their individual complexities. No two disorders are exactly the same, and arguably few announce themselves with the emaciated “Dr. Phil anorexic” appearance. But they are serious and life-ruining, and not to be discounted.