I have never been diagnosed with an eating disorder. I have, however, seen 5 different counsellors/therapists/medical or mental health professionals over the last 7 years, for reasons connected to my complicated relationship with food. At times it’s been better than others. Looking back I have said it’s been totally fine at times, but a recent re-reading of my diary from the past few years has shown that every few months at least I have always either lapsed into some kind of eating disordered behaviour (however briefly), or narrowly avoided doing so.
At the moment I’m on the waiting list for more treatment – a new counsellor who specialises in eating disorders. Yet no medical professional has ever specifically said to me, “you have an eating disorder”, or, “you have bulimia/EDNOS/whatever it may be”. This isn’t a problem on a good day. On a bad day, however, the crazy, eating-disordered part of my mind feeds off this uncertainty, and tries its hardest to convince the remaining, sane part of me that there’s nothing really wrong; that if there were really something that needed changing, someone would have been more specific and termed it as a specific condition. I’ve even managed to convince myself that all it is is that I’m really bad at dieting, and that’s why I swing between restricting and binging and purging (I hate the word purging, but “making myself sick” is a bit cumbersome and an effort to type every time).
I know this is a common issue for eating disorder sufferers. I am including myself in that, because right now the sane part of me is prevailing and I am fully aware that my behaviour over the past few months(/years) is not normal. Another way of putting that is that it is disordered. I am not anorexic, as my weight is not low enough. That is one thing that I know. I might be bulimic. I might well have EDNOS (Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified). My weight is the low end of normal, but more importantly, it is lower than my natural weight, and I am terrified of gaining weight. I make myself sick at least twice a week, and when left to my own devices in France I was spending entire days binging and (sorry) purging.
There are a couple things I wish people (both eating disorder sufferers and non-sufferers) knew:
1) Being thin does not mean you/your friend/loved one does not have an eating disorder. Anorexia is the only eating disorder with a weight criteria for diagnosis, and yet there are several different eating disorders (some of which lead to weight gain or maintenance, not loss). Someone with an eating disorder will spend a lot of time beating themselves up for not being thin enough. That should be indication enough that there is a problem.
2) Having an eating disorder sucks and is not glamorous, weight loss or no weight loss. Take it seriously. Whichever side you’re looking at it from. Whatever their weight, someone can suffer from the eating disorder side effects people are warned about, amongst others. Just because these might not be coupled with emaciation, don’t ignore them! This is aimed at anyone going through an eating disorder as well as people who know someone going through it. I spend a lot of time trivialising my issues, because “I’m not underweight so my health must be fine”. Well, yesterday a blood vessel burst in my eye and now there’s a massive red splodge on my eye. Sexy. This is probably an indication that my body’s not too happy with the amount of strain throwing up puts it under. A few months ago I threw up blood. Not just a tiny bit. Somehow I managed to rationalise that. My hair is falling out more than I’d like. Also I am SO TIRED ALL THE TIME. All these things are things I would probably take more seriously if I was underweight. I feel like being underweight is the Holy Grail for both me taking myself seriously, and also others taking me seriously. The sane part of me knows that that is a mistake. The only person that needs that kind of empirical evidence that something is wrong is the crazy person inside my head. Also some doctors, but if a doctor needs you to be underweight to believe that there’s an issue, then it is probably time to find a different doctor.
I need to practise what I’m preaching here, as I spend about several hours a day thinking that I don’t have a real problem. That’s when I’m not obsessing about food, weighing myself, or feeling guilty for eating (this happens before eating as well as after). That’s what’s so difficult about eating problems: you can’t fix something if you keep convincing yourself it’s not broken.
It’s basically the “what’s in a name” conundrum all over again, except that eating disorders are nothing like roses, and they’re definitely not sweet. A disorder by any or no name sucks. How poetic. I may have a splodgey eye, but at least I’m destined for literary greatness.