Feminism | Posted by Tasha S on 05/30/2014

Anorexia: A Disease, Not A Diet

“She was like, totally, anorexic,” my coworker stated, gesturing towards my other coworker. The formerly “anorexic” coworker in question nodded her head enthusiastically, as if being referred to as having suffered from a disease was one of her greatest accomplishments. I stared at her, wide eyed. I couldn’t tell if she was being serious or if they, like so many other people I came across, were throwing the term around loosely. “I dieted constantly and I was so skinny. I fit into the best jeans. Now I’ve gotten all flabby. I need to get anorexic again,” she commented. Oh. It dawned on me that anorexia, in her mind, was just a code word for restrictive dieting. It was painful to hear these things, having, by literal definiton, recovered from anorexia.

To me, anorexia was never just a diet or a lifestyle. It completely encompassed everything I was. It became me. It was not about being flabby or fitting into jeans. Or rather it was on the surface, but actually wasn’t. My whole world was completely out of control because of some severe emotional and self esteem issues that I suffered with for years. Anorexia was, for me, my way to stabilize my world. To finally gain control over something in my life. It is a dangerous mental illness, NOT a diet.

There are so many misconceptions about the disorder because it is often reduced to common myths, conflated with our culture of diet and exercise. People with anorexia are often told to “snap out of it”, “just eat something”– as I was often told. To this day, I cannot weigh myself, even though I consider myself “recovered”. When I go to the doctor, my blood pressure registers high every single time because I have just gone through high anxiety dealing with nurses who want to weigh me when what I have come for has nothing to do with my weight. “I don’t want to be weighed,” I tell them. They insist. “I need to be weighed backwards. I cannot see this weight. I haven’t weighed myself in x years. It is imperative that this information is not released to me.”

Recently, I went through my routine of telling a nurse the history and she weighed me backwards, wrote my weight on a piece of paper, but then left the paper in the room with me after she took my blood pressure and other vitals. I sat there on the exam table, staring at it. My insides raged with anger, my face was hot with tears. I felt like my entire being had not been taken seriously. I spiraled into a depression-like state for weeks following that incident. It is disappointing but easy to explain away the general public as being misinformed. But medical professionals?

Think twice before throwing around the term “anorexia” to describe a diet fad or even the way someone looks. You don’t know their personal struggles. And please, for the love of god, don’t tell anyone they need to eat a sandwich (or not). You are not the food police.

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