I just want to point out: This is mainly about the restrictive type of eating disorder (anorexia & EDNOS in that direction) but that isn’t to say that this is the only- or most important sort. In my experience with eating disorders and around people with, and therapists for, eating disorders, anorexia has (implicitly or not) almost always been the “true”, “best”, and “most serious” type – an idea that I find very annoying and damaging, and I don’t want to be a part of it.
I have boringly simple reasons for why I stopped eating. I was a ridiculously picky child when it came to food. Thinking back, I feel torn between a more distant, adult-ish view of oh for crying out loud stop acting so spoiled and just eat already! and my own memory of that time, really, really trying to eat these things but getting physically sick and ending up, involuntarily, purging the stuff back on my plate. I didn’t like the bread my parents prepared for me to take to school (this dry “kids bread”, non-bread that’s only alright if you toast it); I didn’t like butter (which they kept forgetting); school had no place where one could get other food (and even if it had, I had no money). I also didn’t like most types of dinner foods, and, while my dad was attempting to get me to eat like a bloody normal person, I was busy developing an adversity toward food in general. Food started to resemble forcery, powerlessness, frustration, and me always turning into a whiny ass baby, and I was fine without these things in my life, thank you very much. There was no drama there, no frantic flipping through endless editions of Vogue, no filling my walls with pictures of Perfect Body-models, no obsessively counting numbers (I didn’t even know what a calorie was until later on), no staring at people’s butts, thighs, bellies, no comparing them with mine and finding myself, always, in excess. I was ten, maybe younger, I had no interest in these things. Sure, I disliked my body, saw it as too round and too obviously “there”, but that had no correlation with food in my mind. That came later, as yet another excuse to keep on doing what I did, but not in the beginning. I just didn’t like my food, I didn’t like the things I associated with food, and so I didn’t eat.
You don’t necessarily need dramatic and tear-jerking reasons to stop eating. But no matter, I just went ahead and created my own drama show. I discovered that I liked the feeling of hunger, and this not-eating eating purging starving binging, became “my thing”. There were various reasons there. For starters, I wasn’t okay: I remember the first time I hated myself and wished to rip myself apart (four years old), the first time I wanted to die (six years old), my first suicide attempt (twelve years old). When you feel like your life has lost all meaning, you might become careless. Why not starve yourself to death? At least that’s exciting, and neither you nor life matters anyway. There was a lack of communication, I was a kid growing up in a chaotic, disruptive environment, falling through the cracks, feeling small, feeling powerless, feeling lonely, feeling scared. But in the end it just became a game, my own little secret, my system through which to understand the world. I enjoyed shaking breadcrumbs from the toaster on my plate when my dad was showering and say that I’d already eaten breakfast, coming home to an empty house, head stuffed into the pantry and not eating anything, priding myself of my Grand Level of self-control, floating through my days, being able, almost, to convince myself that I was not even there. Of course it wasn’t a game at all. But there, I think, was the rub: I wasn’t afraid to disappear, I actively sought it. Apart from my innate sadness and the creeping sense that I was already gone – a very shit feeling that I was desperately trying not to feel, whatever the cost – I was (still am) just very curious as to how far I could take it. I wanted to find the exact line between life and death. I felt like a magician, being able to stop existing without having to die. I’ve never really figured out why death and disappearing interested me so much, but that was the way it was. I think you need both of these ingredients: you need a reason to start, but you also need a reason to keep going. The Glamorous Game of Thinness and Infinite Excitement ended, of course, but by then I had successfully constructed my own private hell, starring me as the damned soul and me as the devilish gatekeeper, and I was trapped. Eating disorders, in whatever form, are not just a pastime engagement – they become an addiction, both mentally and physically, and if you take it too far they can kill you. They’re not fun and they’re not something to want or be jealous of (whether they make you thin or not); they take over your body, person, and life, and once you’ve come to your senses again it’s very hard to take those back.
So why does one do this? Why do so many people do this? It was me; there’s no doubt about it. But it wasn’t only me. And it wasn’t just me struggling with some teenage, infantile insecurities, clinging to some ridiculous notion of oh no oh no what if I get fat the world will implode. Almost everyone I know has some type of (mild) eating disorder, diagnosed or not. It just seems like a straightforward thing to do. We live in a culture where we’ve made it very important to not take up too much space, to “fit in”, not be too “different”. Welcome to Western society, we suppose we like you but privacy is of dire importance, act normal or leave*, less is more and please check your problems at the door. Well, alright. With that logic, one might conclude that one’s worth will increase only through one’s gradual disappearance, and it’s not too hard to give this metaphor a more literal, bodily meaning. I feel like I did a great job at shutting up and less is more etc. but it didn’t make me normal at all, it made me sick. Gosh darn it, man. Seriously though, it doesn’t surprise me that people get lost and/or just up and quit – we’re materially spoiled and emotionally deprived, and we don’t seem to have a whole lot of sense on how to deal with these things. I guess, with our endless obsession with thinness and eternal youth, eating disorders are as good a way as any.
Now we’re some sixteen years later, and I have become the most boring case: Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS), in remission. I didn’t think I could ever get out but somehow I did anyway – I don’t know, I guess I got tired of it? I wanted to be independent, untouchable, powerful, safe, needless, supergirl, Great, whatnot, and I didn’t become any of these things. Whatever you think your eating disorder will give you, it won’t. Instead, now, I’m trying to keep talking: about my own struggles but also about other people’s, and to approach people when they don’t seem alright, even if I don’t know them that well. I’m not exactly a natural talent, especially not when it comes to talking about myself, but I’m learning. It goes both ways, really; now that I am more open toward others, they’re also more open toward me. And, well, the world is really very weird and there’s actually quite a lot of room, so just try to be weird and “spaceful” too. It’s fine.
*A very swell statement from the Dutch prime minister (“doe normaal of ga weg!”), possibly the most normal, boring, privileged white guy on the block. I mean, his favorite website, on the entire internet, is nu.nl – a site that posts the latest news in very short articles, equivalent to reuters.com – and his favorite book, of all the books in the world, is the biography of Lyndon Johnson. It’s all so normal it is horrible.