you don’t want an eating disorder, you just want to be thin.

Just recently, I had a woman I have known for a number of years say to me that she wished she could have a little bit of my eating disorder. At first, I took it to mean that she recognised how awful and difficult an eating disorder is to sustain and put up with day in and day out and that she wished she could take away some of that load for me – but I realised, as she continued on, that this woman was actually telling me she wished she could have an eating disorder. Have a bit of that “willpower” and “control” around food. “Lose a bit of weight”. I was so taken aback by this that all I could manage to reply with was “No. You don’t want ANY of this, trust me.”

Her reply?  “I don’t know …” with this sort of wistful look on her face.

Not going to sugar coat this – I was pretty pissed off, to say the least. And I may have referred to her as an “idiot” when I recounted this story to my GP yesterday.

But now I’ve had some time to mull over it, and I figure this: this woman clearly doesn’t know a great deal about eating disorders. Is that her fault? Not particularly. We’ve grown up in this society that essentially worships “thinness”. That rewards individuals when they manage to “be good” and “cut back”. We’re surrounded by advertisements condoning restrictive eating and overexercising. And new diets popping up left, right and center that generally all tend to have the same effect – quick weight-loss, followed by quick weight gain once the diet is discontinued (… which also happens to be seen as a complete failure by that same society that has created the unrealistic lifestyle in the first instance).

Generally speaking, when someone doesn’t have an understanding of eating disorders, they tend to just think “thin”. They may be unaware of other psychological, social and physical repercussions the eating disorder can have.

You see, people without an understanding of eating disorders don’t realise that they can have a devastating impact upon every facet of an individual’s life. That their life is dictated by rules, their day can revolve completely around exercise or eating or not eating. That their nights can be completely sleepless or spent in the bathroom or spent in the kitchen. They don’t see the urges that arise when the individual is experiencing guilt for “only exercising three hours that day” or for “eating extra sultanas out of the Sultana Bran” at brekky time. People don’t see the exhaustion, or the fears, or the thoughts that harangue the individual every single moment of every single day. They don’t understand the outbursts or the tears at mealtimes. They don’t get the rules or the rigidity; the desperate need to feel safe, and if that need can be fulfilled by eating out of the same bowl every day, then so be it. They don’t see the 4am walks; the exercise in the pouring rain for hours on end which leads to extreme hypothermia. They can’t understand the inability to work or study because of a malnourished brain – caused by deprivation of carbohydrates, leading to incapacity to function adequately. They don’t think about the dry skin, the falling out of hair, the bruises that appear the hell out of nowhere, the endless injuries caused by overexercise, and the excruciating leg cramps that awake the individual in the middle of the night. The low blood pressure. The low blood sugar. The osteoporosis. People don’t see the guilt and grief that is felt when the individual “can’t” go to their friend’s birthday parties or be social ever, due to having to be exercising instead or out of fear of the food that may be present at said event. And they don’t see that they eventually lose their friends, because those friends will only put up with so much shit before they crack. I could go on for ages, but we’d be here all day.

People don’t see these things.

People just see thin.

You don’t want an eating disorder. You just want to be thin. And an eating disorder is much, MUCH more than a particular weight or shape. So much more.

Let’s stop idolising “thinness”.

– Bek X


25 thoughts on “you don’t want an eating disorder, you just want to be thin.

  1. A very similar thing happened to me last spring on a flight… with a guy! He asked what I was studying in school and I told him social work specializing in eating disorders and his response was, “I need to get one of those,” as he laughed. I awkwardly chuckled along with him because I didn’t want to give him my life’s story, but yes the word idiot did come to mind. You are right when you say it is not their fault. Our society values thinness and is unable to comprehend eating disorders. Heck, I can’t even understand my own eating disorder sometimes. This is a frustrating topic, but a very good one. Thanks for sharing!

  2. I couldn’t have said it better myself. I can’t stand it when people around me talk about diets, thinness, etc, because I hate how normal they think it is. Society has really made a mess of what healthy should be. I hope that one day our culture shifts towards realistic values of what healthy is and should be. Thanks for another great post!

  3. WOW so true and precise. I get quite angry and upset when people say they would like an eating disorder. I’ve seen lots of teenage forums that want tips for getting anorexia and or bulimia. Its ridiculous and makes me angry. You cant exactly make yourself get one, it happens as a devastating coping mechanism.

  4. Brilliant post, and so true. I struggle with anger and frustration and sadness when someone says something like that to me – which has been so many times I’ve lost count. I see it as an opening to educate them but they do have to want to listen.. and often they don’t. When I might just have a moment to say something that sticks, perhaps I’ll try that – saying they don’t want an ED just to be thin – empathising that they are very different things indeed.

  5. it’s like when people say congratulations about my weight loss and i’m like….seriously? well, are you congratulate me about my renal failure too? i’m waiting…but then i realize that that seems different to them.

  6. Well said and well written. I’ve been in recovery nearly four years from having anorexia/binge eating disorder for fifteen years and it’s nearly killed me on more than three occasions of my life. What I would love to tell people who wish or say and assume they must have an eating disorder let alone wish they had and the one most important line that apparently is in four songs on my eating disorder recovery playlist is “Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it and so much more”. Wishing you had this fatal mental illness is like opening Pandora’s Box you have no idea what in the heck you really will be dealing with. If these people still are wishing for it than I’m going to ask are they willing to pay the price for it. Is it worth loosing being a normal teen throughout those years or most of your twenties, loosing your sanity, developing addictions to diet pills or paying what amounts each year for maybe a new car or down payment for a house? Or worse having no say when your dreams and freedom of choice are taken away from you thanks to wonderful ED here I didn;t get to have a say in rather or not I actually wanted to biologically experience having a child or pregnancy. It gave me a coerced abortion as well as marriage of hell to it. oh and how about the never ending high price tag that comes along with the cost of recovery and therapy sessions? They aren’t and I know mine aren’t cheap at $125 per session. Trust me and anyone else who has had or has to go through this every day it’s a living daily hell you don’t want an eating disorder.

  7. Thanks for this. I’m a lucky survivor and was astonished that two of my girls, the youngest only 11, were hit. It was one thing to deal with this myself as a teen and in my 20s+ but another thing to see my little girl become a hard core AN. We caught it early, are doing family based treatment – its the hardest thing I’ve ever done – and she’s coming along. i’m hopeful she will recover fully with minimal scars. But I also know she will carry this with her for years and I’ll be there making sure she EATS and cares for herself in times of stress. I’ve also gotten that response and comment from friends and strangers.. i could tell them that they DON’T want to know that my sweet girl can be a monster when faced with a meal, which is SIX TIMES A DAY; that her ED will regularly tell me to go f*ck myself; that I often have to peel her off the floor crying – sometimes both of us; that they don’t want to clean up thrown food or cups or glasses or plates; that feeding someone with anorexia essentially takes EVERY MOMENT of your day and forget about work, social life, relaxation at least until you get out of the phase of refeeding; They don’t want to do that or watch that for sure. Or the fear that your little girl, your beautiful, charming, intelligent, charming 11 year old could be a statistic…that she and others like her have a 1 in 10 chance of DYING because of this eating disorder.

    But what I do say now is this. I pause. And I say ” In fact Eating Disorders are a BIOLOGICALLY BASED Brain disorder…they are a form of mental illness. They are serious and have a high mortality rate.” Usually the person looks stunned. I will say more if they seem interested. I like to use the phrase ‘mental illness’ even though I know it is loaded. But NO ONE WANTS A MENTAL ILLNESS. I want that to be perfectly clear. and NO ONE WANTS AN EATING DISORDER.

    The very amazing thing now, unlike when I was hit 20 years ago, is that sufferers and survivors and their families now have resources and research to support treatment. That just was not there 20 years ago. I remember really thinking I was crazy, and only finding Hilde Bruch – which sent me into alot of therapy and blamed (unfairly) my family and (incompletely) society. Now we know that FBT works, that early treatment works, that FAMILIES have to be involved and part of the treatment, and that we have to make our girls EAT to send ED off to where they belong. Deep down a dark hole, hopefully only a reminder of the past and a tiny alarm to help manage the future.

    I think it is fabulous that we can start educating people. Schools need it. Parents need it. Coaches need it. Classmates need it. Media needs it. In the US the FREED Act is a great start to FINALLY get a federally funded effort to address education, advocacy, research, treatment.

    Thanks again for your great post… xxxx

    • Not to be rude but sometimes the answer isn’t to just eat…like if you have BED or BN or even sometimes EDNOS it can be different solutions for all of them. Idk it only bothers me because it seems like people only ever are educated at about AN.

      • That’s not being rude and you did point out a very good point it just seems the only eating disorder people know exsists seems to be AN maybe some about BN, but don’t even realize that BED and EDNOS are also a real problem because I had anorexia/BED, and I didn’t realize that until I neared the end of first year of recovery was looking up information on various EDs. People also don’t get that all eating disorder sufferes could look normal and not even look sick, because when I had AN I didn’t look like the typical stereotyped version of someone with it.

      • That’s exactly what I mean. I have had my diagnoses change from AN ->EDNOS->BN. And there is a noticeable difference in the way I have been treated at the different stages in my disease, which is fucking stupid.

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  11. Ugh if anyone ever said that to me I’d rip them a new one. I give you props for staying strong and not punching that person in the face, haha. People just don’t understand what an ED is like, how it doesn’t come up only around food it is in your mind ALL THE TIME. It is a lifestyle and a sad one at that. I don’t want this much willpower. I don’t want this much anxiety and strictness. I’m way beyond over it and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone either.

  12. OMG I use to have people say this to me too. It pissed me off so much but I honestly just have to take a step back and realize that they obviously have NO clue what kind of negative impact EDs have on not only physical but mental, emotional, social and every other aspect of life. Ugh. Stay strong 🙂

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  14. Pingback: So true. | from 14 to full steam

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  16. People don’t understand that there is so much that goes on behind the scenes with an eating disorder. I use to have people say how do you get your legs and arms so thin… I wish I could look like that. Society has such a distorted picture of what women should look like.

  17. I like being slim. Sometimes I want to be a lil bit slimmer; actually as someone who’s been underweight and gained weight I can’t figure out what my body is like now. BUT I would never ever want to have an ED. I’ve followed my friends’ struggles through their blogs: their life looks hellish. Nobody really wants an eating disorder.

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