Friday, February 4, 2011

"Dieting" vs. "Eating Disorder"

Oh, hello, Eating Disorder.  You've been behaving so well lately that I hoped you'd managed to starve yourself to death instead of trying to do it to me.  Foolish, I know...

I've written frequently here about my frequent urges to sink into that self-imposed state of semi-starvation that I believe is some form of eating disorder.  Social beliefs about fat people and our supposed constant gluttony being what they are, on the occasions when my problem has been in some way apparent in public it's usually been mistaken for dieting, which is (of course) one of the few socially-acceptable behaviours for anyone who's much above a Canadian/U.S. size six.  I'm praised for my supposed iron-clad self-control when I don't consume more than a single cup of tea at parties.  The "don't worry about me, I ate a couple of hours ago" line is so familiar that even I tend to believe it, even if I only ate an apple and the "couple of hours" was really closer to eight or nine or even twelve.  I can only recall one instance when someone picked up on what was really going on with me, and I later found out that the person who realized it was herself recovering from an eating disorder.

There really isn't that much of a difference between dieting and disordered eating, you know; the biggest difference is intent.  The intent behind dieting is usually just to lose weight, often for health-related reasons (though crash dieting can reduce life expectancy and that obesity in and of itself may not be as harmful as conventional wisdom says it is), and usually with a lot of appearance-related motivation as well.  I can understand the need to make changes for one's health—after all, I did that when I started to walk more, and since I took over the grocery shopping about eight years ago my mother has consistently complained that we don't have enough junk food in the house because I practically never buy the stuff.  And dieting can be mistaken for a healthy lifestyle choice, and can even occasionally be one—provided, of course, that you let yourself eat foods you like and that you actually give yourself enough nutrition for your body to function and thrive, which I've noticed that many dieters rarely do, and provided that your eating habits weren't healthy in the first place.

But the motivation behind an eating disorder can be a lot more complicated than that.

As far as I am aware, my particular ED-like behaviour is the result of several factors: a lifetime of insults because of my eternally much-less-than-perfect physical appearance, a feeling of lack of control over my life—even if I can't control anything else, I can control what I do or don't put into my mouth—and the need to assert what control I can, stress, worry, fear, shame caused by being so damn big when the ideal figure is just a little more than half my current size, a not-so-subconscious belief that I don't really need to eat anything because I already carry a reserve of energy with me at all times, guilt over being so fat when there are people here and in other places in the world who are obviously starving to death...all these things and more are things that can trigger my urge to starve myself.  

There is nothing healthy about an eating disorder, or even a sort of vaguely eating-disorder-ish form of behaviour of the sort that I all too often display.  When people succumb to an eating disorder like mine, health doesn't even come into the picture except maybe as an excuse for not eating in situations in which anyone might be expected to eat.  It isn't even health-motivated; health is quite possibly the furthest thing from my mind when I consciously make the decision to ignore my hunger pangs (and the other physical things that come after if I ignore them too long, like dizziness and headaches).

I know that it isn't healthy to do this to myself, but I keep doing it.  Sometimes it just feels like the most fitting punishment for being fat, and I hate that there's still a part of my mind that thinks like that, because I know it's so wrong and it's no help to me at all.

And this is what makes me think that sometimes, for some people, there isn't so much of a difference between dieting and eating disorders after all.

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