So, you want to talk about anorexia

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): Here we have another young individual forced to bare their soul while hoping that the conservative adult will not disregard them. priscilla-du-preez (unsplash)

Let’s check your intentions before you try an intervention 

Content warning: eating disorders

Maybe you’re reading this because you just stumbled onto it, or maybe because you want to learn how to talk about your own eating disorder with others, or maybe someone sent this to you because they want to talk about this with you but don’t have the words for what they’re feeling. Because of all that, I need to start this by saying that I can only speak for myself. I’m going to go over my experience and some ways that friends have been supportive and helped me through low points, but my reasons and what has worked for me will not apply to everyone. 

I like to say that I’ve been beating anorexia since I was 12 years old. Saying I struggle with it makes me feel powerless and saying I live with it only makes that powerlessness feel indefinite. The truth is that I’ve been finding ways to beat what this mental illness has thrown at me for 13 years straight now, and that makes me feel like a badass. However, I wouldn’t be doing nearly as well as I am if not for the friends I have.

My friends that I feel safe talking about this with are the friends who understand that the lows and highs will come and go like lows and highs for someone with a bad back. Say a friend lifts something poorly and pulls a muscle; you wouldn’t get mad at them for no longer being able to move how they were able to the day before. You wouldn’t say they were faking their difficulty moving to get attention or special treatment. You wouldn’t act as though their inability to move was an inconvenience to you, because you’d be able to see that the situation isn’t actually about you at all. You’d help them as much as you could, get them to appropriate medical aid if necessary, and ask for updates on how they’re healing and what sort of support would be helpful.

Much the same as pulling something in your back, sometimes I’ll have a good streak that runs on for months and then something triggers a thought spiral and I’m doing poorly again. The friends who want to learn about those triggers so they can do what they can to help me avoid them are people I feel safe being around when I’m low. For example: some days I can handle weighing myself, but others it will trigger an obsessive spiral that could have me low for months. So, I’ve made the overall call to avoid scales because I know that I won’t be able to tell which kind of day I’m having until after I’ve looked at the number being displayed. 

It’s been difficult to accept that what’s a daily routine for so many people isn’t something I can engage in in a healthy way, but that’s what works for me right now. If doctors need to take my weight, I have to ask to not hear the number, I don’t keep scales in my home, and I have several friends who I know would hide their scales before I come over if I asked because they would understand that that’s how I need support that day. 

One common but extremely harmful belief about anorexia is that people engage in the behaviour for attention. What most people don’t realize is something I actually already mentioned: it is incredibly frustrating to accept that you have trouble with something that’s a daily occurrence for everyone else. Accepting that eating – something all humans are programmed to do to survive – is a challenge was one of the most humbling experiences I’ve had, and I only really started doing better when I had people that were safe to go to for help. 

The best advice I could give if someone sent you this is to talk with them, but talk so that you can learn about what they’re experiencing, not just so you can try to end it. Ask them what best works for them – whether that’s hiding your scales when they pop over, making plans to eat meals together, or avoiding weight talk around them. If they don’t know what works for them, try going over what hasn’t worked so that you at least know what will cause more harm than good. Remember that if you’re focusing on how inconvenient the experience is for you, you’re not actually going to be helping. You’ll just be showing whoever sent this to you that you’re not a safe person to come to when they have days where they can’t fight alone.

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