Fear and loathing in anorexia

At this year's NEDA conference, I attended a session titled "Dangers and Phobias," which was a three-fer session: the first part was on the dangers of eating disorders, the second part was a whirlwind tour of neurobiology that even I could barely follow, and the third part was about phobias and eating disorders. Now, an eating disorder isn't just a simple phobia of food, but a food phobia is a major part of an eating disorder. This phobia takes on different forms in different eating disorders (it might be a phobia of eating carbs*, or a phobia of not throwing up, etc), but this phobic response is almost always present.

Maybe it's because I also have a hella lotta anxiety issues outside of the anorexia, but this presentation on the relationship between eating disorders and phobias really hit home for me. I became anxious around food, so I started avoiding it. This decreased my anxiety to a point, but then the anxiety came back. So I avoided it more. And so the cycle continued. Each time I avoided food, it cemented that fear. If I eat, I thought, something really bad is going to happen. That "something bad" could be a magical mysterious weight gain of 100 pounds, it could be I would feel like crap, it could be that I "ruined" the day. When nothing bad happened (as it usually did), I linked that to not eating. That tiny shred of self-esteem from watching the scale go down? That was because of my not-eating. The stylish new jeans I let myself wear? Not-eating. The (seeming) decrease in fear around food? Not-eating.

Eating would somehow erase all of that. Eating and gaining weight would remove the whole foundation on which I had built my life. That's a pretty big fear.

I discussed this fear in therapy a lot, which was much more enjoyable than facing the fear. I learned where it might have come from and what purpose it might be serving. All of this discussion did precious little to alleviate these fears. In fact, the longer I went on not-eating, or purging, or over-exercising, the more these fears cemented themselves in my brain. Many aspects of these phobias turned into habits.

I've been facing these fears head-on in the past few months. Not dissecting them, not just introducing myself by with stickers saying "Hello My Name Is" and then moving on, but having the kind of staring contest with them that even my cat would envy. Did I gain weight when I started eating again after this relapse? Yes. I also needed to rather badly, but still, weight gain was an element. Did my world fall apart? Yes, but it fell apart because of the fears, not from facing them.

Do I have my moments? Um, yeah. I'm not happy-go-lucky about food, nor do I think that would be a reasonable goal for me. For that matter, I don't want to be totally nonchalant about food. When I get sloppy, I start skipping meals and then minimizing the negative effects of said skipped meals. Paying attention isn't a bad thing.

I don't know sometimes if I'll ever be totally "over" this fear. I hope and believe in a time when it won't rule my life, but my years with anorexia have profoundly changed me. There's no going back, but there is the moving forward.

*Blogger spell check doesn't recognize the word "carbs." Can I tell you how excited that makes me?

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midoriliem said...

Check this out: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/22/health/22well.html?_r=1&nl=health&emc=healthupdateema1

Laurel said...

I love your last little comment about spell check and "carbs"... Thank you for your insight... your posts are always an encouragement to me.

Kim said...

I love this post. I would say that fears are the majority of my life, sadly. My anorexia is a way to deal with them, but avoidance isn't really "dealing." Thanks for this.

Unknown said...

> *Blogger spell check doesn't
> recognize the word "carbs." Can I
> tell you how excited that makes me?

Hmn... Carbs.... BTW, there is a good spell check program Spell Check Anywhere (SpellCheckAnywhere.Com). It works in all programs, including web, and blogs.

Carrie Arnold said...

Yeah, the comment was less about finding misspelled words than about the joyous knowledge that someone, somewhere, even if it's just a pathetic little computer program, doesn't know that "carbs" is a real word. I run spell check more as a matter of habit, but I don't trust those programs much. I proof by sight- I was a copy editor for the newspaper in college, which made me painfully aware of how inadequate those programs are.

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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nour·ish: (v); to sustain with food or nutriment; supply with what is necessary for life, health, and growth; to cherish, foster, keep alive; to strengthen, build up, or promote


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