Fat Attack

Last night, I had a fat attack.  My old therapist back in Michigan would have preferred that I reframe it as a "bad body image attack."  Well, maybe.  But this feeling was very different than looking in the mirror and saying "Ewwww..."  Which I've also been known to do, but not last night.

For starters, I was laying in bed and not looking in the mirror.

For seconds, it wasn't a visual issue.  It was a more physical, visceral issue. 

I wanted to claw my way out of my own skin.  I felt huge, uncomfortable.  I couldn't stop thinking about my body.  I wanted to do something, anything to get rid of this feeling.

Somewhere through the anxiety, I started thinking, "You know what this reminds me of?"


I had the stereotypical germ OCD when I was in high school.  Mostly, I obsessed and worried over every little thing.  Either I was harboring some nasty germ that was going to kill everyone I knew or saw or had contact with, or everyone I knew, saw, or had contact with had a germ that was going to kill me.  I would wash my hands or reply scenes in my mind to make sure I hadn't touched something "bad" or coughed wrong or whatever.  I would inspect every inch of my skin to make sure I didn't have any cuts that could get or receive germs.

Therapists call these contamination fears.

I felt like my skin was crawling with germs.  I washed my cracked, pathetic hands in bleach to try and make this feeling go away.  No, I couldn't see the germs. I wasn't always 100% positive they were there, but I was sure that I could feel them.  All I wanted to do was make that feeling go away.  If it meant screaming in pain from bleach, so be it.  I was so distressed and terrified that nothing else mattered but making this feeling go away.

Which brings me back to the fat attack.

I didn't feel that my skin was crawling with germs, but it did feel like it was crawling with fat cells.  And in moments like that, it suddenly doesn't seem so foreign/stupid/pointless to do something like purge or overexercise.  I didn't, but nonetheless.  Thinking of these fat attacks as another manifestation of my OCD has made a lot of sense to me.  Yes, I have significant body dysmorphia above and beyond the fat attacks. 

Yet any time off exercise or eating something "unsafe" or "forbidden" would bring about a fat attack--just as touching something dirty would set off a contamination attack.

I don't think this totally explains my eating disorder.  Not at all.  But it does explain parts of it.  It helps explain why I would do such crazy things.  To escape the distress.  To keep the calm.  Vanity and sticking to my "diet" wouldn't--couldn't--explain this.  If you're scared enough, you will do some crazy things.

I never was able to recover on my own as an outpatient because the fears and the feelings were just too strong.  It meant living in a non-stop fat attack for months with no sense of relief.  Considering the crazy stunts I pulled to avoid the feeling just for a few hours or days, is it really any wonder that I tried to avoid refeeding and recovery?

Seeing fat attacks as OCD helps me calm down in the moment.  It's just the OCD talking.  The OCD was wrong about me spreading or receiving the plague, so it's certainly wrong about this.  What's more, I know the awful feelings do pass.  Eventually.


Amy said...

"It helps explain why I would do such crazy things. To escape the distress. To keep the calm."

I think that's always been a hard thing to explain to other people -- there's not a "real world" parallel to explain just how intense the feelings are that lead to behaviors.

Anonymous said...

"If you're scared enough, you will do some crazy things." - so true. I still think that at the centre eating disorders are basically an intense fear, very intense. It's the easiest way to explain to someone who doesn't understand. It's like trying not to run away from a lion licking it's lips who looks like it's about to pounce on you!

Missy said...

Thanks once again for being my words...you always descrive ED in much the way I experience it.

It is not visual, it is Visceral.
It is not vanity, it is insanity.

I am glad you shared your insight.
It helps.


KrisBaldo said...

Yep, so much of my daughter's mental illness pathologies involve fears and trying to cope with them/escape them. Fear is so awful. When I am feeling afraid, I can't really feel anything else. Got to get rid of the fear somehow to be able to function at all.

I'm glad you got through your fat attack, Carrie, without hurting yourself. That's what recovery is all about.

Cathy (UK) said...

I'm sorry you went through this Carrie... I have awful OCD, though it's difficult to separate the OCD and the ASD. I've never had a 'fat attack' but I've had food and germ phobias, I have emetophobia, I have even been known to faint in front of food because I've been sure that it's contaminated. And there are times when I 'freak out' because things are out of order in some way, or my daily routine is disturbed.

I hope you are feeling better...

hm said...

"I wanted to claw my way out of my own skin. I felt huge, uncomfortable. I couldn't stop thinking about my body. I wanted to do something, anything to get rid of this feeling." I soooo relate to this. I even have dreams where I am as tall and as wide as a mountain and there are people pointing, wide-eyed, and whispering shamefully, and I am humiliated and frantic but there is nowhere to hide b/c I'm so freaking huge that nothing would hide me. I love what you say at the end, that it will pass. It will pass. Breathe through it, like a contraction. Like a panic attack. Wait for it to pass.

Sarah at Journeying With Him said...

I've had this happen too. It SUCKS. I'm sorry, Carrie. If it helps, you did all the right things to deal with it, so good job!!

Colleen said...

this happens to me as well. it is a really uncomfortable, awful feeling, and all i want to do is curl up in a ball, fall asleep, and shut out the world. i am SO glad you didn't resort to ED behaviors to get through your fat attack though!!!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for everything you confess to the world. I know I'm not alone.

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About Me

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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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