Freeing Yourself From Anorexia’s Claws

Credit: Project HEAL

When we’re told to let go of something — something that we love, that we are familiar with, that we feel stable and secure and safe with — it’s not easy. It’s not comfortable. It’s pretty damn scary. A parent sending their child away to college, or away to their new life when they graduate, get a job, or get married; a family making the difficult decision to put their pet down because they don’t want it to suffer. In all of these cases, letting go is extremely hard — but the change is also completely necessary. Plus, change is the only constant in life.

Anorexia is often defined as an intense or “illogical fear of weight gain.” I would say that the definition might also include the fear of letting go — which to some, might sound the same as gaining weight. Let me clear up this confusion right now. Thanks to societal ideals reinforced by our brilliant media industries who plaster airbrushed, flat stomached, thigh-gapped women (and six-pack bearing, veiny muscle-wielding men) all over our magazines, commercials, and shop windows, the norm is to desire that ideal body, and put in a lot of hard work (and no, I’m not referring to the Photoshop job) to get it. Discipline and hard work are revered in our society,
even when it is to the detriment of our health and wellbeing. “He works so
hard, he hardly sleeps!” Familiar, right? What about the person who is
starving themselves and literally dying for a cookie, and is told, “You don’t
eat any sugar? Wow, I wish I could be as disciplined as you!”

Anorexia, which often tricks and manipulates sufferers’ brains into thinking that they want to be eating as little as possible; they need to constantly be working toward bringing the number on the scale down; and their food intake and weight must be lower than everyone else’s; also causes the fear that letting go of the illness, will cause them to be slacking off or “letting go,” i.e. by gaining weight. Basically, it is more about the fear of losing self-control and discipline, than about the weight or body itself — these are merely tools. I’ll get back to this idea later. I would definitely not blame the media as the cause for eating disorders, as many do assume, but the way I have described it influencing society’s idea of the ideal body and making disciplined eating and diets normal and desirable behavior, definitely makes it harder to recover from an eating disorder. Am I making sense so far?

Okay, let’s back up a little now. If just trying to be thin and lose weight to look better aren’t the reasons people develop and hang on to their eating
disorders, what are? In the case of Anorexia, what does starving your body and mind sell? Why is it so unbearably hard for someone to just “let go” of it? There’s a long list. Every sufferer has their own experiences and emotional battles that have led them to a point where they feel they are unworthy of food (and by association, of love, emotion, and true connection). They might believe they do not deserve happiness; or that they are an inherently bad person and therefore should be denied anything good. Or, they might feel guilty for having wonderful blessings but feel they do not deserve them, or that they need to earn them through extra work or self-punishment. They might lack self-esteem because they are on a pursuit for perfection, which is unattainable and therefore keeps them locked in a spiral of self-loathing and disappointment. Having an eating disorder can give the sufferer a sense of purpose; or worthiness because they are attaining visible “results” of their hard work. It might be that they are also granted (false) connections, in the form of a disciplinarian parent who is “taking care” of them, or a friend who is “accompanying” them through a difficult or unstable time in their life. These difficult times are often stages of transition or trauma: puberty, the switch from high school to college, instances of abuse, or death, to name just a few.

Through the tight grip of its poisonous claws in your brain, anorexia makes you feel powerful, superhuman, like you have it all going for you in the world when you are obeying its authoritative commands to eat less, run more, lose it all — it makes you think you have the ultimate “control,” which of course, you don’t. You’ve handed your control over to a ruthless, evil dictator who is wild with power.

Anorexia makes you an empty shell, devoid of emotion, thought, or proper consciousness: the very qualities that make us human. It’s killing you. It’s replacing your pure, healthy, good soul with a monster. Of course, you don’t see any of this when you’re obeying the dictator’s orders: you never see outside the borders of that depleted, fascist state, the ruler of which makes you feel completely safe, harmonious and content. Anorexia knows how to work the system really well. It gets your organs to stop working; it gives your brain tunnel vision. All you see is what it wants you want to see. It runs you. And you don’t see how it’s holding you back, at least, most of the time.

I count myself incredibly lucky to have hit rock bottom with my eating disorder. I reached a point where I knew I wouldn’t be able to continue with life in any capacity, mental or physical, in the state I was in. I didn’t know how to get better, but luckily there were others who did.

In order to recover, I had to let go of the strong compulsions forcing me to believe food was evil and toxic. I had to eat — and along with that, I had to let go of the OCD, the fear, the anxiety, and just trust. Trust the process, the people helping me, and hardest of all, I had to trust myself. I had to trust that everything was going to be better from then on out — it had to be.

To recover, I had to gain weight. I had to let go of the uncomfortable feeling that my pants didn’t fit anymore and that parts of my body would look very different. I had to accept people would notice a change, and deal with being the outcast in society who wasn’t allowed or supposed to lose weight. Initially, it was all about the external — how I looked, what people were going to say and think about it. I was ashamed. But through treatment — scheduled feeding, cognitive and dialectical behavioral therapy — I gained my life back. I learned to accept, and am now so thankful for, the change that came from letting go. I can think again, be creative and active, have stimulating conversations and loving relationships with others, and I have the motivation to live and do everything I want to do. Getting here wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t quick, and it’s not over. And at first, I didn’t believe it was ever going to happen.

Now, like I said, I was lucky. Many people with an eating disorder, don’t think or know that they are ill. If they know they are, they are often “happy” they are, and feel compelled to keep going until they disappear into oblivion. If you are one of these people and you are reading this, please, try to realize you are worthy of life. You are worthy of nourishment. There is absolutely no criteria, no requirement, no amount you need to weigh in at, or distance you need to run, to be worthy or deserving of food, and of love. You have a right to everything that is good, just by being a human on this planet. And it’s about time we all did a better job at reminding each other of that. We need to stop the shaming, the discrimination, the hatred, and start encouraging each other to love ourselves for who we are; who we were born here to be. But until that happens, drown out the noise. It’s not important. It’s not true. It’s simply not worth it.

If that doesn’t do it for you because it sounds like a bunch of BS (even though it’s not, I swear), maybe think about it this way. Under Anorexia’s rule, we think we’re working so hard, dissolving our bodies, and supposedly reaping our rewards. But how much time are we wasting, thinking about our bodies and food in the first place? We’re not really being efficient or productive at all. As you starve yourself more, your body naturally has a tendency to think about food more. Furthermore, you lose brainpower and energy, so you’re not thinking or functioning even close to full capacity.
Without a crystal ball and Raven Baxter visions into the future, it’s incredibly difficult to imagine what life might be like without your friend, companion, or parent — the eating disorder — there with you, keeping you safe, stable, disciplined, worthy. I can assure you that if you let go, you will find the real versions of all of those so-called gifts that the eating disorder has promised you. But you need to be committed. You need to believe in your healthy self to take care of you. You’re going to be free. It’s scary, but amazing. Trust the body you were given to be the right vehicle for you to do what you need to do in the world. That’s your body’s job — to help you achieve your purpose. Fulfill your destiny. Not to look like something it was never meant to be in the first place — that is why it is breaking down. An airplane doesn’t say, “Oh, I’m so heavy, and all I do is fly; I should consume less fuel so I become a car and can drive people on land.” If that sounds absurd to you, think about it. You’re right — it doesn’t make any sense.

So, how do you start to let go? Let go of manipulating the number on the scale, the number of carrots you’re “allowed” to eat, the number of miles you have to walk, the number of hours you have to wait before you can put something in your mouth, the number of calories you can let yourself consume. The mindset that you have to earn your basic needs; that you
have to experience torture to be worth anything good and happy. The rules. The rigidity. The inflexibility. The torture. Let go of the voice in your mind that has been planted there polluting you, making you hate, punish, and destroy yourself.

Letting go is the root to the soul. It’s not “letting yourself go” — it takes
the greatest amount of strength, discipline and perseverance to say goodbye to an eating disorder, or addiction of any kind. It has been there for you for a reason, so recovery is not going to be an easy feat. And FYI: gaining weight for someone with anorexia is simply restoring their body to where it needs to be, so it can do everything it’s supposed to do. And generally, as a society, we need to stop shaming and judging and assigning labels. We need to stop attaching the idea that thinner is better and normal and healthy and ideal. It’s just not true, and it’s certainly not doing anyone any favors.

As humans, when we’re told to let go of something, something that we love, that we are familiar with, that we feel stable and secure and safe with — it’s not easy. Change is hard. Especially for anorexia victims who subconsciously tried to stop change, pause their lives, and regress back to childhood. To all you warriors: be patient, and be gentle. It will take time.

Trust yourself. You were put on this world with everything you could ever need. This is your body, and it is special and it is your companion for the rest of your life. Do good with it and treat it with the respect and love that it deserves. And when you let go and fly away from the spiky confines of the Anorexia cage, the world will welcome you, and your beautiful body, with open arms.