Two hundred seventy pounds.
I step off the scale and sigh. When the scale isn’t moving with a healthy diet and exercise, and the bad thoughts begin again, something in the back of my mind reminds me of the only way I’ve lost weight before ― by starving myself. After all, everyone wants to see results, right?
Eating disorders as a whole are relatively misunderstood, and the misunderstandings become even worse if you don’t “look” the part.
Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder defined by an unhealthy restriction of calories and sometimes over-exercising. Patients diagnosed with anorexia are underweight and suffer from intense body dysmorphia, and the physical effects of long-term restriction can wreak havoc on a patient, both physically and mentally.
Atypical anorexia is practically the same as anorexia nervosa. The only difference? The patient isn’t underweight. The “atypical” part means the patient is of normal weight or overweight. In my case, for my height, I’m considered morbidly obese. No one notices the effects of atypical anorexia when I restrict my meals to a few bites a day. Instead, they applaud my weight loss as me finally getting control of my body and being healthy again, when nothing could be further from the truth.
I’ve never had a healthy relationship with food, but the first time I really experienced unhealthy food restriction and anorexia was my first year of college. This is not exactly surprising, as the stress of leaving home and higher education leads to the fruition of a number of mental health problems, eating disorders included. But I fell into anorexic tendencies initially by accident. I simply had no money.
The college I went to had no meal plans for students on campus, and my father couldn’t afford to send me money or food. Near the end of the first year, I was surviving solely off the occasional social food event and what my roommate in a similar position could get from her slightly better-off parents. It wasn’t a great time and it eventually led me to drop out of school.
But there was one positive, at least in my eyes … I lost weight.
Enough weight, in fact, to finally be what was considered a “normal” weight for my height. I felt great about myself, but when I’m thinking rationally, I know how bad off I really was. I was a “normal” weight, yes, but it was the result of losing muscle density, not fat. I was prone to getting sick extremely quickly, and vertigo constantly plagued me.
Yet when it comes to overweight people, no one particularly cares how you lose weight, just that you do. The ever-present and ever-dangerous dieting industry is a testament to that, with fad diets that can destroy a person’s physical health as they strive for a body that looks like our society’s idea of health. Meanwhile, I’m overweight, but all of my physicals have had me in completely perfect health.
Being fat feels like a cardinal sin in society. So it’s little wonder that I continuously fall back into anorexic eating habits, despite clearly knowing how bad they are for me. My worst drift back into atypical anorexia was about five years ago. Life events put me under an incredible amount of stress, and I eventually stopped eating any meaningful meals. I lived off crackers, energy drinks and the occasional chicken tender if my stomach could handle it. I even meticulously counted my calories in a tracking app and ignored the app’s daily warnings that I was eating too little.
No one batted an eye when I lost 40 pounds in three months or so. Instead, everyone told me how good I looked and that they were jealous of my weight loss. It was the confidence booster I needed, but it also reinforced in my mind that maybe becoming anorexic wasn’t a bad thing. I was even saving money not eating so much!
I ended up getting extremely sick about five months into this restriction cycle. Since my immune system wasn’t at its best, I caught a nasty virus going around and was feverish and bedridden for a week. As I lay in my apartment sick and alone, I realized I had to start taking care of myself. I slowly started to eat more, although it wasn’t enough when I began overexercising again. It wasn’t until an accident damaged my knee that I was sufficiently sedentary to really stop the cycle.
But when a restriction cycle ends, the weight gain begins. This isn’t a surprise, given that most brains will activate a “starvation mode” when, well, they think you’re starving. When someone stops restricting their calories, the body may then store as much of this newfound energy immediately as fat, just in case it happens again. It makes recovering from any form of anorexia very hard ― when you’ve been fighting tooth and nail to lose weight, gaining it back faster than you lost it can send you into another spiral.
Thankfully, I have a good support system in my life that can see beyond the idea that weight loss equals good. Having someone just notice that maybe I should eat a second helping of food, or maybe I should grab some cashews to go with that energy drink was enough to help me realize that what I was doing to my body wasn’t right.
That was the last time I went into a full anorexic spiral, though I’ve had plenty of close calls since. Certain restrictive diets can trigger my tendencies, and while I’ve learned healthy ways to count calories, I have to be careful about tracking both calories and my weight when my mental health is low. I’ve had to learn how to control my impulses by myself because I know no one else is going to believe any of my issues. Even if they did, getting insurance to pay for expensive treatment is hard enough when you have anorexia nervosa. It’s almost impossible if you’re saying you’re anorexic and don’t look anorexic.
I’ve learned to pay attention to what I eat, in a good way, and eat as healthy as I can. I’m lucky that I can deal with my symptoms without medication, even if my metabolism is ruined. It takes a lot to push away the bad thoughts of “eating too much” and looking at my body negatively, but as long as I remember that I’m working to be healthy, not thin, it becomes easier to look at myself in the mirror.
This article was first published on the Huffington Post.
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Wow this really hits home for me. I was very sick with a restrictive undiagnosed ED in high school. I’m out of college and working now. I’ve gained a lot of weight from psychiatric medications which led me to starving myself. I’m overweight but what I do sometimes is very unhealthy. It’s hard when the people around me seem to congratulate me when I starve myself, because I’m overweight. In my head I’m battling my weight and the urge to lean back on old destructive habits. Thanks for sharing your voice on this topic!
❤️ 🧡 💛 💚 💙 💜
This hit home.. I am in my late 40’s and struggling with fybroidmyalgia and recurring depression. Since I was diagnosed with Fibro I have gained 150 lbs and I been struggling to get control of my weight. Its a vicious cycle . I recently came off a 5 day starving bing. I need help but who do I turn too??
Never forget that you can recover, no matter how old you are.
You need to find the medical team that will give you confidence.
Take good care of yourself.
What an excellent topic. Thank you for confirming what I knew deep down, before I read your article I had convinced myself you couldn’t be fat and anorexic (even though I was diagnosed 10 years ago). I thought, the psychiatrist at the rehab center had misdiagnosed me because I was thinner at that time. Throughout my teens, 20’s, and 30’s I’ve gone through phases where I’d restrict my food intake, especially during long bouts of deep depression. I’d come out of a depressive episode thin and feeling beautiful and worthy of being seen. So now, I have trained my mind for so long to go without food for so long, it’s second nature to only consume 160 calories in a day, I’m happy then. Other periods I’d go through eating food with plenty of calories, 5 x that amount, these were when I felt so so but eventually depressed again. It was a never ending cycle. Now, in my 40’s I restrict because I feel happy and it makes me even happier to starve myself because I look better. So it looks like any mood makes me sick with starvation. Why don’t I want to change, why is that? I’m happy you enlightened me, Thank you!!
Take good care 😌
I maintained my weight for 55 years,eating everything in sight and no formal exercise. I got breast cancer,treatment caused me lose 50 pounds in just 4 months. I started eating….under eating I know now…the weight flew back on plus a few pounds. I had a serious surgery and barely ate for three years. No doctors were concerned because I was never underweight per BMI. I was terrified of eating. I finally found a wonderful therapist and started eating ,but very orthorexic and still undereating. I gained over 100 pounds eating less than 1200 calories a day…no sugar or fat….I have since found information that the only way to get my body to recognize that it is going to be fed,is to up my calories. Today was my first day and I actually feel pretty good,now that I have some hope. I hate being fat,but will never restrict food of any type again.
All i read is hope and thanks a lot for that.
I have no doubt you will get better and better.
Take good care.
what a powerful topic
i am a black gay closeted man living in a third world country and the topic of eating disorders and mental health is unspoken of and unheard of. for the last two decades i have secretly suffered from anorexia and body dis-morphia, in the first decades i calorie counted and calorie restricted with intense workouts because i had a defense mechanism against bullies at school and at home i told myself if all they could make fun of me is about being gay i can easily brush that off and that giving them another reason to pick on me would be my own fault i really didnt think i was hurting myself because i came from a family of predominantly heavier people and always got praised because i was the slender one and in the second decade puberty occurred and came with weight and acne for me my body was changing in ways i had never seen unlike most boys my age my body was shaping itself differently the everyone, i had grown hips and upper body did not match my lower body giving me a very apparent feminine look i tried to cover up and wear baggy clothes because anytime i had worn fitted clothes i was stared at and asked why my body was shaped this way i avoided going out and would eat my feelings away and i would feel bad that i ate so much and fast or restrict myself from eating the coming days at the end of 2019 i took a one month trip and i promised my self on this trip i would not cover up not starve, go out more and not care what the society thought and since the begging of 2020 i have been on a transformation to be my best self on my list of goals i wrote loss weight but an like previous years i did not say get skinny or thin but rather get to a point that makes you feel happy and healthy without hurting yourself honestly eating disorders are so complicated im sure the people closes to me could not even imagine me being anorexic or having body dis-morphia because of the luck of education
thanks for giving me space to vent
Thank you so much for your message.
Take good care, and keep in touch…
Thanks for sharing your story. This give me hope that recovering is possible and something I should want. I have had an unhealthy relationship with food for over a year and a half. But I have never felt like I could reach out for help because I am a normal weight. And I do eat, I just don’t eat nearly enough for a competitive athlete. I hope one day I can get to the point where I enjoy thanksgiving instead of dreading it and not worry about everything I eat. Thanks again!:)
Take good care and have wonderful holidays ❤️
Crying knowing I’m not the only one 😭 my story very similar, first time was the poor life, I went from 150kg to 85kg in less than a year when I was 18. Did OK for a long time, have had recent issues with my bpd and the eating problems have come back, this time with alot of gagging and not being able to even swallow when I try.. Have lost 20kg since xmas and the constant positive comments are doing my head in.. Can no one see that it’s not good? And what about the fkn skin from this?!! Noone ever talks about the excess skin issues it creates which in turn mean that weight will never be completely gone, skin weighs alot!!
Meanwhile, anyone got any diy treatments for tightening skin?!!
I completely understand the gagging, It happens to me randomly and after most meals. Usually I then throw up my meals.
Wow, I didn’t think there were people like me out there. I had pretty much the same thing. I went from 98kg to 72kg while in university. Everyone told me how amazing I looked but I was eating once every three days. I was constantly ill. I managed to recover but recently I relapsed. Mainly due to weight gain in lockdown, that has me freaked out. I went to the dr and they said I wasn’t thin enough to get support. So I’m just stuck. Everyone says go get support, what do you do when even the drs say you’re fat?
I hope that you’ll see this response, and will continue forward with seeking help if you haven’t already. This is the first article I’ve read on this site, and was shocked to see that someone, like the author, hadn’t responded to you. If you’re still having the same issue, I would say the easiest thing to do would to be to try another doctor, look for a doctor that either knows of atypical anorexia, or a doctor who takes your information on atypical anorexia, does some research, and then decides to take on your case. You’re going to want to find a psychologist who deals with eating disorders specifically, and they may have contacts at locations that offer out-patient services as a get around to insurances. I just read this article, and it’s got some great info that can help you to get the help you need. Best wishes
i’ve just come across this as i sit here working and upset with myself. It’s all so familier. I’m at the moment ‘obese’, not lost 1lb and yet eating only 5 pieces of fruit a day and a protein shake. I feel guilty eating a 2nd kiwi fruit. I’m not hungry anymore. i run 5k every day. Like the article i calorie count so i don’t go over 800 cals a day. Starving myself has become an obsession and i’m dreading the weekend when i’m out with friends and we ‘go out to eat’. Absolutely dreading it – because i don’t want to eat. I know i have to change my mindset – i know 5 pieces of fruit a protein shake isn’t a healthy way to live but it’s so difficult to change when TV and every piece of media tells you to ‘lower your calorie intake’ and you’ll lose weight easy! Great article and make me feel less alone.
Looking back at photos of myself at 104# (I’m 5’8″), I was skin and bones…but thought I was beautiful. I continued to restrict until I got a low of 86#. A friend confronted me because a contract co-worker who had not seen me in a while came to her, concerned that I had cancer because I was so thin. Jokes about posing as a concentration camp victim hurt, but hit me with reality. Over two years, I slowly gained to 115-120#. Then my world fell apart. I lost my job and then entire career, my husband, nearly grown children who rejected me because of my financial status, and finally…I lost my home. All the stress seemed to turn on a hormonal switch (likely, cortisol) and I gain up to 250# in only 4 months. The weight gain was so rapid, I often fell when just walking as my center of gravity constantly changed. I became short of breath and now have NY Class III Heart Failure. If I don’t lose weight, it will literally kill me within 9-15 months (the Cardiologists tell me). But with heart failure, simply taking a shower gets me extremely short of breath. I’ve been told there is no irreversible damage to my heart. I HAVE to lose weight in order to live. But my body won’t allow it. The worst part? Other than dying…is the way I’m treated by everyone from “friends” to healthcare providers to complete strangers. I’m treated differently now that I’m fat than I was when I was skinny. Society reacts to what they are in front of them and how appealing the person appears. I’m treated like crap because I’m fat. I’ve never been treated so poorly…not when I was pretty. I hate being fat. I don’t want to die. And I want to be able to look in the mirror again and like myself…not want to hide, too embarrassed to go out and subject others to my hideousness. I want to be thinner…or die now.
What got me was when I started with a new psychiatrist and he asked me for every diagnosis I’d been given or suspected, I said anorexia as I’d spent years cycling between not eating til I was dizzy and drowning in my clothes and then going back to overeating. At the time I was in an overeating phase so I was heavier. He took out his diagnostic book, read the criteria for anorexia to me, and explained that I wasn’t underweight, so I couldn’t have anorexia. He gave me the diagnosis of generalized eating disorder or something.
As someone who heard, “you’ll never be good enough,” their whole life, I heard him say, “you’re not good enough at anorexia to be included.”
I spiraled into bulimia not long after finding that it gave me the best of both worlds: the satisfaction of eating and the compliments on the amazing weight loss. It was easier to control the weight loss, too. Felt like a jokes on him moment, but it was really just sad.