I am a stalker. I have been lurking around several blogs written by women recovered from anorexia, in which they post pics and describe the foods they are now enjoying. I feast my eyes on the pictures, drinking in the bowls of fresh oats, almond butter and bananas mixed together; the fresh bread spread with avocado and topped with crumbles of hard-boiled egg, Romaine lettuce and tomato; the long, tall smoothie blended with yogurt and cream and fresh fruit, the young woman leaning forward to take a sip; the cookies-and-cream drumstick, the ice cream slightly dripping as if it had just been delightedly slurped.
I am obsessed.
I remember when I was first diagnosed with anorexia nervosa. It was by a dietician whom my family doctor referred me to around February 2008. Of course, at the time I didn't feel anything was wrong with me. So when she said I was anorexic, I reacted first with surprise and then a little anger.
It wasn't like I didn't know anything about anorexia or other eating disorders. And I didn't have a eating disorder, in spite of the fact that I weighed about 95 pounds at the time, was very restrictive and rigid in my eating, and had an intense fear of gaining weight (and in fact, wanted to lose more.)
But I wasn't engaging in any of the bizarre anorexic food behaviors or rituals at that time. I didn't cut my food up into miniscule pieces. I wasn't afraid to eat in front of my friends or co-workers (I didn't really care if they thought two thin slices of deli turkey meat did not make a complete lunch.) I wasn't collecting recipes, reading food magazines or cooking large, elaborate meals for anyone.
So therefore, Ms. Dietician, your diagnosis is wrong wrong wrong. I am not anorexic, I do not need to see an eating disorders specialist nor go to Renfrew, Remuda, or Rogers Memorial Hospital. I do not have a problem. I am just thin and what's wrong with being thin? Even if I am depressed and anxious, even if I am yanking up my size zero jeans and fighting with my husband about food and eating and hearing from everyone that I need to gain weight and my niece's nickname for me has become "Skelator"?
I'm just fine. Other than being severely underweight, of course. There was the daily counting of calories and weighing myself. And the fact that I was becoming quite popular at the office for the weekly donuts/scones/
My treatment with that dietician ended after she declared I wasn't making any progress, i.e. I had not gained any weight after four months of treatment. Soon after this, my psychiatrist terminated with me (I had been seeing him from depression and anxiety) because he agreed I had anorexia and he wasn't equipped to deal with it.
So I went to Rogers Memorial, only to check out AMA 24 hours later. The psychiatrist there declared I would be dead within a year if I didn't gain both insight and weight. My discharge papers were a dismal declaration of how ill I was. Prognosis: poor.
As most of you know, I did eventually agree to see an eating disorders specialist who convinced me to go into Beaumont Hospital for two weeks of refeeding. But even though I was connected to a TPN line running nutrients into my body, I remained unconvinced I had anorexia.
You see, the eating disorders patients there all did strange things like cut their food into tiny pieces and hoarded sugar and salt packets and get angry because we weren't allowed to have no-calorie sweeteners for our coffee like the other patients. One woman carried around a notebook filled with recipes and pictures of food, another continuously chewed on ice and a third would not eat her food without loading it with salt and pepper and mustard and whatever other condiment she could get her hands on (since I didn't care what my food tasted like — the blander, the better — I was happy to give her my packet of condiments each day.)
I had read about these and other behaviors and decided there was no way I could be anorexic because I didn't do such things. I became a bit annoyed by these behaviors and seriously wanted to tell one girl to please please please stop pressing your grilled cheese sandwich between five million napkins before I lose the last shreds of sanity I have left!
But this was years ago, and I notice I have my own little food rituals. I can't eat foods that touch each other and I have to eat one food at a time. (I notice normal people eat a few bites of this and a few bites of that.) I can't tolerate foods with sauces or gravies, unless they come in a box and I know the exact calorie count. I can't pick up a sandwich and bite into it; I must either cut it up or deconstruct it. I need to eat slowly, and I actually do cut my food into tiny pieces, thus taking more than an hour to eat a meal most people can finish in twenty minutes.
Have I had these rituals for years and just didn't notice? Or did I develop these food rituals as an attempt to gain some control? Or are these behaviors the manifestation of anorexia as I have continued to recover from it.
The few times I haven't been able to adhere to these rituals? behaviors? has caused a weird sort of anxiety and strangeness, as if I didn't do it right. I usually need to take an anti-anxiety medication before I can eat out with friends. Restaurants feel like torture unless there is some type of salad I can order. I was positively thrilled when Bob Evans, my husband's favorite restaurant, came out with its light menu and listed the calories, fat grams, etc. on that menu.
Denial hangs around a long, long time. I weigh 97 pounds and have been actively restricting food since January. I feel exhausted, and yet often can't get to bed until 4 or 5 a.m. I have trouble concentrating on anything; class work, magazine articles, watching a television show, holding a conversation. I have gone through the assessment process at Renfrew and plan to be admitted in May for the 30-day day treatment program.
But despite all this, I said to my husband last night, I don't think I have anorexia. I think I am just thin and everybody is making too big a deal out of it.
Then I dreamt last night of those food blogs, the abundant richness taunting my sleep. I could almost smell the cinnamon sprinkled on the oats and taste the creamy saltiness of the almond butter. I opened my small container of yogurt, which was not mixed with granola or sprinkled with fruit, and wondered why I would ever question that I have anorexia.
I am now following a couple of these blogs; I need the images and descriptions in a way I can't describe. I want to eat with all my senses. This is my dream, and I believe full recovery will be achieved by first being able to eat without fear.
I have been eating with my eyes.