As I was reading through Twitter accounts and bios of people advocating for the recognition of eating disorders as real and dangerous, I came across the words "ex-anorexic." As opposed to taking comfort in the knowledge that anorexia can be overcome, and that the person in question had valiantly and with great strength fought and won her battle, I sat staring at the words "ex-anorexic" while my brown eyes turned green. I was envious. I was jealous.
My own eating disorder is not as cut and dry as anorexia or bulimia. I suffer from EDNOS, which is an acronym for Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified. This means that since the physical characteristics of this eating disorder are greatly varied despite the severity of symptoms and mortality rates associated with it, EDNOS does not even gain a place in the DSM-IV alongside anorexia nervosa and bulimia.
Due to the fact that EDNOS was not taken seriously when, as an adolescent I sought help 30 years ago; when I went to a psychologist and told her, "I have an eating disorder. I can't eat anything without feeling guilt and sadness," but was sent away with a "You look fine, don't worry about it," -- I've learned to live with the constant grief that accompanies me like a Labrador Retriever.
Although I do starve myself as would an anorexic, I also binge eat, then purge through the use of laxatives as would a bulimic. Sometimes, when stress is not consuming me, I am able to eat a meal with my family, and quietly endure the self-loathing afterwards with no physiological consequences; but the mental battle drags me through such an obstacle course, that by the time I've reached the finish line, I am no longer certain of whether or not I want to get better.
Unfortunately, part of me is convinced that there is no such thing as getting better from this; that EDNOS is like cocaine use, and once you've learned how to hide its existence from friends and family by maintaining a somewhat "acceptable" weight and exhibiting somewhat "normal" eating behaviours, an EDNOS cannot be beaten, because it's not as easy as incorporating CBT at meal time, as therapists (for those who are actually fortunate enough to be taken seriously about their EDNOS) would have their patients believe.
EDNOS quite often does not leave its victim at a weight so dangerously low that climbing back up into triple digits is near to impossible. Anorexics will often hear criticisms about how "skinny," "sickly," and even "ugly" their bodies are. In comparison, EDNOS can keep you thin enough to gain the compliments of friends on "how good you look." One of my co-workers said to me, "You're the kind of skinny I like." With a sick mind that seeks validation and self-worth, being told that your weight, although one that has you marinating in self-loathing for having eaten a boiled egg, yolk included -- being praised only further serves to feed the empty beast within.
In the past, I've been panelled for eating disorder clinics where I was told I would benefit from the day programs where I would be forced to eat my meals with other patients fighting the same fight as myself. As part of my agreement to join the program, I would have to eat foods from each food groups. And this would occur for three meals and two snacks a day. As someone with EDNOS, my mind is not against eating. I will eat. I just won't eat certain foods. I stay away from high caloric foods; I avoid simple and complex carbs; I prefer high protein and low fat. The mere mention of sitting before a tray where all five food groups would be plunked before me, immediately has my mind not only racing with panic, but also has it enumerating the number of ways in which I can undo the "damage" that those five food groups would have done to the controlled eating I've become so skilled at.
I'm not sure people with EDNOS ever get to write the words "ex-EDNOS." Because all of the tricks -- all of those secrets that have made me capable of hiding my disorder from absolutely everyone in my life for 30 years -- won't disappear just because a therapist says they should. I will always know that asparagus is a natural diuretic. I will never eat the entire egg, only the white. I can sustain the entire day on a bowl of lettuce. If I do eat a little more than I had planned in the day, I'll compensate by doing a few extra workouts the next day. The pharmacy is my favourite hangout where the laxative aisle brings me solace.
And sadly, I'm not sure I will ever be OK with eating five food groups at three meals a day...because really, when was the last time I actually ate three meals in a day?
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