Anorexia: the Mental Aspect

After reading the incredibly inspiring article concerning anorexia, and being a recovered anorexia patient myself, I was eager to expand on the topic. I want to share with you, an aspect of this illness that isn’t widely known: the mental aspect. (Anonymous 1)

When one thinks of an eating disorder, the main thing that comes to mind is the withdrawal of food from your daily life. However, that is simply a symptom. The real illness is buried deep within. Obsession, depression, anxiety, perfectionism. This is what makes up anorexia. 

It begins with an obsession. An obsession with food. Not the kind where you adore food and want to travel the world, discovering new foods everywhere you go, but where you control your portions, your meals and your calories. You become so wound up with the idea of being in control of what you ingest that it not only takes over your body, but your brain as well. 

“Food, food, food, exercise, exercise, exercise, weight, weight, weight” ― it’s a constant stream of alerts passing through your brain, disabling you from focussing on anything else. You are plunged into a spiral of thoughts, that to anyone else around you seem completely crazy: “What if I put five cornflakes too many in my cereal this morning?” “What if that made me gain weight?” “What if I can’t exercise as much today because I have a test to study for?”

Anxiety. An ocean of thoughts, all about the same thing, eating you up inside. It is not only the lack of food destroying your body, but the neurotic behaviour as well. The anxiety gnaws away at your brain, further amplifying the irrational and nonsensical behaviour typical of an eating disorder. 

Eventually, it gets too much. Tears. Endless tears for endless hours. Your parents, desperate to calm you down, desperate to restore your rational thinking, soon run out of ways to help you. Helplessly sobbing through ragged breaths, twisted and tangled in your tear-stained clothes, it’s you against the demon of impending depression. All the life is sucked out of you and you finally let the sadness take over. You have lost. Amongst your damp sheets, your fragile body falls asleep, the thought of another day like this looming over you.  

Inside the mind of an anorexia patient, it never stops. Instead, in comes perfectionism. In my case (anonymous 1), I remember having read something on the internet about how sitting for the majority of the day is extremely unhealthy and that we should really only sit for 3 hours a day. As irrational and exhausting as it seemed to spend almost your entire day standing up, I adopted the habit almost immediately. What I didn’t see, that my family around me noticed instantly, was my quick plunge into insanity. I would study standing up, eat standing up, watch TV standing up. It came to the point where I would be relieved when getting into a car because I knew I had no choice but to sit. It was a painful part of my life; my bones were deteriorating and my body was growing weaker. I was not providing my body with the nutrition it needed in order to stand all day and so, yet again, it ended in tears. Clearly, I wasn’t able to do it but I wouldn’t let myself stop, I made myself believe that I had to achieve this goal and I had to achieve it perfectly. I was harming myself and I didn’t even realise it. 

With anorexia come many different consequences such as: loss of memory, severe fatigue, osteoporosis and some cases, something as detrimental as a heart attack. But these didn’t scare me (anonymous 2). I remember as soon as I sat down at the table with a full meal in front of me my first thought was always “How can I compensate for whatever I’m going to eat?”. The feeling of my stomach rumbling, my brain begging for food, feeling as if I was about to pass out because of the lack of energy I had, somehow made me feel more alive than ever. The thought of death did not occur to me at all; not for one second did I think about reality. The awful reality that was: “this illness is slowly killing me”. 

Some of these habits never leave you. The impact that such an illness has on your mind is immense, making it almost impossible for your brain to completely recover from the trauma. However, one thing that does disappear, is the demon inside of you. You never have to fight alone. It’s okay to speak out and ask for help, because trust me when you do, everything suddenly seems doable. This demon inside of you is powerless, it simply twists your mind around into thinking that it has control. It makes you feel helpless and alone, two things one should never have to feel. So don’t let it win. You are the human being, you are the one who has control over what you do to your body; don’t let the demon control you. 

I don’t think I would be where I am today if it wasn’t for the help and support (anonymous 2). Don’t get me wrong, asking for help is a terrifying thing because it makes everything real. Your whole perspective shifts once you’ve accepted the fact that you’re ill and in need of help. I remember resenting the idea of getting help simply because I was scared that people would think I’m just putting on an act for attention. However the reality is that eating disorders are a cry for attention, you know something isn’t right but you can’t bring yourself to ask for help so you resort to restrictive diets and want people to offer help instead of asking for it. This is a vicious cycle because as soon as you find comfort in your eating disorder, that’s when you feel the most in control and therefore when you feel like you don’t need help. 

However, with help, you will slowly but surely begin your path to recovery. You are stronger than you know. Having recovered myself, (anonymous 1) I can do nothing more than reassure you that time heals everything and even if you don’t believe it, you are more than capable of getting through this. 

Just remember: you’re the one with the power, the demon is nothing but a shadow in your mind.

-Anonymous 1 & Anonymous 2

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