A Few of the Lies My Eating Disorder Liked Me To Believe

My eating disorder was a consummate liar. It had a few lines that always kept me stuck. I tried, (when I was feeling brave enough), to argue the point; but there was always an element of “what if I’m wrong” that made me play along.

It is hard to challenge something when you’re cowering under its threats. These ones stick out.

1. If you don’t throw up today, you won’t be able to tomorrow.

Between the ages of 21 and 28, I could count the days that I didn’t throw up on my fingers. When I had my wisdom teeth out (2); when I was in rehab (1); during a(nother) hospital admission (1); my friend’s wedding (2); a night at my brothers (1); and 2 further trial runs in the lead up to the day that I finally stopped. Each time I decided to go for a purge free day, the eating disorder would get me, just at the last minute, with the taunt that it might all go wrong – and one day off meant there’d be no going back.

“One day”, it would say, “and then you won’t be able to tomorrow; and then what happens if you end up eating something really bad.”

I didn’t know – because I wasn’t given the opportunity to collect any evidence – what would happen if I ended up eating something really bad.

And so, for 7 years, I went along with the lie, because I was scared that it might be the truth; and I didn’t give myself the space to find out what would happen if I listened to the other voices instead. Nothing would have happened, I know now that I have tried, but the lie was designed to stop me from finding this out.

2. You can only start eating when you’ve stopped throwing up

I battled anorexia and bulimia. The anorexia came first – and the bulimia crept up a year or so later, blocking it deeply in.

One of the biggest fears that my eating disorder clung onto, therefore, was that I couldn’t start eating until I stopped throwing up. If I started eating, it would tell me, but I kept on bingeing, than it would be a double whammy and my weight would never stop going up. Meal times could only be considered, it argued, when the bingeing was under control.

For a long time, it had me in a stranglehold. Frozen: the anorexia, bulimia and me. Wait until I have stopped bingeing until I can start eating. Wait until I start eating until I have stopped bingeing. And round – and round – and round, for years.

It does not always happen like this. It is harder to stop bingeing if you are not eating and one mouthful will not automatically trigger a binge. You just need to muster up the courage to find this out.

3. Just in case

Sometimes, when I nearly made it through the post-meal danger zone, my eating disorder would urge me to throw it all back up again, “just in case”. “Just in case you have to eat something later”, it would say, “or just in case you need some extra calorie allowance”, or “just in case you need to, when you’re out, but you don’t pass a bathroom along the way”.

Had I waited, I might have learnt that “just in case” rarely happens and that waiting a few extra minutes might have seen me to the other side of the danger zone; but it relied on the fact that I would be too scared to do that.

The sneaky thing about “just in case” is that it quickly becomes a norm. That the margins for error become smaller and smaller; and, the more often you give in, the harder it is to learn that you’re responding to an illusion: that “just in case” is a fear – and not a reality.

4. Leeway

“Leeway” was the weight version of bulimia’s “just in case”. The “growing space” that my eating disorder convinced me to believe in, “because then, when you’re ready to put on weight, there won’t be any risk of you over-stepping the mark.”

When I was “ready to put on weight” of course went back to “when I’ve stopped the bulimia”; and you can already see the flaw emerging. It’s chicken and egg and maintaining the starvation, all over again….with the one, waiting for the other, to gain permission to begin.

It also meant, as I’m now beginning to appreciate, that it didn’t give me the opportunity to improve my chances of winning. There is a certain level of well-being that helps in recovery – and “leeway” certainly doesn’t factor this one in.

5. It’s all in the mind.

This one’s clever. My eating disorder was quite clear on the need to stop bingeing and purging. It understood, in theory, that gaining weight was part of getting well. It just forgot that, in order for things to change, there’d have to be some actions on the meal plan front – and things couldn’t just take place in my mind.

So I’d sit, metaphorically drumming my fingers on the table, waiting for the miracle thought to drop, and my body to miraculously recover – without realising that eating more is about quality, as much as quantity; and that just agreeing to change things internally would never be quite enough. I had plenty of weight gain meal plans to fall back on – but I thought I could do it “my way” and didn’t quite manage to break free.

Three meals a day was certainly an advance, and a big step after all the bingeing and purging – but three meals within a rigid set of limits weren’t quite what I needed if I really wanted to move on.

* * *

It is difficult to test whether a lie is the truth. It is hard to muster up the courage to find out whether the eating disorder is right or there’s room for negotiation; but, sometimes, when I hear my thoughts in other people’s words and I realise that they, too, are fully convinced of something that just can’t be true -

Well, if I can question things in them -

then I can question them in me, too.

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3 Responses to “A Few of the Lies My Eating Disorder Liked Me To Believe”

  1. MM says:

    The most pertinent thing a doctor ever said to me was: “You can’t think your way out of an eating disorder,” followed by … “No negotiating with eating disorders.” And so I think, even as I tell myself the many big and little lies that come with anorexia and chronicity, especially, that there truly is no room for considering true-or-false … if it’s an eating disorder thought or behavior, it’s false. It’s a false God; a false religion; a mental illness disguising itself as an emotion, a philosophy, a choice. I have yet to find the courage and persistence to relinquish control and decisions to professionals, but I truly wish that I would. The internal agreement, disagreement and harangueing in between is exhausting.

  2. Melissa says:

    Gosh – I hadn’t thought about it like that. You’re right. 100% of what the eating disorder says is false…so I guess it just comes down to recognising where it is speaking over you and be able to differentiate between your voice and that of the eating disorders….which is hard, particularly when you’re always fighting.

    Hang in there and a big thanks for sharing this. xx

  3. Abby says:

    “Just in case” could have come directly out of my justification book, as could the leeway point. I have written many times about restricting at one meal “just in case” I go nuts later, exercising a bit more “just in case” I don’t get the chance tomorrow, etc. The problem is that I would never allow myself to NOT have the chance or to go nuts. A slipperly, deadly slope indeed.

    Great post, as it’s so hard to decide what is me–the rational me–and what is the ED. Do I really like X, or is it the disorder telling me I should? Do I take a leap of faith and trust that I’m NOT different from others who are recovering and taking the steps? It’s hard to wrap my head around the fact that it may be my own head that is keeping me on this path, that the disordred thoughts are in fact disordered.