Eating disorders almost never stop talking to us, whispering in our ear. Here are the lies they tell us.
Eating disorders aren't our friends. They just want us to think they are. And they almost never shut up.
Eating disorders hold the strange status of being us but also not-us, because yes: They comprise our thoughts and our actions following those thoughts, but eating disorders typically spring from trauma, from encounters that shattered our core beliefs about the world and ourselves. Oh wait, I'm bad. I'm ugly. Everything's my fault. Danger awaits.
So, in that sense, eating disorders were installed in us like malware.
And like much else that results from trauma, eating disorders are coping strategies. Twisted, yes, but our terrorized minds race to make us "safe," creating alternate realities and escape routes. Sometimes they numb us or make us feel far away. Sometimes they make us mean.
And just as colleagues at your new job might explain that every Friday is Wear Funny Hats Day and the boss scolds anyone who mentions France, eating disorders tell us how to live with trauma-born beliefs. They tell us to eat less. Or only apples, thinly sliced. Or not at all.
Or they advise us to eat more. Then more. Whole-pans-of-brownies more. But not digest.
We obey because, as our own thoughts in our own heads, these urgings sound true. And how could something as instinctual and intrinsic as hunger be landmined with lies?
Food is not really what eating disorders talk about. It only seems that way. Food is a perfect weapon, tool, and symbol because it is basic and accessible and comes in all types and amounts and can be placed inside us and keeps us alive.
Years spent obeying then resisting their commands taught me to conjugate Eatingdisorderspeak and discern much of what this malware really means. Its messages apply to all hungers, all pleasures, all powers, all "foods."
It isn't pretty, but here's part of it:
You take up too much space. Bigger bodies are bigger targets. Shrink to invisibility. Better yet: Disappear.
Hunger is dangerous. It is a need. Others shamed and brutalized us for having needs. Hunger—for food, for anything—renders us pliable, desperate, and weak. Solution: Pretend, by not-eating, that we aren't hungry—for food, for anything.
You must be punished. Trauma taught us that we are The Problem, inherently flawed and bad, thus "earning" constant torrents of abuse. Why wait for others to inflict it when we can self-harm? Starving ourselves, doubling our physical distress by denouncing our needs and "greed," puts the punishment "power" in our hands.
Starvation equals victory. Trauma told us that we are losers: helpless, boundaryless, impotent. Self-esteem slashed, we scramble for feeble facsimiles of strength. We could not conquer our tormentors, but we can "conquer" our hunger—all day, every day. "Surrendering" to our hunger is "failure."
Hunger changes consciousness. Low blood sugar yields chemical reactions just as drugs do: potentially causing mood swings, shakiness, confusion, headaches, unresponsiveness, and other symptoms—which, although unpleasant, make us feel unlike our normal selves. Trauma taught us to hate and flee our normal selves, however possible.
Eating is intimate. Trauma taught us that intimacy leaves us open to attack. It taught us to revile our flesh as needy, greedy, grotesque, gross. Eating intensifies this ostensible grossness as it entails wetness, effluent, intestines, membranes, tongues. Not-eating makes traumatized minds feel relatively "safe" and "clean."
Pleasure brings pain. Our traumatizers pounced when we were innocently having fun, experiencing joy—which they crushed by sneering Only weirdos would love this or You have no right. This made us fear fun. At its first flush, we count down the seconds—3, 2, 1—expecting that our pleasure will be weaponized against us. And eating is ... fun.
Such messages are false and cruel. Also notoriously hard to deconstruct, then disbelieve. But let us try.