July 24, 2024
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Inside the Mindset of an Eating Disorder

Part II of II

I take the first bite. I swallow with emphasis, as if taking cough syrup or a potion I know will bring me some uncertain future. My body reacts. It is craving this food. This energy. My mind scorns my body, wishing there could be more control, wishing there could be some detachment.

One minute and 26 seconds pass. I hear an impatient sigh. Next bite. This continues until I’m through, at which point I float upstairs and wonder about what I’ve just done. I wonder if that was right, if I should do something to compensate, if this truly will bring me on the road closer to recovery.

Pain. Fear. Resistance.

My previous article explored my once mindset, the mindset of an individual suffering from an eating disorder. I described the internal strife, the dialogue and inner workings of one struggling with a demonic voice, a part of herself that was conceived as a means to cope but instead becomes an enemy from within.

While I’ve written in detail before about my struggle, it seems imperative that I share the specific thoughts and inner workings. One of the greatest difficulties when struggling with an eating disorder is the feeling of complete isolation. The eating disorder has been compared to a “best friend” or even “an abusive boyfriend” as it takes on a role, rather than simply a mindset. The eating disorder is a part of oneself, but a part that exists as a means to manage pain, fear or loss. When a person begins the process of recovery, s/he is working to combat the “eating disorder self,” as Carolyn Costin puts it, with the “healthy self”—the part of the individual that wants to recover and be free from the eating disorder.

The loneliness and hopelessness that one sits with is practically unbearable. I can recall both wanting support and craving connection, yet shunning it whenever the opportunity presented itself. No one understood. My parents and siblings tried to understand, my boyfriend tried to understand, some friends hoped to understand—but they couldn’t.

It is for this reason that I am sharing a glimpse, a mere glimpse, into the experience of one struggling. Understanding what it is like will allow for a greater ability to support the individual.

So many people, upon hearing that I had anorexia, responded with comments such as, “Can’t you just eat?” or “But food is great,” “You look so good, I don’t know why you’d want to have an eating disorder.”

After reading Part I of this article, you may be better able to imagine how hurtful it can feel when someone talks about the eating disorder as if it is a choice, as if it is about vanity or as if it is something from which one can “simply walk away.” While so much of the struggle pertains to food, the eating disorder is not really about food at all. And the components that do manifest through food feel heavy and unbearable; joking around about eating disorders or making comments about the simplicity of “just eating” feels like daggers to one’s struggling self.

What can you say, then? How should one approach it? First, respond with compassion rather than accusations. If you, as a supporter, or even as someone learning more about eating disorders, hear about another individual’s struggle, it is best to respond not to the symptoms, but instead to the experience. For instance, making comments about food and weight will not help the person; this is a trap or a double-edged sword. The person will not be pleased hearing that s/he “looks great” or “healthy,” as this is translated, in the eating disorder mindset, to mean that the person looks “fat.” Furthermore, commenting on the weight change or loss will most likely fuel the eating disorder. Instead, address the struggle and offer support.

When I left residential treatment, my sister offered me one of the best lines of support that I can remember. She said: “I can’t imagine what you’re going through; I won’t pretend to. But please know that I’m here if there’s any way that I can help.”

At that time I was in the throes of my eating disorder and depression and I remember her sitting with me in silence for a few moments, just so that I knew that she was there for me. It is this type of support that is most honest and raw. It skips the jokes and the myths about eating disorders that can feel hurtful to those suffering.

We can brush aside the harsh reality that is mental illness. We can reduce it to that—just a harsh reality. Or we can work to help one another understand. To create clarity and enlightenment to not only provide much-needed support, but to prevent further mental illness, like these deadly eating disorders. I share my story not for my own sake, not to dig up the past or to show my pride in my journey. Rather, I do so to open the window for others to be able to receive much-needed help and hope.

Temimah Zucker, LMSW, is a therapist at EDTNY Monte Nido. After recovering from her battle with anorexia, Temimah immersed herself in the field and is also a meal mentor and public speaker. She is developing a non-profit to target eating disorders in the Jewish community. To learn, more visit snackingonlife.com.

By Temimah Zucker, LMSW

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