Anorexia Nervosa: Illusionary Sense of Power

Eating disorders are epidemical nowadays, but Anorexia Nervosa together with Bulimia Nervosa are the most common ones. Anorexia Nervosa is a disorder in which someone fasts for long periods of time in order to look thinner or as a means to feel in control of their lives. Those suffering from it select the kinds and amounts of food they eat, and they get so obsessed with becoming thinner, they don’t know when they went too far.

Basic Facts

Though it is thought that people suffering from anorexia often see a distorted image of themselves as being fat, that is not always true, as blogger Emily Troscianko, a former-anorexic, tells in her account, which completes this article. According to her, she used to focus her thinning goals on parts of her body, like her belly and thighs, ignoring the rest, and when once forced to focus on her whole body, she was shocked.

It is considered as warning signs that someone is suffering from Anorexia Nervosa: practicing self-starvation with weight loss, unusual sensitivity to cold, excessive fear of gaining weight, excessive facial/body hair for lack of protein, compulsive exercise, no menses or intermittent ones, and hair loss.

Also, unlike common knowledge, anorexics take excessive interest in food, are secretive or detached from the rest of the world, have little energy to do any extended physical or mental activity, though they feel hunger, they control it neurotically, and may justify their behavior as being a search for perfection. [1]

The numbers for Anorexia Nervosa are staggering:

  • 1 in 150 girls of age 15 have Anorexia
  • About 4 in 100 people, between age 10 and 39 get Anorexia each year.
  • For every 10 women 1 men is anorexic, however the numbers among men have been increasing.
  • Anorexia has the highest death rate of any mental sickness. [2]

There are two kinds of Anorexia Nervosa: the restricting type, in which people take a few calories a day or only drink water, and the binge-eating/purging one, in which they eat something they feel they shouldn’t have or they binge and then to compensate, they workout excessively or vomit.

Living with Anorexia

The greatest difficulty in dealing with those suffering from Anorexia Nervosa, and of course, of several other mental sicknesses, is that they don’t realize how sick they are. Until something happens to draw their attention to the seriousness of their situation, they feel empowered, enjoying the fake sense of control and superiority over those who don’t act like them.

For Emily Troscianko, her breaking point was when she looked at herself in the mirror and, after 10 years of anorexia, noticed how the ball gown she wanted so much to wear, highlighted the “Dachau contours” of her “spindle arms and scrawny neck and bony bust”, which made her cry; and also when her mother, who was moving away with her boyfriend, told her plain and simple “your anorexia is not welcome at our new house.” [3]

Her mother, writer Sue Blackmore, commented about her desperate last act of trying to recover her daughter: “It was probably more like selfishness and straightforward honesty. I'd had enough of all this misery. The books always tell you to try to separate the anorexia from the person who is suffering from it. The anorexic will tell you that she is her anorexia; that she wouldn't be herself if she ate like other people do, as "fat" and "greedy" people do. I had never tried to follow the books' advice, but I guess that was somewhere in the back of my mind. I wanted my Emily back!” [4]

With the help of a college friend, Emily went to see a doctor, started a treatment, and persisted on the long bumpy way back to health. Sue’s desperate curt words worked to raise Emily’s awareness, but that may not be the best method for everyone. For ways of helping those who suffer from anorexia and other eating disorders, check the previous article.

Emily Troscianko keeps a blog on Psychology Today (Hunger Artist), where she shares the main events of her life while she was sick, her recovery process, and addresses the myths about Anorexia Nervosa. Here are two excerpts from the articles on the site:

“This meant that changing - living a ‘normal' life - was something that I not only believed I could never do: I believed I could never want to do it, ever. Why on earth would I want to give up the magnificent, all-eclipsing pleasure of my nightly meal of bread and boiled vegetables and chocolate on my own in bed for the ‘pleasures' other people claimed to find in other things? It was completely implausible that anything could replace that ecstasy of sucking a great mouth-filling lump of milk chocolate and then falling asleep a little before sunrise (in winter, at least).

“This is why I want to write this blog: because for so long, and with increasing conviction, I was so sure that I didn't want to be ‘better', as everyone always seemed to assume I must. I could see all the things that were wrong with how I was living, of course; I wasn't stupid. But they couldn't see all the things that were right about it, and unrelinquishable. I read all the anorexia self-help books, with case-studies of girls who got better and looked back on their old lives with the marvelling incomprehension of someone who's come back from the dead. But I always thought I was different.

“I knew, from the other parts of those books, that I had all the unglamorous symptoms the other girls had, and indulged in the same warped behaviours (who'd have thought all we anorexics would want masses of salt on absolutely everything?), but I kept on thinking that with me it was something more special, or at least something redeemed by the things it let me be: thin (so my difference from everyone else was unmissable), hard-working (nothing and no one else in my life to keep me from reading and writing), safe, untouchable.

“For me, it was a little war of attrition: gradually, over the years, enough things amassed that made staying the way I was seem less possible, until the constellation of chance and will power and deathly tiredness was at last enough to make me change.” [5]

“Whether you sometimes check the calorie count on the back of packets, or worry when you've missed a gym session, or wish you could still get into the jeans you used to love, or buy low-fat yoghurt - whether you read up on nutritional theory or just panic vaguely when you've had too much ice cream for pudding - there is anxiety there, there is a sense of being slightly out of control.

“The anorexic sees these people and sees weakness, sees hypocrisy and the failure to act consistently: she or he, by contrast, takes this feeling of fear and decides to deal with it, and controls food, drink, and exercise more or less perfectly, and can then feel more or less contented, and safe. When anything at all goes ‘wrong', though, and ‘control' is forsaken for an instant, everything threatens instantly to crumble.” [6]

Come back tomorrow for the article on Bulimia, and on Wednesday, for the closing one on Media’s influence on our image of ourselves.

More information and help centers:

ANAD # The Guardian article

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