Editor’s note: The author describes substance use disorder and an eating disorder. Please be aware if these are triggers for you.
My name is Megan and I suffer from Anorexia Nervosa.
While some call her “Ana,” I designate her as The Devil. Anorexia takes more lives than any other psychiatric illness and holds four times the amount of fatalities than those suffering from depression, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders. Scary, huh?
Eating disorders are like substance use disorder in the sense that you CAN recover. Yet there is always that chance you may encounter cravings or even relapse. Likewise, retrogression does not preclude you from hopping back up onto that horse.
I was diagnosed with Body Dysmorphic Disorder at the tender age of eleven. My eating disorder developed over a decade later, shortly after attaining sobriety from heroin and crack cocaine abuse. Gaining weight after choosing a drug-free life only intensified my body image distortions. Therefore, I decided to embark on a healthy diet… but this was unfortunately short-lived.
Rather rapidly, my daily caloric intake dropped to 1000, then 800, and eventually landing at a meager 250 per day. Anything less than 1200 calories is considered unsustainable for survival. Digestive issues, fatigue, absence of menstruation, hair loss, brittle nails, dizziness, osteoporosis, and water-electrolyte imbalance are some of the symptoms anorexia can cause.
I reached my goal weight and still felt unsatisfied, which undoubtedly steered me on a crusade to lose more, more, and then some more. At the outset, I found comfort and solace in my ability to control energy intake. I am powerless over much in my life, leading to an inevitable sense of lack of control. Carefully selecting what I ate, accurately counting calories, and resisting the urge to eat while undergoing ravenous hunger empowered me.
Gaining weight after choosing a drug-free life only intensified my body image distortions. Therefore, I decided to embark on a healthy diet… but this was unfortunately short-lived.
Upon becoming severely underweight, I realized I had switched addictions and was in dire need of professional help. Even when my scale read ninety-five pounds, it was not enough. The sense of control my anorexia once procured had been displaced, and now it was controlling me. I was frail, malnourished, and fainting not infrequently. I sought help from Joelle, a Registered Dietitian. Together, we devised a meal plan that we agreed was appropriate and attainable. She offered me her phone number and proposed the idea of nightly texts in which I would inform her of my meals for the day. This was to hold me accountable. I was also encouraged to text if I felt guilt, fear, or negative emotions revolving around food or my body.
Joelle explained that recovery is often a slow process, not an instantaneous occurrence. On successful days, I felt shameful instead of victorious.
Remember: One of the symptoms of this disorder is “an intense fear of weight gain.“ Joelle would remind me that “food is fuel” and that, while I may feel bloated or full at that moment, hunger will always return. She urged me to access my “logical brain” and not my “eating disorder brain,” so I would remember why I chose this journey towards recovery initially.
I felt nostalgic for the constant comments regarding me being too thin and I loathed the compliments of how healthy I was becoming. You see, healthy translated to “fat” in my warped brain.
Over the course of treatment, I began to gain weight. But I felt nostalgic for the constant comments regarding me being too thin and I loathed the compliments of how healthy I was becoming. You see, healthy translated to “fat” in my warped brain.
I used to stare in awe at bone-thin, ballerina-bodied models. Being bisexual, I found them to be seductive.
I recall conducting internet searches fo “Ariana Grande thigh gap,” among other things. Her fragile body was sexually alluring and triggering simultaneously. I personally classify these photographs as “anorexic porn.” Technically, it’s called thinspiration, abbreviated as “thinspo.”
Sadly, a whole subculture exists where people promote eating disorder behaviors. They refer to themselves as pro-ana, which indicates that they starve themselves as a lifestyle choice. Thinspiration is often used as a purposeful trigger to prevent the desire to eat while hungry. This portmanteau implies that the subject matter will provide inspiration for becoming thin. A quick Google image search (though I don’t recommend actually doing this as it can be quite triggering) for thinspo will reveal gaunt, excessively slender bodies, which the anorexic and pro-ana population alike idealize and aspire to one-day look like.
The preponderance of my past girlfriends had petite, emaciated figures. It is an odd situation… to both envy and lust after your lover’s physique.
What I once found desirable, I now clearly see as skeletal and even frightening.
The preponderance of my past girlfriends had petite, emaciated figures. While their external beauty captivated me, my competitive behaviors raised to the surface. I strived to eat less than my norm in hopes of becoming tinier than my partner. If I failed to restrict my calories to what I considered acceptable, irrational remorse from my lack of self-restraint would consume me. It is an odd situation… to both envy and lust after your lover’s physique. Sadly, this is not uncommon among bisexual people who suffer from eating disorders.
I spoke with two women who suffer from Anorexia Nervosa. They both attributed their sexual orientation to making recovery more complex.
One confessed, “My girlfriend and I compare who is smaller all the time.” Another said, “It is triggering watching my girlfriend lose weight unhealthily. Yet I often find myself running my hands across her bones. I am sad and concerned but admittedly, also jealous.” Those of sound mind may consider these statements as deranged, but I identify entirely. Listening to the experiences of others managed to help me feel less alone.
“It is triggering watching my girlfriend lose weight unhealthily. Yet I often find myself running my hands across her bones. I am sad and concerned but admittedly, also jealous.”
I am presently working on fully restoring my weight. I long for a full recovery from this demon on my shoulder. Sadly, it is not simple but, after months of misgivings and failed attempts, I am now capable of consuming the required amount of calories to gain .5 pounds each week.
But is recovery solely maintaining a healthy weight? Must I be free from my eating disorder voice entirely, to truly be deemed as healed from all of the unmitigated sufferings I have endured? I believe recovery is not a one-size-fits all. I have witnessed many recovered people who missed certain aspects of being anorexic and they despised being at a normal weight. They wondered if having a healthy BMI for years indicated recovery. This begs the question, while I will soon accomplish weight restoration, will I ever rid my mind of disordered thinking?
Knowing that I will unquestionably compare my appearance to that of my beloved, I will now only date women of a healthy body weight.
My recovery carries more importance than my love life. I refuse to risk my physical and mental wellbeing by engaging in triggering behaviors, such as body checking, compulsive exercise, thinspiration, constant weigh-ins, and competitive behavior.
A therapist in rehab once told me, “Two broken batteries won’t start a car.” The theory behind this is that two people still in the midst of addiction (of any kind) are more likely to drag each other down than to build one another up. By dating women who also suffer from disordered eating habits, I am placing myself at a higher risk of relapse. This is a comparable concept to rehab romances; two vulnerable people deciding to form a relationship. More often than not, one will relapse and the other follows them blindly into the darkness.
I will now only date women of healthy body weight. My recovery carries more importance than my love life.
Sporadically, my former desire for an abnormally low body weight raises to the surface. The following mantra has genuinely helped me during troublesome times, “My body is merely housing for my soul.”
Anorexia has been harder to kick than drug addiction. I am able to remove myself from situations where drugs are within eyesight. Food, on the other hand, is a necessity, making it more difficult to evade triggers. I can avoid crack houses, not grocery stores.
Adding in the fact that bisexuality makes eating disorder recovery more problematic qualifies me as a survivor. I circumvented the gates to death’s door, and I have no intention of returning. Perhaps cliché, but life is precious. Who I am as a person takes precedence over my appearance. To reiterate, my body is simply housing for my soul.