When I was in recovery from anorexia, I’m pretty sure that was the most hurtful, most unfair thing I heard throughout the entire process. It wasn’t said to my face, mind you, but I caught wind of it. It was a comment that someone I was friends with made to the guy I was dating at the time.
“But she chose to be like that.” – referring to my apparent ‘choice’ to have an eating disorder. She was assuming that I had chosen to put my mind, my body, and my family through hell as my body (and seemingly, my sanity) wasted away.
There’s a lot of stereotypes that surround eating disorders (only white girls get EDs; only teenagers and young adults; they’re’ solely driven by an impulse to be skinny…you catch my drift), but this one bothers me the most. I think that most people who suffer from an ED would kill for a chance at having a normal relationship with food. If this wasn’t the case, why would we bother putting everything we have into recovery in the first place?
No – nobody would ‘choose’ to have that sort of relationship with something that we need to survive. When I started recovery, all I wanted was to be able to look at food the same way everyone else seemed to: eat when I was hungry, stop when I was full, and eat whatever I felt like eating at that point in time. I didn’t want thoughts of food to consume my life anymore and was willing to put up the hardest fight of my life to recover. Yea, it’s safe to say that I certainly did not choose to put myself through that.
With that in mind, this article caught my attention the other day. We hear about how our upbringing, our personalities, stressful life changes, and largely, the media can contribute to EDs. As much as these things can contribute, it doesn’t really explain why some people develop slightly disordered habits, while others end up with a life-threatening mental illness.
The article discusses how new research suggests that the anorexic brain is wired differently than other peoples’. When looking at the brain activity concerning self control, neuropsychologists have discovered that for people with anorexia, when thinking about traditionally high-calorie foods the areas of the brain that deal with stamping out primitive urges immediately lit up. Basically, an anorexic brain is wired to ignore primitive needs. When testing memory, they found that anorexics tended to score higher than other people and proved to have more focus on the tasks given – possibly helping to explain how anorexics with mantras concerning food (“I will only eat salad at lunch” “I will not eat sugar”) end up with these ‘rules’ weighing so heavily on their daily behaviours.
The research also suggested that anorexics have a different reaction to dopamine (which releases energy and euphoria) when it’s released in the brain – for most people it’s enjoyable, but anorexics described it as being overstimulating and anxiety-inducing. So, normally while eating cake people feel a surge of pleasure, but an anorexic is likely to feel a surge of anxiety. The article suggests that in treatment, cognitive remediation therapy (which focuses on memory, attention, and other neurological issues) combined with therapy and dietary modification is beneficial in avoiding relapse.
I feel a little weird about this research, to be honest – it’s weird for me to think that my brain might be wired differently than how it’s supposed to. But at the same point, it’s a relief. Although I knew I couldn’t just ‘recover’ instantaneously, part of me was always mad at myself whenever I would fall off the bandwagon in my recovery – I had trouble understanding why I couldn’t just make myself see food the way everyone else seemed to. Well, now I have a bit of an answer – it’s in my brain.
I don’t think this is the be-all, end-all of understanding why ED’s occur, but it’s definitely another piece of the puzzle. This is especially true when looking at how EDs tend to run in families, and why people with similar situations/exposure have different experience with EDs (i.e. why someone can escape it entirely, while others don’t). Of course, any research into the subject and understanding how best to treat ED’s makes me happy.
And, it’s a relief to know that what happened to me and other sufferers is likely not our fault – it’s just the way we were wired. Hopefully, research like this continues to bust stereotypes and assumptions related to EDs, and allows people to focus on the most important thing – these people need help, and fast.
<— Anyone else have any issues dealing with ED stereotypes in recovery?