Tag Archives: Anorexia

When I Look in the Mirror…: Blindness and Body Image

Today, Finish the Sentence Friday’s starter sentence is: “When I look in the mirror, I see…”. Now I could easily respond that I’m blind so I don’t see anything in the mirror. That would however be feeding a common misconception, that is, that blind people don’t have body image issues because they can’t see what they look like in the mirror. Some people even go so far as to assume blind people can’t have eating disorders for this reason. First of all, of course, not all eating disorders are about body image. However, let me tell you, I know several blind people with anorexia, which is in part about body image.

The relationship between my blindness and my body image is however quite complicated. I can’t say there is no relationship, because there is. For example, I gained over 40lbs in the last four years. I know this because people tell me the number on the scale. However, I haven’t tried this but I’m pretty sure that if I had to estimate my size, I would be far off and see myself as far thinner than I am. I do obviously feel my body and I use my hands to measure it. That’s gotten harder as I’ve become bigger, but I don’t notice it as much as someone would by looking in the mirror. I don’t exactly see myself as skinny, in that I know I’m quite fat, but I do often have a hard time reconciling the numbers on the scale with how I feel like I look.

This may seem weird, because I do have a negative image of my body’s shape and size. I hate the fact that I’m fat. When I notice clothing getting tighter, I feel pretty awful about myself. I’ve said that I should weigh half as much as I do now (which would put me in the underweight range). That being said, I play these mind tricks where I allow myself to gain weight despite wanting to lose it. Like, I’ve gotten this insane kind of logic where I’m at a good weight if halving it would put me in the anorexic range. I got it from a Dutch book called something like “How I halved myself and won the battle against anorexia again”.

There are other aspects to body image of course. People who estimate my age by looking at my face, usually think I’m quite a bit older than I am. I can feel the tiny wrinkles on my face, of course, if I really attend to them. That in turn makes them feel a lot larger than my husband says they are – he actually says I don’t have wrinkles at all. However, again, in my mind I still see myself as looking like a teenager.

The last time I had some vision of what I looked like, I was about thirteen. In this light, it makes sense that I am stuck on the image of myself as a teenager. It’s not just my body image though. I still see myself as somewhat like a teenager in many ways. That could be my autistic difficulty adjusting to change applied to myself.

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Disordered Eating: A Cry for Help

One day when I was probably in seventh grade, I read an audio magazine for blind teens. It was really a mixture of its own content with content from other teen magazines read aloud. One of the articles from another magazine was about an eating disorders unit. I just remembered this as I read a passage in J.J. Johnson’s Believarexic, in which Jennifer remembers learning about anorexia for the first time in fifth grade and wondering how the celebrity who died of it, got as skinny as she did. Later on, Jennifer learns about people being hospitalized for eating disorders. She envies them because of their size but also because of the attention they get.

This hit home with me. Back in seventh grade, I had already firmly embarked on the binge eating boat, but since I was at a healthy weight for my age and height, I didn’t notice my eating had spiraled out of control already. I remember once, probably in the same year, being confronted by my classmates about getting five candy bars out of the vending machine and eating them all in one sitting. However, I just got annoyed and didn’t realize that my classmates may have wanted to protect me from unhealthful choices.

We didn’t learn about binge eating disorder or compulsive overeating in health class. All we learned about eating disorders was about anorexia and bulimia. I even did one of my gifted program projects on these eating disorders. I didn’t tell anyone that, as I was writing the paper, I was trying to figure out how I could become anorexic.

No, I didn’t “want” anorexia, like some teens say they do. No-one consciously decides to develop an eating disorder. But I did want the perseverance that I perceived anorexics had. So I began keeping food diaries. This was before I had access to the Internet and I couldn’t read packaging, so I couldn’t check calories. In truth, as I look back at my food diaries of the time, they show a pretty typical overeater’s pattern. But I wanted to have some control over my food intake by keeping these diaries. Not that it worked, of course. Over the years, my binge eating got worse.

Back to the article about the eating disorders unit. For some reason, I felt compelled to be like these patients. I don’t know whether it was pure attention-seeking. I mean, I got plenty of attention from my parents and teachers. What I might’ve been missing was someone who saw how much I was struggling. Maybe, if I became anorexic, they’d see how miserable I was.

The other day, I had a meeting with my psychologist. She wa spushing me to take steps towards independence in preparation for my move in with my husband. I can’t remember whether she said so, but she gave me the impression that she felt I was doing better because I had much fewer meltdowns and emotional outbursts. In truth, I may be a little better, but I still have a pretty miserable life and feel pretty crap. Instead of becoming self-destructive or aggressive, I lie in bed or resort to overeating. A fair quality of life is not just not being a pain in the neck, but also being able to experience pleasure every once in a while. It isn’t that I never do, but it’s quite rare that I do things that bring me any sort of satisfaction. For example, I don’t craft nearly as much as I used to, because I can’t handle the noise and crowdedness at day activities.

I was also telling my psychologist that I’m completely dependent on my treatment team. What I meant was close to the exact opposite: I have no control over what goals are set for me, but it is my sole responsibility to reach them.

In a sense, maybe this whole disordered eating thing is a way of showing peope I need help. It sounds so pathetic though: someone who’s nearly thirty-years-old needing to be taken care of like a little child. IN truth though, often I feel that vulnerable.

My Experience with Disordered Eating #NEDAwareness

This week is NEDAwareness week, a week to raise awareness of disordered eating and body image issues, established by the National Eating Disorders Association. I have several things to say about disordered eating and body image issues, and at first, I was going to write a list of common myths about eating disorders. These, however, are all over the Internet already. The only thing I might be able to add is the Dutch perspective. However, another way of addressing common myths about disordered eating and body image is to share my own experience.

First, I do not nd have never had a diagnosable eating disorder. I do however have pretty significant issues with disordered eating and body image. I mostly engage in binge eating, which I do on average once or twice a week. I overeat on more occasions, but then I either don’t eat so much that it can be considered a binge or don’t feel as though I’ve lost control. You see, I’ve lost sight of what is and isn’t nromal, how much to eat, etc.

To get to a common myth anyway: many people believe that you can only have an eating disorder if you’r thin, and/or that anorexia is the most common eating disorder. In fact, in the Netherlands, there are twnety times more people with eating disorders who have a healthy weight than there are people with anorexia. Binge eating disorder, which is what I am closest to, is the most common eating disorder, followed by bulimia and then anorexia. I still encounter people, including nurses, who say that I “only” overeat, so what’s the big deal? About three years ago, I started occasionally inducing vomiting, and that’s when my eating issue first felt real to me. In reality, I’ve had binge eating episodes since adolescence.

I am overweight. Actually, I’m pretty sure I’m currently obese, but I haven’t weighed myself in months. On the Dutch eating disorder site I participate on, there were topics for discussing underweight and then healthy weight long before the admins finally opened a discussion thread on overweight. Most people believe that eating disorders are something you can overcome by just trying, and this is especially true for binge eating. I won’t say that people don’t minimize the struggles anorexics face, but with binge eating, people often assume that you just like to snack. On the same Dutch eating disorder site I mentioned, there is a blog post on the difference between an eating issue and an eating disorder, and someone who likes high-calorie food is portrayed as the one with the eating issue, while an underweight, restricting person is portrayed as the one with the eating disorder.

Let’s get one thing straight: you can have any weight and have an eating disorder. You can also display any number of eating-related behaviors and have an eating disorder. Examples of eating disordered behaviors include bingeing, purging, restricting, but also having rigid rituals or rules around eating. I know that rituals around eating dono’t mean you have an eating disorder per se, but they may be a sign of eating issues and they can interfere with healthy food intake and daily life. For example, if you’re so self-conscious about your weight (whether you actually are overweight or underweight or not) that you don’t want to eat in other people’s presence, this can lead to a lot of problems in your social life and can also mean you get less food into your body than you need, even if you’re not consciously restricting. Also, eating only a select number of foods or food types can be very unhealthy. I’ve heard of something called selective eating disorder, but this is not recognized by clinicians at this point. In my own experience, this habit interacts with my binge eating behaviors. For example, if I’ve had something for lunch that I don’t like (and I’m a very picky eater I’m told), I run a high risk of bingeing later in the day.

Lastly, I want to dismantle one myth that isn’t applicable to me personally: that eating disorders only affect white adolescent females. (Well, okay, I’m not an adolescnet anymore, but I’m white and I’m female.) There was a Dutch study in 2012 that asked around 250 high school boys about their eating and body image. As many as 25% had eating disorder features, including calorie counting (13%), being significantly underweight (10%) and laxative abuse (2%). This study showed the fact that eating disorders are probably underrecognized in males.