Anorexia and bulimia: what no one dares sayby Paola Battista - 2014.06.03
She hated the cliches about people with eating disorders so much that she started a blog to break down the stereotypes one by one. Welcome to ‘Trappola per Topi‘ (Mousetrap), a digital diary created by an ironic and irreverent girl who wants to speak out about these issues while remaining anonymous. West spoke to her.
You said: “Anorexics are all the bitches.” Why?
Yes, now and again some of my statements are a little extreme. Put simply, I try to counter the image of the anorexic person as being angelic because, as anyone on a diet can tell you, if you don’t eat you can easily become irritated and sometimes even cruel to those around you. Maybe the girls were outstanding, prior to their illness. But then the excess gastric juices go to your head, and you become moody, treating those around you badly, being intolerant, always angry and so on.
Which stereotypes about eating disorders do you find most irritating?
What I find most annoying of all is the idea that an eating disorder is the same as an obsession with beauty. So seeing as thin is beautiful, people think that those for whom thinness is a disease have simply got carried away with vanity. Generally, I think various theories on predisposition have created the myth that you have to be a certain kind of person with a certain personality to develop an eating disorder. I don’t doubt that, statistically, there is some truth to this. But to say that “many young girls have an eating disorder and many young girls are weak/perfectionist/vain, therefore everyone with an eating disorder is weak/perfectionist/vain,” means interpreting the Aristotelian logic a bit too freely.
What are the alarm bells that everyone should recognise?
Alarm bells only work when there are a lot of them ringing all together. Someone who stops eating doesn’t necessarily have a disorder. But if they stop eating, are careful when and how much they eat, can’t take care of their body in a balanced and regular way (not just food but also in terms of sports, shopping, hair and so on), then you have to ask some questions. One thing that anyone who has had an eating disorder can notice straight away are small food-related obsessions, which you would never notice if you hadn’t experienced it. For example, using sweetener, not putting dressing on salad, drinking a lot, panicking in front of a menu in a restaurant, eating ricotta cheese but never mozzarella. Things like that.
What are the most common lies about food?
I’ve already eaten.
Who is the functional bulimic?
Someone who apparently succeeds in leading a normal life with a job, a salary, some social life. But then they spend their free time simply binging and vomiting.
Your blog lists a number of things that an eating disorder would prevent you from doing. Which one do you hate most, personally?
My friends can’t rely on me because, due to the bulimia, I often disappear.
Bulimia and money: tell us more.
I can tell you that a good part of a bulimic person’s income ends up as food. And there are people who end up doing menial jobs so they can afford to binge or who go to live with their parents.
What thoughts occur before and after a binge?
My feelings of guilt have changed over the years and now they have virtually disappeared. Right after a binge, the only thing I think is that I have to be sick otherwise I won’t be able to walk. Having thrown up I think I feel better. I think the idea that vomiting is a kind of punishment doesn’t have that much basis in reality.
You call yourself ‘bulimically ugly’ because of the side effects of the disease. Is this talked about enough?
I think the long-term consequences, such as cancer of the kidneys or stomach, are spoken about enough. But the immediate aesthetic side effects (saggy, dull skin; discoloured, broken teeth; swollen glands; hair loss) aren’t given much attention. Talking about this would certainly help to make it clear how little glamour there is in bulimia.
How do those with bulimia confront these problems?
Bulimia is more important than any aesthetic worry and you certainly wouldn’t stop being bulimic just because of the risk of becoming less attractive. In fact, you don’t stop being bulimic even because you risk dying of cancer. That’s how addictions work. You say: “I could eat forever. I don’t know if it’s real hunger, or if it’s just a sense of emptiness.”
What is your emptiness and when did you notice it?
The vacuum is a bit like the one depressed people refer to. It’s got nothing to do with sadness. It’s perhaps more a realisation that things have no meaning and the fundamental inability to feel pleasure. The eating disorder fills the emptiness but it also creates a vacuum, as though, instead of solving the problem, it just covers the hole and then erodes from the inside.
What does it mean to “lose the instinct to eat normally”?
On the one hand, your body can no longer tell when you’re hungry or not; on the other hand, your mind and your disease have too much power to allow the (hunger) instinct to take its normal course.
You mention “complex anorexic programming” – what is this?
The system of dysfunctional laws, which regulate the diet of someone with an eating disorder, which that same person created for themselves even thought they then become a slave to them. For example: I can eat a banana for breakfast but not for the rest of the day and breakfast time ends at 10am. Breaking one of these rules won’t make anyone put on weight but it can drive someone with an eating disorder into a crisis.
What is the relationship with family members who want to ‘help’, nutritionists and psychotherapists?
It depends on the present stage of the disorder and on the person. The family will never understand, just as the person with the disorder will never understand the family – and if they did understand the family, then the most altruistic thing would be to stop seeking their help. Seeing and helping a person with an eating disorder causes endless suffering. With specialists, it depends on the specialist.
You write: “It’s not always so easy to suppress a persistent voice in your head.” Can you ‘heal mentally’ from an eating disorder?
You can make that voice weaker and strengthen other voices, thereby giving up the unhealthy behaviours. But you can’t go back to the person you were before the disorder.
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