What It Feels Like to Be Anorexic

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This week is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. I'm sure you are already aware of eating disorders. What I wish is that people understood them better. I think everyone gets that anorexics starve, bulimics purge, overeaters eat more than is healthy on an ongoing basis -- the general public *seems* to grok the physical part of eating disorders. What's way tougher to understand is the mental part.

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Credit Image: apphotoshooter

This month my debut young adult novel, THE OBVIOUS GAME, was released from InkSpell Publishing. Mixed in with the excitement of having my first novel published is the fear of people's reaction to the subject matter. Diana, the novel's protagonist, gets really, really anorexic. First I worried about how my family would react, since I myself was anorexic and bulimic and just plain disordered for most of my late teens and twenties. A few of my relatives have told me they cried while reading my book. Then I worried about how -- if they read it -- health professionals would react. I am no psychologist. All I know is how it feels. I don't know why I got it, I don't know how exactly I overcame it, I just know how it felt to have it, how it felt to force myself through recovery and how it feels now to be on the other side. Finally, I worried how current and former anorexics would feel when they read it. Would they see themselves in my characters? Would they identify? Would they tell me?

The book has been out now for a few weeks, and by far the most surprising fact to me is how many women are telling me they were what sounds like clinically anorexic at some period of their lives. I'm sure the people who weren't just aren't telling me so it seems skewed, but this is a lot of people. A LOT.

According to the National Eating Disorders Association, the statistics are in line with my shock.

  • There has been a rise in incidence of anorexia in young women 15-19 in each decade since 1930 (Hoek& van Hoeken, 2003).

  • The incidence of bulimia in 10-39 year old women TRIPLED between 1988 and 1993 (Hoek& van Hoeken, 2003).

  • A review of nearly fifty years of research confirms that anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder (Arcelus, Mitchell, Wales, & Nielsen, 2011).

  • In the United States, 20 million women and 10 million men suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder at some time in their life, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, or an eating disorder not otherwise specified (EDNOS) (Wade, Keski-Rahkonen, & Hudson, 2011).

However, there's hope. A lot of hope. It is possible to retrain and reframe and break out of the rule-based mentality that affects so many with eating disorders, particularly anorexics. If you've ever watched someone in your life suffer from anorexia and wanted to scream at him or her to just eat, I want to explain why they can't, or at least why they can't without someone coming at them from a place of understanding and helping them fight the voices that are both of them and against them in their heads.


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