Anorexia Recovery: Contemplation Stage
TW: discussion of youth eating disorders and suicidal thinking
I know our experiences of anorexia are bound to be different, but there are threads that connect us. For many people in the early stages of anorexia nervosa, there are subtle and not-so-subtle signs that start suggesting that maybe something is wrong.
For me? It took a LONG time to get to the contemplation stage.
Reflecting back, I need to say that the length of time it took for anyone to show concern and the length of time it took for me to realize I wasn't "winning at dieting" and instead was quite literally starving attests to how truly messed up our culture is when it comes to what it views as worthy, beautiful, and sick.
Here are some memories of mine that come up when I think back to the days where the word anorexia was a foreign and unfamiliar term that didn't apply to my personal experience.
In a roundabout way, then, these are things that signalled to me that I needed help ...
My contemplation stage for anorexia recovery
Euphoria from stepping on the scale and seeing the weight loss turned to anxiety, fear, worry that wouldn't leave no matter if I was near the scale or not.
I started breaking promises to myself. For example, I told myself I'd get a certain food item at a certain event to celebrate a certain weight and when I reached that weight, I convinced myself the scale wasn't correct, I didn't need the treat, I'd be happier without it. I spent the entire event thinking about the food item.
Classmates' compliments and admiration for my weight loss turned to rumours and nasty remarks.
My relative who had been ultra supportive of my weight loss, hugged me one day in public and said, "What are you anorexic now?" The question kept echoing.
I read a book that dealt with female body image issues - and the pursuit of perfection through thinness. I saw myself in that book and remember doing the math: if they have all these symptoms and are anorexic...then so am I... maybe.
I started getting bullied for my weight by family members, coworkers, classmates.
I tried to change my ways on my own by eating and I launched into a binge eating cycle no one around me understood as an attempt to restore weight. I was told to be careful and not go too far the "other way." For the record, the "other way" is becoming "fat" instead of starving ... and they are not opposites and it has taken me my life to learn this.
The binge eating led to painful gastro issues and rapid weight gain.
I experienced suicidal thinking as I began to believe I would never get out of the cycle.
Note: binge eating is not just eating a lot at once. It is a loss of control. A feeling of genuinely not being able to stop yourself despite the food causing pain, sickness, or disgust. Binge eating starts with obsessive thinking about a food and then frantic consumption.
In my memory, if we take a step backwards for a moment, the arch of the story went something like this:
Underlying biological factors for developing an eating disorder exist
Family members uphold the thin ideal (by body shaming themselves, others, or making comments on size, shape, clothing choice for body type, food portions, etc.)
Older boyfriend wants to lose 10 pounds and pitches it as a bonding activity
Neither accomplish the 10-pound weight loss
I am stuck in a sludge of personal failure and body image issues, knowing now he'd like me better at least 10 pounds lighter...and that everyone agrees
Focus, determination, progress
Perfecting the meals, workouts, schedule (a true high because it feels like you can finally control your life) AKA obsession
Plateau and mood plummet
No other thoughts beyond food and exercising: nutrients, colours, shapes, portions, health benefits, alternatives, timing, cooking method, calorie counts...sweating, burning, losing...working off anything that had been consumed
Inability to let go of scale, weight loss routine, rigidity
Physical symptoms including shivering, shaking, hair loss, and fatigue ensue
Self doubt, questioning, contemplating
Maybe I need help... the woman in the book I read (it had a black cover with white and red text...) she had my symptoms and she sought help and...I saw myself in the portrait of a woman with an eating disorder and it encouraged me to at least begin questioning the current experience. If you're wondering if you're sick enough to start recovery, the answer is always yes.
This is why I wrote Ana, Mia & Me: An Eating Disorder Recovery Memoir during the early recovery stage and why I continue to talk about my experience today. If you're interested in hearing more of my story, you can get the paperback or ebook version on Amazon now.
Go to NEDIC for more information on recovering from anorexia.