The mind of an anorexic is fueled by rules and restrictions as a means of control and protection. For the anorexic, life’s uncertainties and perceived fears cause great anxiety and feelings of danger and insecurity. I will relate my own experiences with this, and how it affected my life with this disease.
Losing weight and dieting was my main objective. It became my only goal, every day. From the beginning, I classified foods into two categories, either ‘good’ or ‘bad’. I set up rules in my mind about how, when and what I would allow myself to eat. My rules changed over the years, depending on society’s influence, family influence and ideas that I thought might cause more weight loss. Certain foods would suddenly fall into the bad category, if I felt a sense of danger, insecurity or a loss of control. I had certain rules about when I could eat, in what order I could eat certain foods, on certain days, even what plates, silverware and cups I could use. I had a certain order in which I would eat certain foods. Every second my actions were methodical and calculated. Rules, rigidity and absolute control played out in all other areas of my life also. I had rules, rituals, or a routine for every second of my day, and for days in advance. If at any time I broke the rules, this caused fear and extreme anxiety.
One of the rules that I set for myself from the very beginning was that I must eat differently than others. The foods had to be different, the times I ate were different, and the method in which I ate had to be different. For the entire span of my disease, my patent excuse for not eating, or for the differences in my eating was “I don’t like it”. This is a common excuse for most anorexics. Eventually, over time, I even convinced myself of that, and my list of bad foods became longer. The worst of this came the last 10 years or so of my disease, except for an 18 month period after I had been in treatment. During that time, my rules relaxed to some degree, but were never completely controlled. Within a short amount of time, what I allowed myself decreased again and the rules became even more rigid. After that time, my intake steadily decreased, and from that point on I became a virtual recluse. My days were completely planned around my eating schedule, and I allowed nothing to interfere. I missed out on my boys’ school and sporting events, family holidays and birthdays, and I had entirely no social interaction. I had to protect my ‘secret’ lifestyle, which by that time was most evident to everyone who knew me.
I took on a health food approach for some time, which played right into my need to be different. I avoided all sugars and preservatives, and I baked all my family’s bread, even to the point of grinding the raw wheat for flour. But interestingly enough, I never ate it. I can see now that resisting the temptation provided another test of my willpower, and another chance to prove my success. Then I was a vegetarian for several years, avoiding any kind of protein, including meat, dairy products, eggs, fish or chicken.
My rules did change along the course of my disease, but they were always there. It was all about control and a pseudo protection, safety and security. Every treatment that I went into, I formed my own set of rules as a means to maintain control. The lies, manipulation and desperate fear prevented me from accepting treatment or committing to recovery. After I was admitted to my final and successful treatment center, it still took me many months after weight restoration to be able to admit and recognize what my food ruts and rules were, and to begin to challenge them. That is when I began to feel REAL control.
I am now living each day with no rules about what I eat, or labels in my mind about “good” or “bad” foods. The obsessive nature of my life in general has greatly decreased. I will always be a very organized person, with a need for order, but not to the point that it interferes with the joy that I now experience every day in my life. My first priority is to eat enough food each day to remain healthy, and to never again sacrifice myself in any way to meet society’s expectations or to gain acceptance.