Why am I not smarter than my eating disorder?

I know this is stupid. I keep getting thinner and thinner. Why can't I stop?

Published February 4, 2011 1:30AM (EST)

Dearest Cary,

I am writing to you, not so much to seek advice but for the release of putting something down, putting it out there. I am in my 20s, clever, well-educated, feminist and successful. I also have an eating disorder.

I know what I need to do to overcome this disorder. I just need to get over it and eat healthily and according to the principles in which my intellectual mind believes. This shouldn't be hard. For whatever reason, I don't seem to be doing it.

My disorder is not that bad in the scale of things. I eat too little and am moderately underweight (BMI around 17.5-18). Over the past few years, I have been losing weight. I was never fat, but it has improved my health and appearance and was not a problem initially. The problem is that I am continually resetting the goalposts of what is an acceptable weight for me. For a while (about a year and a half) I was quite comfortable with my new, much slimmer frame. I watched what I ate and so on, but I didn't feel constantly hungry or anything -- I felt quite healthy and satisfied and had treats when I felt like it. But over the past few months, I've become obsessed with achieving a new, even lighter weight. And the disturbing thing is that there isn't even a solid figure in my mind -- I just want to lose, lose, lose and never stop losing, the idea of putting on or even maintaining weight appalls me. So I count calories, I exercise compulsively, I obsess and obsess and spend hours every day thinking about food and then I get really hungry and I binge and binge and eat mountains of food that is bad for me, food that doesn't belong to me, food that will make me uncomfortable and sick. (I've tried throwing up, but I'm not any good at it.) And then after the binge my hunger is satiated and I go back to starving for a couple of days and then the cycle repeats itself, except that the binges have been getting more frequent lately, and it's hurting me and making me sad.

The obvious answer to all this is to just GET THE HELL OVER IT. So what if I have an extremely slim body versus a fairly slim body? I'm naturally not a big eater. Until recently I was physically comfortable with my slightly heavier weight, which didn't leave me feeling hungry or deprived, and which most onlookers probably couldn't even distinguish from my current size. Why am I being so shallow on this one issue? I don't care that much about clothes, I am virtually indifferent to the opinions of others regarding my appearance (outside of thinness), and yet I am wasting my time, my health and my potential on this obsession. There are so many ways I could use my time and my mental energy, and I choose to pour them down a drain of self-worship and destructiveness. I judge other people for being fat. I judge other people for being a shape which is not as thin as mine, and I know that is a shitty thing to do, and makes me a very small person -- and not in the physical way. I tell other people off for being prejudiced against fat people, for exhibiting fat phobia and discriminating, and yet I am doing the same thing with my body, my life.

My mother, when I was growing up, was very fixated on weight issues (she always used to comment on the size of other women's tummies!) and that influenced me toward becoming very conscious of my size. But I have rejected my mother's influence in so many other ways, so I can't just blame her for brainwashing me. Similarly, the media shoves the thin-equals-good message all the time, but then the media is full of stupid propagandistic bullshit every day and I don't fall for all the rest of it, so why this??? WHY THIS???

The scary thing is, I sound like I'm sorry but I'm not. If I could just go on getting thinner without getting hungry and going bingeing, I would, regardless of the probable effects on my health. I am still pretty healthy -- only at the tip of the underweight range, and physically very toned and capable of doing all the things I want to do -- but it's a shitty way to live.

The act of writing this down has been therapeutic. I'd be so interested to hear your thoughts on why I seem to be too stupid to fix a problem that has an obvious, easy solution.


Person Being Stupid in Stupid, Predictable Ways

Dear Person Being Stupid in Stupid, Predictable Ways,

You have to get help.

You can't think your way out of this. It's not going to make sense to you no matter how much you think about it. All the time you spend thinking about it, it's just going to go right on killing you until your bones are brittle and your electrolytes are so messed up there's no turning back.

So stop trying to figure it out and get help before it kills you.

It took a lot of courage to write this letter and it will take a lot of courage to go to someone and say, I think I have an eating disorder and I think it's killing me and I'll do whatever it takes to get better if you will only take me on.

But that is what you need to do. Find somebody with professional expertise and start the hard, lifesaving work of saying out loud exactly what you are doing and listening to somebody else and following a program of recovery.

From what I've heard, this is a hard one. So there's no time to waste. You can flirt with it and play with it but it's not flirting. It's not playing. It's killing you. It will keep on dragging you to the edge of starvation and collapse until you place yourself in the hands of someone who knows how to treat this.

Why would this happen? Because there's something wrong with your brain. Sure, your brain is smart. My brain is smart too. But my brain also thinks it would be a good idea to go buy a six-pack and sit on the railroad tracks and drink the six-pack and then call in sick and lie down among the ballast stones.

Your brain can't be trusted to tell you to eat right. That's the problem you have. So put yourself in the hands of someone who knows how to treat eating disorders. Do what this person tells you to do. If you do that you will be OK.

You may not know where to go. Where to go depends on where you are. We don't get into such specifics here. That's to preserve your confidentiality. But you might call the National Eating Disorders Association hotline at 800-931-2237 and talk to them. Also, people writing in the comments may suggest places for help. Read those comments. Get in touch with those people. Accept help.

Don't let this take you down.

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By Cary Tennis

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