Eating Disorders and Body Image
Distorted body images are part of any eating disorder. But they can resolve.
Those of us who have eating disorders often do not know the truth about ourselves. We know about body weight but we have poor understanding of shape and appearance to others and to ourselves. But we can learn how to develop improved perception.
Sometimes my eyes tell me lies. And the devil is in the ‘sometimes’ – I don’t know when.
Like other people with eating disorders – or any form of addictive or compulsive behaviour – I have a disorder of perception. My imagined world and the real world don’t match. Other people can see that in me. But I cannot see it in myself.
An alcoholic will say ‘Ayehavenhaddadrin’ when he or she obviously has. The crucial point is that this is not a lie: it’s his or her genuine perception of the truth.
This same ‘denial’ is true in any addictive behaviour, particularly in a developing eating disorder. We don’t see what is really happening to us as our illness gets progressively worse.
We tend to see ourselves as less than extreme – sometimes bizarrely so.
An anorexic will see himself or herself as being fat and consider food to be an enemy – as the cause rather than the cure of the problem.
Someone who is vastly overweight will only acknowledge ‘a bit of a problem with my weight’.
In each case the body image is distorted. Our fairground mirror, distorting our reflection, tells us lies.
The value in a group of sufferers with negative body image working together is that we can see ourselves measured in the accurate perceptions each of us has of the others. I can see other people’s misconceptions. They can see mine. By acknowledging my commonality with them – by listening to their stories – I recognise that my story is like theirs. From that I can deduce that my misconceptions are also probably like theirs.
When I see their body dysmorphia – their inability to see themselves as they really are – I begin to wonder whether I have the same malady.
I used to have three different sizes of clothes. I had given up on expecting my weight to stay stable. My eating was out of control. My behaviour was out of control. I was treating myself badly. The diets and nutritional therapies hadn’t worked. So I tried to present an appearance of being in control. By having three different sizes of clothes I would never be bursting out of them or have them hanging off me. I would always look the way I wanted to look. There was no end to my madness.
Nowadays I have one size and it fits. I am treating myself well. Therefore I have no reason to know what I weigh. Two or three pounds of daily variation in weight is normal for any adult. Putting on seven pounds in a lifetime is normal. Being obsessed, day after day, over minor variations in body weight is crazy. Being unconcerned over dramatic variations – other than when due to physical illness – is equally crazy.
When I myself believe I’m underweight or overweight, I have learned to distrust my judgement. If my wife were to make that observation, I would have to listen.
My eating disorder goes with me. It goes wherever I go. So does my body image. It goes with my behaviour and with what I think about myself. If I am kind I feel good and I have a positive personality. If I am thoughtless and inconsiderate I feel bad and I have a negative personality. My feelings – and my body image – therefore act as useful barometers of my behaviour.
If you find that your experience is similar to mine, please telephone me on 07540281820. I’ll listen to your concerns and hopefully be able to suggest what can be done. This is my professional work – putting my previous personal experience to good use.