Someone please tell me because I don’t know.
Does it look like my cousin Abby? She works out hours a day and is so thin she looks like a walking anatomy chart. Every few months she goes away for awhile. When she returns, looking slightly less gaunt, she tells us she was on “vacation.” While she’s gone, my aunt Ella instructs the rest of us on how to handle Abby when she returns from the eating disorder clinic. “Don’t tell her she’s looks good,” Aunt Ella pleads. “Don’t say anything about the way she looks.” The day before Abby had run away from her in-patient clinic. Literally. Ran in 100 degree weather with 70% humidity until she collapsed. The clinic kicked her out. “And whatever you do, don’t mention the weight gain.” Aunt Ella’s face is the picture of concern, “because she’s definitely gained.” We all nod and promise but I’m left wondering why Aunt Ella brought it up in the first place. None of us would ever say those things. We all love Abby – I’ve looked up to her all my life and wept the first time she “went away.” Yet somehow I don’t think it’s solely about protecting Abby. Aunt Ella needs to share the burden. She needs someone else to know.
Does an eating disorder look like my friend Caroline? A beautiful mom of three beautiful kids, she recently confided to me that she throws up “you know, not all the time. Just when I need to feel better.” And how often is that? “Not all the time. I mean, I used to do it three times a day but now it’s just… well, just to take the edge off.” The edge off of what? Her marriage is crumbling. They are deeply in debt. She feels fat. “But it’s not about the weight,” she says emphatically, her deep brown eyes narrowing to make sure that I get it. I do get it. It’s about the control. That’s why she told me. Because she just needs someone else to know.
An eating disorder must look like Rebecca. She was my first friend when I moved here. Funny, outgoing, caring & opinionated we hit it off immediately. We lived across the sidewalk from each other and our kids are exactly the same ages, so we spoke every day, over the din of six tiny voices. And then my husband and I bought a house in a different neighborhood and she & I lost touch. Until her husband called last night. Rebecca is in the ICU with a machine breathing for her. Her husband found her unconscious. Complications due to anorexia. That’s all we know right now. I asked her husband if I could come visit her. “Well, she’s not conscious yet and they only allow one person in the ICU at a time…” But I’m going anyways. I need to be there. Even if she doesn’t know.
They’re dropping around me like flies. I’m not sure what to say. I’m not sure what to do. All 3 are beautiful, talented women. All 3 are mothers. And now, what I need to know, is does an eating disorder look like me? Running through ice rain in the dark. Never missing a single scheduled workout in three years. Charting all my numbers & statistics. Running my endless experiments. Combing through pages of research. Am I dedicated? Am I sick? Am I both?
I know that no doctor anywhere would diagnose me with an eating disorder right now. I don’t fit any of the criteria. My weight and blood work are healthy. Exceedingly healthy, in fact. And, most importantly, I’m happy. I love the runner’s high that I get. I count the minutes to my next “pump”. There is no measure in the DSM-IV for my excess. My obsession fits right in culturally with our national obsession. And yet…
What does an eating disorder look like?