When people hear that I have anorexia and am scared of gaining weight or scared to maintain a healthy weight, they always assume that this is because I am scared of getting (or eventually being), “fat”. In actual fact, this is not because I fear getting or being thought of as fat or large at all, and funnily enough being fat is probably one of the things I worry about the least when it comes to anorexia.
The majority of my friends are a healthy weight, (by which I mean a healthy BMI which is of course not a foolproof way to measure anyone’s health due to all the many variables at play, but for now it is the best we have). Some of them have always been a healthy weight and have never had an eating disorder, but there are others I have met in treatment during times in which they were very underweight, that have since regained to a healthy place in their quest for recovery. Sometimes I was in hospital with them for the entire weight restoration process, but never at any point did I ever look at them gaining back the weight they never should have lost and think that they are “fat” once their BMI has returned to a healthy range. On the contrary, without exception, I always think people look more beautiful and fabulous than ever before when they have gained the weight. It is like seeing a shrivelled up flower come back to life again and bloom brightly coloured petals all over the place, and in seeing this surely I shouldn’t fear being a healthy weight myself? After all, who would want to look like a shrivelled up flower when you could look like a fresh one at the peak of its colour? I know I certainly don’t, so why do I fear being a healthy weight?
When it comes down to it, it is all to do with the way I feel on the inside and the way in which people perceive me. Inside, I feel broken, scared, weak, sad and very much shrivelled in every sense of the word. When I am underweight people treat me as if they know all of these things. They don’t ask me what I am doing with my life or how I am because they know I am too unwell to be doing anything in life, which saves me having to tell them these things and acknowledge the catastrophe that is my current situation myself. When I am healthy however, they assume that my mind is naturally in the same corresponding state, and when that isn’t the case, it can be incredibly frustrating, confusing and dysphoric.
To explain it in another way, I would like you to imagine that I am a penguin (and if you know me well enough that will not be too much of a stretch. Literally all you need to do is add a beak and the ability to eat raw fish, I mastered waddling before I could talk.)
Inside I know I am a penguin, and I feel like a penguin. I know that I like sliding across sheets of ice on my tummy, I know that I can swim faster than an olympic athlete, I know I can catch fish with ease, I have fully accepted the fact that no matter how hard I flap I will never be able to fly and I know that in terms of career, my goals are to waddle around various agencies to pursue my dream of becoming an extra in the children television show “Pingu” or to model on the front of the wrapper of a chocolate biscuit that is named after me. When I am underweight, everyone else around me can see that I am a penguin. Fellow penguins nod to me in the street to acknowledge our solidarity in species, when I go to a pub the bar keeper knows I will want ice in my drink without me having to ask and friends compliment me on the elegance of my waddle and ask how I achieve such shine on my beak. If they hear about an audition for an actor to play Pingu’s second cousin twice removed, they call me right away and offer to give me a lift, but when I am a healthy weight, they see that audition sheet and don’t even think of me.
When I am a healthy weight, nobody can see that I am a penguin, instead, they see a meerkat and treat me accordingly. When I nod at my fellow penguins knowing that I am one of them they look at each other aghast as to what this fluffy stranger is trying to say. People keep putting me in sand pits so that I will feel more at home, they buy me air conditioning systems to install in my desert home because they know how hot it is in my country of origin, I am offered jackal repellent to help me avoid predators and passers by ask me for help comparing different offers they have received on their car insurance. Nobody is unpleasant or horrible, but still I hate it and want to scream at them because inside I know that I am a penguin. Jackals don’t hunt me in the arctic! I hate sand because it gets stuck in my flippers, I am cold enough as it is without air conditioning units in my igloo and I know nothing about car insurance! When I am a healthy weight there is such a disconnect between the meerkat people see and talk to on the outside and the broken, cold little penguin on the inside that it almost feels like being two different people or that people can’t really see me at all. I feel I have to try and act like a meerkat to live up to their expectations yet I don’t know how. When I am underweight, people see the penguin I know and feel that I am, I don’t have to pretend, I am instantly understood and treated as the waddling little creature I am.
That is why I fear being a healthy weight, and from what I gather from friends with eating disorders that is also why they fear it too. It is nothing about fearing being fat or looking unattractive, it is fearing being seen and treated as something or someone that is totally different to the person you know you are in your heart, it is fearing being put in a sand pit that burns your flippers rather than being taken ice skating for a pleasant afternoon of sliding on your tummy.
I realise this whole thing is a really difficult thing to understand (and as you can probably tell, a difficult thing to explain what with all this talk about penguins and meerkats), but I hope I have helped it make some sense. I have anorexia, but I am not scared of being fat, I am scared of people thinking that I am “ok” when inside I feel anything but.
Take care everyone x
15 thoughts on “Anorexia And The Fear Of Being A Healthy Weight”
This is such a relatable post for me.
Even though I don’t have annorexia. Even though my body is near the opposite end of the spectrum. It makes me think of how hard it is to have an invisible illness.
The idea that I can look okay when I am completely broken inside is so frustrating and it’s constantly got people treating my like a happy meerkat instead of the sad penguin that I am.
Love your writing. 🙂
Aww thank you so much! I am so glad to have found someone else who understands and can relate to this issue! Thank you for being so nice about my writing too, really appreciate it xxxxx
This makes a lot of sense, and thank you for explaining it this way. However, I do have some questions and concerns.
Do you believe people ARE their mental illnesses?
Do you believe that all YOU are is a mental illness?
Do you think other people can recover, but not you?
Katie, I just think there’s more to you than all this. I really do. However, your life has been built around all of it that it’s become most of your identity. I get that you feel sick, sad, weak, and small inside so you want that to show on the outside… I think that’s actually pretty common thinking with anorexia. People want their outsides to match their insides. I do get that. But when you convince yourself that the way you feel now is how you’ll feel always, and that’s ALL you are, then you’re deluding yourself. You’re giving up. You aren’t giving yourself any chance to discover more to life.
(I also understand wanting to avoid “real life” and adult responsibilities by being sick, and I think that’s very common, too.)
But, I know there is more to you than your conditions. They are mental illnesses, not *IDENTITY* and I fear that you are letting it become you, so you give up.
Sorry to be so blunt, but wanted to give you an outsider’s perspective. There is more than all this… you’re not a special case where you’re actually a penguin and everyone else is a meerkat. You will always be unique because you are Katie and no one is exactly like you. But I worry that you’re letting only your illnesses define you. That’s going to make any kind of recovery very difficult because you’ve basically convinced yourself that it simply doesn’t apply to you.
I hope this makes sense. You can still be unique without strongly grasping mental illness as your identity. Promise!
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Check out what this person’s caption says on her latest IG post. I think it sums it up so perfectly.
recovery.chii: First day of the new job. Do I feel ready for it? Not really! Do I feel scared, intimidated, overwhelmed, unsure? Absolutely. In fact as I was getting ready this morning all I could think was “I should just relapse- get as sick as possible – go back to inpatient.” I know where these thoughts come from; fear of growing up. Fear of not being ‘enough’. I know how to be a great anorexic and a great inpatient, I don’t necessarily know how to be a great corporate law clerk [yet]. But this is a new beginning, a new chapter, and I have the opportunity to seize it and grow, and I am determined to do just that.
THIS IS SO GOOD
You are always so blunt but this is why I love you and always appreciate your comments so much, thank you for being honest with me xxx
Yeah… you know it’s only because I don’t want to agree with your eating disorder — ever. But if I ever hurt your feelings or upset you in an unproductive way, I want you to let me know. I am definitely not trying to hurt you, ever!
I could not have said what Appleslover said any better!!! You can thank her for making me be more concise! Your identity is not that of a mental illness, regardless of which one. People will always have expectations, regardless of what you look like on the outside. If you look ill and feeble on the outside, they will expect you to do something to change that. If you had MS or early onset Parkinson’s you would communicate to people what you could and couldn’t do with your physical limitations. Your ability to communicate is demonstrated in this blog quite effectively. I am hard pressed to believe that you couldn’t communicate to others what you are and are not able/willing to do. You are Katie who has OCD and Anorexia, just like you might one day have high blood pressure or diabetes. You are Katie who loves Penguins, but you are not a Penguin (I do realize you don’t seriously believe that, but you get the point). You are able to take responsibility for Katie and tell people what you can and can’t do without having to malnourish yourself. You are not benefitting from this and neither is anyone else. Maybe having others have common expectations of you would be a good thing because it would then allow you to assert yourself and evaluate what you want and then to be “Katie” and tell others what that is and what you feel capable of doing at that moment. I understand how very difficult this illness is for you and you describe it quite well and in a way that everyone can comprehend. I don’t mean to minimize your pain in any way. What you describe is very common in many ways (I witnessed much of it with my son) but difficult none-the-less. You are special and unique because you are Katie! You have as much of a chance at recovery as anyone else. I agree that the more you allow yourself to be defined by nothing but your illnesses, the more difficult it will be to recover.
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Thank you so much Christina, I really appreciate you being so honest with me as always, thinking of you and the family, much love xxx
Hey girl!! I started reading through some posts on your blog and you have a beautiful way of describing these things which I can totally relate to. I experienced the same thing once I started gaining weight and now am going into treatment at a healthy BMI since my brain has yet to catch up with my body. I broke down and asked for help recently and everyone who knew my past disordered life had absolutely no idea. “You’re at a healthy weight! We had no idea you were still struggling!”. Yeah lol eating disorders take more than just a couple months to fix. I think it really stabs into the heart of the eating disorder mentally that you will never be “sick enough” or “worthy of treatment”.
Sometimes my boyfriend asks me why I go quiet and wonders whats going on but he can’t hear the craziness of an ED and neither can the rest of the world. They can only see it and even then are totally blind until it hits to such a critical level.
Anyhow! Take care and remember how strong you are! It takes a LOT of time and love for your mind to catch up with your body and even then its okay to tell people that not everything is peachy keen.
Wow, thank you so much for being so lovely about my blog! I am however sorry to hear that you are struggling with sides to this problem too! I really hope that treatment works out for you and that things improve really soon! Much love xxx
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I know how you feel. One of my biggest fears in recovery was that no one would take me seriously if I was at a healthy weight. But guess what? I’m finally weight restored and people still believe me. Not everyone (I have to be honest) some people think that now that I look well I’m 100% recovered but that is not correct. I still have bad days and my OCD has been quite bad lately. But I don’t need the approval of those people. The ones who matter believe in me.
And I agree with appleslover. You are so much more than your mental illness! Do you want to be known as “Katie the anorexic”? I know I don’t! I wanna be known as “Maria the nice and smiley girl”.
I know you are going through a hard time but I believe you can do this! You CAN recover.
Kisses from Portugal ❤
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Thank you so much Maria, I hope you know how grateful I am and how proud I am of you. Kisses from England xxxx
Could I please have appleslover’s way with words? I agree with what he/she said and won’t reiterate it in my own poorly articulated way. I often wonder, not just about you, but many others with various different struggles, about how helpful it can be sometimes to be see ourselves almost as victims of the struggles. If it is something “done to us” or “within us” or “what defines us” then we almost automatically are putting ourselves in the position of helplessness and hopelessness, that we have no agency about any of it. Like others have said, anorexia/ocd are struggles you have but they do not define you. Holding them as your identity and being slave/victim to them is only going to lead you to where you keep going. You have the words to describe your broader struggles and maybe it’s time to set the penguin free and try in other costumes for size. It could even be fun to be a Meerkat, or some other animal. It doesn’t take away what you find difficult but it may free you and your family from the hideous bind you’re all in.
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Thank you so much for your honesty in this comment, I really appreciate someone speaking to me so bluntly about this kind of thing when I am really struggling! I know you are right in what you and appleslover say and I will try to live by those words as best I can. It is hard to see any identity other than mental illness but like you said that is not the way to think so thank you for reminding me of that. Hugs x x