Several times in my life I have heard the phrase “I wish I had the self control to be anorexic” and, considering I am now writing this blog post about this phrase, you can safely assume that I have a lot to say about it.
You may be thinking “Katie, you already wrote a post about people wanting anorexia and how silly that is, why are you repeating yourself?” (a post you can find at the link here: A Message To All The People Out There Who Are “Pro-Ana”), but please hold that thought as I actually think that the problem with this phrase is not about people wanting eating disorders.
Indeed, unlike people who are “pro-Ana”, in my experience, people who say this are not actually craving the bulging rib cage and hip bone images promoted on “pro-Ana” websites. The mistake these people make is not that of idolising a mental illness, rather it is of completely misunderstanding what an eating disorder actually is and what it is like to suffer from one.
I think when it comes to illnesses such as anorexia, there is a misconception that when people with the illness don’t eat, it is because of their will power or an extreme superhuman ability for self-control. They assume that sufferers feel hungry and want to eat but powerfully override the primal urge to seek food because they are strong, yet in my experience, it is the total opposite, and it is in the times that I am unable to follow this primal urge that I feel the weakest that I have ever felt in my entire life (even weaker than the time I was beaten in an arm wrestle by an rather arrogant and ambitious sloth I met drinking tequila in a bar a few years ago…that was a BAD evening.)
Whenever I miss a meal or don’t eat a free sample handed to me in a supermarket, it isn’t because I implement my ability to make decisions/affect my actions as the word “control” implies. Instead, it is because I am not in control at all, a point I think is easier to explain if we take a trip down memory lane and travel back in time to any birthday I have had over the course of the last decade.
Most years, when it gets near to my birthday, if I am out shopping in a supermarket with my mum, when we walk past the birthday cake section, she will look at the birthday cakes and sigh. Following this signal, we may have a wander over to look at all the intricately decorated creations topped with thick white icing and pictures of various Disney characters (I don’t look at the plain old boring cakes for “adults” that simply say “Happy Birthday”. Seriously who wants one of those when you can have an sponge shaped like a minion or a giant chocolate caterpillar with a cheeky grin?!), and then after five minutes of eye wandering my mum will turn to me and ask the question “can I get you a birthday cake this year?”.
Now, if I had any degree of “self-control” when it comes to food and my ability to nourish myself, I can honestly say I would turn to my mother in these moments and say something along the lines of:
“Can you buy me a birthday cake? Why of course! There is no question regarding such a matter! It is my birthday in two weeks and I simply cannot celebrate the occasion without a cake! Quick! Let’s go around all the supermarkets and bakeries in the area to try and find the biggest penguin shaped chocolate cake available. I want nothing more than to share such a delight with all of my nearest and dearest friends! Ooh can I please reserve the chocolate beak for me because it is my birthday? I do love a chocolate beak! Hurry mother, let us away to the automobile and get started on this quest immediately!”.
I would probably then insist we head to the candle area to pick the most garish, brightly coloured candles on offer to adorn my perfect penguin centrepiece, poised and ready for the moment when I am ready to blow out the flames and make a wish that Helena Bonham Carter hurries up and marries me already.
That is the response of a Katie who is in control. Unfortunately though, we haven’t seen “In Control Katie” around much lately. That Katie popped out for bread about ten years ago leaving an out of control mess in place, and since then we haven’t heard anything (better be picking up some damn good bread is all I can say…I’m talking a good quality ciabatta or we are going to have issues).
Therefore, with “In Control Katie” otherwise engaged on a mission to find a tasty source of carbohydrates, it is the “out of control” one that turns to Mum year on year with a dejected look and says: “I wish. Maybe next time”, at which point we agree to try again next year before repeating the annual routine in roughly 365 days time.
I know it would mean the world to my mum to buy me a giant penguin birthday cake to share with her/the family, and I desperately want to accept her offer each time mainly because I want to see her reaction. I want to see her face light up with the brightness of a birthday cake candle, filled with hope that for once she can do something that normal mothers do rather than having to come up with some kind of eating disorder friendly replacement for her neurotic offspring (e.g. the act of sticking a candle in a pink lady…the kind of apple I mean…not an unsuspecting blushing female who doesn’t know what’s coming).
When I do not accept the offer of a proper birthday cake then, it is not because I don’t want to, it is because my mind throws up barriers that make me feel that I physically can’t.
It is like a “normal” person standing in front of a bonfire and wanting to put their hand in it to retrieve a particularly nice log. They can look into those flames and want to put their hand in to get the log (this person really likes logs), but no matter what, they can’t. Of course they are physically capable of moving their arm into the vicinity of the fire, but the fear of pain stops them (no matter how much they like logs).
Saying “I wish I had the self-control to be anorexic” then, is basically like saying “I wish I had the self-control not to put my hand on a bonfire”. Of course eating and setting yourself aflame aren’t the same thing, one is vital for life whilst the other is downright ridiculous and not something I advise anyone to try at home or anywhere else for that matter, but the similarity exists in the sense that both the person who doesn’t put their hand in the fire and the person with the eating disorder do not carry out their actions because of self-control, rather it is because they are both scared and fear the pain that could result from their actions.
Whenever you hear yourself or anyone wishing they had the “self-control” and “will power” to eat like someone with an eating disorder then, please know that when it comes to eating disorders, self-control has absolutely nothing to do with any of it. When someone is unable to keep themselves healthy by eating enough, it is because they are not in control, and because the reins of decision are actually being held hostage by an evil dictator in their head who is trying to kill them.
If I had self-control and willpower over my life I could write a list of about a million things I would use it for. The ability to fill my mother’s eyes with disappointment, to refuse sharing a dessert with a friend or turn down the offer of a birthday cake would not be on there.
Take care everyone x