I am not sure how many of you remember Persephone's (Melissa's) first avatar, but I do. I was quite shocked when she sent along the updated photo below for inclusion with this guest post.
I often whisper to my husband when we are out and about (somewhat like Haley Joel Osment in the movie The Sixth Sense): “I see restrictive eaters.” Osment’s line was far more unpleasant: “I see dead people.” But the irony is sadly not lost on me.
There is a distinct flatness to skin tone— a papery, non-reflective, non-translucent, opaque look that marks those who are simply not meeting their bodies’ energy needs.
Although Melissa was smiling broadly in that older photo, and she looks much more reflective and contemplative in the current photo below, look at that skin! You can see that same translucence in Natalie, Nicola and Kerrie as you can see today in Melissa.
And this isn’t about whether there are superficial imperfections or breakouts on the surface— it is about luminescence. It is something that truly no Photoshop filter can conjure from nothing.
In our waters off the west coast of Canada we have diatoms that phosphoresce. If you are out on the water at night sometimes you can put your oar in the water and those diatoms will sparkle and flicker as your oar moves through the water. As you can see it is difficult to capture in a photo (above). Seeing Melissa’s photo gave me the same sense of wonder that witnessing bioluminescence in our waters does.
Skin reflects all your inner vitality outwards. When there is no inner vitality, no energy, no fire (remember that a calorie is the unit used to measure the burning of food to create energy), then there is no inner light.
And you will see from Melissa's experience, the "how, what, when, where or why" of restrictve eating is not what determines the need for change; it's the mere absence of energy alone that confirms the need for change.
"Not Sure I Belong Here But Maybe I Do?"
These nine little words changed my life. I had recently and unwittingly lost a lot of weight, looked and felt awful. And the only advice I could find online seemed to apply exclusively to bodybuilders. I honestly didn't think I belonged in the realm of whey powder and egg whites.
Just as I was giving up hope, I stumbled upon a conversation about eating disorder recovery. And while I was certain I didn't have an eating disorder (weren't they just crazy teenage girls who wanted to be models?), I thought I might be more comfortable getting tips from them than from testosterone fuelled musclemen.
Having gotten my advice, (at least 2500 calories from calorie-dense foods throughout the day, no exercise) I thought I'd be on my way, regain the weight I'd lost, live happily ever after.
The grim realities of recovery (bloating, nausea, edema, migraines, backache, pain, pain, pain) soon had me back. Besides, the other members were so friendly, so supportive. And the site owner seemed to know her stuff. But who was this lady, Minnie Maud? I imagined a compassionate nurse who developed the guidelines that were named after her. And who was this guy, Ed, who seemed to scream at everyone? Seemed like a nasty character. (Yup, I truly believed these were real people!)
Seemed like I was going to have to read the Blog posts to find out.
I found out Ed was the 'ED voice' that compelled those with eating disorders act the way they did. Who 'told them' they were fat and worthless. I had a 'voice' who told me I was too skinny and bony. Was this ED' s twin brother? But didn't everyone have an inner critic?
I read the 'Dirty Dozen'. But only the first four, which are mainly physical symptoms, seemed to apply. Did that mean I had a third of an eating disorder?
Over time I learned that not everyone with an eating disorder was afraid of being fat. Historically, they were seen as a way to become closer to God. Or as one facet of 'hysteria'. Even today, there are reports of some with eating disorders claiming other reasons for fear of food: lack of hunger, nausea, stomach cramps, or even no reason at all. These have been reported in Hong Kong, Southern Asia, Japan and Italy. I'm sure they can be found everywhere but are often overlooked. Various labels have been dreamt up: 'atypical anorexia' ' non-fat-phobic AN', a type of 'EDNOS', and most recently, 'ARFID'. All every bit as deadly as more 'traditional' eating disorders. But was that me? Was it really?
And then I read this from Phases of Recovery from an Eating Disorder:
"A non-ED person will say she feels irritated, fatigued, hungry and moody when starving. The leptin levels dropping are creating unpleasant moods and extreme hunger to signal to the brain that it is time to go find more food/energy to eat.
An ED person will say she is not hungry. Although experts dispute whether she actually does feel hunger or not, it is clear she feels calmer, energized and dissociated from negative feelings (emotionally blunted) as a result of suppressing her hunger [S. Guisinger, 2003; M. Duclos et al., 2012]. The ED-skewed neurotransmitters are able to override what the leptin levels should be triggering: unpleasant moods and the desire to eat more."
That's when it really hit home that I had a problem. Not only would I lose my appetite when tired or stressed, but the very act of not eating left me feeling 'calmer, energized and emotionally blunted.' I was using restriction, unconsciously, as an anxiolytic. Self-medicating if you will. And I knew that I had that in common with every other person with an eating disorder.
And then I discovered others who questioned whether they belonged. Some had ED screaming at them that they were different, that they were special. That it wasn't that they feared fat, they just didn't want to gain weight. Then there were others who used a medical condition such as coeliac, PCOS or IBS as an excuse to restrict.
There were those without EDs, but who yo-yo dieted, or dieted between pregnancies. There were those who had "weird food habits", who were picky eaters, or had OCD. There were those who wanted to eat "healthily". Those who ate a lot but then exercised themselves into a deficit. One member had an incredibly fast metabolism, so eating like those around her led to a deficit. There were those who only restricted for one year, one month, one week...
And yes, they belong. Each and every one of them without exception. Anybody who has ever felt the slightest anxiety around food belongs here and the guidelines apply to them.
Because to the rest of the world, the guidelines simply translate as "eat normally and get enough rest". And those are guidelines that are universal.
It's been over two years since I wrote this blog post. And I have learnt an awful lot in the meantime. When I wrote the post, I was unaware of how essential therapy is to those recovering from an eating disorder. I would argue that it's also essential for those recovering from dieting culture as well, especially around issues such as body-image and self-esteem.
There are many forms this therapy can take, whether it's ERP, IM, CBT, DBT etc, and whether it's in person, via Skype or through use of workbooks. You may have to "kiss many frogs" to find the therapy that benefits you the best. This is a process I'm still going through. I feel it's the main reason I'm still wobbling on my two legged stool of resting and refeeding, trying desperately not to fall off.
You can find Melissa and her blog at Autistic Zebra.