Lies My Eating Disorder Told Me

Zeynep Demirelli

5/2/20210 min read

For 6 years, I walked with a shadow on my back. It was there constantly, it never left me alone. It felt so heavy but whenever I tried to touch it, I would feel like there was nothing to hold, it was just a shadow. When I turned around to peek, I could never see it. I felt like it was playing with me, standing on my right side whenever I looked to the left and shifting to the other side when I looked to the right. Sometimes I questioned its existence, because it was impossible to touch or see; no matter how hard I tried. There were times I told myself that I was making it up, that it wasn’t there. But other times, I just knew it was there. Because I felt its presence every minute and hour.

Next to its weight, this shadow had a voice. It talked to me throughout the day. At first, I felt like it was there to help me, to make me feel better. It would give me advice on how to look better. It would support me when I was feeling down. I felt less lonely, because I could cling to it whenever something bad happened. Then somewhere in between these things, it got out of hand.

The shadow was my eating disorder. Now looking back, with a clear mind, I can see that it lied to me all. the. time.

1) ‘‘Nobody and nothing can hurt you if you are skinny.’’

I pathologically attributed everything bad happening to me to be a result of my weight.

If only you were skinny…

If only, if only. I believe I made this attribution because I wanted to give meaning to all the things that happened to me. Because it was too difficult to accept that sometimes things just happen without any reason. And most of the time, we cannot control what happens to us. The truth is, what I was going through had nothing to do with my weight. There were a lot going on at the time my eating disorder started. Just like anyone else, I was bullied for many years. I experienced problematic romantic relationships, toxic friendships, childhood trauma and all that. I was also struggling with other mental illnesses, so I was constantly in a battle with myself. All that left me feeling hopeless. When these things go on for too long, and you cannot escape them, you try to find new ways to cope. You want to find a way to protect yourself, so your brain makes this weird association that if you fix the way you look, maybe you will stop hurting. It seems wrong, but at the time this ‘‘protection mechanism’’ helps you get through. In the end, losing weight does not fix all these unprocessed emotions or help you resolve your trauma. Therapy does. When you start working on them in therapy, this faulty protection mechanism slowly becomes useless.

2) ‘‘If you don’t weigh yourself every day, you will gain weight’’

This is how the Demon of Binging seduces you. Getting up in the morning and weighing yourself sets the tone negatively for the rest of your day. It makes you self-conscious about your body and what you eat. Our weight naturally fluctuates every day, for many reasons. This daily fluctuation is normal and does not reflect any change in our body composition. Weighing yourself every day and keeping a close track of these fluctuations is addicting, it is tremendously easy to get lost in them. Getting into this endless battle of trying to ‘‘fix’’ these fluctuations by restriction leads to binging. Binging (and also compensating) causes water retention in the short term and increases the number on the scale. In the long term, it may result in weight gain. Then you try to ‘‘fix’’ that too, go on a diet again, then binge, … You know how it goes. (I am no way saying that gaining weight is bad, just explaining how this behavior is a self-fulfilling prophecy.)

3) ‘‘Everyone is lying to you when they say ‘You lost weight’. You didn’t.’’

I am just amazed by this one every time I think about it. When you are so deep in your eating disorder, you get into a delusional state. The possibility that everyone was lying to me was so much higher than the possibility of me being actually skinny. I literally believed that everyone was conspiring against me and straight up lying to my face. To be honest, this lie doesn’t even feel sad anymore. The thought just makes me laugh now.

4) ‘‘This is your last binge. Tomorrow you will stop eating’’

This is the one sentence that justified all of my binges and kept me in the diet & binge cycle. How? On the days I restricted and felt a binge was coming, this is what my eating disorder told me.

It’s okay, this will be your last binge. Just DO IT!

So I did. When the binge ended, and I was left feeling awful about myself, the same sentence that led me to binge gave me consolation. This happened every day. And don’t laugh at me but- I believed it every time. Every binge, I heard it say it will be my lastand of course, it wasn’t. This is what maintained my eating disorder daily. It also further encouraged black-and-white thinking: Jumping from one extreme (binging) to another (not eating). I think it was a way of my eating disorder trying to survive. My recovery was hampered specifically because of this lie. If I binge now, I don’t make any decisions about how I will eat the next day. This trick saves me from many many binges in the following days.

5) ‘‘Everyone is watching you. Everyone notices when you gain weight’’

When it all started, I was a teenager. I wanted to be seen, I wanted to feel accepted and liked. Having other people’s approval was important. I wasn’t dying for it, not consciously at least, but it was like, very important. I think it is a developmental stage that everyone goes through, anyone who claims that they didn’t care about other people’s approval at that age is lying to themselves. Unfortunately in high school where everyone is extremely immature and oblivious to each other’s feelings, the way to approval goes through physical appearance. You have to look a certain way to be noticed, let alone be liked. In certain schools, the pressure is clearly visible and in others, it is just felt. I think in my environment, it was pretty obvious as everyone always talked about how much they weighed and judged anything larger than a certain number to be fat. I received negative comments about my body multiple times, from my classmates, from random people at my school. Furthermore, I still have the vivid memory of a guy stopping me in the middle of the hallway and telling me I needed to stop eating so much because I had gained weight. That really took a toll on my self-esteem. Big time. If I could go back to that moment as the person I am today, I would just tell him ‘‘f*ck you!’’.

6) ‘‘This is only temporary. You will stop dieting and all of this suffering will end once you reach your goal weight’’

This is one of the biggest lies eating disorders tell. It is never temporary. The behaviors in all eating disorders are addictive. It hijacks your reward system, your body cannot get enough of it. Let’s take anorexia, food is rewarding (and vital) for our body so initially not eating is biologically counter-intuitive. Researchers have shown that for individuals with anorexia, food is not as rewarding anymore but not eating is. For bulimia and binge-eating disorder, individuals were found to be more sensitive to food as a reward compared to healthy controls. An eating disorder changes the way your body works (not irreversibly of course), it is not temporary. Even if you assume that it is temporary, the day you see the scale and feel happy with your weight never comes. The goal weight keeps getting lower and lower.

7) ‘‘This is who you are. Without your eating disorder, who would you be?’’

I will be honest with you, my eating disorder truly was my whole life. I had lived with it for so long that, it had become a piece of me. It gave me a sense of purpose -even if it was a bad one- by giving me a weight goal to achieve. I was dealing with it day and night. This went on until I did not have room for anything or anyone else in my life. I was very much isolated. I defined myself over my eating disorder. I forgot what was important to me, what made me laugh, what made me who I was. Every bit of energy I had was used up by my eating disorder. When it was time to let my eating disorder go, I felt scared. My eating disorder was the only thing I had, and I was scared that I would lose my identity if I lost that too. Now I see that I was a person with an eating disorder, I was not my eating disorder. Healing really reminded me of my real identity as I could make time for things that mattered to me, things I enjoyed.