I think one of the reasons it’s so, so hard to recover from anorexia nervosa is the body dysmorphic disorder that often comes along with it. For those who don’t know Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is an anxiety disorder that causes a person to have a distorted view of how they look and to spend a lot of time worrying about their appearance (as stated on the NHS website).
For someone with anorexia nervosa, this disorder often characterises itself with an obsessive worrying about one’s size. Many thoughts that rush through my head for instance are: ‘My thighs look huge’, ‘My stomach is too big’, ‘My arms are too wide’, ‘My face is too round’ etc.
What many people don’t understand is that this isn’t a self absorbed preoccupation. It’s much more a felling of an intense loss of control, as you see your body in a completely different way than what you are comfortable with.
For some, the body dysmoprhia comes right at the start of the eating disorder. A person may see themselves much bigger than they are which may result in them trying to become less so by not eating. However in some cases, the body dysmoprhia comes along later on. For example, my own struck me recently as I am trying to recover and gain weight back. I cannot help but keep thinking about how I look. Not because I want to look like a model, as many seem to believe, but rather because it became an obsession; something for me to have control over now that I can no longer control the food I am eating.
I’ve concluded that the body dysmorphia, if we allow the eating disorder to be personified, is a way of it to keep hold of me. It’s telling me that I look huge so that I won’t eat, it’s telling me that how I look is the most important thing in the world and that I cannot let myself become any bigger. Just acknowledging this fact makes it easier for me to take a step back and process my thoughts more logically. It is not the healthy me that is so obsessive over my appearance, but my sick side, and I cannot let the sick side control the whole of me.
What I’ve found useful whilst having some of these thoughts is to stop what I’m doing and firstly calm myself down, as sometimes the thoughts can be so overwhelming. Then I simply talk to myself.
If you have an eating disorder you can probably relate when I say that it feels like there are two sides of me, one being the eating disorder. So, when I talk to myself I am, in a way, trying to quieten it down. I try to look at myself in third person, and imagine a bigger view around me. Is anyone dying? No. Did I hurt anyone? No. Is the world ending? No. Just asking questions like this makes my head feel a lot more clearer as I realise that nothing bad is actually happening and everything I’m feeling is only in my head.
Looking at the bigger picture is very helpful because I’ve realised how easy it is to forget everything else in the heat of the moment. If you think about your family, your friends, something you are looking forward to, that already gives you motivation to push the horrible thoughts away.
Now let’s talk about mirrors. Whether you avoid them or stare obsessively at them, there are times when you are standing in front of one and feel like everything is crumbling down around you. ‘You are a failure.’ ‘Look how disgusting you’ve become.”Why are you still eating so much? Can’t you see that you are way above a normal weight?’
These are just some of the thoughts that may occur in someone with this disorder’s mind. At first I didn’t know how to deal with it. I could simply not look in mirrors because it would trigger me so much to not eat. It took me so long to believe that the mirror, or the disorder, was lying to me. It’s still hard to not believe what I see, as you can imagine, but I’m slowly finding ways to convince myself otherwise. For example, I find it so hard to believe I am still underweight because of the way I see myself in the mirror. But then one day as I was sceptically glaring at my reflection, I thought to myself that probably if I wasn’t underweight I would not be able to see my ribcage. Looking more attentively I also told myself that if I wasn’t underweight I wouldn’t be able to see my collar bone sticking out so much. IF I wasn’t underweight my trousers wouldn’t be so loose on me.
Looking at yourself logically and finding some of these characteristics can really help you to see yourself a bit differently. And although your view of yourself may not change completely, you have to keep reminding yourself that those bones are visible and that’s a fact. You know your weight and that’s a fact. You cannot argue with facts.
I really hope this blog post gave you some help or at least a better understanding of this disorder and I wish you all the best of luck with anything you are battling with x