Anorexia is an illness that still to this day, despite how dangerous it is and how many people die from it, is put on a pedestal.
What springs to mind when you think of anorexia? For most people it is a beautiful, thin, white teenage girl, looking graceful and ethereal. This image is incredibly damaging. Anybody can suffer with anorexia, regardless of gender, sexuality, race, or age. I was once that teenage girl, and now I am a 29 year old woman, waiting to go back into treatment for the hundredth time.
I wanted to write this to share the real, gritty reality of what it is like living with anorexia. For anybody who is wistfully staring at emaciated bodies, thinking they wish they could starve themselves to look like that – please don’t. For anybody, who like me has slipped into relapse and forgotten how much the bad stuff outweighs the size of your body – please remember how bad it truly gets.
Your metabolism will slow down. Gradually your blood pressure and heart rate will drop. You will take fewer breaths per minute. Your body is fighting to conserve energy and saving it in every small way that it can – it’s keeping you alive, but at a cost.
You will get hairy. Your body can develop something called lanugo, which is a fine downy hair that grows over your body. It is designed to keep you warm as your weight drops.
Purging? Be prepared for the enamel on your teeth to rot away. You might never be able to drink cold drinks properly again. You might need advanced dental work to fix the holes that have worn away in your teeth. Your throat and knuckles might bleed and you can, in very extreme cases, tear your oesophagus.
Abusing laxatives? Along with suffering with permanent bowel damage, you can end up with haemorrhoids, tears, and you might literally lose control and soil yourself. Not at all glamourous.
Your hair starts falling out. Although you might gain hair over your body, the hair on your head can start falling out in clumps. Your nails can’t grow properly and will snap.
You will be cold. All of the time. Get used to wearing a lot of layers and covering yourself in blankets, especially in the winter when the lack of circulation can be physically painful in your extremities.
You can become infertile. If you have periods, they can stop. This doesn’t happen at a specific body weight either, some people lose them very close to a healthy weight and others keep them for a very long time. You just don’t know when it could happen to you.
Your bones become weak. You can develop osteopenia which is a weakening but sometimes reversible weakening of the bones, or eventually osteoporosis, is which your bones are so weak they can break easily.
Isolation. So much of our social lives revolve around food, that you might find yourself slowly withdrawing and declining invitations that have any connection to it.
Your concentration will go. You will find it hard to read books or enjoy television shows you used to like. You might even struggle to hold conversations or absorb information. Your brain is slowing down.
You will be exhausted. All of the time. Especially if you are over exercising but even if you’re not, your body will be doing everything it can to conserve energy. You might find yourself sleeping a lot of the time, but don’t expect that sleep to be restful.
You could die. You could quite literally die. Tell me what is fashionable or glamorous about that?
I write this list for you, but also for myself. For future Cara, who may once again be on the brink of relapse, romanticising how it feels to lose weight and be the thinnest person in the room. I absolutely promise you that it’s not worth it. I have lost years of my life to this illness, and for what? To lose weight only to regain it in recovery time and time again?
Anorexia is painful and isolating. We need to stop heralding it as an illness of self control and willpower. It’s deadly.