Thinning Hair Is an Eating Disorder Effect That Recovery Can Overcome

Anorexia really wreaked my hair.

When I was a child, my hair was thick and long. When I was a teenager, my hair was thick and long. When I suffered from anorexia, by hair was thin and scraggly.

It didn’t happen overnight. I had anorexia for eight years before I even began on the path of recovery. My hair did pretty well for the first year or so, then the deterioration became bleedingly obvious. It became so thin that if looked at from the top, my scalp could be seen; luckily I am so tall that many people never see the crown on my head.

Hair thinning is a really nasty side effect of malnutrition.
Hair thinning is a really nasty side effect of malnutrition.

Except for when I am sitting down; I began to get rather paranoid that people would see my thinning hair when I sat down, so opted to stand more often than not.

I remember once, in a desperate attempt to make my hair look better, I dyed it. I dyed it dark, and that looked even worse, so I bought a pack of blonde dye in the hope that I could simply return to my natural color. Apparently one cannot put blonde hair dye directly onto black. 

No, it turned me ginger. As I looked at myself in the bathroom mirror in despair, my younger sister, Beth, came in to grab her make-up bag.

“What have you done to your hair?” she shrieked.

“I just wanted it to go back to my normal color!” I wailed.

“You idiot! You can’t put blonde dye straight on dark dye! That’s it, I’m calling my hairdresser and  booking you an appointment!”

Before I could protest she had done just that; I was booked in that very afternoon to a hair salon in town. To her, and my, surprise, I went.

The hairdresser was very sweet really. She said nothing about the thinness of my hair and only addressed the color issues. Ultimately, she explained to me that the best thing to do for the quality of my hair would be to chop it all off. I simply nodded. I had heard somewhere that cutting hair makes it grow thicker anyway, so maybe this was a good thing all around.

With short hair and no feminine curves, I looked like a man. I remember once that I entered a women’s toilet in the town shopping center and a woman looked at me and said: “Excuse me Sir, the men’s toilets are the next door down… ” and then, upon looking more closely at me, noticed her mistake and scurried away red-faced. I could not blame her for thinking I was a guy, but I was sad all the same.

Ironically, when the hair on my head started to thin, the hair on my body began to thicken. Lanugo. That’s the soft, downy hair which grows on ones body when one has a bodyweight so low that the body cannot sustain an adequate temperature. The hair on my arms and legs grew thick. Embarrassed by it, I covered them at all times.

In recovery, I wondered if my hair would ever be thick like it used to be, and if the lanugo would go. I am happy to say that both those things have happened. The body is an amazing organism and I am stunned at the extent to which mine rebuilt itself after years and years of malnutrition and misuse. Never underestimate the human body’s ability to recover!

The hair on my head is beautiful again, and my arms are bare; but I worked for it. I ate the foods I knew would help with hair growth, which were also, unfortunately, the very foods that my eating disorder ordered me to avoid. Namely, protein and fat. That was one heck of a challenge, but one that I was motivated to accept. Every mealtime, every snack, every time my eating disorder tried to convince me to skip, I reminded myself why I had to eat:

I eating for my hair. I am eating for my bones. I am eating for my muscles. I am eating for my body. I am eating for my brain. I am eating for my mum. I am eating for my dad. I am eating for my sisters. I am eating for my life.  

tabby head outside

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