Restrictive eating disorders are like a mental autoimmune disease. In the respect that you literally attack yourself.
For years I lived as if my body was the enemy. The enemy, and one that had this secret hidden agenda to do … I don’t know what. Gain weight forever and ever? Turn me into a hopeless couch potato? I don’t know that I ever thought about what exactly I was afraid that by body would try and realistically do should I stop fighting it. But fight it I did — by doing everything and anything to suppress my bodyweight. I didn’t trust it. I didn’t trust my hunger. This mistrust led to me raging war on my body. I did this by ignoring hunger requests, and exercising excessively despite the nagging exhaustion I felt. I was so used to working in opposition to my biology, that I didn’t even recognize I was doing it.
Doubting and opposing whatever my body was feeling became second nature to me. My legs felt tired? The answer was to walk more rather than take the rest that my body was requesting. I felt hunger? My answer was to not eat, and be angry at my “weakness” for wanting food. (How fucked up is that?).
Yes, I truly would feel anger towards my body should it feel hungry or tired.
My anger would move me to some pretty insane places in my head. I would resent my body for needing things. I would interpret requests for food and rest as disobedience. I would be furious at my urges to binge. I was blind to the now obvious truth that my binges were my innocent body defending itself against my attack of restriction.
Yes, my body binged as a defense mechanism — and I was the one causing that reaction. I was the one causing my binges. It was my actions (restriction, complusive exercise) that forced my body to believe that food was scarce and it had to take all it could when it could. Yet, every time I binged I felt hate and distrust toward my poor, innocent body.
I would further interpret my body’s reactions as some sort of willful attack on me. I felt as if my body was threatening me when it felt hunger or fatigue. In a sense, I guess it was. I see anorexia as a biological response to perceived famine. A migratory response. In that sense, if I was supposed to be migrating, feeling tired and hungry was a threat. So I can cut myself some slack for feeling that way at least. It makes sense from a biological perspective. But everything else about it is fucked up.
Anorexia makes us insane. Truly. It is insanity to reject and be suspicious of hunger signals. It is insanity to despise oneself for feeling tired. It is insanity to declare war on your own body. It is no coincidence that we all do these things when we have the genetics for a restrictive eating disorder.
In recovery, it is vital that we recognise this insanity and work to amend that. So repeat after me: My body is not the enemy. If I am hungry it is because I need food. If I am tired it is because I need to rest.
Of course, your eating disorder will have all sorts of judgement about those statements. Nobody recovered while listening to eating disorder judgement. Get in the habit of ignoring eating disorder judgement. You have already proved that you are very good at ignoring things — like hunger — so that shouldn’t be a problem for you.
You body’s real agenda; to optimise health
Whatever your body is telling you is truth. Your body has no hidden nefarious agenda. Your body has no reason to lie. Your body is innocent in all this. The communications that you get from your body are innocent and truthful.
The only agenda your body has is to survive as long as possible. This is how organisms maximise their ability to pass on genes. Basic biology at it’s most vulgar is reproduction — and that is true even for those of us who choose not to reproduce. The longer you live, the greater the chance of more offspring. Thus, in order to maximise reproductive potential, your body needs to survive as long as possible, and to do this, it needs to optimize one important thing: health.
There you have it. You body’s actual agenda: to optimise health.
And it is honest about it’s intentions to do that. It tells this truth via your hunger (physical or mental) and your desire to rest.
Optimising health is the reason your body wants to gain weight if you are currently at a suppressed bodyweight. It knows it is not at an optimally healthy weight for itself and therefore will fight you in order to gain weight to get to where it is healthiest. It doesn’t matter whether or not you are in a “healthy” weight range according to a BMI chart or not.
Your body knows what weight it needs to be in order to optimise health because it is itself. No books or charts know more about your body than your body does. It doesn’t matter how many opinions you get or doctors you ask, if you body deems a higher weight to be optimally healthy then that is what is optimally healthy.
Don’t like that? Your body doesn’t care. It prioritises health over your opinion. I can’t tell you where your natural, unsuppressed bodyweight will be. (Nor can anyone else by the way, and you don’t need them to anyway, because all you need to do is trust your body and eat and it will take you there.) But I can tell you with confidence, that if you fight your biology you won’t win. But you already know that, don’t you? Because if you were winning, you wouldn’t be reading this blog.