I was recently struck by a post by Emily Troscianko on her blog A Hunger Artist. In it, she talks about the importance of gaining weight to a fully healthy level (ie. to or above BMI 19) in order to fully recover from anorexia. Weight gain is a necessity, not an optional extra. Remaining underweight, is a way of appeasing the anorexia and leaves us ‘stuck’ in it. I suppose some people would say if a person remains underweight, they are in fact still ‘eating disordered’. It’s something I struggle to reconcile. I am still underweight and my eating habits aren’t ‘normal’, but they are normal for me and I can still work, run, talk to people and get on with life.
Being a fully healthy weight is something I have tried to avoid for a long time. I would like to fully recover, but not gain weight to a healthy level. I’d like to think I can maintain a low, but not health-threateningly low weight (if there is such a thing), and still be ‘ok’. I am better than I was. I am not glued to the radiator anymore, my hair doesn’t fall out. I can drink a glass of wine. I don’t feel completely ‘starved’. I am nowhere near as underweight as I was at my lowest weight.
But, I am still underweight, according to the numbers. For a long time, I have accepted this as normal. I’m ‘functioning, so I must be ‘fine’. I go out for meals, even if I do have to compensate to reduce my anxiety. I can exercise without feeling completely drained, I can eat quite a few foods with minimal stress. I have my own ways of eating and I know I sometimes compensate in other ways, but again, it’s normal for me. It’s how I manage to keep living my life without being completely isolated.
I didn’t make a conscious choice to remain underweight, it was more a consequence of how things worked out for me, coupled with the sense that I am ‘big enough’ (or too big) already. I found myself in a situation which seemed to give me permission to remain at a certain place. Events took place that without meaning to, strengthened the belief that I am either (a) fine as I am, or (b) I actually DO look bigger at a healthy weight than others. It is difficult to tell what is the ‘true’ perspective from inside your own mind. I don’t know whether a different rule does apply to me. So I err on the ‘safe’ side. I stay as I am. It looks like a choice not to gain more weight, and people have said that it is, but it doesn’t feel like it, because I already feel too big, most of the time. Any changes feel indulgent and unnecessary. I also don’t trust myself not to lose control completely.
However I do think people really need to hear that aiming for full recovery is completely allowed, and it is the only way that the eating disorder will ever completely lose it’s grip. But perhaps when other people do not have this expectation for you, it makes you feel it’s acceptable (or expected) to remain underweight, because you’re ‘better than you were’. But in my hopeful (more rational?) moments I know that a ‘properly’ healthy weight is ok, even desirable, and that ‘proper’ recovery involves being a normal weight, eating freely and feeling relaxed around food. It is more than just functioning. Believing it’s really ok for me, or that I get there and cope with it, might be a different matter.
Emily’s full blog post can be accessed here