Let’s Review – Eating Disorders Are Not A Matter Of Choice

Most of my readers probably have this understanding already, but I need to reiterate it:  an eating disorder is not a choice, it is not a lifestyle, it is not a vain whim or a passing fancy.  Many of you have experienced eating disorders first-hand or watched as your sisters, daughters or friends struggled with them.  You have seen, or maybe felt yourself, the boiling guilt that tears you to pieces as you stand in front of the open refrigerator begging yourself to eat.  We don’t choose to close those refrigerator doors empty-handed, some days we are simply too trapped to do otherwise.
I’m not implying that I have had no hand in the development of my eating disorder – I’m a perfectionist, I’ve been secretive about it, I have the genetics that predispose me to this type of disorder and at some point I unknowingly fell into its trap. Here’s what my new doctor did not understand when she lectured me about making “healthy decisions” – we do not wake up one day and think to ourselves: “Anorexia sounds like a great plan, I’ll give it a try.”  It happens gradually.  There’s the fifth grader who looks in the mirror and feels ashamed; then there’s the middle schooler who does hundreds of secret sit-ups; then there’s the college student who copes with exercise and numbs her distress with hunger.
This doctor made me feel as if I had chosen an irresponsible lifestyle and as if choosing to eat differently would do the trick.  The irony about eating disorders is this – in what is often viewed as a quest for control, you only ever have false sense of control.  In all actuality the eating disorder is calling the shots and you’re simply along for the ride.  There is no trick – the path grew slowly darker and more slippery and the return journey is just as slow.
Why is it that medical doctors not only blame us for our eating disorders while often disregarding their seriousness?  If this was predominantly a problem seen in males would the reaction be the same?  Would a male patient be treated as if he was simply too self-absorbed to grow up?  We are not dumb, we are not vain, we do not spend our days worshipping models and mirrors.  In fact, we are students and professionals, we are generally high-achieving and very capable people we just see the world and ourselves that much differently.  We didn’t choose this paradigm – genetics collided with personality traits and it just happened.

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