A Weighty Issue

Most people are sensitive about their weight and their figure. No one likes standing on the scales and seeing the numbers go up, no one would like to be told they are looking heavier, or a bit fatter. Weight is a very personal issue which most people do not like to discuss, at least in fine detail. People talk about wanting to lose weight and may say they have lost a couple of pounds, but that tends to be the extent of the conversation. People tend to be happy and proud when they lose a bit of weight and like to share their good news with others.  Whereas gaining weight is likely to be left undeclared, being kept as their own personal secret, they don’t want people knowing they are a few pounds heavier.

Focussing on weight and how you look is often all a sufferer with anorexia can think about. It takes over their mind, body and life and becomes THE most important thing. This is not through choice, no one would want their weight (and trying to lose it) to be their sole purpose in life. It is often a coping mechanism-sufferers may be struggling to deal with other areas of their life and therefore focus on weight as a way to cope.  I know for myself, when faced with difficulty and adversity, my default mechanism is to focus everything on weight, food, calories and exercise. Anorexia feels safe when the world appears nasty and scary. I am aware this is not a constructive coping mechanism but it is one I have known for most of my life and always find myself turning to.

The general worries and discontent a lot of people have with their weight is nothing like that experienced by an anorexic, so you can imagine, if a ‘normal’ person is upset by a comment about their weight/figure, this is magnified to the extreme if received by an anorexic. And this is what I experienced last week. It wasn’t meant to be an insulting comment but anyone who has ever had experience of anorexia or knows someone who suffers from it, will be aware that comments like ‘looking better’ and ‘looking healthier’ are interpreted plain and simply as ‘I look fatter.’ And yes, this isn’t the right interpretation and I can (usually) accept that someone telling me I look healthier doesn’t necessarily mean they are telling me I look like I’ve put on weight.

Me at Graduation one year ago
But this week I had my graduation photo from one year ago compared to how I look now. And I was told my face now, doesn’t look as gaunt, doesn’t have bones sticking out, doesn’t have wrinkles caused from being so thin. In essence, my face is rounder. And this was very difficult to hear. Yes, the characteristics of my face in my graduation photo are not what most people would consider attractive, but as I said, no one would like being told they look like they have put on weight and when your self-worth and way to survive is hinged upon your weight and trying to be thin, a comment like this is destroying. To say anorexia sufferers fear weight gain is an understatement. Weight gain is utterly terrifying, so much so that there aren’t actually the words to give it justice.

Me now
And it was after stepping off the scales during my fortnightly visit from my community nurse that this comment was made. Having just seen the numbers on the scale go up by half a kilo from the previous weight two weeks ago, it was probably not the best time to discuss my facial features not looking as thin. And I know everyone reading this will be thinking that it is a good thing I have put on weight and don’t look as thin and I know logically this is true. But this is the heaviest I have been in 7 years and it is something I find very difficult and upsetting. I am trying my best to cope with it sensibly (not resorting back to severe anorexia) and dealing with being this weight would be that little bit easier if I wasn’t being compared to a photo from one year ago. Or if I am to be compared to a previous photo, compare features that aren’t weight related e.g. eyes, skin tone etc. The last thing I need to be told when I am already struggling to deal with the fact I have gained weight is that yes actually, coupled with my weight gain I do look bigger. And I know that with gaining weight my figure will change but there is a time and a place to highlight this and in the moment of stepping off the scales, this probably wasn’t the most appropriate time.

So just like if you were talking to a ‘normal’ person about weight/looks, you would approach this with tact and sensitivity, the same (if not more) needs to be applied when talking to someone who suffers from an eating disorder. And this isn’t to say I don’t want to be told if I look different, I do, but I do not want it when I am already upset, having already verbally expressed my difficulty with my size. And you would think an expert in the field of eating disorders would have known this. It is very easy for comments like this to set you back. But I have started to get my foot hold on the ladder to climb away from anorexia and I must not let an inappropriate comment slide me back down the snake. It is difficult…but life at the top of the ladder has got to be worth it, hasn’t it?

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