[Advice] Eating & Endpoints

I’ve started answering questions…with questions. If you have a problem that might benefit from other angles of consideration, send it to donovanable [at] gmail [dot] com. 

I have an eating disorder. My therapist thinks it’s anorexia, but I don’t think I’m thin enough for that to be right (I’m just barely underweight) and I haven’t lost much weight either. I don’t want to recover ’til I’m thin.


A first note, before the rest, is that anorexia both in the U.S. and abroad is classified by behavior and perception, leading to low weight, not necessarily a specific weight limit or weight change. Many people argue that the ‘low weight’ component of the DSM is still a poor criterion. (I am one of them). That being said, it is still possible that you may qualify for an anorexia diagnosis under the strict criteria.

Glass art by Sue Hawker

I have to admit, Letter Writer, I was not sure I could offer questions in response to this question. I could offer recognition—there is still a part of my brain that makes this argument to me, and another part of my brain that would like me to put it into action. Ultimately I think there always will be.

But if I could take myself out of this headspace, pause that part of my brain and interrogate it, these might be the things I would ask.

What does being thin mean in terms of other benefits? What values does it feel like it confers?
If you can, I would write this down, in a list you don’t have to keep or show to anyone else. If you’re like me—and you don’t have to be!—your answers might have little to do with appearance and more to do with things like ‘being acceptable to others’ and ‘moral purity’.

You don’t have to analyze these further or make decisions about them, just figure out what’s on that list for you.

What changes would it mean to how others see you to be ‘thin’?
Quotes because I mean what ever you mean by the word “thin”. What does your brain tell you about this?

How will you know when you’re thin? Specifically, is it a feeling internally or a specific measure?
I ask because I notice you said you’re a little underweight, by which I’m assuming you mean you’re under the weight recommended for your height. I think many, if not most people might be confused by hearing that you desire to be thin and also that you are underweight.

Do you have a specific, number-based stopping point in mind? If you do, do you think it’s one others would agree with? I’m not saying that other people are always great source of health information or bodily decision making, but I’m wondering what your anticipation of this answer is.

What does being not-anorexic mean for you?
It seemed like you were considering changing behavior (if I’m understanding you correctly) when you reached the ‘thin’ point. What would that be like? What would you do differently? What things is your brain telling you about what this decision would cause for you in terms of benefits and tradeoffs?

What would happen if you didn’t have access to reflective surfaces/measurements?
I ask because for me, I mostly got external information about my size (which then cued positive or negative reactions). As a sophomore in college, my dorm had renovations which accidentally removed all mirrors, except for four—one in each community bathroom. And nothing changed about my weight; I continued to have some disordered behavior and weight fluctuations, but not more or less than the previous year.

What did change was how distressed and impaired I felt by my body. I was less likely to skip class or social events due to seeing my body in the mirror on the way out the door. I could still go see myself if I wanted to, just by hiking down the hallway. But that little barrier? It did a lot to save my sanity.

I should say, I didn’t feel very positively about this. There is a quiet voice in me, one that was louder back then, that believes that I should feel shame and unhappiness about my body, that this is the correct penance.

But I wonder what you think would happen if you tried having less access to mirrors.

I don’t know, LW. I don’t know if this was helpful, or if a version of this would have helped me five years ago. I wish you happiness and health now and in the future.


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