I’M SITTING opposite my dad in a shitty two-for-one family pub. “It’s OK if you need to starve yourself on a Wednesday and binge on a Sunday,” he says, “lots of people do that. You just don’t want to get any bigger, do you?” I’ve just told him all about my eating disorder. How I starved myself for years. How I’d chastise myself terribly for eating two apples in one day. How I would weigh myself before every meal, and several times in between – asking the scale how much I was allowed to eat, if anything at all.
I told him that for a year, I saw a specialist nurse every week at an outpatient eating disorder clinic. She’d weigh me and read through my food diary – tell me to eat more. Her sons liked grated cheese in tomato soup – maybe I could try that.
But now I’m too fat again. And dad wants to know why.
Don’t get me wrong – my dad is a wonderful father, a wonderful man. He’s only trying to help me. He asks: “What triggered all this?”
And I tell him. It was the same thing that just happened thirty minutes ago. I’d gone looking for help for the excruciating pain and intense fatigue I feel in my legs, after years of fractures and surgeries due to genetic disorder I have.
A knee surgeon, the same surgeon I saw six years ago when my eating disorder began, stood in a hospital consulting room and told me that my physical condition would be “a lot better” and I’d experience less pain if I weighed less, so go away and lose some weight. The first time this man told me this I was 21, and had never really paid much attention to my weight. Yes I cared if my clothes were getting a bit tight or if I had to reach for a size 14 instead of a 12, but I’d never owned a set of scales.
I resolved to lose weight. I signed up to Weight Watchers. I’m a perfectionist, and I dedicated myself to the task like I do everything else in life – relentlessly. I followed the plan and weighed in every week. Three months later, I wiggled into a size 6 dress for my graduation. The compliments wouldn’t stop coming. My dad was thrilled for me. “You look like Jennifer Anniston! I’ve never seen you look so well. We are so proud of you! You’ve done such a great thing for you health. Your body will thank you.”
But very soon after, it became clear this new look could not be maintained easily. The scale started to go up if I ate even the smallest snack between meals, I became ravenous and would go to bed at 8pm to try and avoid eating dinner. This went on for about six months before I ended up in front of my GP feeling distraught and hopeless, suicidal, saying to her that I didn’t know why I was SO FAT. She referred me to the aforementioned clinic. I told dad all of this. “You didn’t have an eating disorder,” he said. “You just need to make better choices.”
I try to explain, through tears, that it doesn’t work like that. That my brain just locks into a way of thinking, and I can’t stop it. It tells me to skip one meal, then another. Then I’m lying to my partner – saying I ate dinner earlier.
“Just don’t do that,” Dad says. “We all said, you got too thin. You don’t have to be like that again, just don’t be…”
Like this. Don’t be a size 16. And starve on a Wednesday and binge on a Sunday if you have to, just don’t be a size 16. Or God forbid, get any bigger. I have a friend who lost years of her life in hospital – hooked up to feeding tubes. She got so thin her heart stopped several times. I asked Dad if he’d give her the same advice he was giving me.
“I don’t know what I’d tell her,” he admits.
The kind of eating disorder I had has recently been reclassified – it’s now known as atypical anorexia. Anorexia in every sense except the dangerously low BMI. My weight got to 7 stone 10 at its lowest – according to my BMI, I could be 6 stone 10 and still classify as a “healthy weight.” So maybe my dad is right – maybe starving myself down another few stone, for the sake of my physical health, is worth it. Because let’s face it – I was never dangerously underweight. Was I? I just need to make better choices.