"What was your lowest weight?" This is one question I am always asked when I lead a workshop about eating disorders with a group of adolescents. Although I encourage the teens to ask me anything they wish and I try to respond as openly and honestly as possible, this is one question I will not answer. I explain my reasons why.
There may be one teen in the group who has an eating disorder or who is predisposed to one and the psychosocial stressors which trigger anorexia and bulimia may already be stirring. Individuals with eating disorders are often perfectionists and there is an element of competition among them. Anorexia sufferers want to be the ‘best' anorexic, the anorexic who can eat the least and get down to the lowest weight. In essence, she (or he) strives to be the best at starving herself.
If I were to tell the group my lowest weight and an adolescent in the group either has an eating disorder or were to develop one, she might feel like she needs to drop lower than I once did. Divulging my lowest weight might only serve to "feed" her sense of competition.
There is also a hierarchy among those with anorexia and bulimia. An anorectic who loses weight by restricting her food feels superior to and has a higher status than one who loses weight by purging. Anorexia sufferers often feel they are higher in the hierarchy than bulimics. Starving oneself and restricting ones food implies more self-control; and a sense of control is characteristic of those with anorexia and bulimia. I remember having these feelings and I have seen them in some of my clients.
As I was recovering, both my body and my life becoming less skeletal, giving up these feelings of superiority and control was difficult. Although I did not want to admit it, there were times I felt ambivalent about recovery as I did not want to give up my sense of superiority. When it seemed like everyone around me was on a diet, I was the best "dieter" around. At least this is what I told myself. If I could no longer strive to be the "best" anorexic, I had to now find new goals for myself. I had to give up something that I was good at and that I could do better than everyone else.
As my clients are recovering, they too may feel that they are losing a sense of control and what has been an important part of their lives. These feelings are real and need to be acknowledged and talked about. However, they are based on false assumption. For me and for some of my clients, feeling like the "best" anorexic may have temporarily given us a sense of pride and superiority, yet it led to an existence of isolation and emptiness. It was a hollow sense of pride. I hope that with my help, my clients learn and truly believe that being the best at starving oneself is not a goal worth achieving.