Anorexia Sufferers Are Hungry, Too
Starving to be Heard
Posted Feb 23, 2011
If you click onto my biography, you will read about my education and professional experience: a licensed clinical social worker based in New York. What you will not see is that throughout most of my college, graduate school, and career, indeed for much of my adult life, I fought what felt like an overwhelming and neverending war with anorexia nervosa.
Although I’m sure the seeds of the illness were planted long before the symptoms emerged, I began to starve myself in my freshman year of college—and this continued for more than 25 years. When I say starving, I do not mean only by denying myself food. I deprived myself in every area of my life—emotionally, educationally, socially, and in my relationships with friends and family. Anorexia nervosa is a greedy illness. It takes everything it can. It becomes all-consuming and all-encompassing. There is no space left for anything or anyone else.
Throughout my illness I was in therapy, continuously trying to win the war against this insidious and paradoxical illness. However, most of the time, I was treading water, trying to stay at a minimal weight to avoid hospitalization. It was what I call “movement without motion.” In this blog I plan to write about eating disorders, and especially anorexia, from two perspectives: as a sufferer and now as a psychotherapist who specializes in treating individuals and families with eating disorders.
Eating disorders are complex illnesses with multiple contributants. As I know personally and professionally, the symptoms may be similar but the causality is unique to each individual. Therefore, I will offer you my personal and professional perspectives on eating disorders. You, the reader, may have other ideas and opinions, and I look forward to hearing them. Another of my hopes is that this blog will be an ongoing dialogue about eating disorders and will shed more light on these illnesses which, if left untreated, can become chronic and even fatal. I'll also aim to bust some of the myths of eating disorders so that both sufferers and non-sufferers alike can better understand the disease.
In the fall of 2009 I created an interactive psychoeducational program called “Starving at the Banquet.” When I lead this program, whether it be for adolescents, parents, or educators, one of the questions I am often asked is Didn't you feel hungry. One of the myths of anorexia is that sufferers do not feel their hunger.
Many sufferers, when pressed to eat, will push away their plate and say “I’m not hungry.” However, I do not believe that someone with anorexia truly loses her appetite. I never did. I suppressed it. I was so intent on losing weight as a way to express myself that it took all my strength to sublimate my hunger. It was the will of the mind over the hunger of my body.
For many individuals, their eating disorder is a form of communication. Anorexia became my voice. It became the way I expressed anger, fear, and ambivalence about separating from my family. I was starving to be heard and I believed that this was the only way my parents could hear me.
For many of us with eating disorders, one of the goals of therapy is to develop healthier ways of communicating our needs and feelings and for the therapist to help our parents learn to listen. Most parents, when faced with a child who is starving herself to death, feel desperate and focus only on the skeletal shape of their child who is wasting away. They cannot see or hear anything else. The sufferer of anorexia remains starving to be heard.