A Failure To Lunch – Is Anorexia A Disease Or A Lifestyle Choice?
The sufferers of Anorexia are roughly divided into two camps. There are those who accept that they are in the thrall of a terrible disease and those who think they are merely exercising some sort of lifestyle choice. The two camps are deeply entrenched in their opinions and are neither is likely to listen to a blind word the other has to say on the subject. It probably follows that neither of them will give any serious consideration to my thoughts on the issue, but I’m going to have a go anyway.
It’s probably pretty obvious, even this far in, that I am of the opinion that Anorexia and Bulimia are indeed diseases. But let’s just theorize a bit for the moment. Let’s say that the pro-ana lobby, with their opinions and speculation, are right. And let’s also say that the medical people, with their evidence and scientific method, are wrong. What happens when we accept the statement that Anorexia is a lifestyle choice and not a disease?
Well, I’ll tell you what happens in my brain when I try to accept that statement. It sits in my mind, slightly uncomfortably for a little while, then just as it is beginning to settle in, another question raises itself. So fucking what if Anorexia is lifestyle choice?
Maybe I’m just being a bit thick here, but how does calling it a lifestyle choice somehow make it ok? Getting through an ounce of cocaine, two bottles of vodka and 60 cigarettes a day is a lifestyle choice, but that doesn’t necessarily make it a smart idea. It doesn’t make it right.
Taking something you are compelled to do and calling it by a name you’re more comfortable with does not change the nature of the beast.
If scientists changed the name of Gamma Rays to “Magic Moon Beams”, it wouldn’t make them any more friendly or stop them from killing you by ripping your DNA to shreds.
Sufferers of Anorexia and Bulimia grow emotionally attached to their afflictions. They even give them human names, Ana and Mia. They talk about them as if they are old friends. And in a way they are, in a Simon and Garfunkel “Hello darkness my old friend, I’ve come to talk with you again” sort of fashion. They find comfort in them.
There are two reasons for this. Firstly, when you starve yourself for long enough, your brain starts to struggle to produce certain neurotransmitters. One of the first ones to go is the one responsible for anxiety. Your background troubles start to melt away, and your only concerns become your calorific intake and excessive exercise.
Secondly, it is difficult to let go of something that has been a huge part of your life for so long, no matter how self-destructive it might be. It is part of who you are after all, part of your identity as a human being. This is why newly pledged tee-totalers refer to themselves as recovering alcoholics and not ex-alcoholics. It’s not just an acknowledgement of the fact that they could fall back off the wagon at any time. It’s also an acknowledgement that their experiences as boozers – good, bad and bloody awful- have contributed to the nicer, sober people they are now.
Like most of the population of Great Britain, I tend to drink too much than is good for me. So occasionally, just to make sure I still can, I give up the booze for a month. Yes, yes, I know that doing that is a classic sign of alcoholism. Sadly, a brutal reality of Western life is that unless you are tee-total or a very occasional drinker, you are probably a functioning alcoholic. Certainly by the standards Alcoholics Anonymous apply. Though according to them, you’re an alcoholic if you feel the compulsion to sniff a barmaid’s apron once a month. Recovering alcoholics are understandably upset by alcoholism wherever they see it, and they see it everywhere.
I, however, still think that giving any behaviour up for a month is still a valid test to see whether it is still a lifestyle choice. I do it to ensure that, if the phrase “functioning alcoholic” does apply to me. That the “functioning” bit is still there in the mix somewhere.
So if you are pro-ana, why not try the test yourself? Choose not to bother for just one month. Don’t look at any ana websites. Don’t starve yourself or purge yourself or do any of the things that you would normally do in that regard. Just a month, that’s all. If you can, then maybe you’re right. Maybe you are just choosing a lifestyle. If you can’t then the lifestyle is choosing you. And that’s really no choice at all.