Losing at Brain Games

[TW: ED]
Small post today, because I’m feeling contemplative.

I had something confirmed for me last week–that I have an unusual presentation and persistence of eating disorder/disordered eating* symptoms, given all the treatment, work, time I throw at it. In short, standard and adapted-for-me coping mechanisms and approaches for my anorexia tendencies (henceforth anorexia!brain) trigger my bulimic/bingeing tendencies…and coping mechanisms for bulimia!brain trigger my anorexic tendencies. Having both aspects isn’t terribly unusual, but that I split the difference so equally means that I never have an obvious choice about which eating habits to encourage. On days or weeks when I managed to eat properly, I’m balancing on a tightrope of tolerating the anorexia!brain and the bulimia!brain.

Which made this quote from Allie Brosh especially poignant:

For me, motivation is this horrible, scary game where I try to make myself do something while I actively avoid doing it. If I win, I have to do something I don’t want to do. If I lose, I’m one step closer to ruining my entire life. And I never know if I’m going to win or lose until the last second.

Replace ‘motivation’ with ‘eating’ and you have a summary of my mental calculus in sixty-two words.

Take this: It’s 3pm. I’m hungry.

Do I:

Eat an apple? After all, responding to hunger is important, and eating snacks is a skill I need to teach anorexia!brain.
On the other hand, this may lead to:
-I ate food at an unreasonable hour! All is lost! I’m uncomfortable and upset about this and now I want to binge.
-I ate food as a snack, and now maybe I can/should skip dinner.

So should I skip the apple? After all, dinner is more calories, and if eating the apple might trigger a binge or mean I don’t eat dinner, perhaps I should go for a solid option of a meal in a few hours?
On the other hand:
-I almost never feel hunger, and I need to learn to respond to it. Not to mention needing to get used to snacking. Teaching myself to ignore hunger didn’t exactly do good things for this whole eating disorder business.
-If I skip this snack, I might be so hungry at dinner that I accidentally overeat or trigger bingeing.

If I ‘win’ and eat enough food but not too much, anorexia!brain beats me up for eating, and bulimia!brain beats me up for the bingeing impulses I’m ignoring.  And so I spend cycle after mental cycle, trying to figure out which brain I can cope with when, how to trigger the least severe options, and only finding out if I’ve succeeded at the very last second.**

And nearly everyone else?

They just eat the damn apple.

*I don’t quite meet criteria for an eating disorder because I ‘win’ at feeding myself properly enough, but it fucks up my functioning and eats my willpower and brain enough that the distinction isn’t terribly clear. 

**A rough estimate, from the few times my brain has spontaneously clicked to non-ED (glorious weeks, those were) has me spending about 50% of my motivation/willpower towards eating properly. 


  1. geekgirlsrule says


    Oh man, so much this!!!!!!!

    I do better with scheduled food. Like, breakfast as I get to work, Snack at 10, Lunch at noon, snack at 2, and I really should have a snack around 4, but that’s when I leave work, and I’m sure I can tough it out until dinner, I’ll be fine… Then I have to fight bingeing at dinner. So, that compromise is snack around 3:30, which leads to guilt over eating more than every 2 hours and my eating disorder brain is a fucking asshole, and I wish it would shut up.

    The weekends are worse because I have no structure, and it’s way easier to just ignore the hunger and go on with whatever it is I’m doing to distract myself from being hungry. I finally broke down and asked my husband and friends to make sure I ate, and not in a “Have you eaten?” way, more in a just hand me food, because not eating is a secret and if you hand me food I have to eat it, especially if you’re standing right there.

    Granted, some days I’m really good at eating, and not bingeing, and those are happening more and more often, but this week’s been fucking awful, so I’m backsliding a lot and having to consciously make myself eat more often than just eating.

    Shorter: Yeah, I get you, it’s hard to learn how to eat when hungry when so much of your life has been dedicated to not eating.

  2. dysomniak "They are unanimous in their hate for me, and I welcome their hatred!" says

    Thanks for this. I don’t have the anorexic aspect so much, and I’ve never deliberately purged after eating, but this still sounds all to familiar to me. Add in alcoholism, and the substitution of food for alcohol.. Ugh.

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