If You Want to Understand Anorexia, Read This. It’s Not About Getting Skinnier.

It IS a close cousin of overwork, perfectionism, anxiety, and OCD.

Dana Leigh Lyons


Image of author by Brian Limoyo

In considering addiction — in considering our society of addicts — there is a line. On one side, addiction gets rewarded. On one side, the addict is the favourite daughter, the star student, the obvious success.

On the other side of that line is shame. On the other side is the stuff we and especially our mothers don’t boast about.

Here, just across the way. Here, the perfect pupil becomes the identified patient.

In the thick of doing and distraction, the line is hard to see and easy to cross. In the dark of night and your secret heart, you know you’ve already crossed it.

As a kid, I didn’t know this of course. As a kid, I received my lot and tried to make do. Obsessive-compulsion was one drug. Overwork and perfectionism another.

Then, in high school, came anorexia and addiction to running. While seemingly different, they were more of the same: Another variation on learned hyper-vigilance. Another attempt to control more, feel less, calm the chaos.

Here again, we find addiction rewarded. Similar to perfectionism or overwork, anorexia straddles the line. Sure, in its most stereotyped, skin-and-bones presentation, it becomes a place of shame.

Long before that, it becomes a thing simultaneously shamed and sought by others. In a world where overeating, toxic food, un-health, projection, and having opinions about other bodies runs rampant, the “skinny anorexic” is easy prey. (Not all those suffering from anorexia are skinny or even underweight, but here we’re talking targets.)

The “skinny anorexic” knows this, of course. But she knows too that her assailants are jealous. That their shaming contains the unspoken, mostly subconscious subtext:

I want to be skinny too. But I can’t manage it, so I’ll name and shame the addict. Better yet, I’ll do it behind their back. Better still, I’ll head to social media and drop my super-woke, body-positive assessment in the comments (anonymously, of course).