Other People

An acquaintance was telling me about her cousin’s anorexia. Apparently, this woman was a size 14, but “successfully” managed her eating to lose a lot of weight and keep it off. This made her feel dynamic and successful and, according to my gossip-report, to achieve well academically, so that she qualified as a doctor. However, the highly stressful, reactive, environment of a modern hospital, for junior doctors, made her yearn for a greater sense of control over her life, and for strategies for coping. The result? Persistent anorexia nervosa. It’s strange how similar all our stories are. This is a familiar narrative, I think: the surprisingly successful diet, leading to a glow of achievement and confidence; the consequent burst of creative energy as your weight goes down, which tails off as you begin to bottom out into malnourishment; the stressful job and the desire to cling to that comforting glow as life becomes weirder, even more stressful, and less controllable.

Dieting, or managing your eating in any way, is a dynamic and on-going process. Like running down the up escalator, if you stop, you’ll automatically be carried to the top again, especially in our processed food culture, so you have to keep going, but the only real way of measuring this success is through further weight loss. No matter how stressful your life is, objectively, denying your brain the nourishment it needs seems to alter its perceptions of the world on a fundamental, bio-chemical level. As I’ve said before, it generates its own stress and weirdness and sense of life being out of control, which it then offers respite from. This is a key feature of its durability and success as a sort of meme-virus.

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