Defrauding the Future

Anorexia has a dramatic image. Rightly so. It is a quiet proclamation of rage and despair, for most of its users. They are living fiercely.

But my illness had its roots in much more prosaic behaviours. It grew from the simple discrepancy between the amount I ate and the amount I exercised. My calorie expenditure started to edge ahead of my intake. That’s all.

When Jo decided we were to live more healthily, and my eating became more restrained, the running was enough to cause my weight to fall slightly[1]. Then it continued to creep downwards, because I’d developed the habit and the formula. I knew how to do it.

Running already provided me with a comforting sense of success, however small, and it turned out I needed that. When I’d completed a run, I felt like I’d got something done. It felt like a solution to something.

 Now losing weight by exercise and healthy eating became my thing, became the way I lived. I couldn’t just abandon it when I hit a target weight. That would feel like failure and would leave me without purpose. The idea felt threatening, for some reason[2].

But the continued success of my endeavours demanded continued and progressive weight-loss. I had a long grace period when, presumably, I was living off my own internal fat reserves. But these aren’t infinite. When I allowed myself to do the calculations, I was amazed at how long I’d continued to function on fewer calories than I was using. On each successive day, I knew I was defrauding my future self of his health by adding to the calorie debt I’d inherited from my past self. And, ultimately, one day, one of my future selves would be called upon to pay back the debt, probably by dropping dead. Like Karen Carpenter.[3]

But who cared about dropping dead in future? Future me wasn’t me. He was some other vaguely conjectured dude. It was present me that was having all the trouble.

  • Footnotes

[1] Notice the confusion, right from the start, of what was healthy and what was dangerous, what was wise and what was just crazy. It’s all a question of degree…

[2] An over-active amygdala, Abi suggests, the part of the brain that regulates stress hormones. After all, I’d already experienced one major endocrine malfunction: Grave’s Disease. See also Carrie Arnold’s Decoding Anorexia 2013 Hove: Routledge, p26


[3] I’ve adapted this idea from Yanis Varoufakis’s explanation of financial debt in Talking to my Daughter about the Economy, 2018, London: Vintage (I think)

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