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How Far Will You Go?

Note: This is the first of a couple of posts that touch on anorexia.

“I was worried that you’d become anorexic.”

A family friend surprised me with this comment a number of years after I finished losing weight. It hadn’t occurred to me that people would be concerned about me dropping pounds as well as putting them on.

She quickly added, “But then I realized you were too practical for that.”

I had to laugh, although she had a point. Practically runs very deep in me, as does a love of food. I can only give up eating so much. And yet – part of me can understand the appeal of losing past a healthy weight, because I learned something quite interesting on my journey.

Losing weight can be addictive.

After all, what’s not to like? In a society where we’re taught to be constantly focused on weight, what’s better than seeing the numbers on the scale drop, and drop, and drop some more?

It’s positively delightful to shed the old clothes that are now too big and go for something new, in more daring styles, giving you the chance to reinvent your wardrobe – and yourself – with every twenty pounds or so lost. (This is assuming that you have a lot of weight to lose, which I realize is not always the case.)

You become the center of attention in an entirely new way. Instead of people commenting on how dangerous your weight is or that you shouldn’t be eating a certain way, they gather around in respect. They want to know what you’re doing, looking at you with wide, admiring eyes, hanging on your every word.

And the compliments! They’re the most seductive and addictive. If you pass a certain point and lose a lot of weight – say, fifty pounds or more – you may suddenly be an inspiration to others. You might find praise coming from all directions, even those you barely know. (See my earlier post about how hard it is when those compliments stop.)

If you come from a background of feeling only shame about your body, it’s so delightful, warm and fuzzy to experience all this, to feel good about getting on the scale for a change. Why stop?

While I never truly thought about just going on until I couldn’t lose any more, I did revise my goals. For instance, when I first started losing, my ideal weight was 140. Then it was 130. Then it dropped to 120-125. I felt driven by the numbers and perfectionism, wanting to do the best I could.

I did stop in the end because I finally started noticing that my body had had enough. It had been telling me that for a while, but I had simply not noticed or ignored my loose skin, the fact that my menstrual cycle had stopped, and that I simply felt tired of only eating 1000 calories a day.

What saddens and terrifies me is realizing that I might not have stopped, that I might have kept going and become anorexic as my friend feared. I am grateful that I did not, but the thought is always at the back of my mind, especially as I see continued emphasis on being thin.

Because no matter what popular culture may claim, you can go too far, and the ultimate loss is not weight, but health and life.

Tune in next week for some thoughts about a couple of memoirs that deal with anorexia: "Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia" by Marya Hornbacher, and "Stick Figure: A Diary of My Former Self" by Lori Gottlieb.

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