This past year (2020) has been a year of tremendous upheaval and unwelcome change for most of us due in large part to the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s the second time in my life (first time I was in my 40s) where I’ve responded to stress with anorexic behavior—not consuming enough calories to sustain a healthy weight.
It crept up on me again
Like a snake slithering around its prey.
Last time I kept nourishment at bay
It felt so good.
“You look wonderful,” friends exclaimed.
“What’s your goal?” my spouse asked.
“It’s time to stop your dieting,” doctors warned.
But, shrinking away felt so right
And now, it feels so right again
I don’t need to eat—I’m already full.
I need nothing.
Nothing satiates me.
Nothing makes me light, airy, and invisible.
Food weighs me down.
Eating feels like failure.
The snake has slithered around me again,
Entwining itself around my body
Squeezing my gut,
Crushing it into puree.
I smile—even laugh—
But inside I’m a jumbled mess of mush.
I try to put my gut together again with salty tears and will power
Sustained with no more than a veneer of bravado.
My ribs protrude
Like a xylophone waiting for a tune.
I have no music to offer—
Only sour notes and off-key songs.
I’m told I’m perfect the way I am
Yet perfection is out of reach.
Some facts about anorexia: https://www.eatingrecoverycenter.com/conditions/anorexia/facts-statistics
“Anorexia nervosa is an illness that impacts women, men, adolescents and children. It does not discriminate. It affects all ethnicities, cultures and socioeconomic groups. It is also the most deadly mental illness, with a higher mortality rate than any other mental illness.”
- 9 percent of American women will suffer from anorexia in their lifetime.
- 1 in 5 anorexia deaths is by suicide.
- Standardized Mortality Ratio (SMR) for Anorexia Nervosa is 5.86 (SMR is a ratio between the observed number of deaths in [a] study population and the number of deaths would be expected).
- 50 to 80 percent of the risk for anorexia is genetic.
- 33 to 50 percent of anorexia patients have a comorbid mood disorder, such as depression. Mood disorders are more common in the binge/purge subtype than in the restrictive subtype.
Esther Nelson is a registered nurse who worked for several years in Obstetrics and Psychiatry, but not simultaneously. She returned to school (Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Virginia) when her children were in college and liked it well enough to stay on as an adjunct professor. For twenty-two years, she taught courses on Human Spirituality, Global Ethics, Christian-Muslim Relations, Women in the Abrahamic Faiths, and Women in Islam. She is the co-author (with Nasr Abu Zaid) of Voice of An Exile: Reflections on Islam and the co-author (with Kristen Swenson) of What is Religious Studies? : A Journey of Inquiry. She recently stepped away from teaching and now splits her time between New Mexico and Virginia.