Anorexia Nervosa Take 2 by Esther Nelson

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:

“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.

Categories: anxiety, Body, Death, Food, General

Tags: , , , ,

29 replies

  1. Wow Esther this is a powerful piece and one I am very grateful to read. I did not know that anorexia had a genetic component but I remember my mother’s obsession with the scale… and of course I followed suit. The problem was that I loved food. However, periodic depressive episodes allowed me to take off weight fast – and of course I got the usual responses ” you look great” that fed the monster inside me…. In the last ten years or so I find myself struggling more and more with food mostly because I am not that interested in it…for a former most creative cook this seems like a bizarre twist in my life. My desert sojourn was deadly in that respect – I just couldn’t keep weight on… Now that I am home I have gained some weight back and I am feeling grateful to feel more normal – but the struggle to eat three meals a day remains a challenge. Any kind of additional stress/upsets kills my appetite. I sure don’t feel like I am anorexic anymore but this may be part of it for older women??? I’ve wondered. Thanks so much for this post.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Sara, for your compassionate response. Never thought I’d need to deal with anorexia again, yet here it is. It’s one way to deal with stress for some people, however, ultimately ineffective and potentially deadly. Am thankful for my therapist and medical doctor–a specialist in psychiatric disorders.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I like your courage…. so many women will NOT talk about these issues which keeps the shame spiral going and keeps us stuck in a closet (which are rampant – worse today than ever before. I will always be grateful to Kim Chernin who dealt honestly with this stuff early in the 80’s through her writing… I wrote myself out of the closet and my shame) – freedom comes when we share –

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Esther: you are very courageous to post this detailed narration of your struggle with anorexia. Your story is deeply moving, powerful, and tragic.
    What the post brings out for me, a person who struggled with an eating disorder as a teenager, is the complexity of desire and appetite in women.
    Thinness and weight loss in women has been applauded for centuries… I once had a physician who complimented me on having “lost a pound,” am I diotic comment given that Individual weight can fluctuate by a couple of pounds or more on any given day! The comment did demonstrate, however, the mindless applause for weight loss among women. And yes, it was a male physician. Centuries ago, self starvation and self harm among medieval women Were often deemed to be marks holiness and sanctity. (Likewise for tears). Interesting that you have posted this in feminism and religion… when society tells women that we are to conquer and squash oh bodily desire.
    Yes, anorexia strikes men too, I realize, but among women, the disease has particular dimensions. Thank you for opening this conversation.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, “the complexity of desire and appetite in women.” Absolutely a key to understanding and treating anorexia nervosa. I recall our “feminist literary theory” undergraduate class discussing the intersection of desire and appetite. Only a few students grasped the chasm between the two. Patriarchy, that social system, we live in, has long tentacles. Thanks for responding so clearly and aptly.


  3. Thanks so much for your courage in sharing this post. From friends who have experienced anorexia I know what a struggle it is, how it can steal years of joyful life, and how hard it is to overcome. Expressing your own experience as well as the facts about anorexia will be helpful to so many who are feeling alone and who don’t realize how common it is. It’s also so important that we all realize how dangerous the pressure to conform to impossible expectations of perfection is, whether about our bodies or in other realms. Many healing blessings to you!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Dear Esther, please take care of Esther as best as you can. Love, Carol

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you for having the courage to share . . . hopefully you feel our love and support.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you for sharing your story, Esther, and important information about a condition many may misunderstand. Heart with you.


  7. Thanks, Elizabeth. You’re right about so many people not grasping/understanding what’s entailed with anorexia. Thank you for the love.


  8. Thanks, Esther, for having the courage to talk about your anorexia. It’s hard to talk about such a tabooed subject, especially when you’re going through it yourself. May you heal and find the self-love you need to overcome this second bout.


  9. Dear Esther, I was so moved by your powerful poem and story. I hope that you will comfort yourself and be guided back to food, nurture, sustenance as this pandemic recedes, regaining your vibrant health. Much love to you in this difficult time, Sally


  10. Esther, I can feel your words are coming out deeply from the experience of your returned suffering. May you catch the wave for a blessed healing and enjoy your life in more pleasure. Thank you so much for your strength of sharing.


  11. Thank you very much. It’s wonderful to feel so supported and cared for by the FAR community.


  12. Oh, when will we learn how to challenge the misperceptions of the mind that we have no music to offer or that what we do have to offer is somehow off key or sour? 😢 For years I have played small and contained, believing I have had nothing to offer. For years I submitted to men and teachers to keep me coloring within the lines of life, proper and nice. I have found that I am at my best now when I am fully expressing and living my biggest version of me. I hope your heart finds its tune again, Tia E. ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Yes, you are so right, Patsy! All of us, especially women, need courage and strength to pursue ourselves and not be swallowed up by male desire. It’s a fine line because all too often our survival is at stake, or at least we perceive and feel our survival to be at stake. I admire your strength in your own journey. Love you…….


  14. I don’t know much about anorexia but your post certainly put it in stark and real terms. I just wanted to weigh in and offer my support for your healing and your ability to learn to love yourself. You are too valuable to become invisible. We all need you.


  15. I don’t have much to offer, Esther, other than my respect for your courage in sharing about this important topic. I hope and pray you find whatever support you need to build peace with your body and with food. May you find exactly what you are looking for. <3


  16. A very courageous post. I wish I had known of you when we put our call out for Through The Looking Glass, which should publish in a month, by Indie Blu(e) Publishing as we would have relished your sharing. It is often thought those with anorexia have a ‘choice’ and thus, the victim is blamed for not being (strong enough, etc) and thought of as vain, etc, and it’s also considered a ‘white’ disease, although this is not accurate. I’m glad you dispel these myths among others, they must be dispelled, as it’s bad enough without having to deal with that kind of judgement. I continue to wonder why people must be unkind and judge. I am very glad you posted this, I know it will help many.


    • Thank you so much for your understanding and encouragement. Have found most people (as you noted) do not “get it.” So appreciate your comment.


      • I hear you. I admire your courage and your vulnerability because it’s not easy. I wish you only positive things ahead, knowing it’s not always that easy but with the support of those who respect you, anything is possible. I have an article on mental health on my blog today – as we’re publishing later this month our anthology on mental health. Hopefully you can submit to future anthologies through Indie Blu(e) we’d be honored.

        Liked by 1 person

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