Surfacing After Silence

Life. After.

what is “healthy” anyway?


question by queeen666 at deviantart.com

This entry was thought up as I answered a comment to my previous post.  The question:

Maybe this is a similar question, but how/when were you able to not feel bad for being “healthy”? My problem is once I hit that no longer “underweight’ category in my BMI I freak and then retreat back just to stay “underweight”….I am scared of being “healthy”. When did that fear dissipate for you if you ever had it?

My answer:

“Oh, I definitely had that fear and would do the same as you and get back to the BMI that put me just in the “underweight” category. I didn’t care if it was by 1/10th of a point, but I wasn’t “healthy”. I’ve been thinking a lot about where our fear of healthy comes from, for it is common. I think for me it meant I was no longer worthy of help or care, if I was declared “healthy.” And i think I wanted to be taken care of, or be seen as worthy of care. And my weight was the only thing I thought I could control at the time. It changed for me when I was in the hospital. when someone asked me what i did (job wise/etc.) and I answered “I’m a grad student” and then realized I WASN”T a grad student. I was on a medical leave with my ass in the hospital for the upteenth time. And about that same time I realized I really wanted to be an active part of my nephew’s life because it broke my heart to have him visit me in the hospital. And I decided I had to be healthy to really be A) part of his life and B) a functioning grad student. Those two things were what I kept in mind, to combat the “healthy=bad” thoughts. And then I realized I just felt so much more alive and was enjoying living. And I was “healthy.” And I couldn’t do that when I was “underweight.” And the knowledge that my “healthy” is above the BMI charts for my height. I don’t function well at what the charts say is healthy for my height. I NEED to weigh more than that. That acceptance took longer, but it really sunk in fast when I finally did accept it.”

This sparked a thought train in me–a thought that I keep coming back to. Why do so many anorexics fear the word “healthy”?  I know that I spent weeks leading up to hitting my goal weight obsessively dreading it, worrying about it, getting anxious about it–and I still had XX pounds to go. But the knowledge that I would then be “healthy” was something I couldn’t bear.

THEN: the term denoted someone who was “fine.” Someone who didn’t have an eating disorder and, therefore, didn’t need treatment or concern.  Even when i was in need of treatment and refused, I still took convoluted pride in the fact that I did, indeed, need it.  It meant something–that I was “succeeding” in my eating disorder.  “Health” also meant “fat” to me.  I couldn’t imagine weighing “that much” and I imagined I must turn into an elephant if I weighed “that much.”  “Health” also meant the loss of my bones–or the easy visibility of their outlines.  “Health” meant I would be bigger, and, therefore, more visible, and I was so afraid of that.

In the slightly less illogical thoughts on term: I used to think that once I hit my goal weight, I’d be healthy and no longer sick and my body would be recovered.

NOW: I have come to value health.  And my view on health has expanded, including more things than weight alone.  I think each person has a different range in which health occurs.  For example, my doctors knew that my ideal weight was actually 5-7 pounds OVER what the BMI said was healthy for my height.  And I have friends who weigh more than I do and are healthy, and I have friends who weigh less than me and are healthy.  I DO believe that you can’t be underweight or obese and have true health.  Both extremes bring health problems; both extremes can result in death.  (And sometimes, a lot of the time, the healthy weight-but-engaging-in-behaviors results in death, too.)

Weight is not the sole determining factor.  Suppose I maintained my weight by eating nothing buy ice cream.  I’d be in a healthy weight range, so I must be healthy?  Except I’m missing all the protein and the fruits and vegetables and carbs that are so essential to health.  I could maintain my weight by drinking beer all day, and I think we can all agree, that’s not healthy.

I’ve learned what a healthy lifestyle is, and again, this is different for each individual.  But yes, it does mean eating the right amount of food so that your body can function efficiently, and  yes, an appropriate amount of exercise for your condition.  I means getting sleep.  It means engaging in fun activities. I means fostering healthy and positive relationships.  It means working on your relationship to whatever you may call your higher power.  It means balance.  Work, school, social functions, exercise, hobbies–all done in a healthy balance.

So little of health is determined by weight alone.  I mean, my weight was “okay-ish” when I was engaging in obsessive exercising and that resulted in a very unhealthy physical (and mental, for that matter) me.  And once we hit our goal weight, we still have so much work to do before declaring ourselves “healthy.”  Behaviors, addictions, symptoms, etc.  All come into play.

And I still do remind myself of what health is.  And that my body’s needs change as my situation changes.  Right now, my caloric intake is lower than a few weeks ago.  But I hardly move out of my living room because of my knee.  And when I am walking again, and going for walks in the evening, my body will require more calories.  And I’m fighting a chronic illness, and I’ve learned that I need energy for that.  And I need to bear a little more weight than I did in the past.  And I remind myself of all the things I can do in this “healthy” range that I never could in that “underweight” range–my physical energy and strength are vastly improved as are my cognitive abilities.  I am partaking in life in a way I never could have while I was underweight.

But I am curious as to what the word “healthy” implies to people.  if you are afraid of it, why?  I’d really love for comments on this entry (on the blog itself, not on facebook) so that people can (hopefully) see that they are not alone in their fears.

So bring on your definitions!

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July 14, 2010 - Posted by | Body Image, Eating Disorders, feelings, health | , , , , , , , , , ,

9 Comments »

  1. I agree, I always related “healthy” to weight, and being heavy. It’s still really hard to accept myself as being at a healthy weight, but its getting better everyday, and I can do so much more now than I could when I was not healthy. That makes it all worthwhile.

    Comment by Cheryl | July 14, 2010 | Reply

  2. Thanks Alexis for posting this. It was really helpful and I agree completly on some things. I will write a more detailed response later on, but one thing you did hit the nail on the head about is the issue of “caring”. It is a major fear of mine and something that comes up time and time again in therapy- I fear like in order for someone to care about me they need a reason- aka I need to be sick I need to be underweight- anorexic…..if I am “healthy” than I no longer need help and I have no reason to ask people to care. That is my answer in brief. 🙂

    Comment by Jessica | July 14, 2010 | Reply

  3. I have struggled with being both healthy and unhealthy. Ever since my sister got sick, I was forced to be the “good” one, the “healthy” one. I couldn’t afford to have people take care of me hen Jackie passed, it felt like “finally, my turn now.” All of a sudden people were paying attention to me and taking care of me, a lot because they felt guilty for my sister’s death… As I began to resent people taking care of me just because my sister died, I began to feel justified in my unhealthiness. I was sick and needed to be taken care of. I deserve to be taken care of. So that meant I had to be sick.
    Now I am trying to figure out a healthy balance. I don’t want to be sick. But I need people to be there for me and with me. I want to be healthy. I like this person I’m discovering now that Jackie is gone. I like me. I don’t like playing her role and mine at the same time. I want to just play at my life.
    I don’t know if any of this makes sense. I hope it does. I’m kinda just rambling. I am just afraid that Jackie will really be gone if I am “healthy.”

    Comment by wednesday v | July 14, 2010 | Reply

  4. I’m scared that if I’m “healthy,” I will no longer get the support from my team that I have now. I was discharged from IOP a year ago at my goal weight. Because I’m scared of losing support, my weight has been just below my goal so I’m technically “sick.” What’s funny, though, is I don’t think of the physical stuff beyond weight. I was wondering why I hadn’t gotten my period in 7 weeks because I’m not in the underweight category and I haven’t lost weight, but everything adds up. Things like that, as bad as it sounds, proves to me that I still need help. The question is, when will it be ok for me to be “healthy?” It seems like I can handle being “healthy” in some areas, but being “sick” is still comforting. I’m not alone then.

    Comment by Jen | July 15, 2010 | Reply

    • I think I wanted more people to comment because I know that more people feel the way you do than everyone realizes. It’s because no one talks about it. It’s a taboo subject, right? But you are far from alone in feeling this way. But I do want you to know that there is life in the category called “healthy” and that you still are worthy of care and support. And life can be so much fun when you’re healthy.

      Comment by surfacingaftersilence | July 16, 2010 | Reply

  5. I apologize for commenting rather late – I’ve just been thinking of this post a lot, b/c it really hits home, and I really appreciate you writing about this.

    To echo what other people commented, for me, the ED – in particular (but not limited to) being “visibly” eating disordered, may be an “unconscious” way to express, or show my depression/painful emotions/etc. to my treatment team (not to other people, though, paradoxically – I wanted people, esp. professors to have high expectations of me, and I wanted to hide the ED from most people…). And in a way I fear that now that I look healthy on the OUTSIDE, everyone on my treatment team, will assume that I’m fine and not believe that I’m struggling on the INSIDE, and therefore will abandon me, assuming I don’t need help anymore. That’s what I’ve experienced in the past – as I get better, my doctors (except for therapist where it’s standard for most people to see once a week for continuity), see me less and less, and in a way abandon me, leaving me alone with less support. It’s not that I want my life to be filled up with tons of doctors’ appointments – I just fear health in a way (but simultaneously desire it so I can pursue my goals) because I associate that with abandonment. The ED serves so many other functions, esp. in terms of trying to control/numb emotions, feeling disciplined and controlled when everything is chaotic and unpredictable in the outside world, etc. But I think on a sort of unconscious (for lack of a better word) level I associate being sick with people caring about me, when I don’t care about myself and have so much self-hatred and feel like I don’t deserve to be cared for; and I associate health with being alone without support. I feel so ashamed admitting this to myself, b/c it makes me feel attention-seeking, immature, etc. (although I feel this way about MYSELF, I never view OTHER people in my position in that way).

    A big leap that I have made is using WORDS to express this fear, and underlying emotional pain, instead of SHOWING them this with my body. Before talking about this, I first just emailed my therapist, b/c I was too ashamed to admit this to her face, and part of her response was that it is not uncommon for people to fear getting “healthy” for all kinds of reasons. EDs are often a way of communicating pain visibly to others, similar to self injury. It shows people things that you fear/difficulty telling them directly.

    While it is still challenging, and I still have urges to return to old behaviors, I am working really hard to speak about my pain, b/c I am lucky enough to have doctors that listen.

    (wow – sorry for this really long response!)

    Comment by anon | July 17, 2010 | Reply

    • thank you for the long response. And I hope other people read it and I hope you read their comments and found out that you are not alone in this fear of being healthy because of a fear of abandonment/losing care. I suspect a lot of people also feel the same way but are ashamed to write it down. I know it was a difficult thing for me to write even now, when I’m okay with being healthy and no longer fear that I will be abandoned. I’m glad you shared your thoughts with your therapist. i often write things down first, when I fear I won’t be able to communicate them well in conversation, face-to-face.

      Comment by surfacingaftersilence | July 17, 2010 | Reply

  6. I agree that words are important. Even though I was so ashamed to admit it- once I started to talk to my therapist about my fear that she would not care for me or see me if I got well- I started to feel more confident that perhaps I could work towards recovery and health and she would still be there. I still need those constant reminders but I would not have gotten them had I not shared my fears. Granted, I am just afraid people do not care about me period, but the eating disorder helped me feel like I had a reason to go to people for support. I very clearly remember it, looking back to when it all started when I was 10 or so- I thought if I could get “thin” enough than maybe people would notice I was NOT OKAY and then it would give me a reason to go talk to someone and tlel them how much pain I was in but I kept not allowing myself to talk to people because as the eating disorder so viciously did when I was young and unaware- I never felt “sick enough” or “thin enough” to ask for help. Once I did years later I found that I did not feel as bad talking to people and asking for help because I had a reason to point too- the eating disorder- that was my reason for asking/needing help and care- and I know that I need to somehow learn to respect and value myself and learn that people will care about me just because I am me…..I guess that is the problem or one of the many 😉 I also feel completely invalidated because I have not been IP several times….however I also know that once I thought I went in IP I would feel “Sick enough” but then you go IP and you meet others that are more “physiclaly ill” than you and so you yet again have another comparison to make- and I know in the end the best eating disorder is a dead one- but why is it still so hard to accept- I feel like a fraud with my ED very often although not nearly as often as I used too.

    Comment by Jessica | July 19, 2010 | Reply

  7. Great idea, thanks for this post!

    Comment by roulette download | July 22, 2010 | Reply


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