Eating Disorder Economics

The other night I had a thought that I was not expecting and it caused me to do some serious thinking. And, in true dork-like fashion, since I am reading a book about the global financial collapse, I came up with what I will call an eating disorder economic theory. Bear with me.

First, the thought I was not expecting. I was talking to a friend who is not doing well ED wise, and I had to cut the conversation short to go eat dinner. When I hung up, I automatically though “it’s not fair that I have to eat and she can get away with not eating.” Now, before everyone jumps all over me, let me say that I am perfectly aware how incredibly disordered this thought is. And honestly, I was quite surprised that it was the first thing to pop into my head. Logically I know that what’s really not fair is that she is struggling and has no support, and if she continues not to eat she will end up inpatient (or worse, dead).

So, if I know where the road of skipping meals leads me and I don’t want to go down that road, why would I be jealous of someone who is headed down that path? Here is where I think the addiction model kind of fits. The idea of skipping a meal, of feeling empty, has the same “in-the-moment/I’m just going to ignore the reality thrill” that I am guessing people who buy lottery tickets (think the recent mega millions mania) experience. When you hear people talk about spending money on these tickets, they describe the thrill and hope that maybe, just maybe, they will strike it rich. In the same way that these people ignore the statistics or think that they will be the lucky one, I somehow always manage to think that somehow this time will be different. That I will get “lucky” and skipping that meal won’t prevent me from accomplishing my educational and life goals.

Making this analogy a little broader, here is where the economic theory comes in.  Basically, the short term positives of the eating disorder are kind of like the housing bubble. They are worth millions at a certain time, but that worth is simply not sustainable, and sure enough, it always ends up busting, and I end up more in debt than where I started. Those positives of the ED are like taking out a subprime mortgage – it is something I can’t afford, but I keep saying “it will be ok” and “I will make it work” until one day I just can’t anymore and I end up defaulting (ie going inpatient). By the same token, the negative consequences, both short and long term, are like more stable investments…in the beginning I feel like I am giving up a lot and not making very much in return, but over time it will pay off.

What my thought the other night showed me is that in the same way that gimicky deals and get-rich-quick schemes are appealing to a lot of people even if they are okay financially, the emptiness feeling is still worth a lot to me despite having a lot of positive things going on in my life (volunteering, taking classes, lots of fun times with friends). But, in the same way that I avoid get quick rich schemes because I know they are scams, the positives of skipping meals are a short term “boom” that eventually will blow up in my face. So rather than end up in a serious recession down the road, I need to invest in the more stable, although less immediately gratifying things.

In order to do that, I need to remind myself of the long term consequences, but I think it will also be helpful to remember that the short term doesn’t feel all that great either. The immediate short term of feeling empty feels great, but it doesn’t feel great to be freezing and nauseated and weak. It doesn’t feel great to miss out on social events because they involve food. I need to remember that I definitely have a selective memory when it comes to the ED. When I’m eating, I remember the “good” feelings of being empty and seeing the scale go down. Likewise when I’m doing really bad behavior wise, I remember the “good” feelings of being more social and not as cold.

I also have to remind myself that it will get better. Just like a good long term investment doesn’t necessarily show it’s worth right away, eating healthy might take awhile to be rewarding. I am at a point right now where I sort of have the worst of both worlds…I am eating so I don’t have that empty feeling or knowledge that the scale will go down, but I am also not feeling 100% physically – I am still nauseated, tired and dizzy a lot of the time. So it is very easy for that voice to creep in and say “well, if you feel all these things whether you eat or not, at least if you don’t eat you will get the satisfaction of feeling empty.” I am doing a good job of ignoring the voice, but it does like to show up a lot! Rather than throwing in the towel whenever it seems like the investment going anywhere, I just have to keep remembering that at some point, it will give me a positive return if I hang on.

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