What It’s Like: EDNOS

This is the third in a series. Find the first two posts here and here.

This is the point in the series where things are going to get a little hazy. The remaining diagnoses that I have (EDNOS, major depressive disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder) are all big buckets. They cover a lot of people, they look a lot of different ways, and it’s entirely possible that other people with these diagnoses will have nothing in common with my experience of them. So while I did offer a disclaimer on the first post, I want to reiterate in a BIG WAY that this is just my experience and I don’t speak for everyone. There’s also the possibility that these three get mixed together in a big way, so I’ll be doing my best to separate the strands of what’s what’s but I make no promises that there will be clear distinctions between things.

With all the disclaimers out of the way, let’s get on with it.

EDNOS or eating disorder not otherwise specified is kind of a catch all diagnosis for people who have disordered and unhealthy relationships with food but who don’t fit clearly into one of the other diagnoses (anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder).

I have a very restrictive type of eating disorder. I’ve never had binge eating as one of my symptoms, and I exclusively restricted my food intake for about four years before I developed purging as a symptom while I was in treatment (this is fairly common). I likely would have been diagnosed with anorexia if my weight was low enough, but it never quite dropped that far. When it started, it was mostly focused on feeling lost and confused around food (I had been a competitive swimmer for six years and when I quit I wasn’t entirely certain how to eat anymore) before devolving into a desire to lose weight.

Since then it’s become a very different beast. Control has always been an important part of not eating for me. It makes me feel powerful and more than human to go days without food. It gives me the conviction that I am actually capable of anything if I try hard enough, as I have done things the human body probably shouldn’t be able to do.

My eating disorder is how I manage a lot of my anxiety, perfectionism, and OCPD tendencies. One of the main things that I associate with it is a distraction from whatever is actually bothering me, and a way to make it seem like I have some control over my life when things are stressful. I’ve always been more focused on myself as intellectual, rational person than as an embodied person, and so things that remind me of my body can be stressful.

I’ve often felt as if I would be better, more in control, and more powerful if I just didn’t have a body. Not eating is a useful way to ignore the facts of my mortality and embodiedness. But I also can’t stop thinking about them. For years, I could tell people exactly what I had eaten for the last week, at what times, and approximately the calorie counts of each thing. I tend to get a god complex when I haven’t eaten in a long while because my body feels floaty and empty in a way that makes me feel invincible.

I also associate fasting with morality. There’s something saintly about being ascetic in my mind, and I can’t quite shake the connection. I’ve always been fascinated with religion and being “good”, and self-denial is a big part of how society (and particularly Catholics) define morality and godliness. Every time I don’t eat, I feel like I’m being good. I feel guilty when I do eat, regardless of what it is or how much. This has toned down over time, but there have absolutely been times during which I would spend hours trying to determine when it was acceptable for me to eat, how much, what kind of food, etc.

I feel like a failure when I eat too much. Not a failure at a diet or at losing weight, but a failure at being a human being. Sometimes it reduces me to crying in the fetal position because I’m convinced that I’m the actual worst person alive. This can extend to other activities around food. I get anxious about grocery shopping because I can only imagine having ALL THAT FOOD in my house that needs to be eaten RIGHT NOW (don’t even get me started on perishables).

And somewhere under all of it is the conviction that being skinny will make up for all my other deficits. I may not be able to play piano as well as that person, but I sure as hell am skinnier than them and that makes me better. It’s a very competitive mindset that doesn’t look at me alone but looks to other bodies to define acceptable. This might go back to my inability to find a grounded identity without feedback from others. Of course my view of myself is distorted in comparison to others, and I don’t actually care how big other people are as long as I am THE SKINNIEST.

There’s also a fear of letting myself go. If I let myself eat this thing, what’s to stop me from eating everything else in the whole world and bloating up into some sort of horrific parody of a human body? Again, I don’t find other people who are large disgusting, but I have a hard time grounding my worth in anything but my body.

I do find my own body disgusting though. I spend a lot of time trying not to look in mirrors because when I do I will sit and pick at every tiny flaw. I do this in other parts of my life too, but my body is so obvious and immediate that it’s easier to focus on it instead of the flaws I think I have as a person. Worse, when I am aware of those flaws I try to punish myself for it by not eating. I don’t believe that I deserve food or space or confidence. If I give myself even a little bit of those things, I’ll probably go overboard and become a narcissistic asshole. No food means that I’m keeping myself humble.

I also tend to fall apart when I don’t have structure in my life. Food rules became a way to organize my life. For a long time the rule was never eat two days in a row, and while I’ve managed to adjust that rule quite a bit, I still have a very hard time eating before noon. It’s just not what I do (or so I tell myself). I also find some safety in dictating how I eat: I don’t have safe foods, but I hate meals that are composed of more than one thing. This is why I tend to just put all the stuff I want in one pot and mix it up so that it’s like only eating one thing.

Probably the final important element of EDNOS for me is that I have an overactive brain and not eating/focusing on food are both ways to keep myself from getting bored and stressed. My mind processes things quickly. It doesn’t always do this well (I make a lot of sloppy mistakes), but it’s constantly going and going fast. Sometimes this means that I get stuck on a thought if there’s nothing else there to replace it. This would probably play into the OCPD tendencies I have as well as my anxiety disorder and my EDNOS. Where I would often in the past be turning over and over something that had embarrassed me, something I was worried about getting done, my eating disorder allowed me to change that to constant thoughts about food.

There’s a lot more to the experience of having an eating disorder, but the strongest feelings are self-hatred, guilt, and desperation to be good. These get expressed in a lot of ways, but they dominated my experience of EDNOS.

3 thoughts on “What It’s Like: EDNOS

  1. […] downsides, and it’s one that I don’t hold with even though I have seen firsthand the dangers of focusing too much on my […]

  2. […] and welcome to the final installment of the What It’s Like series! Previous posts 1, 2, 3, and 4. Today I’ll be trying to talk about the most amorphous of my diagnoses, Major […]

  3. […] This is the fourth post in a series. See posts 1, 2, and 3. […]

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