Living with Anorexia

“I’m a survivor…” VéroniKaH, a talented painter, has been anorexic for 35 years.

Anorexia is a mental illness especially common among girls and women. Fully 3% of women ages 15-25 to suffer from this crippling psychological disorder.

People afflicted with this disorder avoid eating in order to lose weight (termed mental anorexia, or restrictive anorexia). Or they binge eat, then purge using laxatives or vomiting (bulimia). Anorexia can, and often does, kill. Up to 20% of all restrictive anorexia patients will die from an illness related to their disease: malnutrition, heart disease…

Louise Marchand      Files Health, Anorexia, Mental Health

It takes 4 years on average to treat an anorexic patient: anything over that amount of time, and the condition is diagnosed as chronic.

VéroniKaH is a chronic anorexic. She has learned to live with her condition.

VéroniKaH is married with 3 children. She describes her life as fulfilled. She is the author of Ce qui ne tue pas rend plus fort, au-delà de la peur et de la honte (Whatever Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger: Beyond Fear and Shame).

A Long Journey

Her anorexic journey began at age 14. Feeling a need to rebel against her parents, anorexia soon became a manner of self-destruction for this sensitive artist. She began to diet obsessively. Exerting constant control over her weight became her life’s goal: “Because that’s what anorexia is, it’s having control over yourself. It has nothing to do with eating. It’s control.” VéroniKaH thought her parents controlled her whole life. Her own body weight was the only thing she had any power over.

For years, she alternated between periods of not eating at all and periods of bulimia when she felt forced to eat (when she was her parents). The control she exerted over her own body made her feel safe and secure. She felt sheltered from conflicts and responsibilities – because her body remained that of a young girl.

Society and Beauty

“It wasn’t society’s fault,” she says. “It was a personal problem.” In her case, her illness wasn’t caused by some need to look like a fashion model to live up to popular culture’s beauty standards. She simply wanted to destroy her own body. She wanted to harm herself.

Her behavior was a reaction to her personal suffering. For an independent-minded artist like VéroniKaH, anorexia has nothing to do with society’s opinions.

A few years ago, after one serious hospitalization during which her weight dipped to 36 kilos, (80 pounds), she had a revelation. She decided that anorexia would no longer rule her life. At the same time, she rediscovered a love of painting.

She made a decision: with something to live for, she started to take care of herself. She still does. VéroniKaH gets regular check-ups and keeps in shape. It’s important for her to stay alive – as an artist, she has art to create.

But she doesn’t want to completely change her lifestyle. She still doesn’t eat much. She loves her rail-thin body as it is: “I don’t want to be normal,” she says. “I feel good about myself. I don’t want to look like a woman. Not being curvy suits me…”

She admits she’s hiding behind her little girl body. She feels safe this way. But she doesn’t want to get so thin that she puts her health in danger.

Supportive Family

VéroniKaH’s family is supportive. Her 3 children love and encourage her. They fully approve of heranorexia health publishing her life story: “They’re proud of me,” she beams. Their love has allowed her to take control of her own life, and be happy.

Her parents still struggle to understand her lifestyle. Relations with her parents have improved since they realized that her life is no longer in danger, and that she is content as she is. As for her husband, he has accepted and supported her ever since they met 28 years ago. He’s the one who, several years ago, encouraged her to paint full-time. She still does.

VéroniKaH fully credits painting for having saved her life. Painting gives her a sense of inner peace. It has empowered her to win her struggle against anorexia: “All my emotions go into my art,” she says. “After I paint, I feel cleansed. When things aren’t going right I paint, and I feel much better.” Her art has flourished, as has she.

Love Yourself

She published her book to share her story with other sufferers. “I think it can help anorexics to talk about our problem,” she says. “On top of that, I can connect with young people because I’ve lived through anorexia. I can also connect with their parents because I’m a mother.”

Her goal is to “teach people to love themselves.”

The book’s preface is written by Mireille Deyglun, a Quebec broadcaster, activist and actress. Her causes include the fight against homophobia, and helping the learning disabled. The two women met in 2012 at a benefit at Sainte Justine Hospital. VéroniKaH was displaying her art.

Mireille, who has suffered from bulimia, was convinced to write the preface – but only after hours of talking it through with the author. Mireille appreciates the fact that the book is frank about how awful and hellish it can be to struggle with an eating disorder.

Over her 35 years of dealing with the disorder VéroniKaH feels she’s lived through every stage of anorexia there is to experience. She believes that her ability to deal with the condition is the exception rather than the rule. Her doctors are shocked that she doesn’t suffer serious health problems. She doesn’t want to minimize the risks, but she yearns to share her optimism. Anorexics don’t have to abandon their dreams.

As VéroniKaH says of herself: “My body isn’t healed, but my heart and my head are!”

Can You Lose Weight Without Putting Your Health in Danger?

The world is full of fad diets. Books boast of ways to shed pounds quickly, safely and painlessly. None of these diet regimes work in the long run. Eventually, the dieter loses motivation and goes back to their old bad habits. Some diets can be very harmful to your health. Malnutrition can kill.

No one should ever follow a diet based on not eating. Enjoy a balanced diet. Enjoy your eating; eat without guilt. Eat three complete meals per day. Fasting breeds frustration, which is toxic. Eat when you are hungry. Include fruit, vegetables, meat…

The Mediterranean Diet has proven very successful. Separate your plate into three parts: vegetables (1/2 your plate); meat and meat substitutes like fish or eggs (1/4 of your plate); and grains, like rice or bread (1/4 of your plate). Add fruit and milk products to your diet. Eat when you are hungry. You will lose weight gradually, and in a healthy fashion.

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