Shedding the Anorexic Identity

May 24, 2012 Angela E. Gambrel

A few weeks ago, I gave away the last of my "anorexic" clothing.

The clothing that was too young. Too short. Too...anorexic.

I mean, a micro-miniskirt on a forty-six-year-old? Seriously?

I feel myself becoming more free each day.My identity was wrapped up in being thin and sick, and these clothes were symbols of that identity. The too-small jeans in double negative sizes. The tiny tops that looked like they belong on an eleven-year-old. The micro-minis that I was oh-so-proud of wearing, not realizing how ridiculous I truly looked.

Unlike many anorexics, I did not hesitate to show my emaciated body (that is, when I wasn't too cold.) I thought I looked fine; slim and waif-like and all that crap. I mean, a part of me did realize that protruding hip bones and deflated breasts were indications of something seriously amiss. I did realize that my frequent trips to the ER for racing heart beats and dizzy spells were not normal.

But denial hangs around a long, long time, and the ability to delude ourselves is so very powerful.

I am not sick. I do NOT need treatment. I am NOT anorexic. I am just fine! Fine fine fine!


So I proceeded to build my identity around being an uber-anorexic. I was sick, damn it, and oh-so-very special because I did not need food. I wore my NEDA symbol with pride, pretending I was trying to get better while secretly planning the further destruction of my body through starvation and self-harm and all those behaviors that define an "anorexic."

It would almost be funny if it weren't so tragic.

Yes, tragic. The tragedy is that I have yet to meet an anorexic who wasn't brilliant, educated, and full of potential. The people I know who are anorexic have teaching degrees and science degrees and graduate degrees, and could potentially discover the cure for AIDS or make some other difference in life...if they weren't so enmeshed in the disorder known as anorexia nervosa.

So how does one shed the anorexic identity? For me, the first step was getting rid of those things that screamed anorexia to me. The clothes.

It was painful. I reached out for the pair of cute, low-waisted flare jeans in my closet. I loved those jeans! I thought they were so hip, so modern, so...young. Next I angrily grabbed the micro-minis off their hangers. But...But...What if I could still wear them? Shouldn't I at least try them on? Yeah, right. And trigger myself right back into a relapse. And what grown woman should be wearing a skirt that barely covers her rear, anyway? Next were the cute little tops. Groan...I looked so adorable in that top! That is, if you discount the fact that my arms were as slim as an eleven-year-old.

I shoved each piece of clothing into a large garbage bag, wanting to get rid of them before I changed my mind. You see, these clothes were the barometer of my identity. If I could fit into them, I was me. If I could not, I had to strive to.

I have often written that anorexia is not about being thin or pretty. At some level, we know that we are not beautiful, that people are recoiling at our emaciated bodies. And yet, there is an element of striving to be thin inherent in most people with anorexia. It is not the pursuit of beauty or the ideal body shape; instead, I think it is a control issue. My world was spinning out of control, so I could control one thing—my weight. And by God, I was going to do it even it ended up killing me.

Of course, much more can be—and has been—written about the causes behind anorexia and other eating disorders. I am not sure it even matters to me anymore. Instead, to me, recovery means jettisoning anorexia and embracing life.

Discovering a new identity, the person hidden behind the layers of starving and self-harm and self-hatred. I'm getting there.

APA Reference
Gambrel, A. (2012, May 24). Shedding the Anorexic Identity, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, May 30 from

Author: Angela E. Gambrel

Risa Baldauf
August, 8 2018 at 1:57 am

Hi. I read many of the writings. Thankyou . i struggle differently.i sneak food .i am 63 tryijng to overcome ritual abuse. No matter how hard i try to ask God to help me i give in to using food. I have lost 60 lbs but i still have 20 to go and a i just cant stop using food . i get to work average about 29 hours a week by the grace of God litterally. I take care of older people. They seem to want me but if they knew how hard it was to jkeep going that would be shocked. I cant seenm to do anything in eveningas figgting exaustion all day. Have years of counseling and still struggle and lately it has been very intense . i think the Lord has told me small steps coynt with Him and to jkeep leani g into Him. I have twio adult children . One wont talk with me because iam in too much pain. I keep crying out and try hard to pray for others regularly but fight extreme exaustion constantly except for a few moments here and there which feels like a miracle .

December, 11 2012 at 1:24 pm

Dear Angela,
THANK YOU. I am 33 and in yet another "relapse" of anorexia. It began when I was 17. Recently I've dropped weight and again look, as you so aptly described, like a child - my arms look like they belong on an 11-year-old. And the protests that run through our minds: "But-but-but! If I gain weight, I won't be able to wear these teeny, tiny, meant-for-a-child outfits anymore!" I take such pride in my disgustingly thin arms, loving when coworkers approach me and ask me if I'm eating, yada-yada. Reading what you wrote helps to not only A) assure me that I'm not the only one who's going through this and thinks these thoughts; B) I'm not crazy; and C) there is someone out there who understands. It also shines a blinding light onto how RIDICULOUS it is of me to hang onto these clothes, this size, this way of life, this insanity. THANK YOU. From the bottom of my heart. May God bless you and may you continue on the healing journey! WE CAN DO IT!
Much love,

July, 1 2012 at 2:31 pm

I can not thank you enough for writing this, I finally accepted the fact that I was anorexic a month ago and find it difficult to believe my counselor, dietitian and doctor. There are days when I decide they're wrong and go back to starving myself. I'm trying to change things and keep getting better though. I'm so glad to read about someone who went through the same thing and know that I'm not alone in all the confusing and contradictory feelings I'm having.

Angela E. Gambrel
May, 27 2012 at 11:11 am

You should be proud of yourself, Susan!!! Thanks for reading, and I hope you come back soon. :)

May, 27 2012 at 9:21 am

I have been right there beside you. I was diagnosed with severe anorexia when i was 48 yrs old. My sick clothes were the one thing that I could use to measure my sickness. You see i had to be the sickest of the sick. I know about double negative numbers. I also know about what isn't appropriate for a 50 something to wear. The tighter, the better. top, jeans, skirt and dresses all inappropriate. I remember being in one of many inpatient treatments where time after time i was asked to change because I was wearing clothes than were considered triggering.
I can admit now that if i didn't try everything on that hung in my closet, I would assume that i had gotten bigger overnight.
That was over three years ago, I am proud to say that at 59ys old I have recovered completely from my eating disorder.

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