The other day I caught myself thinking about anorexia again. In particular, I tried to come up with a reasonable explanation as to why it had felt so good to be skinny and unhealthy. Why every time I had denied myself a meal, I mentally gave myself a pat on my bony back. Why it felt like an accomplishment.
The answer came to me from that very place: accomplishment. Reward. According to a study I dug up online, “altered activity of the anterior cingulate cortex and striatum could explain patients’ pathological engagement in behaviors they consider rewarding (e.g., self-starvation) that are otherwise aversive or punishing, to those without the eating disorder.” Which means that we manage to screw up our own neuro-circuitry and fool it into thinking that food is not rewarding, this sense of accomplishment is. We think this into being.
How does it work? Well, it becomes part of a cycle of sorts. From my own experience, I would say that the number one satisfaction comes from that little narcissistic liar that sits in the pit of your stomach and thrives every time you lie to someone about your food intake. Not just that, every time they’re fooled by what you said. For example, your friend looks concerned as they ask you what you had for lunch today and you brush the question off by telling them about your day in general… or you just keep a straight face and lie. It was a delicious turkey sandwich. Oh, I also had a side of fries. It was amazing, best fries I’ve ever had, in fact.
When you see the doubt dissipate from their face, you feel like the ultimate joker. They were fooled, fooled again, oh God, how stupid people are! This is so easy. As you get into the cycle more and more, it becomes easier. Lying becomes automatic. The reward comes in short bursts of self-praising that replace the comfortable weight of food in your stomach.
Because you are amazing, right? Not only do you have self-control to rival that of a forty-year-old virgin, you’ve also managed to fool the people who know you the best! You start lying and praising yourself, lying and praising, about everything. First it’s food intake, then it’s exercising, then it’s why you were late (because you
fainted, duh, but to your friend Jill you were just caught up in this awesome new cooking show). You start coming up with elaborate plans, thinking ahead: when I come home, I will immediately tell my sister about this great new Chinese place so she doesn’t suspect a thing. I’ll go look up the Foursquare reviews now just to be safe.
And on and on it goes, because it’s easy and rewarding: more so than a bender or a cigarette or even sex. Because you can do it yourself, with yourself, by yourself, and enjoy it, sharing it with Ana only.
And Ana’s pretty generous.