Recently there was study released that linked females with Asperger’s Syndrome to eating disorders, specifically anorexia.
The researchers are making conclusions that the eating disorder could be a result of the Aspergerian’s tendency to fixate on one subject or thing; and in the case of anorexia or other eating conditions, this one subject or thing would be food or weight, or a variant of the two. I understand this, and the conclusions makes sense. However, I think there is a lot more to it.
Gathering a selection of females with Aspergers and asking them direct questions and allowing the participants to elaborate on their experience, might deem worthy and productive. There is much to gain in looking at the person who has the condition when searching for answers. But there is far more to gain in talking to the person and asking the female to share. We have a lot to offer. And so many times it is a male without Aspergers, and without an eating disorder, constructing these studies. It seems ridiculous to me. How much better for a female, who understands the gender experience, who is a person with Aspergers, and has an eating disorder, to be the person evaluating and determining results of a study about females with Aspergers and eating disorders. Wouldn’t she be much more able to ask the deeper questions? Much more able to interpret the responses and understand what was happening?
There are layers and layers of complexities that the mainstream evaluator and researcher are going to overlook. Not because they don’t have the wherewithal or wits about them, but because having Aspergers isn’t something you can begin to understand unless you have Aspergers. It’s not like having a mild disease where a section of your body responds differently. Having Aspergers is like having an entirely different system of functioning, processing, viewing, and seeing the world. All the senses are affected. All the ways in which the brain digests information is somewhat skewed—not wrong, or even right, but just different. There really isn’t anything simple about Aspergers and thusly no simple conclusions ought to be reached from any study.
Biologically there are differences from the typical person. We are affected by our guts, our skin, our thoughts, and a lot more. Theories abound about variant enzymes and the like. How we process hormones and chemicals, even how food affects our system is questionable. With so much going on internally beneath the surface that most people cannot figure out or understand, and with so much still unknown, it is impossible to accurately point to a singular cause of any behavior at this point. To conclude an action is based on one aspect of Asperger’s Syndrome is not accurate. The complexity of Aspergers is like a ball of twine. One thread affects the whole. The weight, the design, the outline, the movement, the appearance—each string pulled causes an alternate reaction.
Who is to say that food is not the culprit and that food causes the exact disorder that is being blamed on the Aspergergerian’s tendency for fixation. Perhaps the food itself triggers a chemical reaction in the brain that causes interior upset, either biochemical, physical, or psychological. Case in point being gluten which affects many on the spectrum, causing rapid thoughts, depression, or a false type of high—purely chemical. And if a child were to feel those extremes when eating gluten, then could she not then want to discard of the food, to instinctually force the food out of her.
That is just an example, and by no means suggestive of a theory or even grounds for an eating disorder. It is merely a case in point.
Food definitely affects my health, not by my own doing but from my chemical makeup. Certain foods make me very sick and off center, especially genetically modified foods and products with chemicals, preservatives, and other ‘unnatural’ substances. Certain foods cause inflammation of my body and increase my pain, particularly sugar, dairy products and various white flour products. I bloat up from gluten and sometimes get scary thoughts after eating wheat. Wheat seems to put me in a depressive state quite easily or causes me to over-analyze and loop in thought. I also crave wheat at times and cannot get enough of it.
Often after I eat too much of a food that doesn’t feel good for me, I might spend the next day barely eating. This is a way I cleanse myself and try to purge out the poisons inside of me. I then become fixated.
But not on the food itself or my weight but on the ‘rules of food.’
Everything I have been taught and taken in via reading, word-of-mouth, and documentaries reels through me like an old movie film shooting cross my brain. I have a dictionary of food rules in my head. I know what is bad for me and what is not. The problem is that most of the foods that are available are not good for me. The problem then becomes extreme in my mind. I know the dangers of many foods and I know the aftermath I feel. However I live in a world where to fit in and to do ‘normal’ things, I can’t eat like I think I need to eat: unless I have a lot of money, energy, and time to prep myself healthy meals. In addition, the foods I know are ‘good’ for me, e.g., organic veggies, are often lacking the flavor and texture I have been brought up to believe is best and popular and yummy. Not to mention the food industry that spends billions just to make sure what I am eating (that is bad for me) is addictive, appealing, and leaves me craving more.
There are so many contradictions in food that I become confused. Soy as an example is disputed left and right as a trigger for estrogen. I have terrible endometriosis and PMDD, eating just a bit of soy makes me worry how I have upset my system and what the repercussions might be. Wheat is an obvious trigger, but at times, out with friends or family, the wheat dish is so appealing that I feel I am depriving myself of luxury and joy. It has been engrained and engraved in my head from this society that food is a treat, a well-deserved treat. And my mind plays a ping-pong game of ‘you deserve this’ and ‘you will regret’ this. Yes, I am fixated on the thoughts of what I will eat, but not because I choose food as a fixation but because of the repercussions I often face eating food and of the mixed messages in my mind.
I know the GMO foods are dangerous. I know they are legally registered as poison and not food because of the chemical similar to Roundup, and other disease-like elements, found in the seed of the plant. I know that many a people are having reactions, and many countries are banning the products because of health and farming interests. I know that corn is a main culprit. Thusly I avoid corn. I feel tired and fatigued when I typically eat grains anyhow, kind of a hypoglycemic reaction. So many foods have corn by products, corn syrup being an obvious one. Mexican food, my favorite, is loaded with corn, wheat, and dairy. If I go out to eat my options are so limited, I might get depressed. Or I might just tell myself ‘screw it’ and eat what I want. The next day or two, I pay the price. I am so sensitive that my pain disorders react. I have been diagnoses with hyper-joint-mobility syndrome, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, and more. Foods directly affect how I feel.
I might spend all day not eating and just having water and herbal tea. I might not eat until four or five in the afternoon because I know as soon as I eat, I will more likely than not have a reaction. I rarely can eat and not feel heavy, bloated, muscle pain and fatigue. It is easier not to eat. Is this avoidance an eating disorder? Or is this behavior a desperation and a means of trying to avoid pain? If a boy was whipped every time he ate, so he refused to eat until starved, is that a disorder, or is that survival?
Of course, in my mind, at times there seems to be a definite means of controlling an otherwise uncontrollable world through diet and exercise. I know that. When my life is essentially overwhelming, as it feels most days, I might fixate on the scale and my weight. Mostly because the rest of the world is entirely unpredictable, full of treachery, deceit and lies. Yes, there are many, many good people and wonderful things about the world, but there are also the continual reminders of the unpredictability of human nature and the deceit of leaders and government. I internalize deceit at a deep level in which I neither understand the drive to deceive nor the person who deceives. My world is often muddled in the mysteries of people and their ways. And sometimes, a number brings me comfort and peace. A familiarity I can trust and control. Sometimes this number is on the scale.
I have been watching my weight recently, as I gained poundage since stopping a low dose thyroid pill that put me into a hyper-thyroid state (hair fell out, rapid heartbeat, rapid thoughts, insomnia, cystic acne, etc.) The pill wasn’t supposed to affect me that way, supposed to be super safe, and my thyroid numbers never got that low, but my system is so sensitive that anything introduced, particularly a hormone, directly causes extreme side effects. Two days after stopping the pill I returned to normal conditions. During the time I was taking the pill I was getting a sore throat two days before my period for seven months. The sore throat often turned into a cold. I was sick almost every month on the thyroid hormone pill. It altered my progesterone levels that caused a reaction to my tongue and the way I breathed at night, which caused the sore throat, which caused the illness. No doctor could tell me what was going on. I had to research. Was I fixated on that too? Or was I trying to solve a puzzle so I could stop being sick? I don’t know.
I am back to watching my weight, because my thyroid numbers are just on the high-normal range. This increases my pain as well. For some reason being in a slightly hyper-thyroid state decreased my physical pain but triggered a bunch of other intolerable symptoms. Now my pain feels two-fold, as if some days my entire body has been dropped off a building. I ache. I throb. I burn. I tingle. Nothing I can’t tolerate, as I have been enduring pain for thirteen years, but something I still hope to diminish.
Less weight equals less pain for me. But it is impossible to lose weight without drastically reducing my calorie intake. If I drastically reduce my calorie intake in an attempt to lose weight, so I can decrease my pain, is that an eating disorder? If I think about food all day, because so much of it seems poisonous and causes me pain, is that a fixation? Or is that me being cautious and over-aware because I have been hurt so much in the past? Is it desperation? Or is it just the way it is, because I know not what else to do?
With all the chemical imbalances and ‘dangerous’ foods aside, weight itself does bother me. Faces change constantly for me. My body image changes constantly. When I am at a healthy thin weight, I know what to expect. I know I won’t find the imperfections and flaws that my mind so easily sees. I am a detail-hunter. I find the slightest things that are off center or not right in all things I see. Not that I am judging, only that I am carefully observing and figuring out. My mind is constantly solving puzzles. Everything I take in is sifted and categorized and made to fit my past knowing and experience. I see things so intensely and feel things so intensely that any normalcy, anything that stays the same, anything that isn’t a surprise, new, or different, is a haven—an inner sanctuary in where I choose to bask.
When I am skinny and look the same weight everyday then there aren’t a thousand messages in the back of my mind. I don’t have a tape of old messages from everything I have previously taken in and learned. I don’t here all the contradictions in my mind that the world has fed me. All the contradictory studies. All the falsehoods. All the lies.
“Belly fat is good going into menopause to help from getting bone loss. Belly fat indicates higher levels of cancer.”
And I don’t have the complications of getting dressed. When I gain a little weight most clothes don’t fit. I don’t keep ‘fat’ clothes because I clean out my closet regularly and can no longer wear certain clothes for reasons I don’t understand. Sometimes it is a memory the clothes evoke, a texture, the color, the cut, the way the clothes pinch at me, scratch me, pull on me, weigh me down. Maybe I saw someone else wearing the same shirt, and now I can’t wear that shirt because that person’s image is now with me. Maybe the clothes, I think, make me look odd, untidy, sloppy, frumpy, slutty, loose, etc. It is common in my house for me to ask my husband: “Does this look slutty.” I ask because I was judged so much as a teenager by my body and my clothes that I still here the echoes of my peers. I can’t tell what fits right or what looks right. Things shift for me. I usually dressed my babies in clothes too big. Things hung off the shoulders; items didn’t match; patterns clashed. But I honestly couldn’t tell. I don’t understand fashion trends and I don’t follow them. And I don’t understand why people do. So my wardrobe is limited from what I have tossed out because I no longer feel comfortable wearing and from things I can’t get myself to wear a particular day for some reason or another. My wardrobe is limited because I am not able to wear certain items for weeks or months at a time. I get stuck in my head something someone said or something I read or saw. Like when I was watching a movie that had a 1980’s flashback and the females both wore their hair like me. Two different styles, both the way I do up my hair now, in this day and age. I thought hard about how maybe I am not supposed to wear that hair style anymore, particularly as the women were portrayed as backwoods idiots. Same thing goes with clothes. I am constantly matching and connecting points in my head. So if an outfit for some reason doesn’t seem like I should be wearing it, I don’t.
When I add weight to the equation, everything comes out scrambled and even more complicated. I start wearing things I don’t particularly like, only so I can hide the spare tire. I go out in public and am continually worried about the small amount of excess fat showing. Because to me, (I have taught myself through media exposure),fat is bad. Even the tiniest imperfection is terrible. I have been brainwashed into thinking I am not good enough unless I am good enough by the big business standard. I know it’s not true. And so the logical part of me and spiritual part of me start debating everywhere we look. Sensing my own fat causes me to spin into loops about the corruption of America and the terrible untruths women have been fed since birth. I start to look for overweight women and justify how lovely they are, and that if I was a man looking at a beautiful woman that the small bit of fat wouldn’t bother me. And that a face and heart is what matters. And then I spin back to my body. Am I good enough? Am I enough? And then I go back through all the spiritual books I have read, all the mantras, the ‘truths’ I embrace at times. And I get all twisted inside; all because a tiny bit of flab isn’t hidden by my clothes. The same goes for other parts of my body. My own cleavage is a major issue. How much to hide. How much is safe to share. What I know of the stereotypes of men and what cleavage represents. All of it confuses me. All thoughts that mostly go back to social norms and expectations; things that make no sense to me.
If I am stressing about a little fat around my waste and don’t eat a lot the next day, is that a fixation? Or is that me trying to stop the constant bombardment of negative messages that fill me when I am not fulfilling a role that society has indoctrinated upon me? Isn’t it society doing this to me, to us? The poisonous foods? The restrictions on how I should look and be? The mixed messages? Am I not just extremely sensitive to the contradictions of the world?
I haven’t eaten meat or poultry since 1984. I stopped eating lamb at age four and pork at age twelve. The animal cruelty, the suffering, the injustice—I saw that all too, from early on.
I don’t think that eating disorders are necessarily a result of a fixation. I think eating disorders are a result of the unjust and contradictory, money-hungry world we live in. I think eating disorders are an attempt to feel safe in a very unsafe world. A way to make order out of caous and unpredictability.
A way to gain back some of the control that has been taken from us when we were taught to trust liars and schemers and not our true heart and soul. I think eating disorders are a symptom of the world gone wrong and not of my brain gone wrong. Eating disorders aren’t a simple puzzle to solve, especially when considering females with Asperger’s Syndrome. There are so many other factors playing out beneath the surface. So many thoughts and deep complexities that the experts haven’t even begun to discover.
And to claim suddently, “Hey, did you know females with Aspergers are more likely to have eating disorders,” seems oddballishyly peculiar to me. As if we couldn’t have told them that from the start.
(I am not an expert on eating disorders. I have never been diagnosed or sought help for an eating disorder. I share to raise awareness of the complexities of food and weight in females with Asperger’s. I realize there are many types of eating disorders, some much more extreme and serious than my story. This is just one story and does not represent the collective whole. Also the ongoing research by others will help others detect Asperger’s Syndrome in some girls with eating disorders, and that’s good. To find answers.)