What is the Anorexia Iceberg?

What lies below the surface of anorexia, and what don’t you see on a daily basis?

What lies below the surface of anorexia, and what don’t you see on a daily basis?

I’ve been struggling a great deal with feelings of guilt and shame. I’m terrified to put on weight, not just because of the eating disordered voice, but because I think that others will look at me and say ‘Her? Nothing wrong with her, she’s faking it.’

This is classic mind-reading behavior. I know what I’m doing but my ability to stop needs a little work. Many people see eating disorders as being a physical thing; you feed her, she gains weight, and the job’s done. No. Job not done. Job far from frigging done.


Anorexia; An Iceberg.

What is the Anorexia Iceberg?

The comparison of anorexia to an iceberg is not unheard of. In fact, the iceberg analogy is used across a wide variety of topics such as business and emotional regulation.

Icebergs expose a small fraction of themselves above the surface, with the rest being hidden down below. Mental illness is similar in that they have only a bit poking out at the top, but a whole other world going on beneath.

What people see on the surface is not all there is to it. When the people on the Titanic saw the iceberg they thought ‘It’s only an Iceberg, it can’t sink the unsinkable

But it did. Eating Disorders aren’t just about the food, they’re about the mental and physical illnesses that come along for the ride.


What lies beneath the surface?

Manipulation.

Living with anorexia every day is like having your own self-destructive gremlin sitting on your shoulder. You’ve accidentally fed it water after midnight and now it’s grown into far more than you can handle. Except no one else can see this gremlin, and all the horrible things it does are internalized.  The gremlin perches itself close to your ear and whispers cruel, manipulative things to you on an almost constant loop. Sometimes you don’t even have to be awake to hear it.

Anorexia manipulates you in so many ways.

It convinces you that you’re fat, and this is why you’re a failure, or why no one loves you. You might not necessarily even be in the category of ‘overweight‘, but the gremlin will convince you otherwise.

It’ll convince you that your self-worth is based solely on what you eat or don’t eat, and what the number says on the scale or on the inside of your waistband. An undesirable number leads to negative and self-deprecating behaviour. It means not eating for hours, avoiding certain foods, purging, over-exercising and, on occasion, avoiding water.

The gremlin will lure you in with promises. It’ll all be okay if you just do this or if you do what I say you’ll be happy.  It promises you security, warmth, a love for your newly slim thighs, a flat stomach that you don’t need to suck in, that you’ll be accepted, and that you’ll no longer be the ugly or fat one. It’s impossible to tell you all the things that the anorexic demon says in order to draw you closer to its ideal (which is dead by the way), but it’s not dissimilar to an abusive relationship.

“Stay with me. Everyone else is crazy, they just want to control you/make you eat/make you fat.”

To put things into perspective for you; If I spoke to my best friend the way that the gremlin speaks to me, I wouldn’t have a best friend anymore.

Isolation. 

You’re completely isolated from everyone and everything in your life apart from the eating disorder. Whether or not you meant for this to happen, it almost always does. It becomes our defense mechanism to keep everyone at arm’s length rather than let them in.

Why? It’s easier to be alone than to try to explain. How can we make others understand when we don’t even get it?

You find yourself withdrawing for other reasons such as avoiding social situations where eating or drinking is necessary to maintain a ‘normal‘ appearance.

It can even spill over into the avoidance of family life. It can prevent you from seeing grandparents due to their inevitable ‘feeding‘ nature, and prevent them from worrying. At least that’s how it is for me. It’s not something I’m very proud of, but it’s true. I worry about going home all the time because, although I want to see them so badly, I don’t want to be forced to eat.

Isolation can come in many different forms. You can be in a room full of people and feel completely isolated by your own mind, you can be surrounded by family and friends and have your senses completely dulled by anorexia. It’s all different but all so similar as well.

Sometimes the only place I don’t feel alone is at home, with my cat and Twitter.

Stress.

Anorexia is the biggest killer of all mental illnesses due to medical complications and, often, suicide. It’s immensely stressful to simply carry about this weight (so to speak) on your shoulders day in and day out. Just knowing that you could very easily slip away into another statistic, but you’re powerless against it.

Recovery and fighting every day just to lift the fork to your mouth is enough to drive you crazy. It’s enough to tire you out completely. Some mornings I stand at the kitchen sink filling the kettle and I wonder why I’m even off work, other mornings I’m overwhelmed to even get out of bed.

Perpetual exhaustion and physical impacts no one sees.

My body is tired and sore in places I didn’t even know it could be sore. My stomach is a constant issue, my bones ache, my muscles twitch and throb, I suffer from frequent palpitations and sometimes getting out of bed in the morning is like climbing a mountain. I am dizzy even if I do eat and I suffer from horrible headaches.

Not to mention I’m always cold.

Skewed body image.

When I look in the mirror I see a hippo. I see bumps and lumps in places they shouldn’t be, while others don’t see any of that. How you look at your own body completely changes with an eating disorder.

What is the Anorexia Iceberg?

Bones are the goal and anything remotely ‘soft’ is out. Even if it’s meant to protect your vital organs. It’s irrational but it’s a very real vision.

As a result, I can’t see what everyone else see’s anymore. If I put on X grams and I see it on my thighs, while a rational person wouldn’t.

I hate every aspect of my body from my head to my toes, but it’s something I’m working on through various means, not least of all yoga and affirmations. But it’s not easy and it’s not an overnight job. Often the good things I try to tell myself don’t work and I end up crying in front of a full-length mirror at just how much closer my thighs are to each other than before.

Other mental impacts.

Mentally, other than the stress, you have intense guilt, brain fog, haziness, depression, irritation, anxiety, dissociation and the constant preoccupation with food and mealtimes.

My confidence in myself as an employee, as a partner and as a person, in general, has been completely diminished until there is nothing left. I barely have enough confidence to make a phone call or an email anymore.

The combination of all these horrible things eventually overtook me and led me to be signed off work. My therapist asked me during one of her early sessions if I could have continued with work the way I had been, and almost immediately I told her no, no way. Not like this.

The truth is none of this has gone away, even in 3 months of recovery. It all sits under the surface you see, taking it’s every opportunity to bring you down. It’s emotionally and physically exhausting.


If anorexia was all on the surface it would be simple to just eat and put on weight. We’d be cured – Hallelujah! But sadly it’s not – it’s a whole storm in a teacup.

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81 comments

  1. Pingback: Gaining Confidence in Recovery. : Nyxie's Nook
  2. Wow!! I’ve never listened to a podcast before and listening to this says you’ll do great. I definitely like listening to your voice rather than reading. You have a beautiful voice and all the emotion can be heard. Thank you for giving us a glimpse into what your life is really like.
    4youiwill.blog

  3. I remember you asking me not long ago if I minded you reading a different blog post instead of the one I linked because of this. Now that I’m reading more about what this is like for you, I understand even more, and I appreciate that insight. You’ve detailed your battle in a way that is both easy to understand and relatable.

  4. I had a full on panic today in the therapist’s office – It just can’t cope with the numbers going up, no matter by how little! But it’s something I’m working so hard on overcoming.

    You and your resilience are a true inspiration pet! Keep going! And thank you so much for your continued support.

  5. I really do enjoy reading your posts so much! They are always so detailed, informative and personal and it really makes you think.

    I always get a rise of panic whenever I see I’ve gain a little weight. It’s like I have to voices in my head fighting, one is proud I’ve managed it, the other doesn’t like it… it think it’s too much on my body, that I step over the line, the other voice really doesn’t like that change in me.

    I’m working really hard on that this hear, I’m having a few bumps in the road but I knew I would. It’s all about not giving up and not giving in!

  6. This is such a powerful post! My heart is utterly moved by your vulnerability and transparency. You also write about all the nuanced facets of anorexia with great clarity; making the journey through your experience accessible, relatable, and informative! I wish you nothing but the best in your struggle!

  7. Great post. Absolutely conveys the deep, cruel unseen complexity of anorexia. Really connected with the experience.
    Nice work.
    Thanks, Spence 🙂

  8. I can so relate, i struggled with an eating disorder for a long time and there are still people in my life who were not aware of this…i think that you are so awesome for sharing so boldly and helping those who are afraid to speak up

  9. Thank you so much Amanda. Mine is 100% stressed reactive and until I am either able to manage that stress, or realise what stress isn’t good for me (I know what isn’t but no matter) it will always have a grip on me.
    x

  10. It’s so easy to see and yet no people in my life want to see it. They just want me to eat, get better, fixed! It doesn’t and can’t happen that way!

    Thank you so, so much for your kind words. They mean so much to me and you’ve given me the confidence boost I so needed to night.

    – Nyxie

  11. I love that your work is always so relatable for those with other mental illness too and not just anorexia, you have a true talent for writing.. Your posts are always extremely informative but without being dull, they’re also REAL!

    So many of these I struggle with too due to my anxiety and depression, but you are honestly so inspiring. I can’t imagine having the additional struggles that anorexia brings added into the mix. It’s easy to see why it’s such a deadly illness.

  12. Wow this is so thought out and well written. I can relate so much to this- when I was in high school i was diagnosed with ED-NOS. For me my need for control and my “portions” was always triggered by stress and anxiety. Your writing is great and I’m so happy you’re sharing all of your insight and information. Big hugs from SoCal
    xoxox
    Amanda

  13. I’ve been off for over 6 months. I was on the right path and then a horrible vacation I had been looking forward to went very badly, I returned home and my grandfather was diagnosed with terminal cancer. My grandmother then went into the hospital with the same thing. My life has just left me mentally unfit to return to work in the near future, if at all. I feel so guilty but in a way I know it’s for the best if they let me go.

  14. Likewise. Mine has always been triggered by my mental health. At times my head has convinced me that my body is intolerant to certain foods to the point where I am in pain if I eat them. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s all Anorexia messing with me to stop me eating X-Y-Z because doctors haven’t been able to find anything. It’s mad what mental illness can do!

  15. Really informative post. I can’t understand how anyone would think an eating disorder is just a physical thing? It’s a mental illness – surly that gives it away a bit? I’ve had a really odd relationship with food, my body and disordered eating. But almost all of it has stemmed from something going on it my mind, rather than my body itself.

    Jenny
    http://www.jennyinneverland.com

  16. Thank you for being so honest and sharing this. I suffer with anxiety so I can relate to some extent, especially with your iceberg analogy, such a clever way of explaining it to those who just ‘don’t get it’. I just want you to know that by still being here and fighting everyday you’re doing better than you think, even if you’re struggling right now. Keep fighting, sending hugs.

    Roxie xo

  17. Thank you for opening my eyes to what Anorexia truly is. I’m so sorry you are having to deal with this horrible illness. All the best in your recovery.

  18. This is such a great post. You described everything so well, and I do love the iceberg analogy. This will definitely help with awareness of the disorder. Proud of you!!

  19. I think the iceberg analogy works for a lot of illness, specifically mental illnesses. People only see a bit of the problem, the bit that is so often judged, but what lies below is so much worse. Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting. I really appreciate it.

  20. Thank you so much for stopping by Tinka! And thank you so much for your beautiful comment, it is a winnable battle!

  21. Thank you so much, your words mean so much to me. A lot of these cross over into serval areas of my life i.e my depression and anxiety. They all play off each other and love nothing more than to mess with you.

  22. This is so true! What people see is a tiny piece of everything that we suffer with, a much greater struggle happening behind the scenes each and every day. That’s one of the reasons why people struggle to understand why it’s so hard to move past our challenges.

  23. WOW! You nailed it completely. You have so much strength to leave this out in the open.

  24. This is such a great post you voiced this post so well that I can imagine you reading it out,I love how you used the iceberg as your comparison it’s such a great comparison. Such a great post keep up the great work ????????

  25. This is such a great post. A really, really great post. I feel like I relate to some things (the ones that cross over with anxiety) and not to others, but it doesn’t matter because you illustrate it so well that I feel I could share it with the most sceptical and mentally well person and they would get it. You make the reader feel it.

    But on that note, I would like to say that I’m sorry that it’s so hard and horrible and even though saying this won’t make it easier, I’m sending encouraging thoughts ????

  26. It’s so true that people never get to see what is truly going on, body and mind while battling anorexia or any eating disorder for that matter. And even if they did know what was going on, they still never truly understand….
    It can be so hard and isolating but you are stronger than it, I’m stronger than it and it wont be something that manages to overrule our lives forever. It’s a hard and tiresome battle, but a winnable one ????????????

  27. This is such a well written, insightful and helpful post. Thank you for sharing Nyxie. I’m sorry to hear you are going through so much right now. I can relate to the tip of the iceberg analogy as I suffer from depression and like you say, so much is going on under the surface that people cannot see. I wish you all the best in your recovery, sending lots of love and hugs <3 xx

    Bexa | http://www.hellobexa.com

  28. Another really powerful and honest read. It’s great that you can raise awareness to others of how these things affect people.
    I hope in time the gremlin will grow fainter and grandually go. I know its a long journey and I send you all the love and support on your journey to recovery.
    Alyssa
    THESACREDSPACEAP.COM

  29. Wow a TON of good information in this post! I’m a SURVIVOR
    from addiction and a lifetime sufferer of ADHD unmedicated. I totally get where your coming from. I know how difficult it is to fight thoughts that aren’t yours, etc. EXCELLENT post????????????????????????????????????????

    thank you for this post!

    I’m following you, please follow me as well ????????

  30. Your article is very insightful. It is so true that we don’t see the struggle of others.
    I wish you tbe best

  31. If you ever need someone to talk to, I’m here to talk. I struggle with liking my whole body, but it must be incredibly hard to deal with an eating disorder. ❤️

  32. There’s so much that people misunderstand and don’t know about these kinds of disorders. It’s so important to share your personal experiences and knowledge about it.

  33. I was an overweight child so when I lost all the weight during my teenage years, even though my BMI was in the danger zone, I still saw a bigger girl in the mirror. I still do now, even with my BMI back in that dangerous place, but I know it’s just my mind playing tricks. Your mind is such a powerful thing and it takes so, so much to change it!

    Thank you so much for stopping by and for your kind words. x

  34. Thank you so much for all your love in this comment and beyond. Blogging is helping me so, so much in giving me a voice against my eating disorder. I feel so at peace when I’m writing and seeing how it is helping others is amazing. It’s like nothing I can ever describe.

    x

  35. Thank you so much for your kind words Ruth. You are always a spark of joy when I come across you both on in my comments and on twitter. I am both sorry and pleased that this post made you cry, in a weird way. I hope by me sharing this journey that it’s helping you in some way.

    I refer to the eating disorder as a Wrath mostly, gremlins refers to my other disorders. The Wrath sucks my soul dry, it has bony fingers and a long, skinny frame much like a Dementor from Harry Potter. It’s always there, sitting on my shoulders or at the back of my skull, and nitpicking everything I’m doing. It’s screaming ‘not good enough, stupid, fat, ugly’ every day, but I’m learning to drown her out. I’m learning to put duck tape over her mouth and push her to the side.

    As hard as that may be.

    Thank you so much for stopping by pet. xx

  36. Oh I will have to look this book up! Thank you for the suggestion. I am always looking for books for my reading list, and this one sounds right up my street. Thank you so much for stopping by!

  37. That voice is what I call the ‘Wrath’. It sits there, on my shoulder or in the back of my head, and tells me I’m not good enough, but I will be if I lose X kg. The important thing to remember, for me at least, is that it lies. It manipulates and causes us to fall down not only in weight but in every other area of our life. It won’t stop until we’re dead. And I won’t give it the satisfaction of that!

    Thank you so, so much for your kind words. I hope that voice has gone quiet for you. x

  38. Knowing that I could be helping others really makes me feel so much better. In a weird way, it’s selfish and selfless all at once. I do this to make myself feel better by writing, then it helps others, and that good feeling is elevated 10 fold! Thank you so much for your kind words. xx

  39. My life is nowhere near perfect and I think the fact that I share that with everyone is breaking this idea of ‘perfect’ in social media. No one is alright all the time. No one’s relationships is wonderful and their house sitting pretty 100% all day, every day. It’s just not human.

  40. Thank you so much. Your kind words mean so much to me! I hope I am helping as many people as I can through doing this, because it’s sure helping me!

  41. Food and exercise are a delicate balance and I suppose I have never had that. I know a PT would help me with this, as would a yoga instructor, but I am too scared to seek them out.

    Thank you so much for stopping by. xx

  42. You’re a really strong soul. Don’t let anyone not even you make you weak. You are way above all this!
    Sending you all the love and positive vibes…
    Love,
    Gratisoul

  43. This was very well-written and insightful. I deal with some of these things a lot myself, so I can relate. The one thing that keeps me from falling into really dangerous territory is my love for exercising. I have mentors who help me TREMENDOUSLY with being able to see the importance of food with exercise… and it’s been helping me stay on track. ❤️ Thank you for sharing ????

  44. I know I keep saying this but I genuinely admire your strength! I pray that you overcome the fear of gaining weight and break free from being a prisoner to other people’s opinions. It’s not easy but you can do it. I have so much faith in you ???? I also love how you’re sharing your story with others to inspire them! Keep letting God use you in that way. You never know how many people you’re actually helping!

  45. Wonderfully written post.
    I’m sorry for the struggles you are currently going through, but am so glad for your openness. I think this will help a lot of people. Just knowing you’re not alone goes a long way.

  46. Thank you for your honesty in this post. I admire that in you because there aren’t many out there willing to help others with actual honesty instead of the fabricated picture of a perfect life.

  47. Such a great post. Way to go, stigma fighter! I know you’re actively struggling and am so impressed that you’re able to put this together to help others from that place (instead of waiting for “look, I came out the other side!” when it could take a while or really be a wave).

    I hope knowing your contributions are doing good makes you feel a little better at least.

  48. I’ve had feelings like this growing up. I always feel like I’m not skinny enough or that people don’t like me because I’m fat (even though I’m not). It’s like a constant voice in the of back of my mind. This is such a beautiful post. You’re an amazing writer and beautiful person, no matter what the voices say!

  49. I’m so sorry for the struggles you are enduring. You are right. There are layers and layers to work though with an eating disorder. Have you heard of Glennon Doyle? Her book, Carry On Warrior is phenomenal and funny and life changing. She too has an eating disorder. You might find her book to be encouraging and insightful. Wishing you well.

  50. This is another post from you that I read and then I cried for a little while because someone else understands and is able to put in into words better than me!
    I have so many gremlins from different disorders (although I bizarrely call them bunnies, especially the anxiety ones I call anxiety bunnies and I have no idea why) and people just don’t get it.
    I am so very grateful for you Nyxie and all your wise words – particularly your response above about fully addressing an eating disorder because it was something I never realised I needed to do until I found your little nook <3

  51. First off I would like to say I’m proud of you for being so open, honest and vulnerable. What you are doing is allowing a space for others to come and talk openly about their issues as well. You’ve provided so much content that those who aren’t struggling now can understand what you actually feel. As a mental health counselor I just love love love this. I hope blogging through it all provides you a sense of peace ❤️

  52. Body image is such a powerful thing. As someone who was 150 lbs overweight in the past, I know. Despite losing weight and having a normal BMI, you still see that fat girl in the mirror. I imagine, by what you describe, it’s similar. It’s difficult to convince your mind when it’s already made up. Hang in there and thank you for bringing awareness.

  53. This is an excellent, well voiced and well explained post. The iceberg is a great example to see that there is so much more going on than people see.
    You do freakin brilliant and I’m so proud of you!

  54. I have spent the last two months coming to terms with the fact that I am in full on relapse into anorexia and mental illness, so I am at a point too where I don’t know what to do with myself. But I am practicing self care daily, I am trying new things like yoga and meditation, and I am learning to engage with my emotions.

    I really urge you to fully address your eating disorder, whether or not you still actively suffer, because it will wait for you if you haven’t completely shoo’ed it from your life.

    Thank you so much for taking the time to read my blog and leave a comment. I really appreciate it. 🙂

  55. Wow. I really relate to this. I often thought I was over my eating disorder but it always has a way of creeping back into my life when I think things are going good.
    “It all sits under the surface you see, taking it’s every opportunity to bring you down. It’s emotionally and physically exhausting.” THIS! This is so true! I’m at a point where I don’t know what to do with myself or my mind.

    As weird as it sounds, it’s nice to see that someone else is going through this. Eating disorders are the worst. I hope you are able to recover; I’m hoping the best for you.

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