By Naomi Cantley
The Daily Mail’s headlines aim to shock and the most recent from Liz Jones is no exception; ‘Appalling I know, but sometimes I’m glad I have an eating disorder’. Usually I’d roll my eyes and scroll on by, but this one hit a nerve. Jones has been infuriating the nation for decades. The veracity of many of her articles has been doubted, but in this headline there was a disturbing hint of truth.
Among common misconceptions about eating disorders is that they are glamorous, fashionable or desirable. These insinuations never cease to exasperate me and others who have experienced eating disorders alike, but, to a degree, Jones is right. Eating disorders serve a purpose, albeit very inefficiently. They are destined to become extremely destructive, if not deathly in their own right, yet they are exceptionally difficult to let go of.
Jones rather proudly lists what she might eat in a day at the start of the article: half an avocado, four apples and 5 almonds. Immediately my mind started whirring. Within seconds I had calculated that that amounts to an approximate total of 457 calories. There was a time when I would have been quite proud of the fact that I could tell you how many calories were in your food before you even found the nutritional information box on the packaging, but eventually I came to realise the cost of my obsession.
Despite suffering from anorexia for over forty years, Jones never seems to have had such a realisation. She glosses over the negatives of her eating disorder as if they’re only minimal inconveniences, briefly mentioning the loneliness and shorter life span. She doesn’t give the impression that she fully grasps the seriousness of the situation. At one point she even goes as far as to claim that ‘It’s so much simpler if you just don’t do food’. In one respect she’s right; if you don’t ‘do food’ you won’t have to worry about the stress of everyday life; if you attempt to live on less than 500 calories every day for an extended period of time, you won’t live for long.
It’s not to say that she makes false claims or sets out to deceive, but she lies by omission. Jones writes about the disgust she feels watching other people eat and the sense of superiority she feels due to her ability to starve. You could certainly call her out for being disillusioned, but not for dishonesty. I confess, I understand the feeling of superiority starvation can give you. People around you might praise you for your ‘willpower’. Denying yourself food might make you feel strong. You might even start to feel superhuman as you’re running on nothing but adrenaline and feeling light as air – until, of course, you faint and land flat on your face in front of all your friends. The feelings of superiority don’t last long. The feelings of stupidity, on the other hand, are hard to live down.
Jones has managed to write an article about eating disorders that doesn’t even touch on the crux of the issue; the mental torture. What about the time spent agonising over what to eat and the inevitable hours consumed by guilt, shame and anxiety afterwards? What about the panic you feel every time you catch a glimpse of your skewed perception of yourself in a mirror? Eating disorders are accompanied by feelings of low self-worth, often to the point of self-hatred. Pride and superiority rarely come into the mix.
You might imagine that the best people to explain what living with an eating disorder is like are those who suffer from them, but Jones proves otherwise. You wouldn’t expect an alcoholic to paint a realistic picture of alcoholism; impaired judgement is the very nature of the illness. Eating disorders are deceptive illnesses and, even 40 years on, Jones remains shockingly blind. Unlike some critics of Jones’ article, I’m not angry; I only feel pity. This article wasn’t written by Liz Jones; it was written by Liz Jones’ anorexia.