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Anorexia of the Soul

by Dr. Ilsa J. Bick


Library » Philosophy » Soul | Subscribe | What is RSS?


“It hurts.”
“How long?”
“Yesterday, and the day before that, and the day before that. Forever.”
“What makes it better?”
“Exercise. Running, sit-ups. Can I do sit-ups?”
“You’re in pain. You’re starving.”
“Oh, that. It wasn’t so bad at first. And you’re right, it hurts, and oh!” She writhes on the bed. “Oh, it’s happening again! Do something!”

“Let me see.”

She hesitates. Then, as gingerly as if she were releasing a newly hatched chick, she uncups her hands from her abdomen. She looks like an inmate from a concentration camp. Her abdomen is concave, gutted like a melon. Her ribs protrude; her limbs are as thin as dry twigs. A fine down coats her cheeks, because her brain thinks she’s metamorphosing into a fetus. Moaning, she grits her teeth—pitted, brown and scarred from the acid that bathes them every time she vomits.

She is 12 or 40, blonde or brunette, white or black. She may be a he. Her decline has been gradual: a caprice, a diet to lose a few pounds. She’s adept at pretense, at loading her plate with food and pushing it around. Then she dumps it, flushes it, gives it to the dog. Or she hides food—under her bed, in shoes, above the acoustical tile of the hospital’s ceiling. As her flesh melts away, she is drawn, as inexorably as a moth to a flame, to mirrors, to windows, to pools of water into which she will gaze at herself, noting this flaw and that. Eventually, she’ll immolate herself. She’ll eat herself up. And she has forgotten hunger. In the life of almost every anorectic, there comes a day when hunger has no meaning and the ability to know hunger vanishes. I place the drum of my stethoscope on her belly. There’s nothing, and then there’s a faraway tinkle, and I see that she’s nodding frantically to tell me that’s it, that’s when it hurts.
“You’re having hunger pains.”
“Hunger pains?”
“Yes. You’re hungry. That’s why you hurt. Your body knows it, but you have to listen.
You need to eat.” She acts as if I’m speaking Swahili.
“Eat? Food?”
“Oh, no, you don’t understand,” she gnaws her chapped lips until they bleed, “I couldn’t possibly do that.”

In the life of almost every anorectic, there comes a day when hunger has no meaning and the ability to know hunger vanishes
“It hurts.” He bunches his fist over his heart. “Here. A long time. A year, maybe ten. Forever.”

“Can you put a name to it?”

“You know the way a crow does when it’s picking at a squirrel that’s been run over? Like that. Stabbing.”

“What makes it better?” The question confounds him. He looks out the window, as if the answer he seeks, so elusive, lies everywhere but within himself.

He is 15 or 50; he is white or black; his hair is blond, brunette, streaked with gray; he wears an earring, or eschews jewelry. He’s fit, or has a paunch. Like the anorectic, he may be a she. But let’s call him a man, and let’s say he’s Jewish.

His life that he thought was going so well is not. Oh, he’s successful. He’s been accepted into a great college, is about to finish his PhD. He owns his own business, or thinks his boss is a jerk. He is married, cruising, divorced. His wife is wonderful, his girlfriend cheats, his lover is seeing someone else.

When he’s not busy, there’s an ache. But his ability to articulate why has deserted him. Like the anorectic, he believes he has willed his emotions into non-existence. Transforming his hunger into something else altogether, he suffers from a peculiar delusion: that he is self-contained, separate. But he still hurts. He suffers from a certain anorexia of the soul.


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Anorexia of the soul

Posted by: Hannah, Melbourne, VIC, Australia on Jun 20, 2005

i love this article. it really speaks to me and i feel like i can relate to that empty feeling that has nothing to do with how much you ate. we are always searching, but sometimes what we are looking for is right at our fingertips.

Hunger of the Soul

Posted by: kyRee Elain, Perth, Western Australia, Australia on Aug 28, 2005

A very apt and insightful analogy. Yes there is a great hunger of Soul in this world, and you don't have to be Jewish to feel it. Go where the heart is, while intending to be helpful, is unclear in its direction but basically that is what must be done. Walk in peace....


Posted by: Anonymous, London, England on Feb 05, 2006

This article is unbelievable. It really touched my heart and reminded to feed my soul.

Anorexia for the soul

Posted by: Laura Douek, Watford, England on Feb 14, 2006

This article was very good. However, it would have been nice if the typical stereotypes had not been used. Why does the anorexic have to be a girl? Why does the spiritually starved have to be a guy? Other than that, I thought the article was amazing.


Philosophy » Pain and Suffering

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