My Eating Disorder Made Me Stupiderest

Last Friday night, I was with a group of friends playing the party game Mafia.  It is so much fun and I love it whenever we get together to play.  At one point, I was accused of being Mafia.  The reasoning?  I had asked who was killed in that round and my friends found it suspicious and Mafia-like.  When you have two accusations, you have to make a defense to convince the rest of the players not to “kill” you.  My defense was this:

I’m not Mafia (I totally was), I just legitimately couldn’t remember who got killed (true).  I mean, starving eats holes in your brain, makes it hard to remember things, blah blah blah.  I really did just forget!!
I thought it was a pretty solid (and truthful) defense, but they killed me anyway.  Alas.
At any rate, I’ve been thinking a lot about my cognitive abilities lately, mainly because I have been studying for the GREs and my practice tests prove that there is a lot of work to be done in the next 22 days.  I swear I used to be intelligent.  Like, top 2% of my graduating high school class intelligent.  Graduate college with honours intelligent.  So what gives?  Why can’t I keep my mind focused on a two paragraph reading long enough to comprehend what they’re talking about.
I heard on NPR a few days ago that the human brain continues developing through the age of 25.  Answers a lot of questions, doesn’t it?  Basically during those last vital years of brain development, from about age 19 to 25, I was almost constantly starving.  I was restricting carbs (the only macronutrient your brain can use as fuel), restricting calories, burning off insane amounts of calories at the gym and my brain (along with plenty of other of my organs) started feeding on itself.  So at a time where I should have been reveling in my last few years of brain development and creating plenty of new neural pathways, I was killing them off.
I have certainly seen a change in my intelligence over the last 3 years.  It pains me to think that I did this to myself.  It pains me to think that my eating disorder could cost me a shot at graduate school just because brain is still so shot that I can’t muster a competitive score on the GREs or write a compelling entrance essay.  
I’m not at all saying that I am less intelligent than I was, because I think intelligence is rather static, speaking more about one’s ability to learn than what they actually know.  But do I have to work a little harder now?  Absolutely.  I’m working harder now, studying for a silly test, than I ever had to study in college.  (I studied, sure, but I didn’t have to study nearly this much or with this sort of vigor.)
It is, in general, just very upsetting to me, someone who always prided herself on her intelligence.  And perhaps this is a humbling of sorts, a reminder that while I know a lot of random facts (Do you hear that Alex Trebek?  I’d be awesome on Jeopardy!), I am not some sort of super woman.  And perhaps this can be one of those things that reminds me of how very important recovery is:  I have already lost so much to this stupid eating disorder.
I don’t want to lose any more.

3 thoughts on “My Eating Disorder Made Me Stupiderest

  1. I found something similar, but not as much from eating disorder as from trauma. I have no idea how trauma fits into your story, as this is your first entry I have ever read. Thanks for advertising yourself on facebook. :)

    Once I did the trauma work, my brain came back. It was like up until I had dealt with all of the crazy thinking that came from trauma (and was only made worse by trying to avoid trauma stuff by obsessing about eating disorder, and then starving myself), I just didn’t have room in my brain.

    It’s amazing how much space there is, and time to think about things now that the crap is lessened.

    • I have a trauma history as well, Jen. There have been lots of studies that show that trauma (especially in early developmental years) fundamentally changes the way the brain is wired and can have long-lasting effects. I’m not at all surprised that trauma + an eating disorder decreased your cognitive functioning. I completely agree that you have to not only nourish your body, but deal with the precursors to the eating disorder before you can really be yourself again.

      I think I’ve probably still got some work to do on the trauma front, as well as a longer period of stable recovery (I’m only four months in) before my brain can truly be freed up to think about all the things I want to.

      Thanks for reading, Jen! :)

  2. Hmmm…this is interesting and also true for me. My therapist and I have just recently talked about how behind I am in many ways. For instance, I really stunted my growth and now that my body has been continually nourished I’m growing. At twenty-three. And it’s hard b/c I was getting used to my re-fed body and now have to get used to a new one. I really screwed things up in that area. Also, my brain doesn’t focus as well as it did. For me I think it’s a combination of a multitude of things. The physical part you described, my high anxiety, the fact that I was so hyper-aware in my eating disorder that I think i actually remembered things better b/c I was so obsessed with school work and the biggest one for me – trauma. My brain is now multitasking like it wasn’t before. Now that I feel things and am working in recovery I have so much to keep track of – food, flashbacks, dissociation, anxiety, therapy subjects that school seems to somehow not be in the forefront of all of that. Thanks for sharing this. It really gave me a lot to think about. In a good way! :)

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