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Eating Disorders Aren't Just for the Young: Anorexia Killed My Grandmother

My grandma's entire lifelong battle with anorexia upends the stereotype that eating disorders affect only the very young and impressionable.

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Ellie remembers herself as being fragile and strange. She can enjoy food, but in general it’s a source of sickness, and not to be trusted. She hardly eats when we’re at new restaurants or when she’s in unfamiliar settings because she is weary at all times that something might disagree with her. The collection of blacklisted items is always accruing. Attending meals with other people’s family I saw adult women bite head on into sandwiches, rejecting neither bread nor potato chips, without requesting that anything be omitted or brought on the side. I saw women eating lunches comparable to those eaten by their male counterparts and was, shocked. And shocked to be shocked because I had learned that at a certain point all mothers stop eating, and that they very seldom eat lunch. 

What I want from my life changes everyday, as I’m sure is true for most 23 year olds. I do know that I want to watch this legacy of food pain recede into my distant past. I want my daughters, should I have any, to eat when they’re hungry and for fun without allowing it to run their lives. Basically I think the women in my family are getting better and better by small increments in each generation. I eat well and healthily and have never had trouble maintaining a healthy weight—I have never tipped the scales toward being either over- or underweight—and yet I constantly think about food whether I am craving something particular and exciting, or recounting the things I ate that day and assessing my failure or my success.

Ours is a life of all-consuming obsession and it’s my job, being the next in line to have babies and keep things going, to perpetuate a tradition of women who talk to one another on the phone on a daily basis and write letters, and become stronger for this community. I can’t really imagine myself without it, without having had the opportunity to know Flossie and ultimately see what self-destruction is in the most very basic of senses. To refuse your body’s call for food, to refuse even when it is thrust before your immobile body day after day by the person who loves you most, and to say no every time. The slow deliberate nature was a kind of explosion by tiny increments everyday because it means she had no qualms at all about death, not even momentarily. Missing Flossie is as painful as I’m sure living was for her. 

Claire Glass is the literary editor at, works for Story Studio Chicago, and freelances around town. You can follow her on twitter @MsClerval.

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