Three Bizarre Things I learned about Eating Disorders: Part 2–Contortion

I didn’t want to finish this series. This was so painful to go through two years ago that I wanted to run from it every time it crossed my mind.

However, now that The Firecracker is relapsing:

1) I’m having to refresh myself on everything I learned.
2) I realize that I’m stronger than I was the first time around, and reacting much more calmly and methodically.

So, I can do this. I can share our journey, get her the help she needs, and maybe in turn, help other people.

Now, about contortion.

Yesterday, her pediatrician told me, “She’s falling off the weight charts.”

This is the same pediatrician who told me, “Don’t worry, it’s not like she’s failing to thrive or anything,” when she lost a pound last year. She wouldn’t write me a referral to an eating disorder clinic, but she wanted to take her off of her ADHD meds.

I wanted to hit something.

The pediatrician who was so helpful when we first moved to Maryland became blind to anything affecting The Firecracker’s weight, except for her ADHD medication.

You know, the medication that helped her finally make the cause/effect connections to HELP HER EAT. I kept trying to convince her: “Whatever minor affect it had on her weight would not be to this degree.”  I’m an ADHD expert. I know this. COME ON.

But she was the doctor. She didn’t see any need to re-start eating disorder treatment “at this point.”

Yesterday, I felt simultaneously validated and heartbroken as she FINALLY wrote me the blasted referral. At first, she tried explaining to The Firecracker that, if she doesn’t eat, she won’t grow.

The Firecracker burst into tears.

I told the doctor, “This conversation will not help her. She doesn’t want to grow.”

The doctor furrowed her brow. “What are you talking about?”

I pointed to The Firecracker, and said, “Look at her posture–look at how she’s physically presenting herself.”

(The closest I could find to her posture when I Googled “Girl curled up in a ball.”)

The doctor said, “What do you mean?”

“She’s curled up into a ball. Pediatric eating disorder patients almost universally want to make themselves smaller. They don’t want to get taller, wider, or develop sexual characteristics. They develop contortionist habits and hobbies. No one knows why. But during our first therapy appointment, The Firecracker was sitting *just like this*. The therapist told us, ‘I knew right then what we were dealing with.'”

The doctor shook her head. “I’ve never heard of this before.”

I don’t know where The Firecracker’s THERAPIST heard it, but she saw it in her own son, and she uses it as a rule of thumb to gauge how her patients are doing.

Pediatric Eating Disorder patients contort and twist their bodies, and take an absurd level of pride in their ability to make themselves smaller. They get excited when they can twist into an unusual shape.

The Firecracker used to make the following poses, for no reason, just while she was sitting in our living room.


I didn’t even try to find a 7-10 year old girl doing them.  These are all young adults, from pro-ana sites.

Imagine a 7-year-old girl bragging, “Look how far my shoulder blades stick out!”


She would put her fingers around her wrist, and say, “Look how tiny my arm is!”

She would make arches while she was watching TV. “Look how high I can go!”

She would wrap her arms around her body, and try to see how far she could reach.

She was happy when she could see *all* of the bones in her back

Now, this picture is of a seemingly healthy Yoga instructor.  My kid NEVER took yoga. However, she was obsessed with making her arms and hands form this wing-like position. She wanted her hands to go higher, and higher, until they could touch her skull.

Two years ago, I did see a pro-ana picture of someone doing this pose. I can’t find it now, and I’m going to vomit if I look for it any longer.

However, I hope this makes my point: there is some connection between eating disorders, and a desire to contort one’s body into small or unusual shapes.

I can’t blame the media–two years ago, The Firecracker had no internet access, no personal phone, and only had any computer or TV access in common areas of the living room.

She came up with this on her own.

When I Google “Eating disorder AND contortion” I only find a few references, and mostly they’re from people who used contortion and yoga to help *recover* from their eating disorder. 

We deal with this in a few ways:

-she’s not allowed to curl up into a ball while she eats. The therapist told us “That’s her way of psychologically blocking food from her body.”

-she has to stretch before doing any exercises

-she’s not allowed to do anything that looks like it needs a safety mat or a gymnastics instructor.

And dangit, when I see the contortion starting, I KNOW we’re headed for a relapse.

Every. Single. Time.


Medusa is the psuedonym of someone who runs a site  that warns about the dangers of eating disorders and “pro-ana” images.  She posted a disturbing story about a woman who is anorexic and a contortionist.


3 thoughts on “Three Bizarre Things I learned about Eating Disorders: Part 2–Contortion

  1. Your writing is riveting – I’m sorry you and your daughter are going through this. Thank you for writing about this – these are insights I haven’t heard anywhere else.

    Doctors are very smart and very educated, but they are people, too, and as such are imperfect and can be blind to their biases. As it sounds like you already know.

    P.S. I love that first gif of Janeway throwing up her hands in exasperation.

    1. ATHENA! It’s so good to see you! 😀 Thank you. And I am happy to report that The Firecracker has eaten all of her meals without argument since the doctor’s appointment. I don’t know why. She has an intake appt w/ the new ED clinic on the 27th. THANK YOU so much for your support over the last few years. <3

      As far as "insights I haven't heard anywhere else," I really have to thank Gina Pera for teaching me to observe & record these things. Her work as a journalist, writing the book, "Is It You, Me, or Adult ADD?" really saved our marriage, and I hope to pay it forward by recording everything I can about eating disorders as we go.

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