(december 5, 2017)
When you’re trying to recover from an eating disorder, part of the challenge is food. How do you do food? How do you eat normally? What does normal look like? Unfortunately, advice abounds.
Eat when you’re hungry. Eat on a schedule. Eat what you like. Eat a little of everything. Stop when you’ve had enough. Stop when your plate’s empty. Choose a vegetarian diet. Eat meat. Stick to whole foods. Eat clean. Avoid the fads and just eat regular food.
Everyone has an opinion, but they all miss the point. I’m not being facetious when I ask, “how do you do this?” I legitimately don’t know how to eat in a non-pathological way. I don’t remember: it’s been to long. The advice, therefore, while kindhearted is often useless. Much of it relies on a connection to my feelings and my body that doesn’t exist.
It’s demoralizing when something as basic as eating is a struggle. I try not to negatively judge myself, but it’s hard to ignore the inside voice that calls me a failure when dinner makes me panic. I remind myself that progress is small steps, that I can’t expect recovery-perfection (though I do), and that my recovery eating routine is working. It’s regimented, but I’m neither bingeing nor purging so we’ll call it a win.
Vomit-free status notwithstanding, my eating disorder voice tries to convince me I’m doing recovery wrong. I don’t think there’s a wrong way to recover. * It’s all good as long as one’s moving forward. I’ve never been a fan of the “one true way” philosophy.
It’s still hard for me to eat when I’m hungry. Hunger and I have a complicated relationship. I love it, a little. Hungry means you didn’t eat enough, and that, as far as one’s eating disorder is concerned, is a very good thing. For a long time, I considered not being hungry at bedtime an epic failure.
Eating early in the day and eating a reasonable amount is also struggle. For years, waking up hungry meant I’d been good. And by “good,” I mean I didn’t eat enough. Waking up hungry meant I wouldn’t get fat. Not getting fat was my reason for living. I’d get a life at some point, but until then, with my eating disorder, I was living to get thin(ner).
Waking up hungry meant I could be proud of myself. Who’d want to lose that feeling by eating? I occasionally understood that my feelings of pride were coming from a defective place, but bad chocolate is still good chocolate.
Recovery means eating breakfast. Recovery means eating all the meals, actually. You’d think the inevitability of my consumption would make the eating disorder voice give up, but she’s persistent. And, why not? I’ve quit quitting before.
I hate the conversations I have with my eating disorder. Win or lose doesn’t ever seem to matter: she’ll show up the next day regardless. I feel ridiculous, having to have arguments with myself over things as basic as breakfast.
- I’m hungry.
- You can’t be hungry, you just got up.
- I slept in a bit, I usually eat before now. I’m hungry and I want some food.
- You don’t need to eat yet, you’re not that hungry.
- My stomach’s growling.
- That’s good. It’s good that you’re hungry. We were worried last night after you ate those six chocolates. I know you said it would be okay, but I think you were wrong. You seemed to have gained weight. Your legs seem bigger.
- It was a chocolate bar. People can eat chocolate bars. People eat chocolate bars all the time. One chocolate bar doesn’t mean I’ll gain weight.
- You can’t eat like that. You’ll totally gain weight. Your legs feel fatter. It’s disgusting.
- I ate chocolate yesterday. I can’t change yesterday. All I can control is right now.
- You’re going to get huge. You’re eating all the time. You’ll never lose weight eating like this. You’re already ugly and now you’ll be ugly and fat.
- I don’t need to lose weight. I could probably stand to gain a few pounds. My clothes are loose and I wear small sizes.
- You know sizes are lies. They change them so people won’t have double-digit sizes. Your clothes aren’t that small. Zero would be a better size. You used to be a zero, but then you ate chocolate. Now you’re fat.
- If you insist on breakfast, at least make it small. How about a piece of toast with a scraping of jam?
- I’m going to have a cereal with fruit.
- Use a small bowl.
- I have to eat 350 calories of food with my morning medication or it doesn’t work properly.
- The pharmacist said 350, but that seems high. They’re probably just making sure people get 300 calories. It’s a weird requirement anyhow. It’s probably not true. I bet it’s fine if you eat a smaller breakfast.
- I’m going to have the same size bowl I always do, with the same amount of fruit added as well.
- You’re pathetic. Your stomach is disgusting. You aren’t thin enough. You’re a failure. You’re so gross. You should skip breakfast. You ate that candy last night, and you had a cookie for a snack yesterday. Skip your medication this morning and take it at lunch.
- I’m going to eat breakfast.
- You’re the one getting fat. I’m just trying to help.
I have this conversation or a variation thereof almost every day, at almost every meal. This is why you get a recovery meal plan. Following my instincts wouldn’t work well for me right now. My “instincts” are pushing me towards restriction and starvation. They might have been co-opted.
The debates are frustrating and enraging. I want recovery and I want it now, ignoring that my relationship with food (and my eating disorder) developed over a timespan of years and decades. I’m impatient. Now that I’m ready, I want to wake up and be done with obsessing about food. I want to experience what it’s like to have a sense of self-worth uncoupled from the shape of my body.
My eating disorder will continue to kick and scream: I’m sticking with the plan. Three scheduled meals, three scheduled snacks, and because I will continue to resist her demands, six repetitive conversations with my eating disorder.
* I’m sure that if we put our heads together, we can come up with hundreds, if not thousands, of wrong ways to recover. Cults, for instance. I just mean, in the usual way of things, there’s no wrong recovery.