a quote from a geneen roth book popped into my head yesterday. it goes something like this: “i had given my body what it was asking for and it felt good. it thanked me.” the quote is about eating, which for far too many of us is not a simple thing to do.
i’m working on recovering from a rather lengthy eating disorder. i’ve lost decades of my life to it and i’m currently seven and a half months “sober” from purging, barring one small slip that my psychiatrist suggested i exclude from the count. it was a momentary stumble; i tripped one evening three weeks back following an emotional knockdown. i didn’t fall headlong into bingeing and purging following the slip, however, so i’ve decided to agree with him; i don’t need to restart the clock. i’m going to continue to hold onto this accomplishment; it’s a big one. this is the longest i’ve managed to go without daily vomiting in more than twenty years.
i don’t eat for pleasure. mostly i don’t enjoy eating at all. food still scares me and i continue to avoid much of it. i’m far more hyper-vigilant about the kinds of foods i’m eating, the quantity, and my resultant potential body size than “normal” eaters. it’s fatiguing and it’s on my list of things to address, but one thing at a time. stopping the incessant purging was priority one. that behaviour holds a very real risk of death. additionally, when i’m bingeing and purging, i tend to be cutting, another high-risk and mentally damaging behaviour. sometimes you have to pick your battles; i went with one that was going to help me save my life.
so i’m not purging, but food remains problematic.
our lives revolve around food. we want it, we need it, we watch television shows about it, celebrations involve it, and time with friends often incorporates it. this is the challenge with eating disorders; your drug of choice is everywhere you go. sometimes i think things would be easier if i could give up eating altogether, subsisting solely on smoothies, but that’s not what recovered eating looks like.
my eating follows a strict routine. i eat breakfast at breakfast time, lunch at lunch, and dinner at dinner. meals are eaten regardless of whether i feel like it or not. i’m not and may not ever be the kind of person who is able to skip meals. miss one and the brain approves; it suggests that skipping the next meal would be a good idea as well.
my portions are also controlled. i don’t measure, because, after so many years, i don’t need to. i’ve had lots of practice portioning food; i’m good at guesstimating when it comes to dishing out. my eye easily measures three-quarter cups of cereal or tablespoons of spread. i don’t over-indulge. i don’t throw caution to the winds and dig in. to do that is to invite in fear and panic and risk stepping over the line, turning the behaviour into a binge. i don’t want to go there anymore.
except yesterday, something different happened. it started with having a good day. i spent it with friends, sitting on the deck in the sun, doing nothing more consequential than talking and laughing. a posse of friends is a good thing to have in your life. as the dinner hour approached, it was suggested that we head out and eat together. truthfully, i was a bit ambivalent. the piece of pizza i’d had earlier was bothering me; that voice in my head that’s still unvanquished pointed out that my lunch could not be considered a “light” meal. it was cheesy and fatty and delicious, but calorically, my brain was trying to declare it over the top.
i decided to ignore that annoying eating disorder voice and go out for a meal anyway. a good way to deal with discomfort is to lean in. i also didn’t preplan what i was going to eat. i usually decide on my restaurant meals beforehand. my wishes and urges are irrelevant; the decision is based on other, less reasonable factors. i already know if i’m going to choose an appetizer, salad, or burger sans fries before i sit down and i rarely change my mind. most appetizers are removed from consideration; they’re too much for me to handle, too large, too fatty, and too unwieldy.
i opened the menu and realized as i perused it that the nachos were calling to me. generally, nachos are a food i avoid. it’s hard to monitor portion size and calories when the food is served on an enormous platter in a cohesive mass. yesterday though, everything about them, from the cheesy corn chips and cold sour cream to the salty olives and fresh tomatoes seemed just right; they were exactly what my body was crying out for. i may have been hungry; it’s hard for me to tell sometimes. all i know is that i wanted them and the urge didn’t feel like the presage to a binge. it felt kind of okay.
i didn’t panic after the food arrived either. i just pulled my chair closer to the platter and ate. i ate nachos and felt okay. i didn’t freak out. i didn’t keep eating after i was full because dinner was going to be coming back up, so why the hell not. i ate and enjoyed the experience. i liked picking up the melted bits of superfluous cheese from the edges and dunking it in salsa. i liked the way the chips tasted in my mouth. i liked the way i felt when i was done, which was especially odd since feeling full usually sends me screaming.
the tolerance continued upon arriving home. i didn’t race to the bathroom. i didn’t binge as a follow up to eating “bad” food. i didn’t berate myself for my “you shouldn’t have” behaviour. i didn’t call myself names. it was then that the geneen roth quote popped into my head. it was a reminder of a truth i have difficulty holding onto. it’s okay to eat. last night, my body wanted food, i ate some, and it was good.