every meal’s a challenge when you’re recovering from an eating disorder, but meals out come with their own unique problems. it would be nice if i could just abandon my drug of choice and give up on food entirely, but eating is a requirement for life, or so they tell me.
i find that the people in my life “forget” about my eating disorder rather easily. they misunderstand the pervasiveness and extent of the issue. to be fair, i don’t share my struggles as much as i could but still. the general impression i receive is, “but you’re out of the hospital; aren’t you better now?”
“better” is a loaded term. i’m better in many ways. i’m not actively throwing up, which is huge. i’m also desperate to avoid doing so again ever again, and that’s a change too. for a long time, i gave up on stopping. i accepted the constant self-hatred and food disorders as my lot in life, so this shift is no small accomplishment. historically, i threw up one to two sessions every day, ten to twenty times a session, five to seven days a week, for twenty-seven years. at the low end, this would be just over seventy-thousand times. at the high end, it’s almost two-hundred thousand. that’s a lot of vomiting and the math doesn’t account for those weeks where things were really bad. as if throwing up even once a day to get rid of the food you ate wasn’t bad enough. there were days, though, that took bad to new levels. days where all i did was eat and purge, over and over, even when my throat was bleeding, even when i was passing out from lightheadedness. on days like that, you don’t care about the damage you’re doing. purging’s the only thing that matters. it’s the only thing that promises relief from the shit show your thoughts are putting on. the eating disorder lies, of course. there is no relief.
other people aren’t in my head though and don’t live my life, and so they forget. i wish i could and maybe someday, but for now, my eating disorder won’t let me; i’m not cured yet. i’m abstinent from some of the more severe behaviours, but i still have issues. i use laxatives once or twice a week – i can’t bear to feel full through my intestines. my brain translates abdominal bloat to “fat” and i start to panic. i’m okay with a little senna when i weigh taking it against other choices. in a perfect world, i’d never use it but i comfort myself with the fact that i’m only taking a few, not a handful or twenty.
i still obsess about foods i “can” and “cannot” eat. i still categorize a lot of foods as “bad”. i still restrict and count calories. i constantly measure and review my consumption in my head. i check for visible bones and a thigh gap. none of this is good. nor is the constant negative self-talk regarding my body. i’m working on it. the good is that i’m sober from vomiting, a little over eight months now, baring a minor slip. the good is that i’m eating regular meals and snacks. the good is that i look better than i did when i was purging multiple times a day and i’m far less likely to drop dead.
so much of our life revolves around food. so much of our life revolves around eating. it’s hard to avoid which makes recovering from eating disorders very challenging. meeting up with friends almost always includes a suggestion for coffee (and the inevitable baked good selection) or a meal. this can be difficult for me.
brunch, for example. brunch is a very difficult meal to work. for starters, it doesn’t fit into my recovery plan which is three meals a day around or about “traditional” mealtimes, and a couple of snacks. brunch means i eat late and since i’m uncomfortable eating before a meal, i get hungry. hungry is as dangerous for me as full. sometimes, it leads to a binge. other times, it leads to nostalgia. i remember the feeling of emptiness with fondness. i miss it, and this can lead to restricting. additionally, if the first meal is brunch, then it’s two meals that day instead of three because of the aforementioned timing issue. calorie counts for brunch foods also tend to be high so to compensate, i eat less than i probably should. in no way is brunch a win for me, at least not yet.
then there’s “getting a coffee”, otherwise known as the “meet and eat”. it usually doesn’t line up with my snack time, and the foods that are available are too calorie-laden for me to be entirely comfortable with. to eat or not to eat; that’s a significant dilemma. if i decide yes, then i feel like i have to justify it, as though a snack, even an indulgent one, isn’t something that a person like me can have from time to time. if i have a scone or something else bakery-like, i feel the need to compensate; i then tend to reduce the amount i eat for lunch. even the offer creates problems. do i order food and eat to avoid looking like i can’t, even if i don’t want to, and wreck my later, or do i skip it and feel odd, self-conscious, and at the mercy of my eating disorder? because the third option, eat the damned biscuit and enjoy lunch anyhow, is very difficult for me to entertain.
dinner out brings up other issues. sometimes people want to share. i don’t. sometimes people want appetizers. mostly, i don’t. unless i’m going to have a couple as the meal, and then i definitely don’t want to share. i need to eat first, an appropriate amount, before others start in on my plates. otherwise, i feel out of whack and out of sorts. appetizers, when others order them, are also problematic. friends are generous and kind and they always want to share. this is a good thing unless what they want to share is a stuffed and deep-fried piece of mozzarella that you didn’t anticipate, and didn’t factor into your meal plan, and don’t know how to explain the refusal thereof in a way that doesn’t have your non-eating disordered friend explaining to you all the things you should do vis a vis eating to make yourself better. the same people who’d never dream of pushing a drink on a recovering alcoholic have no compunction about pushing food i’ve said “no” to on me. that’s what i mean by “forget”. they just don’t understand what it’s like to live with a constant and oppressive belief that you are unworthy because you feel fat, and therefore probably shouldn’t eat, at least not that, and at least not now.
late dinners are also an issue. i eat dinner at or around five o’clock. i dread the text at seven asking me to join my friends for a late meal. suggesting i’ve already eaten is rarely accepted well. “just have an appetizer, just have dessert” are the suggestions. it’s not that easy for me if i haven’t preplanned, however, which once again makes me feel under pressure. avoid my friends, argue about my food choices, or give in and then spend the even in dialogue with myself:
you’re going to get fat.
i just ate a few bites of stuffed potato skin. it’s not so much.
you’re going to get fat. you already ate dinner. too much dinner. this is too much.
people eat snacks and extras all the time. i can too.
you’re not people. you’re getting fat. i can feel it. i can see it. you’re disgusting.
eating is not failing.
you’re going to get fat.
i enjoy these conversations with myself immensely. oh wait, no i don’t.
i wish i could figure out how to enforce my boundaries regarding food in a way that people would respect and not look disappointed with. i wish that they could understand that i’m trying. i face my drug of choice all day, every day. i need it. i have no way of living without it. i need to develop, if not an affection for food, then at least a détente in my brain. some days are good. some days i feel like i’m getting there. some days i even bake, a minor hobby i’ve found i enjoy. other days are all about staying away from the kitchen and triggering foods. those days are about one thing, and one thing only, and that’s not giving in to the urge to binge and purge. they’re about fighting my way through a challenge one more time.