If you have ever had an eating disorder, then you know. You understand what it feels like to be consumed with thoughts of food and weight at every moment. You know the calorie count of every single item at the store, and if you don’t, you could probably venture a guess. You know the fear of losing control, of eating too much or eating the “wrong” thing. You know that sharp sting of self-hatred and shame that centers itself in the midst of it all. Maybe it was mild for you – a slight obsession here and there. Or maybe it was violent and damn near close to killing you as you puked your feelings into the toilet or starved until your period stopped or restricted every “bad” food until there seemed to be nothing left to eat except organic local lettuce. Whatever your experience, and I have had all of the above, I hope you have found or come to one day find recovery. There is a way out, and not just from arresting the problems, but to a place where you will be completely free from the whole pain in the heart, waste of time mess. It has been nothing short of a miracle for me.
I’ve written in other posts about my history of disordered eating and the ups and downs I went through in recovery. Here, I want to write about the miracle of where I am today. I never, ever, ever thought I would be released from the bondage of disordered eating. I knew I could have “abstinence” from bulimia and intense bingeing, and for a long time, that was a huge relief and good enough for me. But I still thought I would live the rest of my life disliking my body, thinking too much about food, and worried about eating “healthy.” I believed there would always lurk some sort of dissatisfaction and mild obsession. Today, that is not the case. But, unlike any other addiction, especially one to a substance that we have to completely stop using in order to get better (alcohol, drugs) it has taken a long time and a lot of forward and back steps and moments of what one might consider relapse. With food problems, my experience has been that the only way out is through. And through means eating. A lot.
Like how you have to completely stop drinking in order to have recovery from alcoholism, I think if you’ve gone through periods of strong food restriction, you have to eat everything in order to get free. You have to give yourself permission, put the cards on the table, discover that no food is this evil dangerous entity, despite what the media and health gurus tell us. Yes, there are foods that, if eaten in extreme ungodly amounts are not good for our bodies. (Any food, actually.) There are chemicals out there that are best avoided. But also, so what? Trust me – a Diet Coke or processed meal once a month is far better than obsessing daily about every single thing you put into your mouth. The mind is powerful, and when we obsess and fear, we do major damage to every system in our body. So, through means eating – a lot. This means you might gain weight for a while or feel all over the place emotionally. Restriction is distraction, and when we quit distracting ourselves, we start waking up to ourselves.
When I gave myself permission to eat whatever I wanted, I gained weight. Not tons of weight, but enough to have to buy some new clothes and feel a whole lot of fear. It sucked. It also was the best thing I ever could have done. It helped restore my metabolism, menstruation, libido, and freedom with eating. It also wasn’t forever. The weight started to come back off after a few months, and then it really came off after a year or so, because I no longer was obsessed or restricting. I ate whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, and I found I did so very moderately. Not because I was trying to be moderate, but because I could feel when my stomach had had enough and I was full. Also, food stopped being so exciting and distracting. It was no longer a drug. I didn’t look forward to every meal. I didn’t need to keep eating in order to avoid feelings. Food was nice, but it was also just food, and I had learned how to properly deal with my thinking and emotions.
I still like to eat relatively “healthy,” because it feels better in my body, but it’s not at all obsessive or hardcore. I’m not worried about chemicals, oils, sugars, or whatever in any kind of intense way. Healthy, by the way, is a relative term. All it means to me are foods that taste good and feel good. A lot of people think dairy and eggs and sugar and any meat whatsoever are unhealthy. I beg to differ. Perhaps they don’t agree with you, but these aren’t dangerous foods. Eating McDonald’s three times a day would start to become harmful, but anyone who is listening to her body and free from addiction probably wouldn’t eat that way. The body is smart, and it knows how to regulate itself.
I love yogurt. I love Nutella. I love coffee and cream. I’ll eat an apple from the gas station, GMO’s and all. What – EVER. I’ll have a gluten-filled sandwich or a cheeseburger. Some french fries. A pastry. I’ll go days without a vegetable. I don’t drink green juice anymore. I just don’t worry about it. And not to turn this into a diet, but since I learned how to eat whatever and whenever I wanted (it took years, no rush) I eat a lot less. I just don’t care about food that much. I’m actually not a foodie. At all. When I was restricting and dieting and in the throes of eating disorders, it was all I thought about and therefore I usually ended up eating way too much. Or I would starve myself for days and then binge like a madwoman.
Could I slip back into it? Maybe. My brain occasionally tries to do its old thing of counting calories or scrupulously reading labels or thinking “if I get the salad instead of the sandwich I’ll lose weight and be better,” even though my stomach is like, “I really want a sandwich, please.” I ignore it, let it go, move on to more important things. Less than 2% of additives in my tortillas are not going to give me cancer. Worrying about it, fearing it, and standing in the grocery store for two hours might.
I am a big believer that our bodies adjust to where they are supposed to be when we tend to our inner landscape, and I’m not talking about our stomachs. Our deep down inner selves. We are not going to magically love ourselves and feel loved by getting thin or hot or “cleansed and detoxed” or whatever the goal might be. We are not going to fix self-hatred and broken spirits by shoving superfoods (does anyone actually like Goji berries?) and greens down our throats or fasting. It’s not going to happen. That is a backwards equation. We have to love ourselves first and cease restriction and addiction, and then our weight regulates and our beauty shines through. When we love ourselves, we take good care of ourselves, and that probably means putting nice things into our bodies. And then leaving it alone. Moving on. Living.
If you knew me eight years ago, or five, or even three, you would have seen a young woman obsessed with and terrified of food and body. If you had asked me if I thought I would ever be free, I would have said never. Or when I’m skinny, maybe. Not today. I am completely free. And it’s a complete miracle.