Trigger warning for frank discussion of food issues and eating disorders.
Recently I read an article listing common eating disorder symptoms that tend to linger long after the major issues are conquered. It really struck a nerve. My major lingering personal hurdle? Juice.
I know, right? Juice. Juice is good for you! Juice is delicious! Juice is like water, but better! I think so, too, but even after I convinced myself that eating a whole pizza won’t make me feel better about my life, nor will waiting three days before eating after that “just to see if I can,” I still have a hard time with juice. My standard beverage is about an inch and a half deep of juice in a glass, and the rest seltzer. When I run out of seltzer, I stare long and hard at the juice bottle explaining patiently to the crazypants part of my brain that it is juice, but some things simply refuse to go away.
Eating disorder recovery is special kind of torturous labyrinth. It’s not easy, but people give up cigarettes, people give up alcohol, they give up porn, but you can’t give up eating – trying that is likely what landed you here in the first place, yes? Everyone’s recovery is different, and it’s common while trying to recover from one disorder to slip into a different kind. It’s a difficult thing to do, and what really sucks is that the work never, ever ends.
It’s pretty common knowledge that “you never fully recover” from an ED, but what that entails is of course variable from person to person. My eating disorder was largely symptomatic of my struggles with depression and anxiety, and I tend to downplay it to myself as just a phase of my life and not that big a deal. Unscientific polling of other recovered EDers suggests that this kind of thinking is pretty common. Unscientific hypothesizing on my part suggests that after telling yourself every day that it’s no big deal if you wait another three hours and another three hours to have a bagel is not too far a jump from telling yourself that your painful life experiences are no big deal.
I think one of the most important things that people recovering from eating disorders have to face is this kind of thinking. The kind that says, “No, accomplishing things/doing other people favors/engaging in various avoidance behaviors is more important than taking care of myself.” This is especially challenging if you’re still struggling with depression. Eating mindfully requires energy, and it’s tough to expend energy on yourself when you’ve placed yourself at the bottom of your priority list and life saps what you have before you get there.
It’s also tempting to slip back into disordered patterns when you’re under stress or anxiety, which can be frustrating for both the disordered and rational parts of your brain. I can’t count the number of times a day I have conversations with myself that go, “I have to write a paper later and I don’t have a thesis, so no, I can’t have that free doughnut.”
“That doesn’t make any sense, Crazy Brain.”
“NO ONE CARES WHAT YOU THINK, SANE BRAIN.”
My trick, if I have one, is to listen to both sides. Recognize the signs of the downward spiral from the first, and counter strongly with the second. I make deals with myself, offering a slice of pizza and a cookie as an alternative to a binge on a whole pizza, or suggesting that if I don’t feel comfortable having a doughnut right at that moment that’s fine, but I have to have a real meal after class.
The best step I’ve taken in learning to eat after an eating disorder is to fully acknowledge that these daily battles are a part of my life, something about which I have to be constantly vigilant. (I’m Mad Eye Moody with a hip flask full of seltzer.) As a result, I’ve gotten ever so slightly better at communicating about my food issues with the people in my life so that they can help me take care of myself.
Life still throws curve balls. They’ve started putting the calorie count of just about everything on menu boards, which – while I understand the intent – is extremely obnoxious. However, things have improved steadily over time. I recently reintroduced salad dressings to my diet. Who knew that even iceberg lettuce could taste delicious? All you have to do is dump some delicious stuff on it! This year I’ve started making tuna salad sandwiches with mayo again. Someday, maybe even someday soon, I won’t think twice about a full glass of juice.
(Image via acvphotography Flickr)