Unfortunately, this isn’t about life after finding recovery.
Instead, I want to talk about my shift from one disordered behavior to another.
Eating disorders are complicated beasts and there’s no such thing as a “one size fits all” or even “one size fits two people in exactly the same way.” My eating disorder used to be characterized by obsessive calorie counting, forbidden foods (basically anything that would come to your mind if I said, “unhealthy,” which is a problem for another post), and restricting when I could manage it…all while maintaining a 4.0 in grad school. Now, it’s characterized by overeating and misunderstanding my body’s hunger signals. That doesn’t sound very “recovered,” does it?
People say, “just stop eating when you’re full.” So what, then, do I do when I no longer know what that means for my body? Sometimes, I’ll eat just a few bites of food during the day, but I’ll do it so slowly that I can convince myself that I’m full. Other times, I’ll eat a full meal, have seconds, dessert, second dessert and still find myself, 15 minutes later, searching for hope in the back right corner of my refrigerator.
In the second year of my Master’s program, I regularly met with a dietitian. I was struggling with food choice at the time, so she gave me me a food chart with smileys and short corresponding explanations to help me determine whether or not I was full. In true disordered fashion, I started using this as an excuse to convince myself that I was done eating when in reality I was restricting even more than before. I would use this chart in the opposite way as well- to push myself just a little farther, take in just a few more bites, and convince myself that I wasn’t yet at the “overstuffed” emoji frowning at me from the paper.
By “the other side of recovery,” I mean the overeating. If I don’t stuff myself to the brim with formerly forbidden and “fear” foods, I’m not recovering (or so I think). Rather than get better, I have pushed myself to another way of living where every day is still dedicated to food and the number on the scale. In fact, I don’t even know how much I weigh (I am proud of myself for resisting even when a scale is readily available) and yet I’m still obsessed with that number. That’s because I know how much I used to weigh, I can tell by looking in the mirror (technically that’s not true) that I’m not currently at that weight…you get the idea.
The worst part about this phase of my ED is that I will choose a meal that I know will leave me feeling lethargic, overly full, and just gross over something that will make me feel better- even when I don’t want to. I might crave a vegetable, but my ED is quick to let me know that a recovered person would choose the ice cream. It doesn’t matter if I don’t want ice cream, or if I don’t like ice cream. The disorder makes the decision for me. At least if there were some thrill associated with it, it might be worth it. Instead, it’s a lot more like those anti-smoking commercials for teens where they personify the cigarette as some slimy master with a firm hold over the kid. That’s how it feels- this ED promised me a life protected from the other ED…but it turns out they were the same monster this entire time.
I came to this realization long ago so for those wondering, no, admitting you have a problem isn’t always a forward step. It should be, but for me it sent me into a more depressed state. I just went from one eating disorder to another? Is this my life now? Cycling between diseases I have to convince people that I have?
The thing is, though, that this could very well be a huge leap in the right direction- towards “fully recovered.” I can’t wait to have that in my Twitter bio. That’ll be the first thing I do once I feel I’ve reached freedom from my food fears- tell Twitter.
I can’t tell if I’m joking or not.
So I’m struggling with overeating. That’s okay. And if you’re struggling, that’s okay too.
I don’t want to say “well at least I’m not restricting,” because I don’t want to come off as settling for one disorder over another just because it’s a change. However, change can be good and change can mean progress. Change can also mean that it’s time for a reevaluation. Are there things I’m doing during the day that are increasing my appetite, or is it truly emotionally driven? I don’t know, but this is a great time to find out!
If you are struggling with overeating, binge eating, or overall feelings of emptiness, don’t be afraid to reach out! You’re not alone- you have me at the very least, but trust me, there are plenty of others. We’re not flawed, rather just on our own unique journeys (serious question: why isn’t it “journies”?) to self-love and it is perfectly acceptable to take any route to get there. Since my diagnosis, I have found nothing to be truer than, “recovery is not linear.” Whoever said that deserves a medal.
If you relapse, develop new symptoms, or just plain don’t feel well- forgive yourself and then find help. You’re not the problem. Your disorder is, and your disorder is not your fault and it is not you. More than recognizing the problem, I really believe that self forgiveness is the true first step towards healing.
Let’s breathe together. Ready? 7 breaths in, 11 breaths out. My yoga instructor friend taught me this one and it’s the only breathing exercise that doesn’t annoy me more than it calms me.
Annnnddd out! 11…10…9…8…
You’ve got this. And so do I.