The truth is that I wanted to be a glutton. I wanted to be somewhat unbridled and eat without thinking, worrying, or calculating.
I’m not saying it was right, or that it’s OK, but I’m being honest with myself. I don’t do it very often, but I still do it. And what I’ve learned for myself despite my initial shame spiral and horror, is that it doesn’t make my recovering self less strong, or my discipline cracked, or my resolve weak. It makes me human, and if that’s all I get after years of recovery from what used to be the way I thought I’d die, then I’ll take it.
I didn’t entertain true eating disorder recovery for years after being introduced because I thought I’d have to be more perfect (rigid and unbending) than I was already trying to be. I thought that exercise and competition and movement would be taken from me. I thought I’d have to swear off foods that 99% of the time I don’t have a problem eating, and genuinely freaking enjoy. I assumed I’d never be able to enjoy a delicious meal, or experiment with different food. I thought I’d have to give up eating out or give up eating well – both. I thought it was black and white, like the rest of my thinking was and still can be from time to time: you either eat plain chicken and broccoli out of Tupperware OR add some Cheetos and chips to that lunchbox because that is “more balanced”.
As it turns out, I knew nothing about recovery or what it would look like for me. I stress me because I have learned that eating disorder recovery is extremely personal and individual, and what works for me may not work for you, and what works for you, may not work for me either. This extends beyond what you actually eat and how you frame your recovery. Here is what I do know: recovery is constantly changing, breathing, and bending with me, not against me. Recovery is being open to making mistakes and admitting them when they’re made. What’s a “mistake”? A mistake is eating more than I need sometimes. I know what I need because I spent years working with professionals and learning my body to measure that, and measure I do. Every day except when we go out to restaurants or to parties on occasion. A mistake is eating past comfort, which I also do sometimes if it’s really delicious or a bug gets caught up my ass and I forget that I hate being too full or uncomfortable and that the food will be there again tomorrow. A mistake is eating too late in the morning, or not enough, and feeling like I need to make up for it later. A mistake is getting stuck on the scale. A mistake is eating high FODMAP foods when I know they’ll hurt my belly. A mistake is grazing at a house party instead of plating my food. A mistake is helping clean up and nibbling while I do. A mistake is forgetting that food and my body are a part of my everyday life, and that I have the rest of it to continue to learn how to take the best care of myself.
Harm would be binging or purging. Harm would be skipping meals and adding exercise. Harm would be ignoring my body’s need for fuel or rest. Harm would be altering my body in alignment to my very temporary feelings. Harm would be eating dessert as I know these foods don’t work for me, and never have. Harm would be continuing to eat once we got home from a restaurant. I don’t know WHY my inner compulsive eater thinks it’s an excellent idea to eat more food when we get home from being out, but the thoughts are usually there and it takes effort for me to break the cycle by walking upstairs, changing, making tea and not open the pantry. And it passes. But I’d be lying if I said I never had the thought. Harm would also be going on any extreme diets, as I’ve learned any extreme diet is an almost guaranteed recipe for obsession. I’ve worked really fucking hard over the years to eat just about anything (that I can), and to either eliminate or condemn more foods at this point (besides the desserts that I already have and certain high FODMAP foods) would be very harmful and potentially triggering.
How do I combat the fantasies? Wanting more, going on an extreme diet (carnivore, vegan, etc.) or changing my exercise in a way that isn’t in alignment with my competition or training goals? And more so, how do I keep going even when it feels like I’ve fallen short, and I’ve fucked up and I must post somewhere that I did and am not doing this right or that I’m not good enough?
I have an army of support. I let the people around me know what’s going on in my life: mentally, spiritually, emotionally, and physically. Often. I don’t pretend I’m above the thoughts because I know they’re with me wherever I go. I go to meetings, and I am of service to as many other people as I can be (eating disorder related or not). I journal. I pray. I meditate. I eat my foods that I chart out ahead of time and talk to J about what I need for dinner and on the weekends when we go explore cuisine. I stick close to what I know works 99% of the time and am working on leaning into being more flexible and spontaneous when the opportunity presents itself. Sometimes I’m able, and other times I’m not. I’m learning that it’s OK either way.
So, when I make a mistake by eating more than I need at Easter and continue eating while serving and helping clean up, I tell on myself, and I get honest. I admit that I didn’t have a good plan going in and that I didn’t share it with enough people. I come to admit that I didn’t want to follow my plan! Not in totality. I wanted to eat some food and by some, I mean more than I needed. And foods that I know will give me problems later, like lobster mac and cheese. And yes, I paid for it. FODMAP is real for me and so is too much and so is excess ingredients I’m not used to.
My body tells me exactly what I need to know. She signals me when she’s tired, thirsty, hungry, fatigued, or overdue a break. She tells me when it’s time for a fattier meal to replenish and when it’s time to reign it in. Yes, I believe my body tells me the truth. My head which houses my diseased voice does not always tell me the truth and there is a difference. That’s where my army comes in and my Higher Power comes in and where I need to settle into knowing that I don’t always know. And that even though I know my body, I don’t always listen. At least not yet.
So, I ate too much on Sunday, and I ate in a way that I don’t love. What’s different about that today, almost 6 years into what I consider sober from my bulimia, is that I’m still loving on myself with all I’ve got. I’m not shrinking into a corner of shame and condemnation. I’m also not blindly saying “it’s OK!!!!” I am trying to be in the grey. I told the people that need to know, including myself. It prompted me to write, which I have not done in many months because I’ve learned that my writing is vulnerable, and that vulnerability is sacred. I don’t want to share it with everyone anymore, and I am honoring that. I reverted to old behavior instead of letting the meal get served whenever it was meant to be served. I reverted to “I need this now!” instead of “you can have it again another time if you really want it”.
And this, for me, is recovery: being kind, loving, soft, and compassionate – with myself, and then extending that to others. So I can keep going, eating every single day, in a body I am learning to appreciate more than I ever have, for all that she is and for all that she does and for all that we are together. Yep. I fucked up on Sunday. But I did not relapse. I don’t want that word in my vocabulary. To think I won’t ever eat in a way that is less than perfect again for the rest of my life when I must eat multiple times a day, every day, is too tall an order. And I don’t want to set myself up for that. I’d love to envision me always plating my food, declining seconds, steering clear of kitchens full of food, but reality is that so far that is not my reality. At least not yet. And I can’t afford to condemn myself beyond the initial feeling of shame and fear and frustration that I still don’t “have it”. I also don’t want to swear off more foods, or going to events and parties, and being around my family because food is involved. I’ve tried that and it puts me further away, not closer. And today, I want to be closer. So if that means I fuck up sometimes and have to write about it then so be it.
I feel good today and I am ok. My weight is all the way back down and maybe that’s why I feel OK. Or, perhaps I feel OK because I am allowed to feel OK. It’s not about the weight but it’s important for me to benchmark my health in that way, to keep track of reality and not what my head will say which is that I am almost always bigger than I am and that I should probably skip a few meals (only to binge them back later). I don’t want other food. I want the food we have and planned to have. I’m not worried about going out again – we will this weekend and to where I don’t know but I know I can do it and am allowed to do it. My old self had so many rules about what had to happen after a fuck-up: restrict, don’t eat those foods again (until I’ve deemed myself worthy of enjoying taste again aka feel thin again), don’t eat out until further notice, exercise more, drink more water, eliminate salt. Today? I didn’t do anything differently. And my weight stabilized. All by itself. In one day. I don’t have to shrink – I can stay here. I can keep moving ahead. I can keep trying. I can keep practicing. THIS is recovery: practicing, 24/7. Maybe you say I relapsed and took my will back and all but for me, with my heart leading toward my God as I understand Him, I say: I’m still human, and I’m still enough, and that a few hours of eating didn’t undo all that I know. If anything, it reinforced what I already do know and want to better weave into my next time to practice. It brings me closer to myself and to God and to the people around me. And to the ground.
What’s your story with your body, your food, and your recovery? Is it black and white? Is it trusting? Is it fearful? Does it ebb and flow? Do you have permission to trial and error or are you confined? I was confined for a long time because I had to be, and I go back to confinement (eating my own foods and not eating out and packing) when things get hard. Like when Matt died, I confined. When Mike left, I confined. When Bam died, I confined. And slowly I’ve learned to just listen and show up where I am, and I will always be led to where I have to go. I show up in the now and share what that looks like for me. It changes frequently. Sometimes it feels smooth and easy, other times it feels heavy and burdensome and annoying and hard. But with your help, I stay this course and I trust that I will be able to sustainably forever.
Thank you for always supporting me.