Content Warning: weight-loss (no numbers!), dieting, eating disorder behaviors
The last several months I feel like a part of me has been in hiding with the eating disorder recovery community. What I mean by this is that I haven’t been sharing some of the more vulnerable and challenging aspects of my recovery, and I want that to change.
In February of 2017, I went to my doctor for an annual checkup. I knew that I was still carrying weight-gain from my struggles with binge eating disorder, but I didn’t weigh myself at home, and so I really didn’t know what that number on the scale was going to say. I did a blind weight like I usually do, but for a reason that I currently don’t remember my doctor sent me home with a piece of paper that was a summary of my visit. It had some information on it that I needed, but what I was unaware of when she gave it to me was that near the top of that piece of paper it listed my current weight.
I had never seen that number so high, and it was causing me an immense amount of anxiety. One of my initial reactions was wow, I’ve gotten carried away. I need to change this. I need to get healthier. In hindsight, I realize that this voice was my eating disorder trying to disguise itself as a genuine concern for my health. I knew that with my history focusing on weight-loss would be dangerous. I knew that there was so much more to my worth than that number on a scale. And yet… I couldn’t shake the feeling I want my weight to be lower, so my lifestyle needs to change.
Fast forward a couple of months to May of 2017. At this point, I’d lost some weight and still wasn’t bingeing, but I also felt really lost as to how I could establish positive relationships with food and exercise. I realized that I needed to seek some help and that I couldn’t figure this all out on my own, and so I began working with a wonderful nutritionist & personal trainer named Mallory. Even though I wanted to and felt as though I needed to lose weight, more than anything I wanted to have a better relationship with food and exercise. I kept telling myself that those components were significantly more important than weight loss. I thought that I had good intentions for my recovery, but as the months went by that began to spiral out of control without me even realizing it. If you would like to read more about the early stages of my work with Mallory, I’ve discussed it in this previous blog post – Conquering the Slippery Slope
Fast forward to August 2017. It was time to leave my home in Portland, OR and head off to college in Raleigh, NC. I was excited and completely terrified at the same time. It was, of course, a huge adjustment, and in some ways still is, but I wanted to try and continue to at least maintain my work with Mallory. I had been tracking macros for months, and seeing the number on my bathroom scale continue to go down consistently, but I began to notice a shift in my mentality. I was getting to the point where I was really tired of tracking my food. It reminded me of previous eating disorder behaviors, and I wanted to distance myself from that.
I discussed this with Mallory and we agreed to transition me into intuitive eating (I.E.) Mallory wanted me to read the book Intuitive Eating – A Revolutionary Program That Works, written by Evelyn Tribole & Elyse Resch. I’d heard of this book many times in treatment, and I had been told several times that I should read it. I didn’t prioritize it though, and so I began approaching I.E. as eating whatever I wanted, and as much of it as I wanted to. This is NOT what intuitive eating is, but I didn’t realize that until I really started getting farther into the book in February of 2018. Here is a wonderful article that was published on NEDA’s Blog if you would like to better understand what I.E. really is – What is Intuitive Eating?
As I began to read more and more of this book, I got into the chapters focussing on “how to become an intuitive eater & how to reject the diet mentality.” As I was reading this book describe people’s experiences with coming to terms with their dieting history, and the difficult process it took for them to become an intuitive eater, I suddenly felt as though I was reading about exactly what I was currently experiencing. But how could that be? I hadn’t been dieting for the past 7 months. I was just trying to become healthier. I was just trying to have a better relationship with food and exercise. I was just trying to lose weight naturally. I’m in recovery from an eating disorder, of course, I wouldn’t be dieting.
That’s when I had this major breakthrough. Tears began flooding from my eyes. I couldn’t find the words to describe what I was feeling or thinking. I felt like a fraud. How could I be such an advocate for recovery when I had been dieting these past several months? How could I have been so blindsided to the fact that I was dieting, and not just trying to be healthier? After all, that’s exactly how my eating disorder started many years ago. I’ve been really angry with myself because I feel like I should’ve known better, and I didn’t understand how I’d let this happen.
The following day I discussed this with Mallory. She felt awful because she had really thought that I’d been working on I.E. the last few months. She had no clue I was still dieting and struggling with that mentality to this degree. She also helped me see that this breakthrough might’ve been exactly what I needed to experience. She told me that perhaps getting to the point where I was really angry at diet culture could then allow me to genuinely feel free from it. This could finally help me shift my focus from my weight to my actual relationship with food, movement, and my body.
Does this mean that I’m glad I was dieting these past several months? No. no. no. Not even a little bit. Honestly, a part of me feels like this wasn’t just dieting, but actually, my eating disorder attempting to disguise itself. That’s one of the aspects that hurts and angers me the most, because I’ve worked so incredibly hard all of these years to be free from that demon, and yet I feel like it managed to sneak back into my life.
The challenges I’ve been facing this past month since this realization has been mentally and emotionally draining. I’ve been trying to figure out how to genuinely heal my relationship with food and my body. Those are relationships that I have struggled with since I was a kid, and while I’ve made progress with them, I still have a long ways to go. I still struggle with even admitting that I was dieting up until recently because I had told myself years ago that I would never do that again for the sake of my recovery. I have been experiencing an increase in my anxiety and depression, and while there are other factors influencing that, I know that there is a connection to this process.
Although a part of me feels as though I should apologize to the recovery community, I know that the only person I actually hurt was myself.
I’ve barely discussed this part of my recovery publicly because I felt as though it didn’t align with those values, and I didn’t want to hurt the safety of that community. I felt like I needed to hide this entire process because I didn’t think it was appropriate to share given my history.
Recovery is an exhausting, frustrating, confusing, immensely difficult, and yet incredibly rewarding journey. I am still figuring out how to navigate it, just like so many others. I’m trying immensely hard to be stronger than my eating disorder, but I’m not perfect, and if you’ve ever dealt with an ED you know how manipulative they can be, and how easy it can be to slip back into old habits. I’m honestly doing the best that I can right now. I’m figuring out this process through trial and error because, in reality, that’s recovery.
My recovery has and will continue to have several bumps in the road, some more significant than others. The part that I need to focus on is where to go from here. Even though there is a part of me that just wants to be angry at myself, I know that won’t actually do any good. I know that I need to put that energy into this next phase of my recovery. I can’t change the past, but I can choose how to move forward.
For recovery resources and treatment options, call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 800-931-2237 or click to chat. In crisis situations, text “NEDA” to 741741 to be connected with a trained volunteer from Crisis Text Line.
- Featured image of me by my friend, Ari Alexandrescu
- “And I said to my body…” by NEDA
- “Dear Body…” by Nia, @thefriendineverwanted