Eating Disorder Recovery, Eating Habits, And Shame.
by Erin Honor
I can already tell that this is going to tough for me to write.. It’s funny, I am a very open person. I have reached a point in life that I do not care who knows about the darker parts of my life. I do not mind putting details of my struggles with mental illness online. I do not care that people know that I am “crazy” or “a head case” anymore. That being said, there is one aspect of my life (or lack thereof) that I feel so deeply ashamed of.
The way that I eat.
I have an eating disorder. This is no secret to any of the people in my life. Do most of them think that I am mostly better now? Yes. I am at a “healthy weight.” I run. I “eat healthy.” People constantly comment on my “self-discipline,” my “fitness,” my “knowledge” when it comes to eating right and losing weight.
Honestly, these ideas that people have about me, my health, and my diet are pretty far from the truth. I have a twisted and, in my honest opinion, gross relationship with food that just seems to worsen as time goes on. At this point in time, I feel that my relationship with food has never been worse than it is now. I have been 68 pounds and eating 150 calories at day, but I still had a better and more normalized relationship with food and eating than I do currently.
And I am so ashamed of that.
I don’t talk much about the way that I eat. I don’t eat around people, I don’t go out to eat, and I try my hardest to make sure that no one is aware of when and how often I eat. I feel so lost and out of control and scared and disgusting and I truly have not even the slightest idea of how to get out of this. I listen to recovery podcasts, read inspirational books about recovery, read recovery blogs, go to therapy, plan out meals…. But I still find myself practicing the same shameful (in my opinion) eating habits each and every day.
I hate my body. I hate the way that I eat. I hate the way that I feel about food. I hate being like this. Something that no one tells you about eating disorder recovery is that it is so much harder to be in recovery than it is to be in the depths of an eating disorder. When you are completely consumed by an eating disorder, it all feels very safe. You have this fake sense of being in control. I’m not saying any of this is good, not at all. My anorexia almost took my life, but at least I didn’t feel like I do right now. When I was dying I felt nothing, now I feel everything.
It is all too much.
I can’t tell you exactly when my eating habits morphed into what they are now. The best I can do is trace it back to New Year’s Eve 2011. I had been hospitalized at 68 pounds on March 25, 2011, the day after my 16th birthday. I had spent two weeks in the hospital and released, at the same time, my dad had been hospitalized, diagnosed with brain cancer, and died on April 14th 2011. I had dropped out of going to the doctors at the hospital after having multiple panic attacks over not having gained enough weight to be allowed to exercise again, I had also stopped going to therapy after my therapist blamed my mom’s thinness for my eating disorder. I had tried out for my high school’s cross country team in an effort to lose weight. I had made the team and had, unexpectedly, fallen in love with running. I was still 10 pounds underweight and was still restricting my intake to 700 calories a day, but I had found something that made me feel again. I loved running and that was changing everything.
Then I gained weight.
I don’t know exactly what happened. The last time I remember “being thin” was on New Year’s Eve 2011. I don’t know the significance of that date or why I feel like that day was the day that everything changed. But I feel like something shifted and snapped on that day. Two weeks later, without increasing my calories whatsoever, I was up 20 pounds.
I lost it.
Gaining weight is always hard, but I imagine that weight gain is easier to deal with when you are aware of the reasoning behind the weight gain. You overeat and you gain weight. Simple. But what about when you are eating a third of what you are supposed to be eating, running over 30 miles a week and shoot up 20 pounds in 2 weeks? What to do you do when your weight shoots up and you cannot just cut calories and lose it? I felt so out of control. I felt like my body was rebelling against me. I spent my whole life fighting against the body that I so desperately hated and now it was finally fighting back.
My eating habits became stranger and stranger. I began to fear eating actual meals apart from breakfast. Having not had a hunger cue in years, intuitive eating was not and never had been an option. I ate bites of food while standing up. I began to fear eating anything in entirety. I would eat only the crusts off of a slice of bread and discard the rest. I would cut a sweet potato into 10 pieces and only eat one, or I would just eat the skin of the sweet potato and leave the rest. I would bake healthy banana bread and cut paper thin slivers off of the edges of each piece and eat only those. It would take me over a week to finish a single protein bar because I would cut it into centimeter thick slices and eat only those.
Today, I still have those eating habits. It has been over 3 years and I am still in that same place that I was back then. My weight is “healthy,” I am “fit,” I eat, “healthy.” So tell me, why do I hate myself this much? Why can I not bring myself to sit down for a normal sized meal, yet I can spend over an hour cutting bits off of a protein bar and eating those? I guarantee you that I eat more calories by eating in my strange ways that I do than I would if I sat down and ate normal healthy meals. I so wish that I could wake up in the morning, run, and then sit down to a beautiful smoothie, bowl of oatmeal, or scramble. I wish that I could cook up beautiful bowls of vegetables and grains. But I can’t, and I am so ashamed.
I have a lot of knowledge about nutrition, I really do. I spend hours every day listening to health podcasts, reading books and blogs, and doing as much research as I can on all types of eating from paleo to raw veganism and everything in between. I love healthy food and love the idea of living a healthy life style. Yet I still find myself in the kitchen in the morning dipping the crusts of a piece of Ezekial Bread into peanut butter and jam. I still find myself hiding food. I still find myself grazing and then not eating meals because I have eaten more for breakfast than I would have liked to for the entire day. I feel soft and flabby and fat and disgusting. I feel like I am eating constantly and I am so ashamed. I go to bed each night in searing pain because I do not seem to properly digest anything that I eat and I spend most of the time being in pain but eating anyway.
I would in no way classify my way of eating as binging. I do not eat large quantities of food. I do not eat until I feel physically sick. I do not eat quickly and uncontrollably. I do not eat because I am feeling sad. I just spend hours picking at things and it makes me feel disgusting and I am so ashamed of the fact that I eat in such a bizarre way. I hate the looks I get when I am caught in the ritualistic act of slicing up a protein bar into paper thin slices. None of this is normal and I feel so disgusting and out of control and I just do not know what to do about it.
There is a sad part of recovery where you gain weight and people stop caring. When you are visibly wasting away, you are babied in a way. It is all very dramatic. “You’re going to die,” they tell you. “Please eat,” they please. You are seen as fragile and sick and in need of love. You are applauded when you tearfully succeed in eating a “fear food.” You feel loved. But when you are at a normal weight, suddenly it is all very different. When you are crying because you physically can’t get yourself to bring a spoonful of frozen yogurt to your mouth, you receive a look of complete disgust. When you are panicking because you are so fat and cannot be seen, you are yelled at and told to shut up. You are still very sick. You are still very fragile. You still desperately need to be loved. It just doesn’t seem to matter anymore one you can no longer see your bones.
I hate admitting to things still being this bad. I hate admitting to being “weak” in regards to having a “control” over food. I know that these thoughts and feeling are disordered, but I do not know what to do with them. I do not know how to break the cycle of disordered eating. This has been going on for so long and it seems that no matter what I do, I wind up in the same place. I cannot live like this forever. I can’t. I’m scared and I don’t know what to do anymore.