Before Eating Was Fun
Eating disorder is an obscure term. Like sexuality, it is given stereotypes in society with few exceptions. But those of us who have been through the recovery process know that eating disorders are much more complicated. They have endless forms and questionable timelines. Often there are thoughts you believed were long gone but are still inexplicably attached to certain foods or activities. They force you to know yourself so well that you can prevent your mind from spinning its tricks out of control.
I developed an uncontrollable habit of wanting to change my body. It began in the confides of a box bedroom where I would restrict my taste buds and then would surrender and overcompensate for my initial punishment. It resulted in an even greater punishment of discomfort, followed by a morning of regret and more restriction. It changed shape over time, despite seeing both extreme or nonexistent changes in my body.
If I am being truthful with myself, my negative behaviors began earlier. Menial comments and learned behaviors accumulate exponentially, often unnoticed until you glance back. Like hiding chocolate bar wrappers in my bedframe to avoid my parents’ wrath over late-night treats. Or skipping lunch to save up for a big dinner party.
Little by little, restriction becomes a tool of control. It happens so slowly that you convince yourself it is okay. Then one day, you cannot understand your life without it. I saw the change as a new superpower, a means for perfection, an addiction that I probably did a worse job hiding than the wrappers that my parents likely found. It was an addiction filled with shame, as all are, forcing me to uphold my smiley face and personal drive, despite being consumed with thoughts of food, exercise, guilt, and unrealistic planning.
I became unable to separate fuel from numbers. Calories turned into currency in my brain. I would only spend what I had earned that day. Eyeing the colored rings on the device glued to my wrist, I would recalculate in my brain. You would assume that paying attention to your brain would lead you in the right direction, but listening to your body is often safer. The mind plays tricks. Not being able to trust it is the worst feeling.
Mine continuously tries to outsmart my body, re-walking through my day to make decisions that my body would define as simple. “If only’s” and guilt accumulate, carrying over from hour to day to week to month. I slowly became unable to look into mirror without seeing something that I wanted to change. I slowly became unable to move my body without seeing it as a means to an end. I saw food as nothing other than a reward, one that I often took advantage of when I didn’t deserve it. I became addicted to the adrenaline high of restricting and rewarding until it was a cycle that was so much harder to get out of than it was to get into. But at some point, the adrenaline is not enough and reality stares you down. Some sacrifices are not worth it and it is no longer okay.
At first, I searched for easy ways out. That made me fill the void with other unhealthy serotonin boosters. I didn’t initially understand that my recovery time would take much longer than the time it took me to develop my addiction. Life with an eating disorder feels like a long hike. Even after you reach the top and make your way down, you still have to go back over the hills that you took to get you there, just in a different direction.
I was alone in my head and unknown in my mirror. Little by little, I learned that I had to challenge my thinking and my habits. I stopped refusing foods that I knew I loved but convinced myself I didn’t for so long. I stopped holding secrets, because then I could hold myself accountable. I took baby steps instead of planning ahead, something I used to very much prefer.
I still sometimes don’t know what I look like in the mirror, but I no longer see it as something that I need to change. Yet, there are still good days and bad days. It is an unending cycle that I’ve learned how to manage. I still get suck in my head and anxious when there is no consistency around me, but then I remember the lack of routine is worth the memories. The scale hasn’t changed at all, even when I feel like I am in a different body.
I have to train my brain daily. I have to work three times as hard to challenge the negative thoughts that I tricked myself into believing in the first place. I actively work to not cover up my previous addiction with a new one. I remind myself that a body does not change overnight or even in one week.
I get to exercise because it makes me feel strong, physically and mentally. It now makes me feel present, tied to the ground around me. Food makes me happy and is laced with valuable memories. Not thinking about consequences and numbers frees brain space and allows me to be present in the moment. It forces me to sit in my current body and current emotions, which is not easy, but has made my mind stronger. I get to be more spontaneous in every aspect of my life and know that younger me would be so proud.