Today I had a sassy What I Ate Wednesday post planned to shut down some diet bullshit.
But now that I’m actually getting around to writing it, that kind of post would not be true to the way I’m feeling right now.
Which is to say: scared. Overwhelmed, anxious, and simultaneously disappointed for letting myself feel this way.
So this post is going to be a bit rambly and unplanned, but bare with me.
Why am I anxious? No profound, complex reason. I just ate a lot. I went out with friends for a tempeh burger and fries after class (two for one tempeh burgers at Avogadro’s Number on Tuesdays!), and the whole time we hung out, I acted normal, acted casual. Acted like I wasn’t upset that, even though I reminded myself not to be anxious ordering it because I didn’t have to eat the whole thing if I wasn’t hungry, I ended up eating the whole thing. I was pretty hungry, probably because I’d had a tough workout that afternoon, but it still freaked me out.
On the bus ride home, however, I was hit with this wave of mixed emotions. I felt totally freaked out. I felt pretty full–not as much as I sometimes do with IBS, but definitely not great. And I’ve been counting calories long enough to know I’d eaten more than I normally do. (Subconscious calorie counting is the bane of my existence. Actions may be something you can control, but thoughts are much more difficult.) So that was one set of emotions.
And then there was the other set of emotions. The “I’m so effing sick of feeling this way” exhaustion. The “why can’t I be the champion who inspires my blog readers?” disappointment. The “I thought I chose recovery a long time ago and I’m done now” frustration.
Because I did choose recovery–almost exactly two years ago today. I remember the exact day. It was a September 30, and I chose to get up in the middle of the night and eat a cookie–a single cookie–in the hopes it might help me sleep. I hadn’t been sleeping hardly at all, and it finally occurred to me, for the first time in months, that it could be because I was hungry. I got up the next day and ate every few hours, and the next day, and the next day, and the next day…often having to get up multiple times in the night to put food in me. I made a full, 180 shift in my approach to eating; from 600 to 800 calories a day with 5 hours a week or more of intense exercise to 2200 calories a day and no exercise.
But that decision was just one decision. And though at the time it felt radical, I now know that it was not.
I would later have to get through weight restoration and up my calories well over 2000. And then–and this is perhaps the hardest part–I had to try to let go of calorie counting or restriction or weighing myself entirely and let myself eat freely, according to my body’s intuitive hunger and fullness signals. And also sometimes just for fun.
I’ve had people tell me that it’ll get easier the longer I continue to choose recovery. I’ve had people suggest that there will come a day when I’ll notice that I somehow magically didn’t think about calories all day, that the anxiety will fade away and I won’t even notice that it’s gone.
And maybe that’s true. I don’t know.
What I do know is that it’s still really really hard. I know I ate a lot, and I can’t help shaking the feeling that it was “too much.”
I think it’s especially hard to shake eating disorder thoughts in a world where we have such unrealistic ideas about how much people need to eat. In some ways, when I was sick, it was easier to eat freely because people would look at me and say, “Oh, good, you’re eating. Obviously you’re underweight, so that’s good.” But when you’re “normal weight,” people start saying shit like, “Well, I think some anxiety about food and weight is maybe a good thing. I mean, you wouldn’t want to go too far in the opposite direction.”
Newsflash: for someone with a history of disordered eating, that kind of talk translates directly into my brain as, “I should never eat an entire burger and fries (tempeh or otherwise) because I’ll clearly end up fat and lazy and dead.”
Although, in truth, while I do get this kind of “helpful advice” from other people in my life, it mostly comes from myself. It’s usually me saying silently to myself, “Careful not to go too far.”
Over and over and over again, I have to choose to shut that voice down. And it’s frustrating, and exhausting, and it really wears me down. It’s like fighting a war against insurgents who keep coming back and coming back and coming back; I know I won’t surrender, I can’t surrender, but there’s no guarantee of triumph, either–not tomorrow, not next year, not ever.
I’d love to be the kind of blogger who’s come through disordered eating happy and free, who can say, sure, there were some hard times, but how wonderful life is once you’re out the other side. But I can’t be that blogger.
Without a shadow of a doubt, recovery is worth it a million times over continuing to live in the eating disorder. But recovery means committing to something tough, something that will put you at odds with the world, sometimes even with the people you most love. And doesn’t get easy right away. Some accounts I’ve read even suggest that it doesn’t get easy ever.
But you have to keep fighting.