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WIAW: Choosing Recovery Over and Over Again

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.

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Tempeh burger on a gluten-free bun with sweet potato fries. Sorry about the blurry picture. I was more concerned about talking to my friends than getting a gorgeous photo, and it was dark.

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.

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Breakfast: gluten-free bagel with pumpkin spice cream cheese from Trader Joe’s

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 still have to make this choice. I have to make this choice over and over and over and over again.dscn2135

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Elevensies–pumpkin granola bar from Running with Spoons, two hard-boiled eggs

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.”

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Post-workout late lunch: gluten-free pasta with more beet pesto. I have so much of that stuff still.

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.

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Snack during class: string cheese

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.

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11 comments

  1. Thanks so much for sharing this with us. Your honesty will not only help yourself as you grow and change, but many others going through similar things!

    1. Joyce says:

      Thank you for the kind words, Heather. That is my hope–I want others going through this to know that they’re not alone.

  2. Emily says:

    Friend, this is SO true; I resonate with this 100%. Life is 110% worth living, and that is what keeps us going every day! I’m so thankful that you see this and that you are choosing recovery over and over!

    1. Joyce says:

      Thank you, Emily! It’s so nice to know we’re not alone.

  3. Cora says:

    Oh Joyce. I just…. sigh. I just want to say things that will make it all go away, but you and I both know I can’t. I can say that I know exactly how you feel and relate to every. single. word. you have just written for us. The exhaustion, the complete and utter “fed up-ness” with having to deal with all this sh*t in our brains, is so real. I’m sick of it, I’m exhausted, and I’m disappointed that I am still struggling.
    But what other choice do we have other than to just keep fighting it, day after day. To keep going out for those damn burgers because they are hella delicious and that’s what other people do and because we deserve health, in body and mind.
    Anytime you want to vent/talk non-blog style – send me an email. mylittletablespoon@hotmail.com

    1. Joyce says:

      Thank you so much for the kind words, Cora. You are so amazing and an inspiration to me precisely in the fact that you do keep on fighting, even when it gets tiring and frustrating.

  4. Evangeline says:

    I’m giving you a virtual hug…right now. Thank you for your honesty. This post is so encouraging for someone like me who is still struggling with recovery. I feel a lot of pressure, mostly from myself, to put on the facade that life is rainbows and sunshine because I’m at a healthy weight now and have a pretty good relationship with food. But, deep down, I know that my heart and mind still have a lot of healing to do.

    “But recovery means committing to something tough.” — So much truth in this. I’ll be thinking about this over the weekend. Thanks for the food for thought. Ha no pun intended šŸ™‚

    1. Joyce says:

      I didn’t know you’d been through an eating disorder, Evangeline. I’m sorry to hear that, and I’m so glad you’re through…well, I want to say “the hardest part,” although this part’s pretty hard too. <3 Good thing we're tough. šŸ™‚

  5. Jessica says:

    I just found your blog via the usual circuitous routes one does on the internet and just had to comment on this one. I have been recovered for 5 years now but the last year has been hard for me. A lot of my old behaviours have been lurking in my brain and it feels like I have been walking a constant tightrope of wanting to fall off and give into anorexic behaviour but also wanting to stay on the rope because I know how horrid the disorder is once it gets its grip.

    This is the first relapse type behaviour or thoughts I have had, after 4 years. So just know that you’re not alone in not being okay 100% of the time. 24/7, 365 days. There is no time limit when a light is flicked and it goes away unfortunately. I know calorie content better than my multiplication tables. It’s sad but it’s hard to shut off knowledge/thoughts as you say.

    I am finally seeing myself objectively after months of denial about relapsing, and all I’d say is take it a day at a time like you did back at the start. Give yourself the grace of making mistakes, of having bad days like you did in this post. We’re not perfect and that’s okay. It may not feel like it, but the fact that you are choosing recovery every time it feels hard, is your victory. That IS recovery.

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