I had a bit of a wake-up call this week.
In truth, it was a series of events which led to the wake-up call.
First, I went back on my anxiety medication about three weeks ago. As I felt the effects of the medicine start to kick in, I started to have this sort of self-reflective realization. I thought: “Huh. Sometimes I’m ignoring my hunger. I’m sometimes not eating when I’m genuinely hungry because I’ve decided that I’ve had enough for today, enough for now. I also have been finding myself counting calories more often.”
I’ve also been reading a lot of recovery bloggers talk about intuitive eating. Of course, I know it’s not useful to compare what one person eats to what another person eats, but what is a wake-up call is noticing that a lot of recovery bloggers who I really respect and admire have considerably more freedom around food than I do. Not only that, but the freedom with which they eat makes me a little anxious. It’s hard for me to imagine eating that freely and waking up the next day and not feeling the need to restrict or “take it easy.”
I had a DEXA scan on Thursday, which reminded me that I still have osteopenia and am at high risk for developing osteoperosis.
Finally, at the recommendation of the physician who prescribed by anxiety medication, I went to see a dietitian. In our conversation, she thought that there are definitely strengths in the way I eat–for instance, I’m pretty good about eating a wide variety of food–but she was worried that I’m getting into a cycle of perpetually “not quite filling the tank”; of eating, at each meal, just enough to make the hunger go away for a couple hours, not enough to really satisfy me.
I also recognized that I still regularly have symptoms of disordered eating:
- I still have a hard time completely letting go of calorie counting
- I still, after six years, have amenorrhea
- I still have difficulty concentrating
- I still spend a lot of time thinking about food
- Even though the weight that I’m at now is “normal” according to BMI charts and I maintain it pretty easily without restricting, if I’m totally honest, I’ll admit that I was never this thin before I had disordered eating. Not that I need to make a concerted effort to gain weight, but I can’t help but wonder if this isn’t really quite the optimum weight for me.
In other words, I’m really not quite 100% recovered.
This dietitian really believes it’s possible to be 100% recovered: what she calls “Recovered. Period.” Sometimes in the eating disorder community, we’re inclined to say, “Oh, the damage is too permanent. I’ll never be able to completely give up calorie counting. I’ll never be able to completely give up anxiety around eating ‘fear foods.’ I’ll never be able to completely get my fertility back.”
But that’s not true. There are so many bloggers I read (Robyn, Kate, Kylie, Lyss, Cayanne, among many, many others) who have shown that it is 100% possible to be free from anxiety and calorie counting, 100% possible to recover a normal period, 100% possible to learn to eat fully intuitively. Even with IBS.
Emily also posted a great post a week ago about how total recovery is possible. The important thing for me to recognize is that I’m not quite there yet.
So this week, I’ve really been making an effort to eat more intuitively, to let go of fear and anxiety around food, and to listen to my body.
Damn. Monday and Tuesday I was hungry. Like, I ate at least eight or nine times over the course of the day, finishing each meal or snack totally unsatisfied, and 30 minutes to an hour later, going back for more. It almost reminded me of the first couple of days that I started recovery from anorexia two and a half years ago now: overwhelming, constant hunger.
That, to me, is another sign that something’s up. That kind of intense hunger is a sign that I’ve not been fueling enough.
Since Wednesday, I’ve continued to deal with bouts of pretty intense hunger, which I’ve honored as promptly as I could.
I’ve also been reminded of the exact reason why this whole intuitive eating thing is so particularly hard for me.
Yup. Not surprisingly, considering how much I ate on Monday and Tuesday, from Thursday through the weekend, I’ve had the worst IBS flare-up I’ve had in a while. Not as bad as some in the past, but not great, either. Case in point: I got home from campus on Thursday afternoon at about 4 quite hungry. I hadn’t eaten lunch since, well, lunch time, sometime between noon and one. I ate a Greek yogurt and an orange and immediately felt awful, totally bloated, like I’d way overeaten. From one damn Greek yogurt and an orange.
That’s continued on and off throughout the weekend: abnormally high hunger coupled with abnormally high bloating…and other symptoms we need not go into.
That’s the hardest part of this whole thing for me. It’s hard for people to understand that in truth, I don’t think that much about appearance or weight. Of course, I do think about these things–I don’t think there’s many people with disordered eating in contemporary culture don’t–but the thing that really scares me, that really sets me off, is this periodical, intense discomfort. I really have an genuine fear of the bloating coming on and never ending, of never feeling hungry. Ever. And I’ve gone through periods of my life when I almost never did feel hungry, as I’ve written about in the past.
The important thing for me, of course, is that I not blame myself when I have a flare-up. First: it always passes eventually. Second: I was that hungry on Monday and Tuesday. I did need those extra bowls of cereal and crackers and peanuts. My body was telling me so.
The fact that my screwed-up digestive system responded with such anger doesn’t mean I did anything wrong–it just means I have a screwed up damn digestive system. But while it’s easy to type that sitting here on my boyfriend’s couch, feeling pretty comfortable and “normal,” an hour ago when I felt very uncomfortable, like I’d way overeaten breakfast (which I didn’t; I had a bowl of cheesy grits and one egg), I was thinking, “I can’t learn to intuitive eat! Clearly I’m doing this all wrong!”
But I need to heal. I need to get my period back. And above all, I need to be able to live a life in which food is just food, not this thing that constantly weighs on my mind and distracts me from all the important things that really do matter to me: my family, my boyfriend, my friends, reading and writing, teaching, swing dancing, activism.
I can’t quite get to that point until I’m recovered. Period.
Thanks, Meghan, for letting me ramble on for today’s Week in Review. Sorry to be so long-winded. Just my style, I guess.
Do you believe there’s such a thing as “Recovered. Period.”?
Do digestive issues ever make it hard for you to eat intuitively?