Above is a picture I took today of the lunch I had while out to eat with my mum after my weekly appointment with my therapist. I had a spinach and parmesan bagel with lots of veggies, cheese, and cream cheese, as well as a salad with chicken and dressing and a lemon iced tea on the side.
And if you asked me if I liked it, my answer would probably be something like the following: “I don’t like food.”
This is the dilemma I’m currently facing. My eating disorder is winning the battle with this one. “I don’t like food” is another way of saying “I don’t like eating,” which is probably the biggest red flag for my anorexia next to “I’m fat” or some variant of similar self-deprication.
But I picked what I had to eat for a reason, right? Sure, I had to meet certain exchanges, which meant I needed a particular amount of protein, veggies, fats, and such, but that wasn’t the only deciding factor behind what I got, was it?
I picked the lemon iced tea because I knew it had fewer calories than the other options they had to drink. I only put enough of the dressing on my salad to count for one exchange and left the rest in the container. I asked the woman who made me my food if she could only put one slice of cheese on in addition to the cream cheese instead of the two slices she was prepared to put on. And there were tons of veggies everywhere, which is a variant of the “clean eating” fad I got stuck on that quickly warped itself into a destructive and restrictive eating disorder.
Did I like the way it tasted?
There is a teeny part of me, very far and deep down, that has a tiny little voice, that wants to admit I enjoyed what I ate. But then my eating disorder stands up; it’s big and strong and menacing looking, and in a loud, booming voice, it decrees that I should never admit to liking food, because to do such a thing is disgusting and reprehensible. Then the littler voice whispers “Okay,” and retreats back into its corner.
Do I like the way any food tastes?
This is a difficult question. On the one hand, like I just mentioned, there is a very small fraction of me that has the ability to recognize whether or not I like something. It’s the part of me that processes different textures, flavors, and tastes when I eat. It’s the part of me that isn’t a robot when it comes to consuming food.
I don’t want this to be forever.
Like in the post I made where I addressed what it would mean to me to enjoy food, I don’t want to always think of food as something bad and evil. Food is meant to taste good and be pleasurable. It’s meant to be exciting and interesting. Sure, it serves its basic purpose of helping keep you alive, but it’s also to do so much more than that.
A prime example of my negative attitude towards food is my coffee drinking habits. When I was actively really suffering from my eating disorder, I had myself convinced that putting anything in my coffee was dirty and disgusting and fattening. So I managed to train myself to drink it black, and then worked to try and convince myself that I liked it better that way. It took me ages to get past this roadblock in my head and add a little bit of the soymilk that I also have in the mornings with breakfast to the coffee to alleviate some of that bitter taste.
Can I drink black coffee and enjoy it? Yes, as a matter of fact, I can. Can I drink coffee with additives in it and enjoy it more?
This is all rooted in the behavior of restrictive eating. This is me listening to the voice in my head that convinces me that I am stupid and dumb and worthless and gross.
I want to learn how to fight this voice. I want the tiny voice to gain size and strength until it’s able to stand up to the eating disorder voice. I want to conquer the demons in my head. I want to be able to eat things like ice cream and pizza because for god sakes, they’re delicious.
See? I just admitted to liking something. Something “unhealthy,” even. And immediately I wanted to delete that sentence because it felt wrong.
This is something I really need to work on. I need to train myself to like food again. It’ll be like training to run a marathon or something; first I start out with little challenges, and once I’m able to conquer those, I move on to bigger and more difficult things.
This is really the only way to fight an eating disorder. In therapy, it’s referred to as opposite-to-emotion action. I’m not gonna get up on my soap box and explain to you what dialectical behavioral therapy is. I’ll just very briefly sum up what opposite-to-emotion action is, which you’ve probably already guessed because there’s a glaringly obvious hint in the name itself: it’s doing what you don’t want to, what you fear, over and over again, until it loses that negative association. To use an expression that I often say to myself that I picked up during karate, “Fake it til you make it.”
That’s essentially what I’m doing now. I’m taking bites of food, chewing, and swallowing, and pretending it isn’t absolutely killing me inside to be doing such a mundane and ordinary thing. I’m refusing to exercise after eating and acting like I’m not suffering an insane amount of pain and self-hatred for refraining. This is all in an attempt to try and convince my brain, through the phenomenon that is neuroplasticity, that what I’m doing when I eat is actually a good thing. Nourishing my body is not detrimental. It’s the only way to stay alive, as a matter of fact.
Another thing they have us practice a lot when they teach us about DBT is radical acceptance. This involves things like looking at a plate of food or your reflection in the mirror and instead of coming up with a thousand and one things that you dislike or associate negatively with it, choosing to just accept it as it is.
One of the most helpful pieces of advice I’ve ever been given during this whole recovery process is to think of my body as it currently is as a “recovery body”. To visualize it as something that’s sort of under construction, so to speak. To view it as a transition, even though it feels like forever.
Because that’s the nature of eating disorder recovery. The voice inside your head that pushed you to engage in behaviors tries to convince you that giving into what it wants you to do is the only way to avoid the pain, unhappiness, and discomfort that are inherent in recovering. It’s pushing through all the darkness and the hopelessness to find the light on the other side. And this is so incredibly hard to do. If you take anything away from what I write, please let it be that fighting an eating disorder is so ridiculously difficult. It isn’t as simple as “just eating” or “not using behaviors”. It’s doing what feels wrong and horrible, over and over and over again, until it becomes natural.
That’s what I’m working towards right now, anyways. To anyone else in the process of recovery: you can do it! Think of it as your special time to give yourself permission to eat whatever you like. If you feel like eating ice cream, have some ice cream. Chocolate? Go for it. There’s something to be said for following a meal plan, and I’m not saying to just go completely crazy and eat everything in sight, because this is in no way healthier. It’s just another type of eating disorder behavior.
Instead, don’t restrict yourself from eating certain foods or partaking in things that you consider “unhealthy” or “scary” or “bad”. Eat whatever it is that your body tells you it wants. Because this is the healthiest thing to do; your body is a smart machine. Once it learns to trust you again, your hunger cues will normalize, your weight will redistribute, and you can live a life that isn’t ruled by food and thoughts of eating.
That’s what I want. I want my life back.