When my eating disorder started, my food restriction was easy. I had no problem cutting things out of my diet or making the number on the scale go down. It wasn’t until after I started “recovery” the first time that I started to feel panicked around food. In the beginning, bingeing wasn’t an issue. I didn’t have any trouble following my food rules, and there was consequently no guilt about eating cookies–because I wasn’t eating the cookies. But once I started working with a dietitian and eating more, all of that changed.
1. It’s easy until it isn’t.
I think it was once my body sort of “remembered” what proper nourishment felt like that it started stirring up the primal overdrive to eat. In that initial “recovery” period, I was eating more food, but I still had strict rules about what and when. I don’t think the dietitian I was seeing was very well trained in eating disorders, as we never talked much about food freedom, or eating desserts or anything like that. At least, I don’t remember. But frankly, even if she had, I would’ve tuned her out–I wasn’t ready to recover.
As I started slipping back into my old ways, my body started fighting back–something I hadn’t experienced when my disordered eating first started. I was finding it hard to stop eating, hard to resist my forbidden foods, and extremely stressful to try to figure out what to eat. All of that was on top of the fact that gaining weight sent me into a body image disaster. Even though I might’ve seemed like I was getting healthier, my eating disorder was actually worsening. I became more rigid about my rules, my urges to eat forbidden foods became more intense, and then the bingeing started.
2. Guilt feels the worst, worst, worst…
With the bingeing came those overwhelming feelings of guilt. I felt like a failure for not being able to follow my food rules, for giving in to my hunger, and for having cravings in the first place. I think what intensified these feelings was the fact that they previously had not been a problem for me. Everything felt fine, until it wasn’t anymore.
The food guilt was what made my disordered eating feel miserable. It did not feel miserable when I was successfully losing weight, and wasn’t all that hungry. But that’s how it always goes–dieting seems to work…at first. Losing weight is easy the first time. But our bodies weren’t designed to be treated like that, and they don’t tolerate it for very long. The beginning of each relapse felt wonderful. Dieting wasn’t the miserable part. Dealing with the diet rebound is what sent me down into such a dark place that I either needed to give it all up and really recover, or quit life. Obviously, I chose the first one. Thank God.
Anyway, the point of this post isn’t about making the choice to recover. It’s about what comes next–when you want to recover, but are still struggling with feelings of guilt around food, and it feels like that phase is never going to end. But it does end.
3. The guilt eventually WILL go away
Being at the bottom of that pit was a pivotal point for me. Making the decision to choose life was like the beginning of a really dramatic positive change in the trajectory of my existence. I went from being completely overwhelmed and feeling so stuck, to being able to say “screw body image and the scale” and just start eating again. I 100% attribute that piece of strength to the grace of God, because that change in me was akin to a real-life miracle. Scratch that…it was a miracle. I don’t think humans themselves have the strength to do things like that on their own. But I digress.
So I started eating, I reconciled with food, I stopped feeling out-of-control around dessert, and even though I wasn’t thrilled about the appearance of my body, I’d resigned myself into a reluctant sort of acceptance. All of that was really good, and the best part was that I finally stopped being obsessed with food. You know, absence makes the heart grow fonder…and when certain types or amounts of food are no longer an absence in your life, they lose their appeal. For me, that was a huge relief–I hated thinking about food, and the fact that I finally had the brain space to think about other things was blissful freedom.
4. Reconciling with hunger
But I came to value that sense of absentmindedness just a little too much. There were still parts of me that felt drawn to the idea of not eating. Breaking free from binges satisfied both me and my eating disorder, but my diet brain told me that I shouldn’t be eating at all. I didn’t feel guilty for eating, per se, but I reached a point where I felt frustrated by hunger. Hunger distracted me from my blissful bubble of non-food thoughts. Hunger meant I had to sit down and spend time doing the thing my eating disorder preferred I didn’t (eat). My feelings of guilt for eating were gone, but they morphed into feelings of frustration when I needed to eat again, especially if that need to eat came sooner than what I was used to.
5. Eating as self-care
Now that I’m recovered (the real kind), I still sometimes feel frustrated with hunger. Lingering feelings of uneasiness still come up from time to time, but mostly I just get annoyed by the inconvenience of it. I tend to get pretty severe symptoms of low blood sugar (like, my brain completely shuts off) if I go too long without eating which, for me, is more than about 3 hours. I’m not always in a position to easily fit in a snack, and I sometimes feel funny eating when other people aren’t. In fact, sometimes my family is a little surprised by how frequently I actually need to eat. But I do my best to be intentional about taking care of my body. I have unique and individual needs, and just because those don’t match up perfectly with the schedule of my friends and family doesn’t mean it’s not important. After all, I’m no fun to be around when I’m hungry.
If I think back to my teenage self, when the bingeing first started, or back to my almost-twenty-self, when I was at the point of total despair, I don’t think I would’ve believed that I’d ever have gotten to this place. If you can relate to that feeling, I hope my story gives you hope, because I’ve been to hell and back again, survived to tell the tale, and reached a point in life where I truly feel like I’m thriving. You can get there, too.
[If you’re struggling in your relationship with food, I’d love to help you. I’ve coached countless other women through the same process I used to learn to eat intuitively and heal body image struggles. Learn more about my intuitive eating services here.]