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In Part 2 of my Food: Friend or Frenemy? series, I am going to explore my relationship with food. But before I do I need to come clean. This post has taken awhile to write. I’m new to Recovered (four months!). Newly Recovered is a somewhat precarious position. It’s new and unfamiliar. I am feeling all the feelings and doing things I’ve never done before. Putting myself out there in ways I have never done before. Showing up and allowing myself to be seen for who I really am and not who I think other people want me to be. It is fun and exciting but it is also terrifying. Maybe even mostly terrifying.

I want to stay Recovered. And some days I really have to fight for it. The early stages of Recovered are tough. It’s not like the constant torment of being mentally and physically ravaged by an insidious eating disorder. I assure you, that comparatively, where I am now feels like a pleasure cruise verses where I was. But the truth is that being Newly Recovered and fully feeling all of life for the first time can be overwhelming. Add in the unpredictable variables of anxiety and depression, and life can sometimes feel like balancing the middle of a teeter-totter while two little kids throw soccer balls at you.

The last two months have been exhausting and finding the time and emotional strength to write for the blog have been tough (especially because my relationship with food is complicated and full of triggers). In addition, two months ago depression snuck up and engulfed me before I even knew what hit me. My anxiety management tools weren’t as effective and I couldn’t escape the feeling of being trapped underneath a down comforter filled with melancholy infused feathers.

Throughout most of my recovery, anxiety was my constant companion. I encountered depression as well, but anxiety often overshadowed everything. Consequently, my tool box was full of anxiety management tools and low on depression management tools. It took me almost a week to even realize that I was dealing with depression. Plus the depression felt different. When I had an eating disorder, depression felt like that down comforter filled with melancholy but with heaping amounts of hopelessness, unworthiness and crippling self-hatred thrown in as well (ED Ali was likely the source of the hopelessness, unworthiness and crippling self-hatred).

While I felt the heaviness of depression, I was grateful to not have to manage the hopelessness, unworthiness and crippling self-hatred. Still, being in the midst of depression and tackling a big issue like my relationship with food was complicated. I questioned whether I was really Recovered and whether I could ever heal my relationship with food. I also combated quite a bit of guilt and shame. Rather than let it all consume me and potentially lead me into a relapse, I focused on taking care of myself.

I didn’t beat myself up. There were days when all I could do was focus on meeting the needs of the boys. There were days when I snacked all afternoon. There were days I didn’t write at all because I couldn’t deal with what might come out. There were days when I needed an escape so I watched Netflix, listened to a podcast, picked up a book or listened to the Hamilton soundtrack for the hundredth time (btw, I memorized the Hercules Mulligan parts, should that ever become important).

It took me over three weeks to sit down and write this post. Despite my inner critic’s instinct to belittle and punish myself for not doing what “I should” be doing (i.e. writing), I decided to be kind myself. I reminded myself that I am enough just as I am. I am worth the time and effort it takes to stay Recovered. I also reached out and shared what I was experiencing with trusted family and friends, which helped to take a lot of the shame away. And in those moments when I struggled to be kind to myself, my family and friends stepped in.

Taking that time was so important. I am now in a better place physically and emotionally. I am ready to dive into my relationship with food. This may get uncomfortable and take some odd turns, but I know the only way to heal this relationship is to start working through it.

So here it goes …

Food. I hate food. I love food. Food comforts me. Food punishes me. Food nourishes me. Food poisons me. Food relaxes me. Food stresses me. Food makes me feel successful. Food makes me feel like a failure. Food hates me. Food loves me. Despite all the work I have done in recovery, food still has tremendous amount power over me. It pains me to admit it.

That power feels like a remnant of ED Ali. ED Ali used food as a weapon to manipulate and control me. I may have gotten rid of ED Ali, but I still have to deal with her mechanism of control and punishment everyday day. Food.

ED Ali was clever. She knew that even if I eventually got rid of her, I would never be able to get rid of food. Food would serve as a constant reminder of our toxic and abusive relationship. She knew she could use food to taunt me even after she was gone. And how hard it would be for me look past those taunts and move on.

I. Want. To. Move. On. I want to trust food (or myself around food, I’m not sure which it is right now) but I have trouble seeing it as anything other than ED Ali’s weapon of choice or even a potential gateway back to ED Ali.

I started turning to food for comfort as a little kid. I often felt awkward and out-of-place, so I turned to food. It started as young as 7 or 8. Food was my comfort. It grounded me. It made me feel less alone. As I began to suffer the side effects of turning to food for comfort (i.e. weight gain), I started to obsess about how to counteract those side effects. Enter ED Ali.

Food was the gateway to ED Ali. Then food became ED Ali’s weapon against me. I know I have to find a way to get along with food but I am scared that it’s going to lead me back to ED Ali.

Throughout recovery and the early stages of Recovered, I bypassed (or avoided/ignored) this issue by dealing with a bigger issue, letting go of weight loss as a goal. In letting go of weight loss as a goal I gave myself permission to eat. More specifically, I gave myself permission to eat and not feel shame or guilt afterwards. This took a lot of time and energy but I did it. I knew there was a chance I could gain weight but I also knew that if I ate regular meals and snacks there was a high likelihood that I would stop binging, so my weight would probably balance out. And, that’s pretty much what happened. (NOTE: I haven’t weighed myself in well over a year. I know my weight has stabilized because my clothes fit the same way they did last year.)

Except, now that I think about it, I didn’t bypass or avoid my relationship with food during recovery. I just found a way to use food as a weapon against ED Ali. When I let go of weight loss as a goal, I found that if I ate until I was full (or a little over full) she didn’t have much to say. It was only when I felt hungry or my pants started to feel a little looser that she’d chime in:

Those loose pants feel good don’t they? Doesn’t it feel good ride that hunger wave? To have so much control. You want to lose weight don’t you? Be in control. Have more confidence. Feel beautiful. I can do that for you. You just need to listen to me.

But if I stayed full, ED Ali had little to zero interest in what I was doing. It was so much easier to strengthen my healthy self when she stayed quiet. So I used food to stay full all the time. Not satiated, not stuffed, full. Meaning I often ate just a little more necessary. And I eventually got strong enough to ask her to leave. And she left. Even though she’s been gone for over four months I continue to use food to stay full because it feels safe. And I suppose there is a fear that if I stop using food against ED Ali, she’ll start using it against me again.

But she is gone. She’s been gone. It is time to move on and stop living in fear that she might sneak back in. I am stronger now than she ever was. Honestly, I’m not sure if food is a friend or a frenemy or just food. But I do know that food does not have to be a weapon anymore.

In Part 3, I am going to de-weaponize food.

 

 

 

 

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Confession: I Recovered from my eating disorder without ever really examining my relationship with food. I recognize how strange that sounds. However, most of my recovery focused on examining and processing the thoughts and feelings that drove me to use food to numb and punish myself. Then, along with my support team, I developed healthier coping strategies to deal with those thoughts and feelings.

Knowing that I did not have to dive deep into my relationship with food to recover from my eating disorder was comforting. I remember being in group and someone saying that she found hope in the fact that she could recover from her eating disorder by healing her relationship with food rather than addressing all of the emotional baggage that drove her to use food as a coping mechanism. I found hope in the exact opposite (a true testament that hope and recovery can look different for everyone.) I’d rather confront the emotional stuff than take a magnified glass to my relationship with food. Plus I figured if I handled the emotional stuff then the rest (i.e. my relationship with food) would simply fall into place. And to a certain extent, it did.

My relationship with food is better now than it was five years ago or even six months ago. I don’t look at food as either “good” or “bad” and I am not trying to lose weight anymore. However, food and I still have issues and I suppose now is as good a time as any to finish healing our relationship.

That sounds convincing, right? Like I just made a really healthy decision to dive into an issue as soon as it came up. Yeah, that’s not exactly what happened. This issue with food popped up about a week and a half ago when I read the next writing assignment in 8 Keys to Recovery from an Eating Disorder. The task was to compare my relationship with food to my relationship with people. My initial reaction was anger. “How dare they put a food related question in the “It’s Not About the Food” chapter!” Then I dismissed it, “I’m Recovered, so I don’t need to address my relationship with food. I’m already fixed.” (No, denial here…). Then I started feeling guilty because I committed to at least drawing inspiration from every writing assignment in the book.

So, with anxiety and dread, I started thinking about my relationship with food. I got as far as identifying trust as an issue when my anxiety flared up, along with some uncomfortable feelings.  So, when I wasn’t spending time with the boys, I turned to every avoidance tactic in my arsenal. Netflix, podcasts, scroll therapy (ie. social media), books, going to bed early, snacking, working out.

Until last Friday around 4:00 pm. The boys and I were in the car headed home after school. I was tired and in full “uncomfortable feelings and anxiety avoidance” mode. As the boys argued in the backseat about who was or was not touching who, I started to think about what avoidance tactic I was going to use after the boys went to bed that night (Steve was out-of-town). And there it was…an eating disorder thought. For a second, the thought didn’t seem odd or out-of-place. For a second, it belonged. Then, as quickly as the thought arrived, it was gone. Destroyed. My defenses against ED Ali and ED thoughts are heavily fortified so any ED thought that enters my consciousness is systematically neutralized with relative ease.

But I haven’t had an eating disorder thought in months, so this got my attention. I couldn’t ignore the, now flaming, red flag in front of me.  Recovery taught me that the only way out is through, so it was time to stop avoiding and start working through my relationship with food.

I started by talking with friends, family and Liz (my amazing therapist) and being open about what I was feeling (and trying to avoid feeling). It was helpful to share and hear things like “me too” and “I am so glad you told me” and “no, you’re not crazy.” I also started writing, which was incredibly helpful because I was able to start processing my feelings and see where they were coming from. Processing this issue led to a couple of breakthroughs so I am going to break this down in a couple separate posts.

My next post will dive into my relationship with food. The following post will focus on some of the surprising body image issues I uncovered while processing my relationship with food. The last post in this series will address the action steps I’ve taken to heal my relationship with food and move forward.