I have been binge/purge free for 4 months on the 9th. I’ve had to tackle it from multiple levels. The only thing that has worked for me is not trying to regulate what I eat and trying my damnedest not to get caught up in what is ‘healthy’ and what is ‘unhealthy’. I eat what I want, make sure I get enough, and stop when I’m full. This was NOT easy initially and I still have moments of panic and insecurity. I know I’ve lost a bunch of weight but I still weigh X pounds. I’m fat. (I claim that title intentionally.) So, there is the body dysmorphia and fat phobia to be addressed. I radically oppose myself against anything that has anything to do with dieting, other people’s opinions about what a ‘healthy’ weight is and what a female (or any, for that matter) ‘should’ look like, and educating myself about what other fat women are doing in the world, what kinds of cool and inspiring things they’re doing. I have even begun to buy sexy clothes for myself, and wear them out in public, and try really hard not to give a shit what I think other people are thinking of me or how I think they are looking at me.
My truth: I have struggled with negative body image, self-esteem, food dependence and disordered eating from at least the age of 10. I’m now 34. That’s 24 years. I am tired of living that life. And I am tired of seeing how many people struggle from this. It’s a form of oppression, and it’s perpetrated by diet companies, so-called healthcare professionals, beauty companies, plastic surgeons, and yes, even junk food, fast food and convenience-store conglomerates.
Everything in this world is designed for us to fail. Because it’s the only way to keep us in line, to make sure we don’t stand up and live our lives and try to change the way things are, whether it’s just in our own households or in the world at large. And everyone (or mostly everyone) has been brainwashed to think this way, which is why you will hear all kinds of well-meaning friends and family members tell a person in eating disorder recovery, You’re doing so well! Look at how much weight you’ve lost!, or, Are you sure this is working? You’re only getting bigger.
It’s a long, long road. I have been out about my eating disorder pretty much since I got sober, 7 years ago, and realized it wasn’t my only problem. Not even close. Because as soon as I left the treatment center my eating disorder raged into action and I’ve been struggling with it again ever since. Until February of this year. I’d been attending a GREAT eating disorder clinic that has groups on all kinds of topics but basically takes a stance of reforming people’s views about weight, health and their bodies, and focusing more on self-development, self-nurturing, self-compassion, and building a toolkit to aid in the other, more difficult parts of recovery, like facing past issues and facing the emptiness inside, how we feel about our bodies, how we feel about the lives we’ve wasted to our eating disorders, whatever our stuff is that we need to really look at and work on. Anyway I was in the middle of a binge, and I had this thought – certainly not the first time I’d had it – this sudden, depressing, overwhelming, panicky thought, ‘This is never gonna change. I will never be able to get enough. I will never be able to stop.’ And then, for some reason I still cannot explain, a total calm came over me, and another thought followed it: ‘I have to be willing to give up everything. If nothing changes, nothing changes.’ It was something that was told to me in my early recovery. And it has stayed with me ever since.
I’d already been in the eating disorder program almost 7 months. I was feeling utterly hopeless. I’d battled most of my life with this illness. In fact, up until about a year before that point I’d enjoyed over 2 years purge free (certainly not binge free, but definitely purge free). And I just spiralled down again. But then here was this thought.
I started planning my recovery again. I had a meal plan. I started going to Overeaters Anonymous, even though I was reluctant. I had tried it 3 times and found it lacking. But I knew there were lots of people there who knew what it was like to suffer like I had and were all trying to get better, and that I could learn from them possibly, but at the very least I’d be around people who got it, and that’s what I needed. At the same time I finally got into an eating disorder-specializing psychiatrist who did one on ones and also ran therapy groups for people wanting to recover. I started going to those. And I had my groups at the eating disorder clinic.
I decided I was gonna start April 1. So I’m getting ready. I’m planning meals. I’m still binging and purging and feeling like crap, starting to lose my confidence. And the meal plan is freaking me out. I can’t eat anything tasty? I have to omit pretty much everything under the sun? Wtf is the point?
April 1 hits. I panic. I have a meltdown. My behaviors are worse than ever. I can’t stop. My anxiety is through the roof, so my other mental health issues are totally triggered. I fear hospitalization. And then people start telling me: ‘Start off slow. Only do what you can.’
For some reason that really got to me. My whole life it’s been, Black or white, one or the other, I can’t do grey. Too ambiguous. I need results. I need answers.
It started from there. I promised myself a balanced breakfast: as many food groups as I could manage into that one meal. My eating was crazy the whole rest of the day. I felt like recovery was a sham. I wanted to give up, once again. I wanted to die, once again. And then one day I took a proper lunch to my therapy group (it ended at 12:15) and I had two balanced meals that day, and followed it up with a proper dinner, and then it kind of gelled from there. (I would like to assert here that by ‘proper’ I mean that I ate something with multiple food groups, ate when I was hungry, ate enough, and stopped when I was full.)
That was the 9th of April. In that time I started off restricting a few things that really triggered me. There are still a couple of things I will avoid, because they have caused me so much trouble in the past, but I have promised myself that I will eat them if I really really want to because the one thing above all else that will cause me to relapse is making something forbidden, restricting. And the other thing that will cause me to stay there is shame over not being strong enough.
There were a couple other things I did. I made a deal to myself – before I even stopped binging & purging – that no matter what I did in a day, I was still in recovery. Even if I purged. I was still in recovery, because I was taking action. I was working on breakfast. I was educating myself, showing up to appointments, and I wanted to get better. Wanted it more than anything in the world. I had been open – and openly struggling – with my eating disorder for years, people had been able to see that secret part of me I’d tried to keep hidden for so long, and I’d felt like such a failure through all my openness and honesty. But now I started giving myself permission to not have to be ashamed, to not have to feel like a failure. I gave myself permission to include my failures in my recovery, because really, the only failure is not trying at all. Wanting it – even just wanting it, knowing that there’s a problem, and wanting a change – is success in my eyes.
I can’t say I’ll be able to take it gracefully if I slip. I hope I’ll be able to honor the promise to myself. Right now my partner and I are celebrating my monthly milestones, although it kind of contradicts the idea of being in recovery no matter what. I just hope that I will keep going. I hope that this foundation I’m building for myself will stay strong in the face of adversity.
It helps me that I don’t hang out with people that discuss their weight like it’s the enemy, some kind of disease. In fact they don’t really discuss it at all, except for some of my other friends with eating disorders, and then it’s in the context of how it affects their eating disordered thinking. It helps to read as much as I can about fat positivity, striking out against fat phobia, what fat phobia is and how it manifests, and the truth about health. It helps to hang out in circles where weight is nothing but a bit of information about a person that does not define how ‘good’ or ‘bad’ they are. As my mentor has said, ‘The number on the scale only tells you about your relationship to gravity.’
I’m not attempting to suggest that any of this has been easy. In fact, in a way, the longer I’m clean the harder it gets. Not in the way of, I want to binge and purge and I can’t control it. I want to stay clean. I want to live a good life. But the stuff that I’ve always eaten to get rid of, the stuff I’ve always controlled food to not deal with is right front and center now. And it’s funny how I thought that a lot of this stuff was happening because of eating disorder but I now know that if anything I used my eating disorder to deal with it. Although I do in a way believe that eating disorders can be an addiction of its own.
In the last four months I’ve surprised myself. Rather than getting stricter and stricter about what I’m doing, I’ve gotten looser and looser. The results are surprising. I have more or less stopped going to Overeaters Anonymous. It was really helping me the first couple months, I got a great sponsor and was hearing amazing things at meetings. And then it stopped working. I panicked; I doubted; I thought it was me. But I realized that the reason it didn’t work is because I don’t agree with the philosophy, quite simply. And that’s okay. I dropped the eating disorder psychiatrist. She tried to help me. And I really liked the people in the group. But all they ever talked about was ‘physical recovery’ (read: weight loss). I couldn’t take it anymore. The one day I brought up fat acceptance there was almost a riot. After my last one-on-one, when I updated her on all the fantastic things happening in my life and how great I felt, she basically sidestepped it and told me that although I need to eat more because I’m bigger now, I will at some point need to focus on ‘portion control’ and tried once again to redirect me to weight watchers because, in her opinion, ‘That’s how real people eat.’
No. Real people, in a healthy world, do not obsess over every single bite. They do not tally, score, and punish. They do not meet weekly for weigh-ins that are conducted in public settings. They do not torture themselves into something that may or may never happen for them.
Anyway, I was really triggered after I left and ended up spiralling right back into wanting to restrict again, wanting to lose a ton of weight and just focus on that and to hell with fat acceptance and loving myself and all that new age crap. My partner wanted to go in there and kick her ass.
What I did was just feel my anger, stay on track, honor my body, and call her the next day and fire her. I let her know that while I would miss everyone in the group and that I appreciated the opportunity, I felt that her goals and my goals didn’t mesh and that my recovery was not being supported.
I eat pretty much whatever I want. I even occasionally snack, and even chocolate and stuff. When I want it. When stuff like that comes up I ask myself why it is that I want it, and if I can live without it. When I’m hungry I eat. Mostly. Sometimes I push it, and starve myself a bit. It’s a work in progress. Sometimes I overeat a little on something tasty. That’s the hardest part for me. I automatically want to purge. But I always try to remember, I only have to do one meal at a time.
I can’t tell you how to stop. Anyone reading this knows at least that it’s never as simple as just stopping. If it was we wouldn’t do it in the first place. I am making a conscious decision to go against the grain of what I’ve always been taught about health, beauty, femininity, and my body. It’s MY BODY. Nobody else’s. I’m tired of giving my power away.
These are the things that work for me. If I could say anything to anyone reading this, it would be, HONOR YOURSELF. You are your own authority, for real. It’s not just a bunch of crap from a self-help book written by someone who’s never had a problem with anything in their lives. It’s from someone who’s struggled with everything under the sun: physical illness, mental illness, addiction, adoption and eating disorders. And someone who can actually claim to be fat in a fat-phobic world.
One way to challenge fat phobia: wear tank tops in public. Dresses. Even short ones, if you like ’em. Shorts. Wear what you want. Dress like a normal person. Because you are one. Fuck this shit about only certain people get to live a life of relative freedom and self-actualization.
I have decided that for my own reasons I want to lose weight. I am conflicted about this because while I do want to honor my values and beliefs, I have a lot of physical pain and discomfort that would be alleviated by losing weight. I just don’t really know at this point how to go about it without turning it into my number one mission, or at the very least, a diet. I am going to check in with the nutritionist at my eating disorder clinic, who already knows how I feel about my recovery and will support me not just in my goals but my beliefs as well.
I welcome anyone to message me if they want to talk more. I am deeply committed to recovery. Not just my own, but other people’s as well. I am willing to talk about any aspect of it. And I do not judge. No matter what your goals are, where you’re at. I’ve been there. I can guarantee it. In the last 24 years there’s not too many places I haven’t been. I believe we can help each other recover.