This is the post I have been promising for a while now, discussing my eating disorder in a bit more detail than mentioning it once in a while. Before we get started, I would like you to know a few things: This post talks about my life with an eating disorder, somewhat of a backstory to it and things I have picked up while dealing with an eating disorder. Not every disorder is the same, of course, so things that work for me, might not work for you. Now you might ask yourself: well, if this isn’t a universal post to try and help a lot of people, why bother talking about it? The answer is simple, really. Because sharing is caring. Quite literally. There might be people out there who suffer from or know someone who suffers from an eating disorder and don’t really have someone to talk to about it. And holding all of it in can make it worse. So if I can give someone a tiny bit of strength by sharing my story, you bet I will.
>> Also, seeing as this can be a hard topic, please refrain from reading if it might trigger you.
While I was growing up, I had quite a few things that I didn’t like about food. I didn’t like the crunch of onions in my mouth – I still don’t. I didn’t like eating meat or sausage or anything along those lines – I still don’t. Not really, at least. I liked sweet things. But also fruits and vegetables. Yet, people would still call me a picky eater. Which I was, so I’ll grant them that.
But as I grew older, I developed eating habits that didn’t actually have anything to do with ‘being a picky eater’. It started around the age of 14 and I had no idea that I was developing an eating disorder. Why? Because around the same time, one of my friends was on a dieting kick. She wanted to lose weight, a lot of it, and didn’t really need to. But she was a ballet dancer and her parents were getting a divorce and everyone was quite worried about her drifting off into anorexia.
Meanwhile, I was dealing with my own shit. I’ve talked about being bullied before and 14 was around the time when it started. That’s also the point in time when I was slowly getting more and more depressed and finally ended up in a chair at a psychiatrist’s office. I didn’t really notice anything. I stopped caring, actually. Being told you’re stupid, will never learn or amount to anything, can do that to you. Being told the way you dress looked awful, the music you listened to was horrible and that your opinion didn’t matter, can also do that.
Two years passed and I drifted deeper into everything. Food was now appalling and disgusting, yet I didn’t really care or notice. After almost three years in bullying hell, I got out, transferred to another school. I also got another psychiatrist, seeing as the other one didn’t care about me, either. The new doctor started asking the right questions, I guess, because I was finally talking. Enough talking then landed me on the psych ward, where everything came crashing down.
I had been losing weight over the past years, but slowly and nothing too drastic. Well, looking back, it probably was, seeing that everyone who laid eyes upon me thought I had a terminal illness from the sunken cheeks and dead eyes. And in a way, they were right. I did not want to live. But going back to the psych ward stay: I didn’t eat anything except a small box of Christmas stollen, about 200 grams. In those 6 days, I lost about 5 kilograms (about 11 pounds).
When I got home, my psychiatrist immediately realized that I looked worse than the day I left. Which was true. I felt worse than I had ever felt in my whole life. And he said: “You look like you haven’t eaten in days.” And I said: “I haven’t.” He asked: “Why?” And I answered: “I can’t.”
And after that conversation, for the first time ever, I realized that maybe I was a picky eater, but I also had a serious eating disorder.
It has now been 7 years (give or take a few months), and every day is still a struggle.
I don’t know if there is an actual diagnosis for what I have, but it is somewhat of a cross between anorexia and binge eating disorder. So for days on end I would starve myself, then binge and gorge myself. All while being mostly disgusted by food. It has gotten better and to a point that I can proudly say that I eat at least 1-2 meals a day, sometimes 3. Sometimes even small snacks in between. But it has not been an easy journey, not at all.
There were days on which I’d be so absolutely repulsed by any kind of food and even the ‘safe foods’, things I could eat all the time without problems, would be gross. I’d stand in front of the fridge and cry. I’d stand in front of the shelves in the basement and just cry. For hours sometimes. Because everything would sound disgusting and yet, somewhere in your head, you have this voice that tells you to eat something. Even though you’re not hungry.
Sometimes, I still have those days. After many try and fail missions, I have figured out a few rules to go by. Here they are:
- Cravings are a good thing.
- Articles about diets and healthy living will often tell you that cravings are something that need to be controlled. They will tell you that you need to learn to distinguish between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ cravings. I have learned that having cravings is a good thing. Especially if you don’t experience the feeling of being hungry, like I don’t. I only notice that I’m hungry when I’m actually too far gone already, nauseous, with a stomach- and a headache. So for me, a craving is the best thing that can happen. Because it tells me that something in the connection between brain and body is working again. To me, cravings are a sign that my brain’s signals are going through. Whether it’s a craving for something sweet or salty or sour, it’s a good thing to me. Somewhere down the line, when I get my body to a point of feeling hungry again/experiencing hunger, I’ll try distinguishing between cravings for unhealthy, sugary things and the ‘good’ ones. But right now, even having a craving for something is a win.
- Listen to that craving and have a tiny piece of what it is you crave. Chocolate? Have a piece. Potato chips or crackers? Have a few. You get my drift, right? Here’s the lowdown. Remember what I said about ‘good/bad cravings’? And that in my case, every craving is a win? For that theory to work, you also need to follow the craving. I’m not saying gorge yourself, but to have a tiny bit. To satisfy the craving and ultimately tell your body that its reaction was a good one. I have found that that helps when trying to get a feeling of hunger back. Also, ignoring cravings can supercharge them, which will eventually come out as a binge attack and that’s what we’re trying to avoid, isn’t it? Plus: having a tiny bit of something ‘unhealthy’ once in a while is, for someone like me, with issues like mine, healthier in the long run. Because we’re avoiding getting back into denying and the habit of starving ourselves.
- If you’re on the fence about having another helping/portion and can’t really decide to, don’t.
- I’ve always had a sensitive stomach, thanks to my father’s genes. And since I’ve been dealing with an eating disorder and not eating for days/binge eating and gorging, it has only gotten worse. It’s probably safe to say that my gastrointestinal system has had enough and is also properly f*cked up. I’m dealing with an upset stomach/stomach pains/diarrhea on a regular basis, even though I’m eating fairly clean. And I have noticed that it doesn’t matter if I have 2 spoonfuls of something, or a regular portion of it, when I have that third helping even though I wasn’t sure about having it, I’m going to be in big trouble. And pain. This is, by the way, not about portion control and dieting. This is to end the vicious cycle of being miserable about not eating, then eating too much, losing your meal (one way or another), and being miserable about not eating again. So if you’re thinking about having another helping, don’t. Wait a while for your stomach to settle and start digestion, and then, if you’re still thinking about having it, have another small portion. Small portions can help you through the day. They’re a good thing.
- Don’t let anybody tell you that you haven’t eaten enough or that you should eat more.
- This goes hand in hand with number 2, and it is something that everyone is struggling with who is dealing with an eating disorder that has to do with starving yourself.
- I’ve often experienced people urging me to eat more or had them tell me that I didn’t eat enough, because my portion size didn’t match theirs. But do not let them pressure you! It will only lead to pain and often also feelings of guilt. Because what they don’t understand is, that eating more just doesn’t cut it. Eating more doesn’t help. You need to come back to a healthy relationship with food. They don’t realize that often when I eat something, I have no feeling of pleasure. I don’t experience my food the way they do, I don’t taste the way they do. Simply overloading my stomach just kickstarts the vicious cycle I talked about. They don’t understand that I need to teach myself to taste again, to enjoy food. And that I need to slowly up the amount of food my stomach can handle. Because during years of starving yourself, your stomach shrinks. People often don’t know that. They don’t realize that it probably can’t take more than a few bites of toast. So if your stomach can only handle those few bites of toast, don’t have more. It’ll only hurt you and prove nothing. When people say things like ‘you need to eat more’, they think they’re being helpful. But don’t despise them for it. Just imagine they said ‘you need to eat more nutritious food’. Because that is actually what you want to hear. You need minerals, healthy fats and sugars, a few carbs, vitamins, not just ‘more’.
- If you’re uncomfortable with eating, try to watch some tv or listen to music while you eat.
- Another thing that magazines or reports on diets will tell you not to do. Their reasoning is that you need to experience your food, that you need to taste it, chew it, swallow it, in order for the feeling to kick in that you’re full or satiated. That watching tv could distract you from eating and that you might end up having more than you should. Sounds good enough. But not if you have problems with even getting food into your mouth. I don’t use this technique often, because I eventually want to feel and experience my food again, but sometimes I just cannot even bear chewing it, I’m so grossed out. That’s when a good tv show comes in handy, or maybe a radio program. Because it will distract you. Hopefully enough so that you can, in fact, get a few spoonfuls of dinner down without having to concentrate on not throwing up what you just swallowed. And I don’t usually have a problem with throwing up, but sometimes everything is so disgusting that I feel like it is literally turning into ash on my tongue. And in those cases, a little distraction can work wonders. But there is something you need to be aware of: only use this tip if you have a set portion. Maybe a little bowl of fruit or pasta or a few salad leaves. Don’t go into this having all the food at your disposal because it could lead to overeating and that would be like jumping from the frying pan into the fire.
- Another thing that helps: if you have trouble eating, eat alone. That way, you’re avoiding comments that ‘it looks so good’, even though you think it looks disgusting and don’t want to eat it. If I have trouble eating, I don’t eat with the family or anyone else. I prepare my own food and eat in solitude. It might sound lonely, but no comments about how ‘it looks so, so yummy’ and ‘maybe I should have eaten that’ and sometimes even ‘that does not look good’? Amazing. Because you can concentrate on dealing with yourself. And not others.
- Wear clothes that you feel comfortable in. Also wear them out if you feel better that way.
- This is your fight. No one else is living inside your body right now. It is entirely up to you to walk in your shoes. So why not be comfortable? Wear clothes that are tight/loose, whatever you prefer. I often wear leggings out now. One of the reasons being that it helps me deal with my body on a few levels. Recovering from an eating disorder can make you very aware of your body and how it looks. So tight clothes can be a challenge sometimes. Wearing leggings helps me accept myself even though I might have just had a cheese toast. Also, they’re really comfortable to wear. Don’t worry about others. It’s your body and you’re here right now, living in it. Being comfortable in it is a top priority.
- Have a few options on hand. Then pick the lesser evil.
- I talked about ‘safe foods’ earlier, meaning a meal option that you usually have no trouble eating. For me, that’s usually pasta with sauce, ingredients to make pizza, fruits/vegetables. It’s a good thing to have as many options on hand as possible (as long as you can keep them for a while, you don’t want to throw it all away when it goes bad). But sometimes, even those options are a pain. Then it’s time to play a game called ‘familiarize yourself with it’. It’s not really a game, but more of an agonizing process in which you try to imagine yourself eating all the different meals to try and figure out the grossness factor. And then pick the thing that is the least disgusting in your head. Of course, during the process of making it, it could get grosser and grosser and you could end up not wanting to eat it. (Put it in a container and try again tomorrow.) So then it’s back to the drawing board. But if you end up choosing something, choose a tv show or another distraction along with it. Because you’ll probably need it. And there’s something else: don’t hype yourself up when you find something to eat. Because if you can’t eat it for some reason, or only a few bites of it, you’re headed for quite a fall.
- Also have a few bucks saved for occasions where you crave a pizza from that nice Italian place that delivers, or some Lo Mein from the great Asian place around the corner. Because cravings are a good thing, remember? And if you satisfy a craving, don’t feel bad. Your body worked fine this time. That’s amazing.
These are a few things I’ve discovered during my years of dealing with an eating disorder (and several of not dealing with it). I really hope they’re at least somewhat helpful.
But please keep this in mind: even I can’t follow these ‘rules’ sometimes, even though I made them up. Sometimes it is too hard to deal with to go by any rules. Rest assured that I, too, have not mastered this yet. It’s a long and difficult process and there will be days I feel great and days I don’t. There will be trials and failures, and then there will be victories.
Have a peaceful night.