I want to start by saying that I am not a therapist, but only someone who has struggled with an eating disorder. For anyone who has a disorder, it is important to see a knowledgable therapist (as I have also done). My eating disorder may not be as extreme as some, and yet it has allowed me to have compassion for others going through this. I believe we are all individuals and our patterns are unique. Yet, by sharing our experiences, we can find some comfort and connection.
So, first I want to explain how my unique disorder acts. I’m not proud…but here it is. I do have feelings of shame in my body, especially in my stomach and thighs. As many times as I may send loving thoughts to these areas, self-consciousness and shame seem to be lodged there.
Though I know in my mind that I still wish to gain a few pounds, I do like the feeling of being thin. I seem to feel “safer” and more comfortable and happy with myself when I’m thinner. When my pattern is in action, however, and I lose weight, at some point it feels awful because I get more anxious and low energy, and I don’t like the way I look when I’m too skinny either. (Can’t win! :0 )
Having said that, though ~ I actually love to eat. This may be different from some others with a restrictive pattern. I enjoy food. Another aspect that may be different is that I like the feeling of being hungry. I would even say I crave it or am addicted to it, so this is part of the disorder. I like being hungry because it makes me feel lighter than being full, and also because it means I can look forward to eating again! Hmmm~
So ~ when I am eating a meal, I have this restrictive tendency that stops me at a certain point, and it is often rationalized as – “I need to stop now so I’ll be hungry for the next meal or snack.”
I eat small meals often, which many say is healthy, and I eat a variety of healthful foods, and I exercise moderately. However, as my amounts tend to fall a bit short due to the pattern, I tend to continually be slowly losing weight.
Eating less is also my fall back pattern ~ for instance, if I’m under stress, I eat less. If I’m not feeling well physically, I eat less. If I hear about a new healthful food plan, or a food to avoid, I often try it, and end up eating less. Then, I inevitably lose weight, and the pattern kicks in more. It is always difficult to gain the weight back.
This is how I came to have thinning bones and got down to around 95 lbs at one point, which is certainly in the anorexic category for a 5’5” frame.
With the help of a nutritionist who specializes in ED, and a couple of supportive friends, I gained 7 lbs or so. I still wanted to gain a few more as well as truly overcome the pattern so I went to see an ED therapist. When he heard how much I had recovered without a therapist he was amazed. He said “That never happens!”
At one point in our therapy, he was talking about goals for my weight. He said “In one sense, it’s not about the numbers, but if you’re sitting in your chair, it is about the numbers.” In other words, with anorexia, it is critical to actually keep your weight up to a certain level in order to recover.
I said “Well, I understand that, but I just want to be healthy!” He said these very important words: “The most important thing is to not be food driven. Can you actually imagine what it would be like to not think much about food at all? Just eat what you want and not obsess on it?” I thought – Wow. Hard to imagine. He said “Maybe your life could be driven by something else instead? Perhaps Love? Or faith, or charity?”
I was stunned. I thought my values revolved around living in a loving way, and perhaps I did live that way to an extent. But how could I when my mind was so preoccupied with food? Yes, I want to live a love-driven life.
Discovering how to do that is my unfolding journey, and will be the focus of my next blog.