It’s National Eating Disorders Awareness Week (NEDA) and this year’s theme is It’s Time To Talk About It. So let’s get a conversation going. Is disordered eating making you a stranger to yourself? How has it affected your life or the lives of those around you? I’m sharing part of my story and I’d love to hear yours!
I like Saturday mornings spent in coffee shops, public speaking, and bright, drapey clothes. I dislike long-distance runs, wearing peep-toe shoes, and raw broccoli (give it to me roasted in butter and sea salt, please).
But I didn’t always know it. And if I had, it wouldn’t have mattered to me.
What mattered was that I fit the mould of who I thought I should be. And apparently, who I thought I should be was a stressed out, exhausted, calorie-carb-fat-gram counter who was sick of jumping jacks. Because that’s, you know, “healthy.”
For me, my eating disorder started when I was twelve/thirteen years old. I’m sure it’s different for everyone, but I felt like it was right around that time that I was trying to figure out who I was–what I liked and disliked, what my strengths and weaknesses were. The restriction game nipped that natural self-discovery in the bud. And it was going to be a good while before I came back to it.
During treatment, I tried to find things I enjoyed to use as coping mechanisms. It’s what we were supposed to do. So I tried painting and making collages and friendship bracelets because I thought I should. That mindset didn’t make the process very enjoyable.
I didn’t really get it.
My eating disorder was followed by a few years of disordered eating. The continued onslaught of disordered thoughts around food, exercise and my body didn’t allow me to get to know myself any better than when I was thirteen and struggling with anorexia.
Disordered eating thoughts have this insidious way of hijacking your mind. They make it impossible to figure out what you love because you can’t spare any of your brain space. They distract you from your life.
For example, when my disordered eating thoughts were at their peak, I had this thing with carbs. I would only let myself choose from three or four different carb sources and I could only have one type per day. Meaning if I’d had oatmeal for breakfast and sweet potatoes for lunch, I only had one option left for dinner: quinoa. AND the next day couldn’t be a repeat of the previous day. So I’d have to do sweet potatoes for breakfast, oats at lunch, etc. Why? Because, balance, obviously. Somehow, this carb/meal switch-up meant I was “balanced” even though my carb choices were extremely limited.
I know. It doesn’t make any sense. But I still spent so much time every single day trying to work out my “carb schedule” in my head.
If you’ve read Big Girl by Kelsey Miller, you know about the Brunch Equation. If you haven’t, the Brunch Equation is her spot-on perfect example of the mind-boggling, soul-sucking calculations that accompany disordered eating. The calculations that then lead you to schedule your life on one needle-narrow track. And that brings me to my next point.
Disordered eating habits make it impossible to do what you love because you’re physically compromised. If you’re not giving your body enough fuel, you won’t have enough energy to do what you love (or maybe even what you don’t love, but have to do anyways, like the dishes).
Even if you’re not restricting, your time is compromised.
How could I get coffee with friends, or read a book, or even just lay in my hammock in the backyard and think when I was too busy weighing ounces of chicken breast and making sure my green smoothie was “clean” enough?
Whatever that means. (Hint: it’s nothing you should prioritize over living your life.)
So here’s the short of it: the convoluted diet-mentality thought processes wind around our minds tight, constricting our thoughts and actions to only the things that send us further down the path of disordered eating. It’s a path that disconnects us from knowing who we are, how we can show up in the world, and the One who made us for lives richer than knowing the number of carbs in a half cup of honeydew, cubed.
Once I reached a breaking point, once the thought of coming up with excuses to avoid eating at a family party made me feel like tearing my hair out and all I wanted to do was eat a pint of coffee ice cream (the kind with chopped chocolate), I realized it wasn’t worth it anymore. It was a long time in coming. It took months of self-imposed misery, with a few glimpses of what life could be interspersed throughout. I remember laying in my bed one night, stressed, exhausted, and thinking about food (probably coffee ice cream), when suddenly, I thought, “I don’t even know anything about myself!” But that wasn’t the end. It took me a few years after that to reach my breaking point. And there wasn’t a short road out.
Or, there isn’t a short road out, I should say. Learning who you are and how to show up genuinely in the world is a life-long process. Divorcing myself from the diet mentality was the first step.
And let’s be real. The steps following were uncomfortable and messy. When the diet-noise died down somewhat, I was faced with–horror of horrors–myself.
My initial reaction was to fill the silence with different noise. School-noise, schedule-noise, other-activity-noise. If you’re in a place where you’re letting go of diet-noise, you’re probably feeling the desire to fill the newfound silence with another noise. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great idea to have a running list of things you enjoy doing to replace unhelpful activities like obsessive exercise or researching the latest fad diet. Healthful coping mechanisms are wonderful. But you don’t want to mutate any one thing into a consuming noise for the purpose of distracting yourself from getting to know who you are.
That’s why when I ask “is disordered eating making me a stranger to myself?”, I try to have a few things that help me understand myself, my place in the world, and the God who made me.
For me, those actionable things are to:
- journal. I process things by putting them into words.
- walk. Walk without a Fitbit, without running shoes, and without thinking about my to-do list. I forget how much I like to just walk. In sandals. Around my neighborhood. (Or, even better, on the beach.) It gives me time and space to think.
- talk. With people. It doesn’t have to be deep. If there’s something deep I need to get out, most likely it will come out, whether or not the conversation starts that way.
- pray. This one. It’s the most important. Prayer is a conversation, and like my conversations with friends and family, sometimes things reveal themselves when I least expect them.
You might have other and/or different things on your list. That’s beautiful. So ask “is disordered eating making me a stranger to myself?” And the answer is a yes–or even a “well, sort of”–do those things on YOUR list.
I’d love to know–how has disordered eating prevented you from finding out who you are? And what are your suggestions/practices for intentionally blocking the diet-noise?
Linking up for Thinking Out Loud!