So a lot has happened over the last couple of weeks, lots of stress, lots of chaos, soul searching, questioning and more. I have been feeling very overwhelmed by food choices and my ability to “stay on track” and this has resulted in binging repeatedly. With this binging has come some realizations about my patterns. Patterns that I have had for many years that have repeated many times. This is the first time in my life I have actually looked deep and dissected the behaviours.
Why I do what I do? How far back does it really trend? How it has impacted my life thus far?
This week I put a name to it, I now know I suffer from an eating disorder. And I have been suffering from this for many more years than I would care to admit. I literally had an “lightbulb” moment while messaging with a friend early last week. My friend and I have a lot in common in our eating history and I was telling her how I feel like tracking has become like an obsession. It is no longer helping me but rather hindering me and taking up WAY to much headspace. It feels like a ball and chain that I bare every day making me constantly focused on my consumption of food, what types of foods I’m choosing or limiting, when I will be devouring said food and always focused on the next meal. Its never ending, it’s all consuming and it is overwhelming.
Don’t get me wrong tracking, eating healthy unprocessed food and learning portion sizes has saved my life and gotten me to goal. But what I realized is that my disordered eating has many faces. And the restrictive, focused, on track Alicia is just one face of my disorder. It doesn’t appear to be negative at first it is disguised by excitement, progress and dedication. I am good at losing weight, I have done it many times throughout my life. I become very dedicated and typically lose 40 lbs in 6 months. But after getting to my weight goal and being there for a while the obsessive thought patters slowly set in. I have to admit this time around my weight loss took a lot longer (approximately 16 months) and I have been maintaining my weight for about 50% longer than I typically would. But the behaviours are still the same.
Obsessively tracking and weighting myself, with no room to deter from the goal. Followed with a barrage of negative thoughts beating me down is a pretty standard thought pattern for me. These negative thoughts are often that I am not good enough, thin enough, firm enough, I’m not working out enough, not eating enough “good” food, not limiting my “bad” food, not weighting the right weight, not fitting the perfect size….and on and on. The compulsion to track every last thing is not necessarily a bad habit, when it is tied to my worth and becomes an obsessive compulsion that negatively impacts me then it becomes bad. With no better name for this part of my disordered eating I label it “other” eating disorder. Its not anorexia or bulimia, but its negative, obsessive and destructive all the same. It robs me of joy and keeps me clawing through negative thoughts and emotions that are constantly in my mind.
On the flip side of my compulsion to track is my binge eating disorder. This one shows up when I am exhausted from restrictively monitoring my food for so many months, never being flexible, constantly having to live up to an unreasonable standard of perfection. It usually proceeds some sort of emotional trigger that sets me off seeking some sort of comfort that only food can bring. Typically one day turns into weeks, months and then years of continued bingeing on not only junk food, take out, sweets and treats and processed food but healthy, whole unprocessed food as well. With this disorder I can also do damage with the healthiest of foods. It’s the volume, the stuffed, sick feelings that eating until you are so full you feel like you cant move brings. This is typically followed by self loathing, a barrage of thoughts like “how can you do this to yourself” “your so gross” “your such a pig” “your always going to be fat” “you may as well eat more look what you have already done”. This is what got me overweight so many times in my life.
My cycle of binge eating followed by restrictive eating typically spans 12 months. 6 months losing followed by 6 months gaining. I have put my body through this process at least 6 times over the past 15 years. However my disordered eating doesn’t start there. I’m pretty sure in late teens to early 20’s I suffered primarily my “other” eating disorder preoccupied with being as thin as possible during this time. I never ate much of any meals, picking throughout the day. I typically would spend weekends binge drinking at night (see my Sober Curious post) and not eating all day so I had the calories to drink. When I did eat it was typically one meal a day of a high carbohydrate meal that would stuff my so full I felt sick. I was the thinnest I have ever been. However my view of my body was still not satisfied and my inner dialogue was one of “its not good enough, your not good enough” and the cycle continued.
Lastly if I’m being truly honest with myself I was secretively binge eating at the age of 8 or 9. I remember going through a baking phase where I would just bake and eat entire pans of treats. Whilst shoving handfuls of ingredients in my mouth while baking and then feeling all the shame and guilt of doing something I knew wasn’t normal. I used food to cope with overwhelming emotions and struggles that stemmed from my dysfunctional family life at the time. My drug of choice was food and I didn’t have to go far to get it. At this tender age I was also afflicted with crushingly low self esteem about my overweight body, I did not look like my peers with their straight bellies, mine was distended and protruded out, my cheeks were chubby and no boys liked me. The story I told myself and was told by other children was because I was fat. Those raw emotions did not dissolve with each mouthful of food I consumed, but it did sooth me in a way that nothing else could at that time.
My disordered eating has been around for almost 30 years and I’m just now realizing it was even there in the first place. This has me confused, sad, pissed off and more. One more addictive behaviour in my life that has overwhelmed and ruled me. One more dysfunctional behaviour that no longer serves me. One more thing to deal with in my already jacked up brain. Coming to this realization has shed some light onto why I can never maintain, why I have a constant flip flop in weight. This is the first time in my whole life I have ever really focused on maintaining for any extended period of time, so it seems natural that I would finally notice and identify these behaviours I guess. Although this realization does not give me all the good feels.
However, I am grateful that I have uncovered this truth. If it weren’t for digging deep into my life, my behaviours, attitudes and obsessions in the past 2 years I’m sure I never would have unearthed this information about myself. This is just one more opportunity to grow, and find a new better way to live life.
So what now?
I’m looking forward to learning balanced intuitive eating. I will devour every piece of information I can find: books, blogs, studies, I will reach out for help via therapy and support groups. I will expand my tribe to people who understand my struggles and are on a journey to recovery. I will not give up!
If you or someone you know suffers from an eating disorder know you are not alone. Anyone, any age, race or gender can suffer from disordered eating. So please know you are not alone and that there is help out there you just need to reach out.