At the end of Part 2 of "My Story With an Eating Disorder" I left you on a positive note, it almost sounded like recovery was smooth sailing. But let me tell you: it really wasn't.
I mean, yes, I started understanding what my triggers were and yes, I slowly began opening my eyes to a wholesome diet that left me feeling energised and happy. But consciously understanding the issue and actually reprogramming your subconscious are two very different things.
There was a phase in my recovery where I thought I had understood everything, had left no stone unturned and knew exactly what got me riled up, but somehow, somehow I still couldn't resist the urge to binge once it came up. Once that feeling crept in, there was no way in hell to stop it. I was like a roaring monster that just wanted food, food and more food.
Previously the binging used to happen on autopilot, but now there was a part of me that was somewhat conscious about it. There was this moment before the binge, just a split second, where I knew what I was about to do and why I was about to do it, but then I would still go ahead and do it anyways.
I remember this time being extremely frustrating. I would ask myself: "Am I really THAT stupid that I can see what's going on but still can't control myself?!?". As you can imagine, the guilt and the I-am-so-stupid feelings that were associated to this only made matters worse.
Not only was I mad at myself for binging, but I was mad at myself for knowing why I binged and not having been able to stop myself anyways.
It's only with time that I realised my subconscious needed some serious fixing up. Binging was a learned strategy that my brain adapted because it 'worked' to protect me. And I had been practicing it for a couple of years now already, so the pattern had become deeply ingrained in my way of being.
Now, the good news is that you can unlearn learned patterns. And that's exactly what I got working on. Here's a couple of things I tried:
I began each binge with a pause
A binge begins in your head before you even get near food. During that millisecond between the thought of a binge popping up and actually grabbing food, I tried to take a step back and analyse the situation. I tried to create space for my thoughts and reflect on the urge. Over time I graduated from 60 seconds thought process to 10 minutes thought process to realising "Oh hey, I don't even feel like eating anymore".
I experimented with different coping mechanisms
In order to break a habit, you need to replace the action you're trying to rid yourself of with another, better action. In this case, I needed to find an alternative to binging. So I tried going for a walk alone in the forest, doing yoga, meditating, journaling, talking with friends and family, taking a hot shower, dry body brushing or cuddling up in bed with a cup of tea. To do these things when you're feeling down might seem logical to some, but for me it was the most radical declaration of self love. Until this point I was used to "rubbing salt into the wound" whenever I had a bad day and suddenly I was supposed to be extra kind to myself?? It seemed impossible at first and more often than not did it not work out, but I kept on pushing through.
I allowed myself to eat
Yes, you read it right! I know it might be counter-intuitive and the last thing someone with an eating disorder wants to hear, but you have to allow yourself to eat if that is what you truly want. Binging stems from a place of deprivation - despite how much you eat, there is always an undertone of "This is the last time - then you're on a diet!". Your subconscious is terrified of starving, so it will try to get you to indulge that one last time before it might never get a chance to again.
All of those things combined with the unconditional love and support from my family, friends and boyfriend together with never-ending hope that things will get better, and here I am today, 4 years later: happy and healthy. Not always and in every moment, but more and more. I'll be honest with you, I still don't like the way I feel sometimes. I wouldn't be human if I didn't. But the way I react to those emotions has shifted dramatically.
I have flip-flopped with dietary choices, with gaining and loosing weight and with the extent of my dedication to exercise. I had times where I thought going vegan and obsessing about everything I eat was the answer, and I had times where I just wanted to be free of everything and let myself go completely. Truth be told, it's been incredibly hard to strike a balanced lifestyle after living in the extremes for so many years and having completely disconnected to my body. Learning to eat whatever I want while practicing moderation but not too much moderation to the point of restriction has been hell of a journey
And just because I've recovered from the worst times of my eating disorder doesn't mean I've magically transformed into a zen yogi who practices balance in all aspects of life all the time. I guess I’ll always be a bit of an extreme person, and stress only amplifies that. I still have bad body image days and phases where I overeat, but I can rebounce much quicker than before thanks to a whole list of tools I’ve learnt over the years to deal with these negative emotions.
From taking a walk by myself to dry body scrubbing, writing in my gratitude book or talking it out with the boyfriend before the feeling manifests itself, it’s all about self love and acceptance on those days. No matter how busy I am I will try to find some “me time”, as my health and happiness will always be number one priority.
"It’s when you hate yourself the most that kindness is more important than ever. "
I have mastered the art of being my own best friend and have learnt to be especially kind to myself in those moments. So: be your best friend. Trust that chic you see in the mirror. Love that person. Say "I love you", and say it until it stops making you cringe. Repeat that mantra until you believe it.
The things I've gained (no pun intended)
Today I don’t count calories, I don’t weigh myself anymore and I don’t restrict my food intake. I enjoy eating and even more so the process of cooking. I listen to my body and nurture it with whatever it asks for; that may be an organic and vegan salad with spinach and sweet potato or that may be a bar of chocolate. I eat healthy because I love my body.
Same goes for fitness; I now work out because I love my body. I enjoy every day in which I get to push myself to be the fittest, strongest and healthiest version of myself. Yes, there are workouts where I look in the mirror and don't feel great about my body, but in general I have a newfound respect for body and am grateful for what it can do. I feel closest to my spiritual self after working my body to the extreme, be it leaving it all on the floor after a sweaty hot-yoga session, a run in the woods or a heavy weightlifting sesh. After channeling all my energy into movement, I can sit still, breath and reflect inwards
When we begin to fuel our bodies with food that nourishes our body, mind and soul, we have no choice but to begin developing a healthy, symbiotic relationship with ourselves. One balanced meal leads to the next, which leads to the next, and so on. When you nourish yourself physically, you will have more energy to stay active and do exercise you love. You will have more confidence to go out there and do your thing. You will have more compassion towards yourself and others, and your relationships start to flourish. Even though food is only a small part of the puzzle, it certainly can be the catalyst to a happy, healthy and fulfilled life.
A blessing in disguise
I believe that everything happens for a reason. Everything that has happened in my life up until this point has made me who I am today and it that sense I see my eating disorder as a blessing in disguise. Much like an illness can be a chance for spiritual awakening, I think that my eating disorder was an opportunity for self-development, self-realization and empowerment.
Wherever you are in your life, and whatever you are going through, I encourage you to breath into the experience and allow it to just be. Chances are, it is here for a reason and it trying to teach you a lesson.
Life is going to be hard at times, and we are going to feel overwhelmed and alone. It's ok to stumble along the way - it's only from failing that we learn to pick ourselves up again.
If you’ve experienced an eating disorder such as anorexia, bulimia or orthorexia, then you’ll know that the many years of repetitive self-destructive behaviors aren’t erased from one day of the other. They don’t just vanish into thin air when you decide you want to change. You have to work on yourself every single day. And then some more.
So for all of us who have ever found ourselves lost, sick or stuck in an extreme - know that it's all going to be okay. All it takes is a bit (or a lot) of soul searching, a willingness to face your darkest fears and a whole lot of compassion towards yourself.
And for those of you that recognise themselves in my story and are looking for someone to help them with their own eating disorder, I am now a pre-certified health coach & would love to help you heal yourself. Feel free to take a look at what I do as a health coach and schedule a free initial consultation with me here.
I certainly didn’t intend to write a novel tonight, but this is a big and complicated topic that has been incredibly hard to put down on paper. If you read until this point, you have my deepest gratitude and I hope you’ll share your thoughts with me.