[[Side Notes: The Vicious Cycle
Recovering from an ED is not an easy thing. For a while I would wake up every morning wishing that that day would be the one where I wouldn’t have any symptoms; no guilt, not anxiety, no restricting, no overeating, no fear…but something like that doesn’t just happen over night. This kind of thing takes time, sometimes a lot, sometimes a little, sometimes somewhere in between.
It has not been an easy journey. I even woke up today wishing that everything would be good as it was yesterday…but just had to wait an see.
One particular part of recovery that has been the hardest was well, eating to put it simply. Yes, we have to eat and we do, but we don’t eating without evoking some type of emotion that could bring about anger, fear or even tears.
When I first started to recover almost 8 years ago I never knew how I was going to incorporate all the foods I had eliminated from my diet. I couldn’t fathom eating pb without the fear of getting fat overnight or eating a homemade cookie or slice of pie without having to run it off immediately. I spent year upon year with my ridiculous calorie counting habits that eventually got me back up to a healthy weight but still contained the same amount of angst when it came to certain foods.
It wasn’t until the past 2-3 years that I finally reached a certain stage of recovery that I feared the most: losing control and the vicious cycle. In what aspect? I went through serious phases of overeating, while others I hear got through episodes of binging, but both resulting in an effort to restrict/purge/exercise binge afterwards to get rid of it all and feel better afterwards.
Only recently have I really realized why this happened to me. I know over eating now and than is pretty normal, say at Thanksgiving and Christmas, but at the rate I was going, I was going to drive myself crazy. I often overate when it came to my emotions. I was lonely. I was scared. I was anxious. I was tired. You name it, food replaced it, then caused me to flip out and go through a nasty cycle that just about killed my social life and well, any life I had at all.
What is this cycle I speak of? Let me show you:
I went through more days of this than I can count or even remember. They all seemed to blur into one another and day after day, I felt like an absolute failure. I didn’t know why I couldn’t just eat like a normal person, have balanced emotions and enjoy my life. I wanted it all to end. I was tired of feeling so guilty and anxious all the time.
Most of the time my day would go like this:
- I would wake up and eat a balanced breakfast; good start to the morning.
- I would stick out as many hours as I could until lunch, which I tried my hardest not to eat until after 11am, no matter what time I ate breakfast. I was usually starving by the time I ate lunch and would eat so fast I’d feel uncomfortable, and then get anxious.
- I would end up eating a snack soon after, not hungry but anxious about being hungry later. And I would keep eating. I would eat until all my snacks were gone that I’d brought (though let me clarify that it was not binging, but overeating and being emotionally evoked)
- I would get home from work and immediately jump into exercise in fear that I had eating too much too soon in the day; I was already worrying about what I was going to eat for dinner since earlier had happened. I would burn what I believed to be an adequate amount of calories, then wait as long as I could after my workout to eat dinner.
- Depending on the calorie count, dinner would vary from a decent meal to extremely light.
- Within and hour or so of finishing and drinking copious amounts of water, I would find myself back in the kitchen, looking for something to snack on. I would find something, then something else, and something else (again, not binge amounts, but in reality probably just a very large snack, but in my mind too much).
- The guilt would set in, I’d do an extra set of situps and go to sleep promising myself the next day would be better and I could beat this, though wondering all the way if I could really fight it and not let the same thing happen all over again.
Sound familiar? I know this all too well and how horrible it feels to keep thinking such horrible thoughts all day long, day after day.
After seeking out a counselor and revealing my emotions about eating, there were many things she pointed out to me about my actions and reactions:
- The Overeating: What I thought was a huge amount of food, was in reality not. It was more than “my normal amount” (ie one serving) and therefore something that had to be eliminated immediately through exercise. With the amount of exercise that I did daily and some field work, if I had eaten what I had simply planned out would not have been enough for my body to not lose weight and sustain itself in a healthy manner.
- Getting Fat: I was terrified that these episodes of overeating were going to make me fat overnight. No joke. I thought I would wake up the next morning with a spare tire and three extra chins. But I would wake up the next day and realize that this obviously hadn’t happened, though would end up worrying anyhow because if it happened again the day, who would I to be to say that I wouldn’t wake up with those things one day down the line?
- The Guilt: This was the worst part. I not only felt guilty about what I had eaten, but that I was a failure for not being able to follow a stupid eating plan I had set out for myself. I also felt guilty in that the overeating would cause me to gain weight, then cause people to say/insinuate things when I finally saw them after a long time. I felt like I wouldn’t be accepted and thought of as less of person than everyone had thought of me say, the last time I had seen them.
When I look back on it now, I think going through this stage of recovery is simply, part of recovery. Yes, some might be lucky enough not to have to go through the binging/overeating/guilty feelings but I think it makes you realize a lot of things. After so many nights of finally giving in and eating that chocolate or ice cream or pie or whatever I had really wanted to eat and waking up the next morning as the exact same person I was the night before, it let me see that I didn’t need to be afraid.
I think encountering these emotions is a “normal” part of recovery and something that can be worked through. It’s not easy, but it can be done.
My next Side Note will be about how I’ve started to combat the guilt and letting go of the emotions that have plagued my recovery. As part of letting go I will also discuss how to let go of your dependence on the scale and that the numbers really don’t matter. It’s all about how you feel.