Recovery is such a slippery beast. I’m realising that I’ve been disordered for years, in a way that I simply never understood. And I’m starting the long and uncomfortable process of unpicking the depths of the thought processes that underpin my attitude to food and exercise.
I was really moved by Amelia Boone’s post about her anorexia and eating disorder recovery and it prompted me to do some self reflection about my own behaviour.
I want to list the things that I remember doing and thinking because seeing them written down will make me realise that they aren’t “normal” and I don’t want to be that person again. This is part of the problem: I truly believed everyone struggles with body image and food like I do. I truly believed that my body and its muscularity or lack of fat was my worth, and that anything I did to jeopardise this made me worthless.
- standing in the bathroom of a restaurant on my 40th birthday chanting “pig pig pig pig pig” at my reflection because I ate an entire portion of seafood.
- deliberately scheduling runs so that I would be running over lunchtime, meaning I could skip a meal and feel like I’d discovered a brilliant way of controlling my appetite.
- feeling constantly guilty about being hungry. I never allowed myself to be satisfied so even after eating I would still feel hungry. And I felt guilty because “why should you be hungry, you are just greedy”. But at the same time, if I did eat until I was full, I’d feel extremely guilty for being “a pig”.
- competitive under eating in company. Always having the smallest, lightest thing on the menu.
- calorie counts on menus are terrible for me. I will always make sure that I order the thing with the lowest number of calories if at all possible. I wish I never had to learn how many calories are in stuff because once you know that crap you can’t erase it.
- checking my watch many times a day to see what the calorie count says. Feeling deeply inadequate if it is “too low”.
- standing in the shower after a run, in pain because I’m running through injury yet again, telling myself what a fat, slow, useless pig I am because I’m hungry yet again and my run was slower than I’d hoped.
- seeing all the bodies of professional athletes and comparing myself to them, or even comparing myself to myself in other situations and always coming up short.
- taking appetite suppressing stimulants – I’m not proud of this but I did. They made me manic and gave me heart palpitations.
- using cauliflower instead of grains or pasta so that I could eat more volume for fewer calories.
- watering down my almond milk/protein powder
- eating huge breakfasts (for some weird reason, I’ve never restricted breakfast), and being obsessed with it because it feels like my only pleasure
- avoiding eating in company if at all possible. Hiding in the cleaning cupboard at work to eat my Tupperware portioned lunch (oh the shame!). Cancelling dinners and lunches with friends because I can’t cope. Getting very stressed about going out with my husband to restaurants
- always feeling that I would have to leave food on my plate when in company whether I was still hungry or not. I was not allowed to eat the whole plate because I was scared of being seen as greedy
- I have not had a birthday cake or a chocolate bar for well over a decade
- there is a restaurant that I love, and they do a dessert of buffalo milk yoghurt, spiced orange and cardamom and pistachios which is close to the best thing I’ve ever tasted. I do eat it, but the guilt I feel afterwards is crippling. And I always make sure I don’t finish it
- I took a deep breath a month ago when on holiday and ordered an ice cream for myself. One scoop of mango in a pot. I had to throw it away.
- feeling like a failure because I got my period (this was before I lost it completely – what an idiot I was!)
I don’t write this to be all “poor me”, but to acknowledge that it was my reality for so long. And I assumed it was the same for everyone. That this was what you had to do to be “healthy” and a “good athlete”. That being miserable and hungry was a sign that I wasn’t strong enough and that the people who had better bodies than I did were better people, stronger, more admirable. My own deep-seated feeling of inadequacy was the basis for all of this, as I had built my fragile self image on something that was so transient and impossible to sustain.