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Anatomy of an Anorexia Relapse

It started with the heat.

I couldn’t eat because I was too hot. That’s a good reason. right?

Of course, I could have done a number of things to combat that. Made smoothies. Have salads with added protein of chicken or fish. Splurge on ice cream once in a while.

And I did do that, grudgingly, at first. I got a orange banana smoothie at Barnes & Noble, and felt oh-so-virtuous. See, I am trying! I’m not slipping…I’m eating intuitively.

Then I had a chicken caesar salad at McDonald’s. Drizzled a minute amount of salad dressing on it. I don’t want soggy lettuce, do I? Ate some of the chicken, a few bites of the lettuce. Ugh, iceberg lettuce! Don’t they realize that has absolutely no nutrients?!?

Yesterday, I ate virtually nothing.

And that is the anatomy of a relapse? Or a lapse?Recovery is not a linear path. There are dips and turns, taking you places that you might not want to go to. It is tedious and scary and difficult.

Each time I have embarked on recovery — this isn’t my first rodeo, as they say — I’ve struggled and relapsed, and then gotten back on track. I’ve learned many things, and recovery is at its best a journey of discovery.

I started seeing a dietitian soon after my last hospitalization. This time, I wanted recovery to stick. Of course, I said that 234332234339 times before. But by God, this time I really mean it!!!

I started blowing off my appointments in March. I thought I had this all wrapped up. I was eating three meals and two snacks, I had reached a healthy weight, and I could see the end in sight.

I slowly, insidiously, unconsciously started restricting. Two snacks became one. Three meals became two and a half. Instead of yogurt and two cups of granola for breakfast, I would have one. Instead of a sandwich at lunch, I would have crackers. Of course, this was so I didn’t waste bread, right? Right?

Then one snack became zero snacks. I mean, only kindergarteners had milk and cookies — or whatever — in the afternoon.

Then I started getting up too late in the morning, so breakfast and lunch became one meal.

Then I started forgetting about eating dinner until 9 or 10 p.m., and that’s just too late for dinner, right? Right? So I would have a granola bar and call it good.

Sometimes I snapped. It happens when you are restricting, whether by choice or not. One night, I found myself eating a half pint of ice cream. Another night, I ended up eating peanut butter and crackers at midnight because my stomach ached so much from hunger.

Of course, then I would beat myself up for such a perceived lack of control.

Yesterday, I got it into my head that I didn’t need to eat. I ate a little at breakfast, and then nothing — no water, no coffee, zilch — until I finally broke down and drank an Ensure because my stomach again hurt so much.

It was a miserable day. I tried to read, but the words didn’t make any sense. I tried to do things around the house, but I was too tired. I could barely move, and I simply couldn’t think.

Didn’t any of this ring any bells???

Oh yes. Yes, it did. But each time I reached out to call someone, I stopped. I didn’t want to admit I failed yet again. I was angry at myself. Angry at being so weak. Angry that I couldn’t just starve myself and shut up.

Angry.

How does someone who is fully invested in recovery fall over and over again into this trap? It is different for each person, of course. For me, this is my classic response to internal stress. I allowed money worries and job worries to snowball in my head, and it chipped away at my resolve.

Finally, eating less means that the eating disorder voice can take full control. It simply doesn’t shut up when I am restricting, and this makes the whole thing snowball.

Almost until it is too late.

But it isn’t too late. Awareness is key. At least now, I know this is a problem. And part of me knows that I am not a failure, but instead I am human and lapse and relapse are part of the recovery process.

Don’t worry. I am still fully committed to recovery, and it is good that I now recognize my weak spots and triggers, for that will make my recovery that much stronger.

Find Angela E. Gambrel on Facebook and Google+, and @angelaegambrel on Twitter.

5 thoughts on “Anatomy of an Anorexia Relapse”

  1. Oh god, tell me about it.
    In the last few months, my engagement was broken off, I got assaulted, My beloved uncle died, and my entire family fell apart (nice couple of months eh?). It’s just destroyed me. I’m no longer relapsing out of choice, I just don’t have the will to eat, let alone do anything else. I know i’m losing weight rapidly, and getting weak, but I don’t know what to do. I have no support system and I’ve forgotten how to eat. I’m no longer hungry, which is always a very bad sign. I just don’t have the energy anymore, to try to fight life. I’ve slipped into pretty major depression and my body seems to just shut down when I’m stressed. I just sort of feel too numb to do anything let alone cook a meal. Money’s an issue too, I’m poor. And yet at the same time, when i’ve confided in people about relapsing, they just say that i’m stupid. It’s not exactly constructive advice is it? I need someone to help me bulk order complan at least…Bloody life. Thanks for giving me something to read that shows others are going through it too…anyone got any advice as to how to deal with grief and possible relapse?

  2. I am in recovery for the first time. After 7 weeks of Partial Hospitalization, and a week and a half of Resi, I thought I got it. Started in denial that it was as bad as it was, then Resi knocked sense into me, then Partial again – just stepped down to IOP. So why is it my motivation and resolve quickly faded within days and I find myself restricting again. Your very honest post reminds me that this is a long road, and there are likely to be bumps. But there is hope. Thank you for sharing. I’m going to eat my dessert now, use healthy coping skills to stress (what triggers me), and keep on keeping on. Yes, I stumbled, but I know I still want recovery – however long it may take and no matter some stumbles along the way.

    Thank you ,

    Fellow woman in Recovery

  3. Hello there,

    I was born with the gift of eating and not eating weight, I could eat whatever I wanted whenever i wanted, never thought about food really.
    4 months ago, i found myself to be unstable, graduated, no job, no boyfriend so i started eating because i could and i abused my blessing.
    Bulimia was just around the corner, feeling like you are going to explode isn’t fun, so i’d throw up the last bite for relief, then i starting throwing up for the “fun of it”, and ultimately for the fear of gaining weight, a fear i am not even supposed to have.
    The point is, you create your own demons, you do.
    I eventually gave myself two slaps in the face, and got back to my normal being, i restrict at times, purge at times, binge at times, but why make a big deal out of it. As long as you manage to have a better day the next day it shows will, and where there is a will there is a way!

    stability comes from within, it is all about you, if you choose to be good to yourself, yourself will respond.

    there isn’t underlying issues, and psych stuff to your restriction, there is a brain who got used to it, and you can choose to let it get used to something new.

    let it talk, let it say you are too fat, omg what did u eat and continue with your day.

    As we speak my brain is telling me go get a lebanese fiesta breakfast, and i am still typing, let it talk, it will shut up eventually.

    I am going to go to the bakery and get a turkey sandwish, and my brain can scream and blabber as much as it wants, soon enough it will shut up for good, ignoring your thoughts will kill them..

    I hope you get better, I mean, really? FOOD? Food is fuel nothing more nothing less, let us start giving it its real normal value!

    Power and love to you!

  4. Your post sounds just like what I’m thinking/feeling, except the restricting IS intentional. I am in my goal weight range, but feel as though I can not stand it. I was in residential for 3 months, but obviously that wasn’t a cure. I know it was to help give me the skills to do it on my own but it’s so hard when you feel like you (or maybe ED) doesn’t want to!

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