How I Learned to Love Food in Eating Disorder Recovery
Most people who know me today know that I’m a food enthusiast -- I love food in eating disorder recovery. When those people become aware of my past and try to reconcile those two experiences, they tend to be confused. How can someone both be enthusiastic about food and also have suffered an eating disorder? From my perspective, this is actually quite a natural progression. Though I may have some anxiety around food, my eating disorder recovery taught me that confronting that anxiety head-on and embracing food as nourishment is part of recovery.
So, how did I become someone who, on most days, is quite comfortable around food after years of struggling with my feelings about body image and nourishment? It didn't happen overnight, but rather through small shifts over time while attending therapy and support groups. With added time, I was also able to internalize those shifts, even when on my own. Here are some of the ways I fell in love with food over time:
I Learned to Cook and Got Serious about Planning My Meals
Part of the therapy for my bulimia involved researching and mapping out my meals ahead of time. This allowed me to confront many fears related to food and deal with the feelings behind that fear. By pre-planning what was going to be on my plate, I was able to disconnect my feelings of that day from the meal itself. A side effect of the planning was that I wanted to take an active role in what I would eat. Eventually that lead to an interest in cooking, where I could control the portions and ingredients I would consume. That proactively allowed me to choose meals that made me feel good and in charge of myself, while also taking pride in actively learning a skill.
I No Longer Hide When I Eat
Through my time as an activist sharing my struggle, I’ve heard, and observed from others, who equally suffered from an eating disorder. What I’ve noticed is that no matter what our diagnosis is, we all seem to have engaged in odd rituals at the height of our disease. One of my rituals was that when I craved something “bad” like a sweet, I would buy it and wait until I got home to eat it privately. This would then trigger feelings of guilt, because that craving would build up all day, and by the time it was satisfied, it would never meet my expectations.
I Learnt to Engage with People about My History
Since I’ve been in recovery, the rituals surrounding food are no longer a part of my eating habits. Specific to my previous example, it was in therapy on the way to recovery that I learned the critical difference between taking a break and enjoying a guilty pleasure in the moment rather than waiting till I could behind closed doors. So, now if I’m really craving a cupcake, I no longer wait until the end of the day. I would rather treat myself (within moderation) by taking a 15 minute break with a colleague and eat it with them on my walk back to the office. The difference between doing that and saving it for when I come home and eat it alone is subtle, but in my case, the public action removes the feeling of shame and turns the eating experience into a positive moment of camaraderie with my colleagues.
Recovery taught me that it's crucial to engage with people, period. I'm not talking here about sharing your entire history with everyone you meet, but you do need to build a support network and a few key people you can talk to. Don’t expect this on day one, but to get there, these relationships need to be cultivated and need to start somewhere. However, don’t push it either, if you aren’t prepared to handle a negative or indifferent reaction from a person, then the time to share with him or her just isn’t right. The key is to disclose bits of your history in conversations when it feels natural; and when you do share those experiences with the right people, you will find those key people who can respect your past and support you in the present.
To conclude, over time I've learned to be gentle with myself and go at my own pace. When I first started to address food issues in therapy I took little steps towards sharing and controlling what and how I ate and who I shared my struggles with. I also learned it was okay to cut myself a break and treat myself if I felt like it, because I’m not supposed to be perfect. Eventually, philosophy extended beyond food. The more progress I made in getting better regarding my recovery, the better I became at feeling calm when I discussed food, prepared meals, or shared a dinner with the people I love. Today, as I look back, I see that my eating disorder was centered in emptiness and hurt. My body felt alien to me at the time. Today, I see food as nourishment. That change didn’t happen overnight, but by learning incrementally on how to face my struggles with food and eventually facing those head on, food went from a negative to something to revel in and enjoy.
Lemoine, P. (2014, October 21). How I Learned to Love Food in Eating Disorder Recovery, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2021, January 19 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/survivinged/2014/10/how-i-learned-to-love-food-in-eating-disorder-recovery
Author: Patricia Lemoine
Thank you for this, it is very helpful.