The Eating Disorder Lens

“We must look at the lens through we see the world, as well as the world we see, and that the lens itself shapes how we interpret the world.”

― Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

When I was a little girl, I came up with the following description for a person’s soul: “Our eyes can see,” I said, “but something has to want to look out. That something is a person’s soul.”

I might rephrase this today as an adult, but only slightly: the eyes can see, but something has to want to look out; that something is the self.

Of course, it’s a little more complicated than that: the eyes can see, but it’s the brain (the mind) that interprets. And, those interpretations are influenced by a person’s core beliefs and experiences. No two people’s experiences and interpretations of those experiences are the same. Thus, each of us see the world through a different lens. Multiple lenses, actually; you may have quite a few.

I have an eating disorder lens.

When I look at the world through my eating disorder lens, it is a dangerous and terrifying place in which I can only find safety by being as completely in control as possible.

It is a place where safety is found in numbers — in making numbers continually smaller.

It is a place where strength is found in being so in control of one’s self that not even natural urges like hunger so bad that you are shaking can make you break your control. Even while food is right in front of you, or in your hand, or even in your mouth.

Perfect.

Control.

When I look in the mirror through my eating disorder lens, I see something disgusting, something that will never be enough, something weak, something unlovable, someTHING, not someONE.

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When I look at a plate of food through my eating disorder lens, each bite might as well be inscribed with some important, crucial need that I will be giving up should I eat that bite of food. It’s like being shown one of those “One Must Go Forever!” Memes, only it’s real life, and your choice feels real and permanent.

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Which do you choose?

Go on… it’s not that hard! Just eat! Just choose.

It took time to craft this eating disorder lens. It took time to fit it to my eye so fastly. It took time and reinforcement, experience after experience after experience.

And now, I’m in therapy. And, I’m working on a new lens.

A lens through which I can see that food is, maybe, not so closely tied to my most vital emotional need for connection.

That, maybe, I am enough, have always been enough…

And, yes, that’s a terrifying thing to confront — because, if I’ve always been good enough, have always been worthy of love and acceptance, then what does that mean about certain events in my life? About certain people from my life?

If I glance through this lens…and, right now, that’s all I can do…the world is still scary and unsafe.

And that’s just how the world is: unsafe.

Looking through this lens forces me to confront my lack of control, my inability to keep bad things from happening, people from leaving, my own daughter from getting hurt someday by this unsafe world that is, ultimately, out of my control. No matter how strong I may be.

A new lens.

The new lens slowly becomes an option — I can choose, in this moment, to look at the world through the eating disorder lens or through the recovery lens. I can choose, I have to choose, over and over and over.

Because, that eating disorder lens…it’s still there. And, it’s pretty damn comfortable… with its promises of possible ways to achieve safety in this world.

I think the goal, ultimately, is that the new lens becomes the more comfortable one: my default lens. That it will fit my eye more and more securely as I continue to shape it and make it more clear through therapy and practice. (It’s still pretty foggy and rough.)

I don’t know what the end result will look like, and that is hard for someone who strives for perfection and control. I am one of those people who, once I know the goal, will leap over steps to achieve the outcome as quickly as possible.

But, recovery doesn’t work that way. It took me 31 years to create the lenses through which I interpret and understand the world; crafting a new one… it’s going to take time.

Fortunately, I have that.

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The Lies “Before and After” Photos Tell

Everyone loves a good before and after photo; lots of people loved mine a few years ago. (Let’s be honest – as much as I wish it were the other way around, it’s the photo that made that post go viral, not my writing.) But, for me, before and after photos perpetuated a lie.

A “good” before and after photo is no better than an ad in a magazine with a too-thin model. A “good” before and after photo says “it is possible to achieve society’s standard of an acceptable body!”

I wonder what my before and after photo made you think…

But, here’s the thing…

Real “after” isn’t so pretty.

Real “after” isn’t always a flat stomach, smaller rear, and toned limbs.

Real “after” is loose skin and stretch marks that I will always carry with me, because I was overweight, and I can’t ever escape that.

Real “after” is persistent and painful skin infections that I get due to moisture getting trapped in the sagging skin on my abdomen.

Real “after” is looking in the mirror and constantly questioning “are those rolls of fat or just loose skin?”

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(Sept 2018)

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2015

Real “after” is seeing one body when you’ve got clothes on and an entirely different one when you’re naked.

Real “after” is adjusting your own droopy skin throughout the day, trying to make it look more flattering or feel more comfortable.

Sometimes, real “after” is just as uncomfortable as “before.” Sometimes, possibly more uncomfortable.

Real “after” can mean body dysmorphia.

I wish we could take before and after photos of our minds. What might those look like?

Are “after” minds happier? More relaxed? Freer?

Are they satisfied? Full of self love? Content?

Is life easier?

Or, are they more anxious? Terrified of losing “what they worked so hard for?” Lost? Lacking in a definition of self?

How much mental time, energy, and space is maintaining that weight loss taking up? Can the “after” mind even accept that “after” is here?

And, if we could see before and after photos of minds, would we still choose to pursue weight loss?

And, if so… why?

This is Real Life…An Uninspirational Blog Post

It’s been a month since my last post, and though I have been reluctant to write, I wanted to stick to my goal of including  this blog in my present journey. So, here I am…with a confession:

I’m tracking macros again, and my abusive relationship with numbers (and myself) is in a definite “on again” phase.

I am very frustrated this morning.

I’m angry, actually.

I’m angry that this is so difficult.

I’m angry that the real “meat” of a disordered relationship with food and body is so illusive.

Honestly, the food is the easy part. Food is concrete: eating it or restricting it in many various ways are all firmly graspable behaviors that can be forced in one direction or the other. It’s the mental and emotional battle that leaves me feeling hopeless. As I said in one of my online support groups this morning: I can make myself eat bread; I can’t make myself be OK with it.

The thing is, I feel like the only thing anyone is prepared to help me with is the food, and it’s making me worry that that’s all that anyone CAN help me with. That I’m doomed to one of two fates: follow my obsession & live it out loud… or don’t actually act it out — follow someone else’s plan instead — but still be trapped with it in my head. And, honestly, I’m not sure which of those two outcomes is the easiest to live with.

I really don’t have much more than that to share at this point. I will say that the path I’m currently being nudged down is towards “intuitive eating.” I’m reading the book, and I’ve joined a couple of online intuitive eating support communities, but I currently can’t even imagine it ever being possible for me. I’m not even sure I can bring myself to want it. The truth is…I don’t trust my body to tell me how to eat, and I don’t trust myself with food. I can’t imagine a world in which my weight doesn’t determine my worthiness, and I’m not sure I can ever believe that to be true…not in my world. True for others, but not for me.