Owning My Eating Disorder

First of all, I just want to thank everyone who commented and offered support on my last post. It’s amazing to me that I still have readers out there even though I am not very active on this blog (or my YouTube channel) anymore. Your reading & your comments mean so much to me. Thank you.

After my last post, I finally reached out to my dietician to ask for help. She’s an eating disorder specialist and an intuitive eating dietician, and she has been my voice of reason in the past (and again now) when I couldn’t necessarily trust my own internal dialogue. I’m working with both her and my therapist to slowly climb my way back out of this relapse, and I’m already feeling a little better than I was a few weeks ago: more energy, less depression, clearer mind. I’ve also been attending some virtual eating disorder support groups, which first pissed me off (because the people there were just so POSITIVE and “recovery” when I felt so negative and unwilling to let go of what I was doing), but are now really helping.

One of the toughest thoughts I find myself grappling with is whether or not my eating disorder is real.

Let me back up for a second and explain that, for me, it makes the most sense to characterize my eating disorder thoughts as a separate voice inside my head that intrudes without my being able to stop it. It often sounds like this:

I’m in the kitchen making myself a tuna sandwich. I suddenly think “hmm…cheese would be good on this…remember when you used to have those amazing tuna melts in college?”

ED voice: NO! Cheese will add 120 calories! You’ll go over your calories! It’s too much! You’ve already added mayo! How many calories even is this meal?! You’re probably way over already!

I will be flooded with physical panic and fear. I do not eat the cheese. The ED voice wins this round.

The ED voice tells me a lot of things to keep me compliant, and one of those things is that the eating disorder itself is not real. That, if I go a day eating more calories than the ED wants or if I don’t track my calories for a day, that means the eating disorder isn’t real and that I’ve been using it as an excuse for attention. Which is gross and disgusting and bad bad bad. The only way to rectify? To restrict lower, harder, lose more weight. To prove it is real. And then, then maybe I will be worthy of care and of food.

It’s tricky, this ED voice. And, the deeper I am into the behaviors (restriction), the harder it is to even distinguish this voice from my own.

But, it’s there. And, I’m realizing, the fact that it’s yelling at me that it doesn’t exist is proof enough that it does. That I DO have an eating disorder. It’s the very thing yelling at me while I don’t eat the cheese. It’s controlling that action.

I’m now grappling with a couple of questions and feelings about these questions:

  1. Does having an eating disorder mean I can never diet again?
  2. Why is it seemingly OK for others to diet (or eat X number of calories, or track calories, or whatever action) but not me?

The conclusions I’ve come to? Because I have an addiction.

I am addicted to my eating disorder.

I get a dopamine rush whenever I see the scale drop. Whenever I close out my day at a certain number of calories. Whenever I give in to the ED voice in my head — I get a dopamine rush — and it gets harder and harder to get/hold onto that feeling, so I end up needing more and more to get there (restrict lower, etc.).

I have an eating disorder, and so, no, I genuinely don’t think I can safely “diet” (restrict calories) even a little bit. A little restriction inevitably leads to a relapse.

I have an eating disorder (addiction), so I have to stay away from things like calorie tracking, 100%, because even a little bit of it inevitably leads to a relapse.

And this makes me angry. It feels unfair. And the ED voice in my head, of course, screams at me that I’m using the eating disorder as an excuse to “stay fat” and eat unrestricted. (The ED voice says that I am not worthy of eating unrestricted because I don’t have an eating disorder/I am not thin enough.)

Tangled web, huh? The eating disorder telling me it doesn’t exist, so I should listen to it… lots of logic there.

In any case, I am growing more practiced right now with owning this and trying not to be too ashamed…because, yeah, there’s a lot of shame that comes up when I say “I have an eating disorder.” Shame and an instantaneous disbelief in the thing I am saying.

Me: I have an eating disorder.

ED voice: no you don’t! Stop making things up for attention! …..

Me: if you don’t exist, then how are you even talking to me?

Right, so…

Hi, my name is Lisa, and I have an eating disorder.

What Do You Do When Numbing is Off the Table?

I often look back on my past selves and think “what the hell happened?”

What happened to make me gain so much weight?

What happened to make me lose so much weight?

Why did I continually eat until I was in physical pain?

Why did I continually starve until I couldn’t go on a simple walk?

When I think back to all of these times in my life, I’ve realized that they were all times of trauma. Often, extended trauma – not one-time events.

I had heard of emotional eating, and I knew that it was something I used to do. (Something I labeled as “BAD!”) But, I had never heard of “emotional restriction.” I had never considered that one might turn to restriction in the same way one might turn to a pint of ice cream for comfort. But, when I think about it now, it makes perfect sense.

When food is the first place you turn in every crisis you’ve experienced your entire life, it makes perfect sense that restricting food could become the place you turn.

I didn’t recognize this pattern in myself until very recently. But, looking back, even before the restrictive eating disorder, starting a “new diet” always brought up a bit of a rush — a sense of hope, new beginnings, and accomplishment. The promise of approval and love in times when I felt unlovable and unworthy.

I bring this up now, because I have spent the last 6 weeks in the worst restrictive relapse since I began recovering from my eating disorder. I’m telling you this because I always want to be honest about my weight loss. And, honestly, because I know my friends and family read this blog…and I need you to not complement me on my weight loss if you see me over the holidays & happen to notice. I need you to know that I did not lose this weight healthily — I lost it because I’ve been trying to numb myself and cope after dealing with a trauma.

Those close to me will know what happened. I don’t want to go into intimate details here, but to avoid speculation, I will say that it had to do with finding out someone close to me was actually a sociopath & reporting that person for abuse, which has been a year-long process that has finally concluded.

What I do want to talk about — even solicit from those who might still read this blog — are other ways to cope with trauma and overwhelming feelings when you’ve spent your entire life turning to either food or restriction to deal with these things.

What do you do? What do you do when you are so overwhelmed by feelings that it is intolerable? What do you do when you cannot wrap your mind around something traumatic that has happened? How do you cope?

I can’t turn to cake… and I can’t turn to starvation. What do you do when numbing is off the table?

Perhaps the answer is right in front of me — I do this.

I write a blog.