There’s something involved in eating disorders that play an incredible important role in recovery, and also serves to intensify out eating disorder exaggerated – control.
When my eating disorder was a lot worse, I was trying to control just about everything. Calories in and calories out, food groups, amount of exercise, time to eat breakfast/lunch/dinner/snack, fat and muscle percentages & weight I was trying to achieve. I was trying to pinpoint everything to to reaching that unachievable numeric goal. And the more I tried to control, the more my own intentions backfired me, making my eating disorder even worse and delaying recovery.
Why? Because I refused to surrender myself to my body’s needs. When I wanted rice I forced myself to eat brown bread instead. When I wanted white chocolate I forced myself to go guzzle a load of water. When I wanted curry I reluctantly chose clear soup. When I wanted cheesy pizza I unenthusiastically chose salad without dressing. Not just once, but as many times as I could. I pretty much was denying my body what it needed and what it wanted.
Here’s the thing: when we enter a relationship with food with the aim of controlling the amount of food we put into our body, the (not-so) funny thing is that it ends up controlling us. When I was dieting and restricting my food I was in control, but when I binged, I felt like I had lost control of what I was doing. When we restrict ourselves so much to the point that our body rebels. We don’t make leeways for desserts, mistakes or one-off occasions. Everything must be followed according to the book and when we deviate from our rigid rules, we end up punishing ourselves.
We binge, because our body is starving. A binge is our body’s natural biological response to what we are doing to our body.
And let’s be honest. For how long can we “control” ourselves? Do we want to control ourselves for the rest our lives, telling ourselves to choose option A over option B because option B might make you fat?
Your relationship to food is a reflection of your relationship with your life. What is it in your life that you are trying to gain control or change that is making you restrict? A fear of loneliness that makes you binge to feel better? Trying to get a thin body & obsessing over your food intake? Wanting to get more attention and praise & so obsessively exercising to get a ripped lean body that those fit chicks on Instagram?
In my opinion, an important key to recovering (and deriving happiness from it) is this:
Whenever I find myself obsessing over calories and getting anxious about my weight, I force myself to sit down and think “Why am I wanting to restrict my food and lose weight?” My answer? I wanted to be thinner; I wanted to lose weight, get attention and seek praise.
And then I think back to what I did to achieve that and what happened when I lost the extra weight: constantly watching what I eat and constantly wondering what I can and cannot eat to lose weight, exercising more and even comparing myself to pictures of thin women and using that as motivation to lose weight. Needless to say, my emotional wellbeing took a dip. When I chose to let go (difficult but I still chose it), I was so much happier. I was less stressed about food & wasn’t beating myself up over that bite of chocolate.
That’s the paradox of control. You can be in control of your life ONLY when you stop trying to be in control of every single aspect all the time. Maybe that’s a lesson that is also involved in eating disorder recovery: that it’s okay to not be in control at all times. That its okay to be imperfect. That its okay to overeat on some days. That its okay to not have a meal plan or if you do, to not follow it 100% all day everyday. That its okay to not an itty bitty waist or the body that some celebrities have.
When we stop trying to control our food, we start:
- Really listening to our body and eat what our body tells us it needs
- Allowing ourselves sweets and chocolate and cake and ice-cream when we want it without feeling guilty.
- Removing any emotional associations with food.
- Finding out that we don’t crave “bad” foods as much as want
- Choosing to eat foods based on what our body feels it needs at that moment
We can’t always control what we eat, how much we eat and how much we exercise. The thing we can control, is how we choose to respond to a situation. The more we try to control what/how/when we eat, the more emotionally distressed we feel (anger, sadness, self-disgust). But if we choose to change how we perceive food, our relationship to food, and displace our self-worth from our weight, the less our food will control our mental wellbeing
Perfection doesn’t exist and we are all flawed so let’s just learn to accept that we are flawed human beings just wanting to survive, wanting to pat the dust off our shoes and work on recovering from our disordered eating patterns and just be the best person in recovery that we can be.