The motto of this year’s National Eating Disorder Awareness Week is “It’s Time to Talk About It.” In honor of that credo, Sovereign Health is sharing the stories of eating disorder patients in recovery. Their words provide invaluable insight into the mindset of a person with an eating disorder as well as serve as inspiration to overcome that mindset.
In this article, Robyn B. describes her changing relationship with food and her self-image.
Question: People with an eating disorder (ED) often obsess over food in a love/hate interplay. Many will work in the food industry or play farming and food prep games. They may also cook in large quantities for friends and family without touching the food themselves. Has this ever been true for you? Describe your train of thought and mood when preparing food or playing food apps.
Answer: This was something I definitely struggled with in my eating disorder. I would make baked goods for friends, family and coworkers all the time but never eat them. I was also very controlling over making as many of the dishes I could when it came to holiday events, although I would eat the food for those. I also collected a ton of recipes that I never made. It was almost like I love the fantasy of cooking them. I think the reward was a feeling of control over my body; that I was prepping and cooking very delicious food but had the control and will-power to NOT eat it. It made me feel better than the other people I was giving it to. It was an illusion of success in my life.
Q: If you’ve ever had a time when loved ones brought up ED treatment, or perhaps you awoke in the hospital after a medical emergency related to eating disorder, what were your first frantic thoughts? What were your fears with an outsider “stepping in to help?”
A: I was placed in inpatient treatment two times and both were ultimatums where I was not reaching out for help. Although I ultimately went along with the plan to go to treatment, I felt extremely out of control and almost betrayed by my parents, who I felt forced me to go. My anxiety and ED thoughts became even more overwhelming when they stepped in to get me a higher level of care. My fears of them stepping in to help were that I would actually have to change. If this happened, I would lose everything I had worked so hard for (what my eating disorder wanted me to believe). I believed that I would get fat, people wouldn’t like me, I would lose my job or not be able to get a job again and my life would be over. All of which were ED thoughts and not based in reality.
Q: Some eating disorders begin with medical conditions that require strict monitoring of personal diet. If this happened to you, please describe the medical condition, how it changed your relationship with food and the series of events that dead-ended in an eating disorder.
A: I had no medical issues prior to the onset of my eating disorder, however after being in recovery for several years, I developed severe digestive issues and my dietician began to advise me to avoid certain foods in order to lesson my discomfort. This was difficult to hear because I was and am such a firm believer in intuitive eating. I had to learn that intuitive eating did not mean eat everything regardless of its physical complications, it meant listening and honoring my body. I was well in to my recovery when my choice of food became limited so I was able to make changes without relapsing.
Q: Looking back, what do you recall that instigated a disordered relationship between you and food?
A: I always think back to the earliest memories I have about hating my body and feeling so overwhelmed when something didn’t feel right on my body, like if clothes felt weird or uncomfortable or even when my hair felt uncomfortable. I feel like I’ve always been extra sensitive to how things feel on my skin.
One of the most vivid memories I have about feeling shame about my body is with my grandmother. One Christmas when I was around 8 years old, she came up to me and tried to put her hands around my waist. When she wasn’t able to fit her hands around my waist she pulled away, shook her head at me and told me that when she was my age grown men could fit their hands around her waist. It was like I was a failure and a disappointment because my waist wasn’t “small enough”. This was really the kick-off to an almost 20-year battle with my body.
Q: When you had a harmful; relationship with food, what statements by friends or family would trigger you most?
A: “Why can’t you just eat?”
When people would think my problem was so simple to fix. All I should do is just eat. This made me feel like a failure and an idiot. People thought if I could just gain weight and eat like everyone else, my eating disorder would be solved.
I also would get super triggered when someone would comment on my appearance and it didn’t matter what he or she would say. They could tell me I looked great or horrible, either way it was triggering. I still prefer that people not make any comments on my body or the way I look. I feel like it makes my appearance the most important thing about me when their only comments are on my appearance. I’d much rather be complimented on my work ethic or kindness.
Q: As a person recovering from an eating disorder, what statements by your loved ones, quotes or reminders lift you up and keep your mind centered on nourishing your body and wellness?
A: “The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek” – Joseph Campbell. This reminds me to feel the fear and do it anyway, which is what my recovery is really all about; facing my fears and moving through them rather than shying away from them.
Follow this series
Sovereign Health is publishing one “Talking about it” testimonial per weekend during National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. Check back tomorrow for another look inside the world’s deadliest eating disorder. You can also review the other installment of our series:
About Sovereign Health
Sovereign Health provides behavioral health treatment for eating disorders as well as other mental health disorders, substance abuse. Trauma and chronic pain. Our residential treatment facility in Rancho San Diego, California, offers an eating disorder program for adolescent girls, while our facility in San Clemente, California, treats adult women with eating disorders. Both facilities are accredited by the Joint Commission, the most respected health care accreditation institution in the United States. For more information, please contact our 24/7 helpline.