I am currently re-reading the book, Eating in the Light of the Moon, by Anita Johnston (highly recommend) and something totally clicked with me. When I read this book when I was 20, I appreciated it, but I can now say I was not mentally prepared to really absorb everything I was reading at that point in my recovery. It is like when you are contemplating buying a new car. You go to the dealership, it looks beautiful and you want it, however, you are not ready to sign the paperwork just yet. You want to hold on to your old Honda until it dies on the freeway and leaves you stranded. Only then can you for sure say that you really need the new car. My recovery in my late teens and early twenties was similar; let’s see how far I can take it (or change my type of eating disorder) before I decide that I want to really change my behavior.
Anita says in order for someone with disordered eating to become recovered, you have to not fear your feelings. So much of your eating disorder stems from not wanting to feel anything. This makes total sense to me. I used obsession with food and exercise as a way to not have to deal with my life or the feelings that I associated with my life, day, family, boyfriends, exams, work, etc. When you stuff your face with food or restrict yourself, you are essentially suppressing feelings that you do not want to deal with. You are numbing your pain. For me, when I had binge eating disorder, I become almost in a trance-like state that I did not see or hear any of my surroundings except the thoughts in my head (eat, eat, eat) and the food that was right in front of me. The only sensations that I felt, were my fullness cues, which I disregarded until I become very uncomfortable at which point I would then purge (throw up or over exercise). I was eating to fill a void. I was eating because if I consumed myself with eating, then the stress, anxiety, loneliness, paranoia, depression, or worry I once felt, was momentarily suppressed. What always dumbfounded me and what I told numerous therapists of mine was, “I know I am going to feel like shit after I binge, so why do I continue to do it?”. And now it makes sense to me that I did it because regardless of how shitty I felt after a binge, I knew that not bingeing would feel even shittier because then I would have to deal with my feelings and I was incapable of handling them without food or exercise.
Using food can also be a way for you to literally get out of your emotion induced situation. At the peak of my relationship with ED, I would be overly consumed with anxiety for a job interview that I would binge so that I did not have to go. Bingeing would offer me a way to get out of a scary situation and for me all job interviews were scary at that point because of my anxiety disorder. The amount of guilt that I felt after a binge would justify a 3 hour bike ride which in turn would make me too late to my interview to even bother showing up for. Self-sabotage. Even being recovered today, I still see how I use food as a shield against having “to deal”. Anxiety or boredom still trigger me to eat. For example, the other night my husband and I were told that we have to vacate our home in the next two months. I was very upset and so what did I immediately go do? I started to eat tortilla chips and hummus even though I was not hungry. I wanted to suppress my sadness and worry with food. I didn’t want to have to go on Zillow and look for a new place, instead I wanted to forget about it momentarily. Or when my husband is working late and I am home alone and bored, I will eat to suppress my loneliness. Obviously stressful or anxious times are going to make some people eat and that is ok. But for someone with ED, a little moment of “I am sad so I am going to eat some chips” (stress eating) can turn into “I am sad so I am going to eat some chips, cream cheese, ice cream, half a bottle of wine, and I am going to repeatedly tell myself I am a worthless piece of shit until I don’t feel anything anymore except fullness” (disordered eating).
For some people, it may sound like people who have disordered eating are using food or exercise as an excuse to not get stuff done or to avoid life’s hiccups. But what I think some people do not understand is, is that although ED is a physical state (lose or gain weight) it is even more so a mental state. It is unbelievably hard to talk yourself out of bingeing, throwing up or going to the gym immediately after eating 6 slices of pizza. It is unbelievably hard to not let exercise or food help you get you through your day. So the next time you decide to head to the kitchen for your third slice of cake, start a dialogue with yourself and ask “What am I feeling right now?” and “What could I do besides eating to make myself feel better about my situation?”
…Here I come Zillow!
If you are interested in reading the book, you can find on Amazon below: