Three weeks ago I wrote about “focusing more on the depth of health, moving beyond the surface of being thin and taking care of what’s inside instead.”
I didn’t intend the original post to kick off a series, but it seemed apt to dig in further on what this means for me, now that I’ve had some time to sit and digest (hah).
Admittedly, things went sideways as I entered a rather deep dip in my mental health. Full disclosure: it was rough and it was dark. What I didn’t recognize at the time is that in those times of darkness, I default to what I perceive as being in my control: food. What goes in my mouth, what doesn’t, and more frighteningly, what comes out.
The secret shame that I’d been carrying for many years is that I relapse into my binge/purge cycle when I’m overly stressed or anxious. When too many things in my external world are out of my control, I turn inward and double down on what I can internally control.
But it’s only an illusion of control.
I finally told Mark about my bingeing and purging last week, after years of the confession hanging on the precipice of my lips… but not able to utter the words until I had reached my breaking point. Even if throughout the years I wanted to break the cycle, keeping it buried meant that deep down inside, I was not ready to let it go. I can’t pinpoint exactly what it was, but I did have a quiet voice inside saying, “I want to get better. Please let me get better.”
Vocalizing it added an accountability that I didn’t have on my own. Taking the secret out of my shame meant that I could no longer pretend that things were okay. Mark thanked me for telling him and encouraged me to seek help. (I’m blessed to have a supportive partner.)
The first step of many in my road to recovery was to schedule a visit with my psychotherapist. She helped (as she always does) break down what was really going on with my disordered eating. She helped me to see it as a symptom, a big ass neon sign blaring THINGS ARE NOT OKAY, YOU MUST GET HELP NOW. Thankfully I took the sign seriously.
We unpacked a lot in one session, but in keeping with the health and vitality theme, my key takeaway is that I need to break my “all or nothing” mentality. I likened this in my previous post to getting shit on your shoe and not rolling around in it. Well, truthfully, as much as it makes sense to my logical side, it doesn’t truly resonate with me. Because stepping in shit isn’t necessarily a choice. It happens by accident. It’s not like I see a pile of poop and think, “oooh, I think I would love to go step in that right about now.” On the flip side, eating a cookie is a choice I make, and with my all or nothing mentality, eating that cookie is a lapse in will power and I’ve messed everything up, so I might as well eat the whole damn package.
Another example that really resonated with me involved exercise. If I decide today that I’m not going to work out, instead of giving myself permission to own that decision, I have to take it one step further and say, “I’m not going to workout today, so instead I’ll eat a whole tub of peanut butter.” Why do I need to eat a whole tub of peanut butter if I decide to skip a workout? Right? It’s like I need to create a punishment befitting of the guilt I feel about the decision. I’m manifesting these severe and overly rigid parameters where I’m not even allowed to take a break from a workout schedule.
See? All or nothing.
So how do I go about breaking the all or nothing habit and start healing all the bad disordered shit?
I’m giving Intuitive Eating (IE) a try. As new-agey as it sounds, the principles are exactly what I need to start looking at food as just that – food. It is not a substitute for happiness. It is not something good or bad. There are no labels – food is fuel and nourishment, and macros don’t matter.
The biggest shift will be to reject the diet mentality. I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t in diet mode, with weight loss being the end game. Eating always required extensive mental gymnastics to calculate calories and macros. If I eat this, can I eat that later on? Will I have enough caloric room left at dinner? How many net carbs does this thing have and will it fit in today’s plan? What if I ate it tomorrow, does that I mean I can eat something else instead? If I eat this, I have to exercise later, so I’d rather not eat it. How many calories do I have left for the day?
I think I’m ready to stop being so mentally twisted when it comes to food.
As crazy as it sounds, I went grocery shopping right after my therapy session. I had a slight fear that I might go out of control and start throwing in boxes of junk food into my shopping cart like a crazed addict (again, that all or nothing mentality sneaking in).
What surprised me most was that I walked down the junk food aisles and didn’t want to eat any of it. None of my “trigger” foods – chips, cookies, ice cream, cakes, breads – seemed that appealing. What did appeal to me most were vegetables (seriously who am I? I’m normally so meh on veggies). I was already practicing listening to my body, letting go of mentally calculating calories and macros, and going with the flow.
I went home feeling an odd sense of peace. After putting away my haul, I took the dogs out into the yard for some play time and made myself a batch of overnight oats to enjoy for breakfast the next day. (The oats were delicious by the way, a filling concoction of rolled oats, coconut yogurt, almond milk, sunflower butter, cinnamon, and honey, topped with fresh blueberries and quinoa puffs.)
I’m not going to delude myself into thinking it will always be this easy. Like with anything brand new and shiny, it’s the honeymoon phase. The true test will be if I’m able to commit when shit gets rough.
But I’m hopeful that I’m taking steps in the right direction. All I have to do is keep walking.