*Trigger warning: In writing this entry, I was sensitive to avoid possible triggering content. However, this post discusses weight, in a general way without reference to numbers. Please be warned if you find weight discussions triggering. I also touch briefly on past disordered food patterns but, again, in a non-specific way.
When talking about the fact that I have struggled with Orthorexia, I’ve always been a bit vague on the timeline. I really haven’t felt comfortable being forthright about that, and as someone who strives to be really, really honest, that quite honestly has never sat right with me. It really probably doesn’t matter or affect my overall message, but I am feeling particularly grateful this November. It was just one year ago this month that I made the commitment to myself to let go of my rigid control over food. While I had been in therapy for well over a year at that time and had addressed my perfectionism and anxiety, I still hadn’t pushed myself to really get out of my comfort zone with food.
Just to put things in perspective, I had - at my worst - limited myself to only 5 safe foods. Just thinking back to those days makes me shudder. I have no words to adequately describe the hole I was in. Even if I did allow myself to physically eat something different, I didn’t allow it psychologically and beat myself up. Last November I had increased the amount of foods I would eat, but only somewhat marginally and I knew that if I truly wanted to heal, I had to get really uncomfortable. I didn’t not want to go into the holiday season in that extreme mindset and I was also so sick of being sick – because in no way was my “healthy diet” making me feel well. I currently wouldn’t say I eat EVERYTHING but in my opinion that’s not the goal of Intuitive Eating. I can make a decision I feel good about without worrying if it’s “perfect” and move on. There isn’t any anxiety or fear about food, which is a HUGE win.
Anyway, while this past year has been very difficult, I have enormous gratitude for the growth I have experienced. By losing anxiety about food, I have gained so much:
1. Perspective. Because my brain is no longer starving, my thinking is much more functional. In addition, because of my past experiences I see so much more clearly. This quote describes how I feel better than I ever could.
I am so grateful for the clarity and vision that would have not been possible without this struggle. Regarding food, I’ve found this to be true: you find what you are looking for. If you make food difficult and complex, it will be difficult and complex. If you let food just be food, it doesn’t need to be overwhelming or complicated. I don’t know how better to put it, and only those that have been through this process will likely completely understand. I know without a doubt that I caused my own problems.
2. Self-trust. I always tell my clients that our whole goal for working together is to replace food anxiety with self-trust. Self-trust also comes with confidence, immunity to the opinions of others, healthy boundaries and the ability to be flexible and adapt to changes. Bouts of anxiety and other forms of emotional suffering are far fewer and less common for me. I am sure you can imagine how good that feels.
3. Love. Self-trust also brings healthy self-respect. This self-love doesn’t feel boastful, it just feels like I show up and support myself instead of beating myself up.
The interesting thing is that as I grow in self-compassion, I am able to love others more deeply and completely. I’ve always loved my husband and kids of course, but I firmly believe that the quality of our relationships are a direct reflection of the quality of the relationship with ourselves. When you work on yourself, most other things take care of themselves.
4. Health. I found it interesting that once I started feeding myself well again, my body was like YES!!!! And NO!!!! all at the same time. After being so malnourished for so long, my body was crying for food. But at the same time, it had to relearn how to digest and use an appropriate amount of food again. In a lot of ways I felt like I was starting over – just like a baby I needed to eat very frequently, would often wake up hungry and had a lot of digestive pains. In many ways my body is still healing and repairing, but I’ve found that physical health isn’t the sole measurement of wellness. I feel better mentally, emotionally and spiritually than I probably ever have and I’ve found that even if my body doesn’t ever fully recover, I wouldn’t trade the changes I’ve seen in other areas for anything. Of course I hope for a full physical recovery, but I fully accept where I am at and take it a day at a time with much hope for the future.
5. Weight. Trust and faith have been the theme of the past year. In the past I have fought against my body seeking control and ultimately not responding effectively to it’s needs. Nowadays, I trust my body to know how to heal. I’ve found that I am really good at knowing what my body is telling me, which I consider a huge blessing. This past year has required a lot of rest and a lot of food after years of obsessive exercise and under feeding. My body is hungry for nutrition and I’m definitely obliging. As a result, I’ve gained weight.
We find that with weight restoration, body image improves. Interesting right? Weight gain is often the most feared result of eating disorder recovery, but it seems that a well-nourished brain is able to appreciate a well-nourished body. I will be honest, weight gain hasn’t necessarily been easy for me but now that I am at a more appropriate weight for my body type and genetics, it rarely bothers me anymore. I am so grateful that I have been able to separate my sense of worth and value from my physical attributes. Because I have done that for myself, I am able to do that for other people as well. Being less judgmental and more self-aware feels so good.
Weight restoration also brings less cravings and preoccupation with food. I used to spend most of my day thinking about it, for good reason - I needed it badly! While I definitely make healthy meals a priority, it's done out of self-care rather than anxiety, fear or manipulation. I have a very good idea of what I enjoy and what makes me feel good and then I move on with life.
It could be argued that I needed to gain weight, and I did. Those clients I work with who feel they don’t need to gain weight but are just as malnourished as I was from lack of consistent good nutrition, may see their weight fluctuate with refeeding. It’s always sad to see this keep them from moving forward in healing and recovery, knowing their body will find it’s healthy weight with consistent self-care. Weight obsession in my mind is keeping us from being healthy.
Interestingly enough, throughout this experience no one has ever commented on my weight – lower or higher...until last week. I was teaching a class and a couple who had known me a few years ago were in attendance. I recognized them and introduced myself and they couldn’t believe it was me. They repeated the fact that I had gained weight at least 5 times, in total disbelief. I told them it was probably because I was wearing glasses, laughed and hoped to change the subject and move on (to no avail). I actually was really grateful for that experience, because I felt absolutely no need to confirm or deny it, no need to engage with the conversation and not one bit of shame or offense. It just was, and the fact that they had such a hard time with it has more to do with their own stuff and nothing to do with me. I feel good about the place I have reached where the opinions of others, especially in regards to my health, weight or food intake, really just don't matter to me.
Yesterday I had my annual gynecological exam. Infertility is an issue for me, and was before my rocky relationship with food. However, the past few years definitely haven't put me in the position to realize my ultimate hope of being pregnant again. Too many years have gone by where I have ignored that nagging feeling that I needed to change my destructive behaviors in order to give my body the best possible shot at pregnancy. But yesterday, I could with all confidence say to myself that I am giving it all I can. The rest is out of my hands.
On this Thanksgiving eve, and my husband’s birthday, I am grateful for these experiences, for where I am at and all the wonderful people that are there with me.
Emily Fonnesbeck RD, CD