The fact that I am even writing this is quite ironic. A little over a year or so ago, I don’t think I could have ever imagined myself writing articles about food. My relationship with food and my attitude towards eating weren’t exactly healthy yet. I was still worried that I was eating way too much after long days at school and wasn’t able to comfortably eat in front of anyone I wasn’t extremely close with.
If anyone were to make any comments about the amount I was eating, I felt like shards of glass were being stabbed into my skin, sharp reminders that no matter how far I had come, I still had not found a happy medium with food. It would always be one extreme or the other – either too little or too much. Or so I thought.
Anorexia nervosa first stormed into my life in early 2009, and I began receiving treatment later that year. After numerous check ups, therapy sessions, nutrition appointments, and Prozac, I finally ended treatment in 2012. By then, food had become little more than a routine part of my day. Sure, I enjoyed it at times, but my diet was still so rigid and restrictive.
While I did meet the necessary calorie intake, there was almost no variety. Breakfasts were always cereal, lunches were always a sandwich on 100% whole wheat bread with fruit and veggies. After a year of that, I became bored. But instead of trying to mix it up, I gave up on lunch and stopped bringing it to school altogether. I had little interest in experimenting with food because I still feared it.
Without lunch, I was always starving when I arrived home. And while my constant late afternoon hunger led to a less restrictive diet, it also led me to feel like I was out of control. I feared I was developing a binge eating disorder, and was ashamed for “failing” at recovery. To me, it was worse than relapsing back into anorexic tendencies.
This past fall, I decided I desperately needed to change. I began striving to eat as little processed food as possible (cereal is still a major weakness, it’s just too convenient). To accomplish this, I, of course, had to begin experimenting with different recipes. I began making smoothies, energy bites, and nice cream instead of constantly reaching for pretzels, Clif Bars, or other pre-packaged, salty or sweet snacks.
In the beginning, I still struggled with eating a bit more than I probably needed (pumpkin spice energy bites are way too good to only eat a few), and occasionally drank smoothies a little too often because liquid calories seemed “safer” to me.
But, I am slowly learning to find a healthy balance, and, more importantly, I’ve learned to love preparing food. I love trying new snack and dessert recipes or attempting to copy coffee drinks I love. I get excited about trying new ice cream shops and restaurants and I’m no longer afraid to openly admit that I like to eat. Food is no longer a boring routine or source of extreme anxiety.
Sure, I may need to work on eating a little less sweets and sugary snacks, but I know now that I will not spiral out of control. I will continue to change my eating habits for the better, and I know that doing so will be so much easier now that food is not my worst enemy.
I used to think that I would enjoy food only if I knew everything I ate was “safe” and extremely healthy. However, the only reason I have been able to fall in love with food again is because I broke out of the little box with a limited menu that I had put myself in.
That box wasn’t keeping me safe – it was only breeding more unhealthy eating habits. Now, there are no more unnecessary limits. No more fear foods. No more food guilt. No more rules or calorie counting. No more reasons why I cannot have the dessert my friend brought me for my birthday even after I just ate breakfast, or why I cannot have an ice cream sundae for lunch. I can eat spontaneously without a second thought and no longer feel ashamed.
I have finally learned that the little girl who almost cried once when there was no chocolate in the house for weeks, the girl I was before anorexia, is not someone to be ashamed of. I am that girl again. I have cravings, and I am not afraid to satisfy them.
Today, I am not only comfortable eating anytime, anywhere, and in front of anyone, I also hope to one day share my newfound love for food with others by opening a dessert shop or starting a food box subscription service. I want to teach people that food should always be openly enjoyed and never feared. It doesn’t have to have negative implications or a hold over your life forever. Yes, it is a basic necessity that we all need to nourish our bodies, but life is too short to treat eating as just a dull, monotonous routine.
If you are in recovery from an eating disorder, I want to encourage you to push yourself to explore foods outside of your comfort zone. Don’t just follow your nutritionist’s advice in the simplest way possible, start trying new things and experimenting with cooking. The more effort you put into making your meals an enjoyable experience, the easier it will be to become comfortable with eating again.
Your disorder may tell you that you should feel embarrassed for appreciating food or that openly expressing joy or excitement for a certain meal makes you “seem fat”. It will take time for that inner voice to quiet down, and it may never fully fade away. But the more you work to get on better terms with food, the stronger you will become, and in time, you will learn to drown the voices out.
I hope that all of those struggling with disordered eating can find their strength and healthy balance. The day where you can say “Eff you ED, I’m eating cake for breakfast” may seem far away, but you can get closer each day, one bite at a time.