It doesn’t matter whether its food, drugs, alcohol, gambling, shopping, etc., if you keep repeating a dangerous cycle despite the insanity it produces, you are addicted.
Although all addictions are challenging, and have the potential to be life threatening, eating disorders have a very unique and deadly component that no other addiction has – its addictive substance is essential to life.
You can live without alcohol.
You can live without drugs, gambling, etc.,
…But, you cannot live without food.
Abstinence is practiced in addiction recovery. It definitely does not make recovery any easier, but being able to remove the object of insanity helps the situation. A person doesn’t have to give it a second thought if consuming the addictive component is or is not okay- it is simply avoided.
It is taken out of the equation.
Unfortunately, with eating disorders, this is not the case. A person in recovery from an eating disorder has to learn to live with the addictive substance in a balanced way.
A person that struggles with alcoholism might practice binge drinking behaviors. During the week, one might restrict alcohol and then binge on it during the weekend. If one recognizes a problem and seeks help, they’re told to remove alcohol from their life. There is no consideration as to whether or not it should occasionally be consumed.
However, this approach simply cannot be practiced with eating disorder recovery (which I find to be just another addiction).
If you restrict food during the week and binge on the weekend, the answer is not to remove food from ones life. You must learn how to life with this essential, yet scary for many, substance.
Because of this, eating disorders become very complex. What works for one individual in recovery, may not work for another person.
Also, eating disorders manifest in many different ways, so a treatment plan must be tailored to fit an individuals specialized needs.
It is not a one size fits all recovery plan!
I have tried many different approaches throughout my years of treatment.
Prior to treatment, and in between treatment centers, I frequently tried “clean” eating. I restricted and/or eliminated what I considered to be junk food.
After trying this way numerous times, the end result was always the same – I’d restrict and then eventually binge and purge until I’d end up in a treatment center again. It never worked for me.
Personally, I think “clean” eating is never a good idea, especially for someone in recovery, because it puts your mind and body into survival mode. It separates food as good and bad, which I find to be a terrible idea.
Sadly, our society loves to label food as good and bad, which makes this journey even more of a challenge.
I truly believe that everything in moderation is more than okay!
When someone struggling with an eating disorder indulges in a “forbidden” food, typically the result is overconsumption and/or purging (vomiting, laxatives, overexercising), and extreme feelings of guilt and anxiety.
Including all kinds of food in my diet (I hate this word) has been critical to my recovery.
I no longer feel compelled to binge and purge on foods because I know that I can eat them whenever I want (within normal limits of course).
Did I still struggle for a long time after I stopped “clean” eating?
It took me years to retrain my brain, remind myself that all food was okay, and that I would not die if I ate it without engaging in eating disorder behaviors.
I cried a lot when I slipped up.
Slip ups are an expected part of recovery, but cannot be an excuse to keep using behaviors (I did this frequently and for an extended period of time to rationalize my eating disorder behaviors when I relapsed).
A turning point in my recovery was when I would binge, but not purge. It was the absolute worst feeling in the world.
I wanted to die. I know it sounds extreme, but it was very real to me at the time.
Some people may never understand this comment, or feel that it is too dramatic, but if you struggle with any eating disorder, or have seen a loved one struggle with an eating disorder, than you understand the realness of that statement.
I vividly remember sitting in a treatment group crying because I consumed more than my meal plan the previous night.
I went out to dinner with a good friend who visited me at the center I was at. We went out for dinner followed by ice cream.
I had a long mental battle about whether or not I should even get ice cream. Eventually, I decided that I would eat it.
I ate the ice cream and did NOT purge.
I remember saying that I would rather have had someone shoot me in the arm than have had consumed the ice cream and had to keep it in my system. Mentally, it was so painful.
I had many of these episodes during my recovery, but they did get easier over time, and I did start to trust my body.
My body settled at a weight that it appears to be comfortable at (Although I was not happy with it for a long time).
I had many, many relapses, but over time I genuinely believe that this approach for me was the right one.
I eat what I want when I want.
Do I sometimes eat too much?
Yes, but who doesn’t! That is a normal part of life and THAT IS OKAY!
No one is perfect.
Some days I eat more, some days I eat less. I listen to my body, but once again, it took me a long time to do this because I had abused my body for so many years.
I had no idea when I was hungry or full from years of abuse. I followed a meal plan for several years to help me stay on my recovery path while getting the proper nutrients that I needed.
I want to say that my last three years I really learned how to listen to my body.
I no longer follow a meal plan.
I’m semi-mindful of my caloric intake – meaning it does not control my every thought of every day. I have a general idea of what I’m consuming. I try to eat balanced meals whenever I can.
There are so many other tools I’ve tried out throughout my recovery- some were useful while others were not.
As I mentioned above, what works for one person might not work for another person (especially if you have dietary restrictions/allergies. That adds a whole other complexity to the disorder).
I plan on blogging more about what worked for me on my recovery journey.
I hope this blog was at least somewhat useful for anyone currently struggling with an eating disorder or for someone that knows a person struggling with an eating disorder.
BABY BABY BABY SPAM Because I cannot resist it!