The Ins and Outs of an Eating Disorder
“The brain is a monstrous, beautiful mess.”—William F. Allman
I just finished this amazing book called Brain on Fire. This twenty four year old girl comes down with a very rare disease (I won't ruin the ending for you). She depicts her month of madness from seizures to paranoia to catatonia to losing her ability to speak, and so on. As she describes her recovery and what she feels when she looks back upon her horrific medical fiasco, some of her feelings run parallel to the emotions I feel when I look back upon my eating disorder. Neither sickness is the same in any sense and I luckily did not have to endure anything to that degree, but I couldn't help by feel a strong connection to this woman who survived such a health rendering experience. It has been a while since I've touched on eating disorders, partly because of the emotional rollercoaster I have been riding has masked a lot of my thoughts, but mainly because I started having urges again and felt ashamed. I didn't realize how all of these emotions and events were all tied up into one.
Eating disorders take over your brain. They invade every thought. Paranoia ensues about how fat you feel especially when you are around people. You think everyone is staring at you, judging you, reading your thoughts, knowing what you did the night before when you were sneaking food into your bedroom. It sounds like a crazy disease and trust me, it is. I still can't believe I suffered for so long and after starting this blog I was astounded at the number of people who admitted they suffer from the same mental illness. The truth is the battle is far from over, unfortunately, it will always be a part of me so we have to remember to always check in with ourselves and support each other through the good and the bad.
I was chatting to a friend the other day about what's been going on in our lives recently. We talked about the positives and negatives, our current obstacles and our strengths. We both have suffered from eating disorders in the past and traveling has saved us in many ways, but every now and then we hit a road block. We have a bad day in regards to health or our mental state which then turns into a few bad days and soon enough we find ourselves slipping back into our old habits, gripping on to what we thought was a closed chapter in our lives. The thing about eating disorders is they never truly go away. The chapter may feel like it's closed, but really it's just in remission. New events can push the urges to resurface so in the end it's all about managing the urges and making sure your talking to someone about your struggle.
Eating disorders are a form of obsession, addiction, and mind dissolution. It could be an obsession with weight or appearance. It could be an addiction to food, exercise, purging, binging or all of the above. It could be mind disillusionment with body dysmorphia, bouts of depression and countless amounts of anxiety.
My friend and I have one thing in common, we are food addicts. I find comfort in eating, but then I end up hating myself for indulging. I used to look in the mirror and think who is this fat person looking back at me again? How did I get here? How can I get back to where I was before? Then I start to fast. I am not talking healthy fasting like Joe Rogan talks about in his podcasts, I am talking about not eating for days and then binging your eyes out when you see food again. The yo-yo dieting is more harmful to your body then actually just enjoying that little bit of cake every once in a while. My friend and I were saying that we would rather be addicted to alcohol or drugs because food will always be around, we need it to survive and we will never escape it. She understands these thoughts and actions because she fights strangely similar obstacles.
We confided in each other our main triggers that cause the urges. The first being loneliness. Being/feeling alone is hard for everyone, but for us it's terrifying. Although there could be a handful of people around, we feel disconnected. Constantly wrapped up in our minds where we are alone with our thoughts creating a dark abyss that drags us in when we least expect it. We desire to be loved and sometimes feel like no one could love us with this disease. I find myself stuck in my head the majority of the time, focusing too much on the past and what I could have done differently or holding too high of expectations for the future. It's never beneficial to focus on times other than the present moment.
The second is feeling unwell. Everyone can understand that being sick has bad effects on the mind and body. The problem is when we don't feel well we take it out on our bodies even more. We feel that food is our comfort so when we are struggling with not feeling our best in our bodies we tend to give in to the urges. When we don’t feel quite right, our safe haven is the four letter F word, F - O - O - D. We don't feel strong enough to combat the urges with the same force as we would every other day.
The third is exhaustion. When we are tired, we feel weak so we give in. Our bodies feel run down so we collapse into the ED without even realizing. The fourth one we could think of is pressure and stress. The pressure we put on ourselves to be perfect. The expectations we hold for ourselves are much higher than those of loved ones. We stress the body by believing our anxious thoughts that consume us on a daily basis. We are our own worst critic ten times out of ten. The fifth is boredom. Obviously when you’ve got nothing on the books and nothing to distract you, food does the trick. We joked that we are going to have to travel to new places forever, in order to distract us from the draw that food has on our minds.
Managing these thoughts and understanding our triggers is the main objective. If you don't understand what your triggers are or acknowledge these thoughts are harmful you won't get very far in recovery. Accept you have them. Acknowledge they exist. Understand where they come from and why you are turning to food, or purging, or exercising. Actively learn from them.
I didn't realize how paranoid I was about my weight until I found myself counting calories and thinking about food or exercise 24/7 again. It's strange when you go from being okay to the other extreme in a snap of the fingers.
The most important aspect of staying healthy is being open with your emotions and thoughts. If you harbor everything that is going on in your mind then you will not get any closer to healing yourself. Your stomach is your second brain of your body. You hold many emotions in your gut. Everyone has felt butterflies before or had a crazy stomach ache when something horrific happens. You curl down in a ball and protect your gut because that's where you feel the pain. Treasure your ability to feel, but do not turn those feelings into torturous hurdles that trip you up while relinquishing your power to undeniable pull of ED.
Get outside. Stay active. Be honest. Trust your gut. Lean on your support system. Meditate. Try to find the lessons in everything. Don’t believe anything is by chance. You are in control of your own destiny. You can do this! We can do this!
Also, do yourself a favor and read Brain On Fire. It is like a real life version of the show House.
Stay strong my friends.