In my most recent session with my psychiatrist, we happened onto an insight that I found surprising and shocking and, perhaps, useful.
I’ve spent most of my adult life denying the fact that I do want to be special, that I want to be the best at something. Yet I want there to be some reason for people to think that I am “better” than others. I’ve attempted to accomplish this by priding myself on my grit, in some form or another. I decided subconsciously that it is not okay to be proud of certain things (money, intelligence, looks, etc) but that it is okay to be proud of my determination and self-deprivation done in service of accomplishing something difficult. Over the years, this has taken many shapes: being a study-aholic in college, training and competing in triathlons, running marathons, sleeping only a few hours a night, and, finally, not eating.
So, all the while that I have been so forcefully against seeming to want to be special or recognizing that I have that desire, I’ve actually been engaging in that very behavior that I abhor.
I’m not sure what influence this insight will have on my recovery, but I am hopeful that there is something here. Is this something that resonates with others who are recovering? I’d love to hear thoughts.
I’ve noticed that I tend to express my frustration with my own inability to will myself out of anorexia as an inability to eat:
“I just can’t eat.”
At the instigation of a trusted person, I’ve started to realize that, no, I actually can eat. The more correct statement is that I don’t want to eat:
“I won’t eat.”
I think that the difference is illuminating. I don’t think that it trivializes the fact that this is a serious sickness that requires professional treatment. Nor do I think that it makes anorexia a simple matter of lack of willpower. Instead, I think that it highlights the role of anxiety and fear deeply embedded in all eating disorders.
Whatever I am afraid of manifests itself when I eat. By not eating I am shielding myself from that anxiety and fear and pain. I obviously prefer the physical pain and weakness from being underweight to the pain of dealing with those emotions.
A researcher studied the size and shape of female mannequins in the U.K. and just published his findings. He said that he could find no examples of a female mannequin that was a “normal body size.” He published his findings in the Journal of Eating Disorders and did an interview with the BBC. You can read the entire article here. The researcher points out that his findings were applicable to male mannequins as well. I hope that there is continued research on the topic — the images that society projects for what constitutes happy, and attractive make a huge difference.
Do you think that purposefully directing your daily activities is a good way to change habits? It seems like the answer is yes and Charles Duhigg, author of several apparently good books on habit and productivity, says that there is evidence in support.
I would like to find a person to exchange some interpersonal contact with each morning. That person would share with me what they are doing that day — what they want to accomplish, if they are afraid of anything, what they want to avoid — and I would reciprocate. The goal would be to enter the day from a position of control. Contrast that with the way that I seem to go through the day — letting myself be the subject of what happens around me. Perhaps that would change the way I react to stressors and help me choose positive responses rather than negative ones.
Have you or anyone else had success with this method? Or just some experience that you’d like to share?
I just finished reading this post about a college runner’s descent into and ascent from an eating disorder: https://minneapolisrunning.com/confessions-anorexic-runner/
Modulo the fact that I am not an elite athlete, my pursuit of running accomplishments played an eerily similar role in the development of my eating disorder as it did for the post’s author.
Well, in the interest of full disclosure, my eating has seriously regressed these past several days. I have not been able to keep up with my three “meals” + “breakfast” routine for several days.
As I said in my previous post, habits are hard to break. What is easy to do is add restrictions to existing habits. What is hard is going the other direction. In other words, once I’ve restricted something it is almost impossible to add it back.
Once I have dropped something that was a normal and healthy part of my routine, adding it back becomes like a reward or a treat. And, as I wrote about before, anything like a reward is strictly prohibited.
This is hard.
The other difficult thing I have dealt with recently is an obsession with the ingredients of some of the “meals” that I am eating. Of course these meals are really just protein bars which makes the ingredient list even more obvious.
Which would you rather eat?
Habits are powerful. When I first started on this recovery plan, the positive habit was easy to follow. Then, little by little, the habits started changing. Every day I started eating my “meals” later and later. Then I started eating less and less. Now I’ve started eating only part of each meal.
Keeping those bad habits is just as easy as keeping the good ones. Phrased differently but saying the same thing, bad habits are as hard to break as good habits.
I need to get back to eating all my meals (and regularly). That will take a serious turnaround. But I don’t see why I can’t do it — I did it before.
I think that recovery is a process of constant adjustment. I hope that adjusting these bad habits can get me back on track.
The last several days have been a particular struggle. I’ve tried to keep up with my eating while meeting some very big school deadlines. I think that I am almost to the point where things are back to a normal rhythm. The more normal stress that builds the more likely I am to revert to very unhealthy coping mechanisms (not eating, cutting, etc). I have fallen into that trap on several occasions in the past few days but I am getting back on the road to recovery as quickly as possible.
This week I added another snack to the daily schedule of things that I am trying to eat. The goal was to wake up and immediately eat around 200 calories. The purpose is to give myself some energy to start the day (although I am convinced that “breaking the fast” is inconsistent with what we know about the benefits of intermittent fasting) and also to fight off the plague of delayed gratification and reward that I’ve written about previously.
So far I have been able to accomplish the goal. It has not been easy, but I have been able to do it. As with most of things that I eat, it is easier to meet the challenge when I can spend a significant amount of time lingering over the food. Today was different, however. I woke up and immediately had a place to be. I had to eat my breakfast snack quickly — no chance to partake of the ritual. I was still able to do it, but the emotional hangover is significant.
I wonder how many people who are anorexic are also clinically depressed. From a personal sample size of 1 (n=1), I would say 100%.
One driver of my anorexia that I hinted at in a previous post is that eating has become the only thing to look forward to. So, if I don’t eat, then I will have something to look forward to, some kind of motivation. When I do eat, it becomes a ritual designed to take as long as possible. The goal is to break up the long expanse of time that I cannot fathom will ever end.
Since there is nothing to motivate me and time seems to stretch out forever, waiting to eat gives me a goal and eating passes the time.