Rember I promised a more “thought provoking post” a while back. Well I started writing it a few days ago, but I only finished just today.
I began writing this post during my pre-exam craziness and it was sort of triggered by the fact that my stomach is having issues again. It seems like 80% of the time I’m home I end up with nasty stomach issues. The sheer physical pain and discomfort I experience is not half as bad as what goes on in my head. More than anything else I feel guilty, guilty of not listening to my body, or of overeating – there’s all sorts of reasons my mind presents me with for this guilt. And it makes me sad, because when I go home I want to enjoy being with my family, not spend the time curled up on the couch with a hot water bottle on my stomach, hoping the pain will pass.
However, in every negative there’s a positive, and it got me thinking about my eating/appetite during recovery. Recovering from an ED, aside from the mental issues that come with forcing yourself to eat, there’s a lot of very physical aspect that come with it. So I though about sharing my experiences and the things I’m learning/have learned in hopes that maybe someone else can relate. I know going through these things I felt very alone, and I always wondered if it was just me. So maybe, just maybe someone else will know what I’m going though.
I will say as an introduction that my eating + recovery journey is definitely far from complete, and I’m still learning a lot of things as time goes by. Just the fact that I’m still having a lot of stomach issues is proof that there’s room for improvement. But I have learned a lot getting to where I am today, and hopefully someone can benefit from my past experiences
At the very beginning of my recovery, I was pretty much forced to eat. I don’t say this in a resentful way, in fact it’s something I learned to rely and depend on. I was asked to plan my meals a week in advance, and I had someone oversee my portions and literally watch me eat. This was necessary because at that point I was unable to eat on my own, I simply couldn’t go into the fridge and pull something else if I was hungry. So I stuck to a very strict plan that I would NEVER veer from.
My hunger at this point was very elusive. I experienced severe pain and bloating 99% of the time after I ate. Of course, this was to be expected, considering I wasn’t used to eating hardly anything at all, and I wasn’t aware of my lactose intolerance and other issues. But at this point I had to FORCE myself to eat, even if I wasn’t hungry. In my opinion intuitive eating in a very early stages of recovery isn’t a good idea, because you’re so used to ignoring your bodies signals that in some cases it stops sending them to you anymore. So forcing yourself to eat is pretty much the only option. And it’s hard, it takes a lot of willpower and I the support of others around you is crucial. You also need to admit you NEED help. I remember the days I would sit in front of the fridge and cry, because I was hungry, but I just couldn’t force myself to eat. This is where the support of my family and friends was integral and I can honestly say I couldn’t have done it without their help.
Then came the next phase of the physical part of recovery – my appetite came back. I think this is one of the scariest phases of recovery, because you’re so used to never being hungry that once those normal biological signals kick in, things get a little freaky. I know for me personally there was always the underlying fear that I would start eating and I wouldn’t stop, that my appetite would be so raging and out of control that I would gain and gain and never stop, even after I was at a normal weight. At this point I was doing weekly weigh ins as well, so seeing that number go up brought a variety of emotions. Not all of them were bad, some weeks I would feel like I must have gained copious amounts from what I had been eating, but would be surprised to find the scale had only minimally changed, if at all. Other weeks it was harder, that number would be quite a bit higher then I was comfortable with, and I would find myself trying to restrict and control my appetite again. After these phases of restricting was the only time I ever really “over ate” – my bodies way of trying to compensate for the fuel it was so obviously lacking. At this point I was also keeping general calorie count – not for weight loss purposes – but rather to ensure I was eating enough during the day. The problem with this was that I become obsessive about getting the perfect balance of every food group, and eating only 100% whole foods. Nothing processed or with sugar, I still was terrified of fat in any form. So my diet was pretty limited and lacking in a lot of vital elements. I also found myself eating too few calories during the day (which wasn’t surprising considering how limited my diet was), and then having to compensate for it with huge night snacks – which my body didn’t react well to, to say the least. The pain and discomfort I went though always triggered more negative feelings and emotions – so this phase only lasted a short while before I decided calorie counting wasn’t for me.
Then I came across the concept of intuitive eating. First I was intrigued and puzzled by it – was it really possible to be at peace with your body and eat whatever you wanted, without overdoing it? Could I trust my body that much? Cautiously I began experimenting with the concept. I stopped weighing in and calorie counting at this point, because they were making things worse instead of better. I started trying to focus on the quality of my food, as opposed to the quantity. I also stopped thinking of food only as fuel, but also allowing myself to enjoy it – meaning occasionally eating something that wasn’t the “healthiest option”,because it’s what I really wanted. This was also when I overcame my fear of fats, and started eating nuts and avocados, making my own nut butters, and even occasionally eating full fat yogurt and cheese. I discovered my love of dark chocolate and began accepting and indulging in it. My previously very limited and restricted diet became much more varied, and I can safely say that this was a very positive step forward in my recovery. However, since I still wasn’t aware of my IBS issues and dairy intolerance – I still suffered a lot of stomach aches and pains. I also occasionally used my “intuitive eating” to either snack through real meals or skip meals because I “wasn’t hungry”. There’s definitely a balance that needs to be struck there between doing what you feel like, and occasionally forcing yourself to eat because your body needs fuel or sticking to schedule so your body can sort of stabilize your eating habits.
What are your views on the concept of “intuitive eating”? What are the pro’s and con’s in your opinion?