Five years ago, I was a nervous wreck around food. When I first got out of treatment, I would obsessively cook the same meal for dinner over and over: tofu, parmesan couscous, and green beans. I would measure each portion, making sure the pasta grains didn’t rise above the 1 cup mark. I would sit in front of the TV and eat alone, methodically taking bites of each of the three foods in order, over and over again until nothing remained. There was no joy in this routine; I was simply eating because people told me it would help.
I did the same at breakfast. I ate strawberry yogurt mixed with granola at the same Au Bon Pain table every morning before I went to my “get-well” job at Jasmine Sola. I was terrified when Crystal took me that summer to Chili’s for my first “normal meal out”. I had ordered something safe, like salmon, after deciding everything else on the menu would make me gain five pounds instantly. I couldn’t sit still in my newfound fat. I thought no man would find me attractive, unless I was 110 lbs and waif-like.
If you would have told me then that five years later I’d enjoy a piece of pizza in the same day that I happily ate chocolate-chip pancakes at 4 in the morning after going clubbing, I would have laughed in your face. Which gives me hope for other things I am going through.
There is a school of thought that is currently passing through the eating disorder field: it is that one can be completely and totally recovered from an eating disorder. Jenni Schaefer, the author of Life Without Ed, and the spokeswoman for the Center of Change, is a major advocate of this school of thought. On her website, she states,
“I want people who struggle with eating disorders to know it is possible to move from being ‘in recovery’ to being ‘fully recovered,'” she says. “I want them to get into life and follow their dreams, not be stuck in or defined by an eating disorder.”
Now, before I go on, it should be known that I respect and perhaps emulate Jenni Schaefer; I had the pleasure of meeting her and briefly debating the why’s and how’s of why there are no eating disorder anonymous groups, akin to AA. However, I have to play devil’s advocate to this one.
I believe once you got it, you got it for life. Whether it’s alcoholism, post-traumatic stress disorder, or OCD. And I think that’s a. too scary for some people to deal with, and b. not marketable to the general american public, who want a quick fix for everything. Which is why Aimee Liu and Jenni Schaefer’s new take on a terminable recovery process is so popular.
I know for me – I will always have to take care of my eating disorder. My therapist explained it the best back in 2005. She said, “It’s something that will always be there, but it will be louder at some points and quieter at others. When it’s loud, you take extra steps to take care of yourself. You go back to basics. Either way, you’re always going to have to take care of it.” I hated hearing this at the time – I didn’t like accepting the fact that there was something weak in me that I would have to watch out for the rest of my life. But I learned, after losing 15 pounds in two months last year without noticing, that it can sneak up on you without the slightest warning. The disease is sneaky, and I fear that a terminable outlook on recovery may be dangerous to those who think they’re out of the woods for good.
Perhaps none of us are out of the flawed or defined by their disease. Maybe it’s still possible to consider yourself permanently in recovery, AND to be successful and known in your chosen field. One can fill many roles at once – daughter, engineer, mother, woman or man in recovery.
I wonder if a desire to be “recovered.” indicates some level of hatred for the disease. And I can’t hate it. I used to, but now I’m grateful for it, for it’s given me a spin on food not a lot of people I know have. I don’t believe in diets, magazines, or value-laden food talk. In fact, I won’t stand for it. But I stay humbled, especially when others quizzically inquire about my natural instinct to tear up food to make it less scary, or when they notice my tendency to skip meals unless I push myself. It’s still there. It’s there when I stop in front of the mirror and robotically check to see how thin I look in the morning. It’s still doing push-ups in wait.
Which is why I’m a grateful recovering eating disordered woman, even though I do not appear it outwardly today.
What do you think?
(Image provided by http://epicself.com)