Sometimes I still catch myself looking back and wondering why I “let” myself gain 40lbs. Who does that? Who chooses to gain 40lbs? I feel like a failure. I cannot figure out why the hell I ever chose to do that. I regret it. But then I push those thoughts away and focus on the here and now.
Things have been slipping for months though. You see despite weight restoring I have never really “normalised” my eating; I still choose the lowest calorie sandwich in the supermarket, I still check the calories for restaurants and choose accordingly and I do not know the last time I chose something because I WANTED it. I avoid dessert unless I can “make up” for it, and I have a huge heap of food related rules. I do not eat things that my disorder stupidly labelled as “bad”; chocolate, burgers, sweets, white carbs, pasta, high fat foods (except peanut butter haha), crisps, non-diet versions of things you can get diet versions of, potatoes, milk, ice cream, chips…you can probably guess the kind of things. I eat the same breakfast, lunch and tea every day, and the same snacks, and the only variation I have managed to add in is different sandwiches at work so long as they are from the healthy living range, and different protein with my evening meal sometimes..but which is still limited to a few options.
I have been at my target weight of a BMI around 20 for a while now, but the food related rules have been plentiful. Eating out still scares me, Christmas still terrifies me although to a lesser extent…and I still often wish I could eat what the other people I am with are eating. I still avoid social situations involving food, I still long to eat certain things and I still feel like I deprive myself. And I convince myself it is ok because my weight is “fine.”
A year or two ago I started exercising again in the form of the gym. I have stuck to three times maximum mostly, with the occasional increase before reducing it back down. Three times is fine, I convince myself…while ignoring the thoughts I have. The panic at not being able to go because it is bank holiday, the panic that I might not fit in three times if I go home. The desire to go every day and the irritable mood I find myself in on my days off. The increased frequency of going an extra day. The obsessive thoughts about burning fat and building muscle.
It has gradually worsened. And in the last 6 months it has completely deteriorated. I had a few weeks where I was running three times, going to the gym three or four, and I ended up triggering an old injury and I felt suicidal. I know that sounds dramatic, but that is what happened. I have been weighing myself daily again, and when I was arrested and placed in a cell (don’t ask!), I was not bothered about the prospect of a criminal record so much as I was bothered about not being able to go to the gym; when I was released I rang my Mum crying that I could not go to the gym (it was too late) and that I was in so much pain I could barely even walk. (By the way I was not charged and I hadn’t committed a crime..it was mental health related and complicated – I will explain if anyone wants to know, but not on here!) I have been going to the gym extra days per week, doing a lot extra cardio and walking 10-20km every day, even if it means walking in the middle of the night.
I should have seen how bad things were getting but I wanted to ignore it. Or rather, because I am a healthy weight, I felt like I had to just act fine, pretend to be fine, get on with it. It was like I did not deserve to feel like I had a problem, and I know that the one person who really knows how things have been has been irritated with me for trying to pretend there is not a problem when it is blatantly obvious that there is, but the underlying issue has been the weight part. How can I need to cut down my exercise or eat more, or challenge my eating rules, when I am at a healthy weight?
But the thing is, being in that semi-recovered but still pretty damn disordered state leaves you not just miserable, but also very vulnerable to relapse, and while I feel like I only relapsed last weekend, it had been coming for a while. Last weekend I decided to lose weight. I was in bed when I made the decision and I planned to simply cut down a little on what I was eating, but then I got up the next morning and ate less than planned for breakfast, then skipped lunch and snacks, ate less than planned for tea, and skipped supper. I went to work without breakfast and had no lunch, I just ate a fiberone bar. Roll on to yesterday and I had a glass of unsweetened almond milk, some egg whites and veg…burnt 500 calories in the gym and 600 calories walking.
And guys, it worked. In 6 days I lost 6lbs. YAY WELL DONE NATALIE (not). How I feel reminds me of a quote by Marya Hornbacher:
“And when, after fifteen years of bingeing, barfing, starving, needles and tubes and terror and rage, and medical crises and personal failure and loss after loss – when, after all this, you are in your early twenties and staring down a vastly abbreviated life expectancy, and the eating disorder still takes up half your body, half your brain, with its invisible eroding force, when you have spent the majority of your life sick, when you do not yet know what it means to be ‘well,’ or ‘normal,’ when you doubt that those words even have meaning anymore, there are still no answers. You will die young, and you have no way to make sense of that fact.
You have this: You are thin.”
You are thin. And that is all you really have.
You are depressed, anxious, isolated, suicidal and empty. But you are thin. And at times your head convinces you this is what you want, especially at the start…but then one day it hits you. I remember a moment where it hit me in my last major relapse. It was 2011, I think. I was on an acute medical ward for refeeding in a general hospital. I took my first shower in the bathroom there and they had a full length mirror. I had been avoiding mirrors, and the sight of my own body reduced me to tears. I was thin, and that was all I was. I was nothing else. I was empty, and dying, and I cried. Usually I was pleased to lose weight, to be told I looked sick, to be wasting away…but it was like suddenly my eyes opened up to the reality, and I knew that this was not a life I could carry on living.
I remember looking at my body, seeing that I really was just skin and bones, and crying. I remember thinking “what have you done to yourself?” I remember having to crawl to get to bed because I could not walk at home, and as soon as I was in hospital, not being allowed to go anywhere except in a wheelchair. How can you be 19 years old and in this state for the third time?
So yes, I spent the last week losing weight as quickly as I could, taking diet pills that used to be prescription only on the NHS but were then banned for causing heart failure, and feeling moody as hell. I had a rubbish appointment with my mentor at uni. I have laid in bed making weight loss plans. I have worried about managing my degree and work, and doing pretty much anything. I have cancelled plans, avoided going home for my sisters birthday, and to be honest, been a wreck all while hiding what I was doing from everyone.
And then today I got up and I ate breakfast and I walked to Tesco and bought food, and I ate lunch and tea. I took the day off the gym, and after I had walked so far, I forced myself back home…and it was literally force. And I do not know how I have managed it. My stomach hurts. I have cried. I feel like I am about to gain a stone in the coming days and weeks, and I think I need to make the decision that a BMI over 20 is not the end of the world. That if I want to minimise the risk of relapse and stop living my life by so many damn food and exercise rules, I have to accept my body wants to be at a higher weight than eating disorder services told me to be.
Back to wondering why I ever let myself gain weight:
I did not gain weight because I wanted to gain weight. God if I had waited for that day, I would be in a grave by now. And that is the thing. An eating disorder is not a diet. There is no ‘end’. You just keep on going and I am one of those people who either eats nothing, or eats 3 meals and a snack every single day without failure. I am obsessive, and very rigid and that is how I go. There is no middle ground.
I have remembered why I gained weight.
- Social stuff! When I am losing weight and restricting I avoid people. I avoid family and friends and anything that might involve food. This is my biggest reason to eat; I am focusing on wanting energy for work and to help at an event on the 7th of June. I have arranged to see friends on both Monday and Tuesday, and my sister for the day after her birthday. This will be challenging, especially with food, but I know that being able to remind myself that eating = being able to spend time with the people I love will help me manage eating properly again. And I am not going to just try and return to where I was a few weeks ago…I want to start eating what I WANT and not trying to maintain a minimally “healthy” weight. I do not want to spend my life micro-managing my eating and weight.
- Because when I starve myself and become severely underweight I am an awful person. At my worst, as a teenager, I attacked my family, smashed windows while cooking, threw plates of food that my Mum was trying to force me to eat at her, and hid food in socks, pockets…anywhere. But beyond that…I was silent, empty, dead. I know if I relapsed I would sit with my mentor every week in silence, or talk and feel as rubbish and as guilty as I did yesterday. I do not want that life back. I do not want the life back where nothing is important except avoiding food and losing weight.
- I really, really, want to go back into treatment, and USE it. GET BETTER. If I go back there at the end of this year, two stone underweight, I will not be able to use it to get better. (It is not for eating disorders) I will struggle; I will struggle to talk because I will be a zombie. I will struggle with eating there. I will struggle to manage to physically cope with getting there and being there all day. Managing just to sit there in silence would be an achievement. I need to be better than that; I need to be able to make the most of it.
There a whole heap of other reasons; enjoying food, being warm, not wanting my osteoporosis to get worse, concentration, Christmas, energy…but those three are my main reasons.
It feels strange admitting what the last six months have been like, and what it has accumulated to in the last week. It feels scary to admit that I am not as “recovered” as I would like to think, or as I would like other people to think. It is hard to say that I have a lot of things I need to change, and possibly some weight to gain, when I am not really underweight and nobody can see that there is a problem.
But there is a problem. I do not care if you are under eating, or over exercising, or not; I am telling you that if you are psychologically obsessing over food, or have rules surrounding food and exercise that cause anxiety, make you depressed, and that dictate your life to you, you deserve more.
You deserve so much more. And I deserve so much more, and if I want to get anything from this week of hell, it is to get truly better for the first time ever, and make other people aware that being at a healthy weight does not mean you are “recovered”, or that you cannot gain more weight. And that being “fine” does not have to be the end. You are worthy of more than “fine” and I am here to tell you that just like me, you can fight for more. You can fight for more than just “fine” and for more than managing, and for more than having to follow your life with rules. I am here to tell you that being weight restored does not mean you cannot still be struggling, and does not mean you have to pretend to the rest of the world you are ok when inside you are still fighting a battle.