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It happened on a Saturday. I was out to lunch and was perusing the menu. Typically, if I’m out to lunch or dinner, I’ll treat myself and get something I don’t eat very often or isn’t easy to make. Instead, my eyes wandered to the “low-calorie” options. I don’t usually even look at items labeled in this way on principle, and as part of my recovery, I don’t believe in counting calories or restricting myself.
But on this day, I chose a gluten-free pasta with spinach. (Gluten-free is a topic for another day, but needless to say, I am not allergic to gluten and don’t feel the need to eat as if I am). After I ordered this meal, a tiny voice in my head said, “good for you, that was a good choice.”
I should have known right away something was wrong.
As I was eating, I felt my appetite going away. I ate slower and slower. Eventually, with more than half of the meal still on my plate, I decided I was full and didn’t want to eat anymore.
What I was actually full of was emptiness. And I relished this feeling. I welcomed this feeling back with open arms as if it was an old friend whom I hadn’t seen in years. I felt powerful and in control. The old mindset of, “I can beat hunger, I can beat food, I can beat weight,” came back to me.
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And I felt invincible.
Of course, this feeling did not last. Eventually, hunger reared its head again, and I was forced to confront the fact I had not eaten enough to fully satisfy myself. So what did I do then? I ate way more than I normally would, late at night. But I was starving, so I ate whatever I could get my hands on.
I felt terrible afterward. The vicious cycle I had existed in for years had come back in just one day, after I had spent so much time trying to get healthy and achieve balance. I couldn’t understand how I had let this happen.
I began to recover from my eating disorder over four years ago, and I have come such a long way since then. So I was shocked and extremely troubled when I felt feelings and patterns similar to what I had grown comfortable with at the height of my disorder. What scared me the most was how easy it was.
I had to figure out what was igniting this old behaviour. I was going through a difficult transitional time in my life–I was in between jobs, trying to start a new career, and living in a stressful environment.
Of course, I would find the feeling of wanting to control what I eat comforting, at a time when I felt so out of control.
Coping during times of transition can be extremely difficult. Routine and familiarity are often vital to those suffering from anxiety or depression, or for those who are in recovery. When we lose even a portion of the structure we have steadily built around ourselves, we do anything to gain some of the control back.
What is important to remember, if you are going through a tumultuous time or a time of transition, is this: one mistake does not undo all of the progress you have made. We are so hard on ourselves all of the time, and we beat ourselves up for every little mistake we make. But, the beauty of life is the sun will rise the next day, and we can start fresh in our journey.
No human being is perfect.
If you feel as if you’re noticing behaviours and patterns harmful to your recovery, or can impede your view of yourself as a healthy, beautiful person, take a step back, and examine the landscape of where you are.
Take stock of your surroundings, the people, and the environment. Make note of any changes happening in your life. You will probably notice something triggering your need to self-comfort and self-soothe. If you know what is causing you emotional or mental distress, it is easier to manage your reaction to it.
When adjusting to a new job, a new relationship, a new city, or anything different coming into our lives, there is always an adjustment period.
Be gentle with yourself, and allow yourself the time and space needed to grow accustomed to this newness.
Have hobbies or goals to help you focus on something positive, and help comfort you in a healthy way. And, of course, always remember you are worth the extra care you give to yourself.
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