I’m sitting in a cubicle-like desk in the library poring over boring textbooks; the clock lazily clicks 3 pm and hunger strikes. I ignore it for a few minutes and sip from my water bottle, hoping fruitlessly my belly full of water will tell my brain I am not hungry. Hear me, I am full! I return to studying for a few minutes. My eating disorder tells me if I just concentrate hard enough, my hunger will go away.
Hunger taunts me.
“You know there is food at the café downstairs…that Caprese sandwich you love.” I tell Hunger to shut its mouth. “Be patient. When we get home in a couple hours, we will make a nice salad.” Hunger doesn’t give up.
“Don’t you smell the scent of bread wafting upstairs? Mmmm…” I try a logical approach. “We have food at home. No need to spend extra money eating out.”
This debate goes on until finally, I decide to get the sandwich. I’m tired of fighting. I surrender.
This is victory–this is a win.
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During my five years recovering from anorexia, every day, multiple times a day, I had to make choices just like this.
These choices are what determined whether my recovery took a step forward or a step back.
There is no neutral ground. For me, it was either a move toward freedom with food and partnership with my body, or it was a move toward restriction, fear, and rigidity with food and a war against my body. Every action is an opportunity to forward what I am committed to or succumb to destructive habits from my past.
By itself, each choice may seem insignificant. Does it really matter whether I order a skinny latte or a regular latte? Or whether I put Splenda or regular sugar in it? Yes, it does matter.
I want to be someone who has the freedom to enjoy food.
In the face of the fear of it making me fat, the choice will be obvious. Does it mean I will never have a skinny latte again? No. It just means right now I am training myself to create habits to challenge my disordered way of thinking and support my recovery.
For someone recovering from an eating disorder every choice matters, and these small victories are essential. Together, they create the habits of a vital, recovered human being. They are the foundation for a full, strong recovery.
Victory can look many different ways. It can look like choosing to buy a sandwich when I’m hungry.
But it can also look like this:
“Would you like a slice of cake?” someone asks me.
I see the warm, molten chocolate cake with a puddle of melting vanilla ice cream dripping into its crevices. My mouth waters. I pause and put my hand on my belly.
“No thank you, I am full,” I say.
Now, here is the interesting thing: Whether denying the piece of cake is a small victory or not all depends on the individual and where they are at in their recovery. If I always refuse desserts and I am fearful of sugar, then accepting the cake would be a victory. If I always eat dessert even when I am full, then it might be a stretch to say no and be satisfied without the cake.
However they look, small victories build confidence because they create habitual decision-making patterns.
The next time I am sitting in the library and I feel hungry, I will be a bit quicker to choose to go buy some food.
I will put less thought into the decision. I will learn to trust my body. I will feed myself naturally and easily without too much thought. I will spend less and less time worrying about food choices and more and more time building relationships, creating ideas, and exploring the wide-open world of possibilities outside of the sandwich or no-sandwich conversation I’ve been swimming in.
Over and over, I choose recovery until one day I emerge a courageous, triumphant woman full of love, hope, and zest for life itself.