TRIGGER WARNING: Frank discussion of anorexia.
I have a bad history with diets. I was anorexic when I was 14. For about 7 years after that, every diet I tried to embark on ended quickly and in a vague feeling of shame and inadequacy, except for a longish stint with obsessive calorie counting again after college. It turns out that, if I’m really motivated, I can impose my will on my body for about 6 months, but nothing good really comes of it.
After that, I got into fat acceptance* and intuitive eating, and it’s been working reasonably well for me. However, I haven’t had a huge amount of luck making changes to my diet. I’ve seen some slow, organic changes in a healthy direction, but when I’ve tried making intentional changes, I freak out. I generally find restriction very triggering, and I find the mindset of ‘eat this not that’ to be toxic.
However, I’ve been having some joint problems recently, and at the behest of several friends, decided to try going gluten-free for a month. It seems to be an all-around good change for me, but what I found most interesting is that I didn’t have much trouble at all with it. There was, of course, a voice in the back of my head saying “great, this is the magic button that will make you thin!” I told it to hush as gently and thoroughly as possible; that wasn’t the point of the exercise. However, I didn’t find the restriction triggering, I didn’t find myself wanting to binge on forbidden foods, and I even started craving sweets less. Why wasn’t I seeing the same set of reactions this time that I usually do?
When I finally figured out the difference, it was blindingly obvious. Embarrassingly simple. This time I wasn’t imposing my will on my body. I was making a change to my diet so that my body would feel better.
Instead of trying to convince myself that my body was lying to me about hunger and cravings, I was paying attention to my body’s reactions and needs. When I needed to modify my diet to keep my body full and functioning happily, I did so. Instead of being resentful about my body having needs, I simply accepted it as part of the expected course of removing a major part of my diet. Of course removing wheat would mean needing to replace it with other things.
In other words: I was working with my body, not against it.
I’m not sure how I can properly explain what a big deal this is to someone who has not had an eating disorder. Being anorexic meant that my body betrayed me at every step. It was hungry – constantly – when my entire goal was to eat as little was possible. I taught myself to like being hungry as a kind of body hack – if my body was going to betray me by telling me it needed food, I would turn around and be proud and happy to be denying it. Take that, body! Whenever I was in a situation where I couldn’t avoid being around food, I would gorge myself. I didn’t understand why. My body, with its silly hunger, must be to blame. I would punish myself – my body – for days.
I tried to teach myself to throw up. It’s probably for the best that I couldn’t figure it out.
When you are anorexic, you and your body are not just enemies. Your body is your nemesis. Your body is the only thing you cannot quite conquer.**
To be working with my body, to finally know what that really feels like? It’s astounding. It’s a revelation.
That journey isn’t over. I’ve come to believe that, like some injuries, anorexia never really goes away. It sits there, waiting, and you always have to deal with it, step around it, move it gently out of your way. I am not an ex-anorexic; I am not healed. I am post-anorexic. I will always have this quirk, and I will continue to work to deal with it with as much grace and grit as I can muster.
Who knows, perhaps someday I’ll believe otherwise. It’s a nice dream.
But this week, this month, this year, I am stronger than I was, because I have re-forged another of the bonds between myself and my body. It was a bond so long broken that I didn’t know what the wholeness felt like.
Body, it’s nice to be on your side again. Thanks for waiting for me.
* Re: Fat Acceptance, if you comment to say that fat is unhealthy/bad/ugly, I will remove your comment. If you comment to say that I should not call myself fat, I will disagree with you. Fat is not a perjorative, it is a descriptor, and if I claim it, it cannot be used against me. This has been your Fat Acceptance 101 for this blog post.
**And the worst thing is that the rhetoric around weight loss reinforces this without question. Your body is lying to you about how much food you need. Your just need to recalibrate your body. You need to trick your body into feeling full. Being a fat woman with a history of anorexia is incredibly triggery.