My relationship with food has been fraught for most of my life–even before I had a diagnosable eating disorder. As a child, I knew the shame associated with eating long before that shame began to completely control my life. You have to eat. Every day, a few times a day. Food is everywhere. You can’t escape it.
Recovery is a stupid word. It feels too heavy, like it gives too much power to my eating disorder. But I am, unquestionably, in recovery–there’s not a better word. I’m in recovery, not recovered. Recovery is just another stage. It hasn’t gone away.
I started treatment in high school. I had lost 25 pounds in a little over two months. All of the food I ate was green–cucumbers, apples, and celery, for every meal. I weighed myself six or seven times a day. Green was healthy. Green wasn’t dirty, like meat or cheese. Green was safe. I was neither anorexic nor bulimic, although I certainly restricted, binged, and purged over the 5 or so years that I had had an eating disorder. Over the course of those five years, I lost and gained significant weight as my disorder changed. I had what we call EDNOS, or Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified.
There are people who don’t think about their relationship with food. They get hungry. They eat. End of story. I get hungry and eat and call it a major victory. Every morning when I scramble some eggs and cut up an avocado, I’m working against a small yet powerful voice in my head that’s telling me my food is dirty. It used to be the only voice. Now I have others, and they’re louder. But I can still hear my eating disorder talking. Eating “normally” feels like an act of rebellion. A meal is never just a meal. If I’m painting a bleak picture, I don’t mean to. When I say victory, I mean it.
I’m proud of where I am. I can’t believe that I have days where I eat an enormous sandwich and ice cream and I don’t want to kill myself or run until I throw it all up. There are days when I just feel normal, and don’t assign value to food. Like a person who eats and sleeps and shits and doesn’t have to weigh myself after every single activity. I rarely eat an entire bag of chocolate chips, not even tasting them, and then lie on the floor wailing with panicked sobs for two hours afterwards, drinking a gallon of water to try to feel clean. Celery is for tuna and snacking. Apples don’t control my life. Food isn’t always green, and it’s not dangerous.
The best part of recovery is that I’ve found a relationship with food that includes joy. When I began treatment for my eating disorder, my therapist encouraged me to cook. To really learn how to make the food I was forcing myself to eat. To learn about food. Cooking, trying new food, and reading food magazines became therapeutic for me in a way I didn’t anticipate. It’s a way of exercising control in a healthy, productive way, and to undo the shame-filled baggage I’ve wrapped around food and eating. I have a community built around food now–my friends and I love cooking together, eating together, and trying new restaurants.
But the less happy parts of recovery seep into my newfound happiness with food.