When you start this eating disorder treatment program (or any kind of therapy/self discovery journey) you start processing feelings that may have been comfortably packed away for decades and at the same time you start learning about eating intuitively. When you are ready, intuitive eating is pretty much the most logical thing you’ve ever heard in your life. When you hear about it for the first time you either say that can never EVER work, because if it did, the whole world would be eating this way, OR you say I have to start with that RIGHT NOW.
Basically, intuitive eating means learning to listen to your body’s signals, because your body was designed to know what it needs to survive. It means eating when you are hungry and stopping when you are full. It means recognizing when you are eating for reasons other than hunger and finding other ways to deal with those feelings. Not to be punny, but it really is, well, intuitive.
Here’s the rub, though: you don’t wake up with all the tools and new behaviors and closure on those damn feelings. So what I had started noticing is that I was open, enthusiastic even, about the process, but for some reason I absolutely REFUSED to keep the food and feelings journal (encouraged as part of the program). The purpose of the journal is to record what foods are being eaten at what time, where you are on the hunger scale before and after the food and what thoughts or feelings you are having. With the journals you can start looking for patterns that might be contributing to the emotional or compulsive eating and binges. It’s not a meal plan. It’s not a diet. There’s no judgement. It is simply a tool to provide insight and awareness. Why, then, was I simply not able to stay accountable on this task?
I’ll tell you why. Food has been my crutch for more than 20 years. You can’t just give that “support” up overnight. Additionally, I already *needed* ED with a regular, daily amount of circumstances and emotions. With treatment, I have been addressing feelings and issues that have been hidden away for a very long time, which means I need the support even more. Having learned the basics of intuitive eating and wanting to implement them right away, I was beating myself up about not following the guidelines and keeping the journal was just rubbing in my face the fact that ED was still ruling my life.
One of the many things I recognized this past week (it was a very tough, emotional week, but resulted in lots of great insights) is that the food is a symptom, not the actual disease. Imagine somebody with an allergy. Any kind of allergy. Imagine the symptoms of the allergy are itchy skin or stuffy nose, maybe headaches or upset stomach. You know the allergy is what is causing these symptoms and you know that as long as you have the allergen in your life, you will need to medicate the symptoms, but all the allergy medication in the world will not keep you from having the symptoms, unless you remove the allergen from your life. Long story short, I had to accept that I need to take the time to deal with the source and getting frustrated with the symptom, and my inability to just shut it off, is just holding me back. I had to accept that I need the food while working on the source and that’s OK. It’s scary in the short term, but long term it is the ONLY way to heal.
One of the recommended reading books (Eating in the Light of the Moon, by Anita Johnston) uses a very clear metaphor for this situation. I’m going to paraphrase, so if you know the story, you’ll have to cut me some slack on the details.
You’re standing on the bank of a raging river in the rain, when the bank gives out and you are suddenly tossing in the rapids. You grab onto a log floating by and are saved from drowning in the rough waters. You finally get dumped into the middle of a lake, where the water is calm, but the shore is a long way in the distance. You are still holding onto the log, but can’t swim to shore with just one arm, while dragging the log, but you can’t get there without it either, because the log is what’s keeping your head above water. You know you have to let go of the log, but you are afraid to let go, for fear you are not strong enough to swim to shore without it. You are determined to make it to shore, but know you need to build the physical strength/endurance and mental confidence to ensure you can get there safely, so you start the work. First you let go of the log for a moment and try floating. When you start to sink, you grab back on. Then you let go and try treading water. When you start to get tired, you grab back on. Every time you let go, you are able to float and swim longer than the last time, but whenever you have gone as far as you could, the log is there to catch you again. Until finally, one day, you are strong and confident enough to let go of the log and swim to shore.
Last week I learned to accept that ED served a purpose for me at one time. It helped me stay afloat. And now I have to embrace it as the thing that will continue to save me until I am strong enough to swim ashore. So, ED, I may need you right now, but be forewarned, as soon as I’m strong enough, we are breaking up. Forever.