Over halfway through the recovery program, my disordered behaviours have dramatically reduced, and bulimia is on the losing side of this battle.
Binging and purging are way down. Hunger and fullness signals are back; I can eat food and stop when I’m starting to feel full, rather than stopping when I feel guilty, or continuing in the absence of any satiety.
How did I do it?
By steering myself, day by day, into regular eating habits. Every day I aim for three meals and snacks as defined by the Canada Food Guide – a meal contains a minimum of three food groups, and includes a protein and a starch.
We started by getting breakfasts in place, because I had a nasty habit of putting off the first meal of the day, for sheer anxiety around food. Once breakfasts were happening every day, we took a look at lunches and dinner. I’ve still got to work on having snacks every three-to-five hours, because extreme hunger can trigger a binge. But for the most-part, eating is looking a lot more normal.
Does it feel good? Well, yes and no. I relish in the freedom to pick foods I like, where I used to feel confined by restrictive fears and rules. Flavours and textures are more vivid, because I am present and mindful as I eat. On the whole, I am experiencing a healthy relationship with food. This change has illuminated a not-so-healthy relationship with myself.
Bulimic behaviours, in their distracting, escapist ways, serve as a buffer for negative emotions. In the absence of disordered behaviour, I am acutely aware of negative emotions like anger, anxiety, pain and sadness. I’ve felt like a big ball of crazy PMS for three weeks. Anxiety drives me to panicked breaths, teary eyes, nausea and headaches. I am extremely prone to crying. Even over happy things.
I feel like a baby seeing light with new eyes. Everything is so bright, and it hurts.
At the clinic, they say this stage of extreme emotions is normal, given the absence of alternate coping skills. Over the next couple of weeks or months, perception will normalize, and I won’t feel so crazy.
Being eight weeks from the end of the program leaves me with a frighteningly short time to deal with a critical element of recovery: the reintegration of exercise.
Last time I recovered, I neglected to reintegrate exercise, a critical omission that would play a role in my eventual relapse. Returning to the gym six months after recovery stirred up old thoughts.
Even in carefully moderated amounts, exercise can make me more self-conscious about what I’m eating. Excited by the power to affect my body, I become an obsessive perfectionist. I embrace mass media standards of beauty. No fat. Perfect curves. Tight skin. Tiny limbs. Where I lack the assertive skills and presence of mind to shape a happy life, I focus on the less intimidating task of bodily perfection. It’s an absolutely irrational and endless pursuit. It is the heart of my eating disorder.
And so I am moving onto the second stage of recovery: adopting healthy coping strategies. This will include body image, assertiveness, self-esteem and exercise.
I’ve written down a list of exercises, and beginning this week, I will try one activity per week, taking care to journal triggering thoughts and feelings. My goal is to find exercises I enjoy intrinsically, rather than as means-to-an-end in bodily self-perfection.
The exercises are: hiking, running, badminton, swimming, pole-dancing (yeah!), hot yoga, normal yoga, aerobics classes, and bicycling. (I’m pretty sure I hate the gym.)
Wish me luck! (And/or strength/perseverance. All well-wishing welcome.)