**Please note that this is a blog post regarding my issues with eating disorders and recovery. Some may find what I say to be triggering, which is completely unintentional, but I know that it may happen. I'm writing this post because this blog is my platform to be honest about the issues I struggle with daily. There are days where I feel absolutely on top of the world and embrace recovery with open arms and to be honest, I don't even really think about it. But there are still days where it's hard...really, really hard. Before this blog, I would have thought that I'm absolutely alone in this, but after almost a year of being so incredibly open with my struggles, I know for a fact I am not the only person that has these thoughts or feels these emotions. I know recovery sometimes feels harder than the mental illness itself and as usual, I just want to validate to both myself and you that we are doing just fine and are worthy of happiness this holiday season***
Back when disordered eating controlled my life, I used to think the holidays were the worst time of year. If you think about it, the holidays are essentially 6(ish) weeks devoted to parties, family gathering, cheer, joy, and love. They are also 6(ish) weeks devoted to food. Also alcohol. But mostly food.
Obviously I can only speak from my experiences, but from what I've read, watched, and discussed with others, I know I'm not alone in the way I used to feel about food. For me, my ED made me extremely secretive about food. I hated having a communal kitchen in college because that meant my meals were always on display for my roommates and whoever else happened to be over. From prepping to eating, I didn't want anyone to know how much or how little I was actually putting into my body. I knew my roommates where worried about me and in keeping with my need to make everyone else around me happy, I would try my best to put on a front. I'd make plates full of lean meat, complex carbs, and veggies to convince them everything was fine. I would even offer to cook enough for them too, since I genuinely have always enjoyed the process of cooking and plating meals.
I would then use my overbearing workload as an excuse to eat alone in my room to do work (or take it to the design lab where I just wouldn't touch it). There I would open up design documents on my laptop, but have a separate window open dedicated to "thinspo" images. I'd scroll through feeds of barely dressed women who looked like goddesses. They were so tan and tiny, with bombshell curls and perfect contours. I'd agonize and idealize over them and convinced myself if I just didn't eat and trained harder, one day, I too could look like them. Or at least back to the way I used to look in high school. I'd lookup YouTube accounts dedicated to free workouts and create weekly workout schedules. I'd read pro-ana blogs about starvation and posts from like minded girls like me. Girls (and boys) who felt so lost and hurt and just wanted to be thin - we all just wanted to finally feel validation that we too are beautiful.
All the while, I'd barely touch my plate. The food I did eat, I made sure to watch myself chew in a mirror (another commonly known hack to make you eat less). If a roommate came upstairs to chat or check on me, I'd shovel food into my mouth to keep up with the act. If they didn't stay very long, I'd spit the half masticated food into a paper towel and throw it away. If they stayed long enough that I had to swallow, I knew the tricks to get that food out of my system if I felt it were necessary. The process was isolating and upsetting. I got caught up in this disillusionment that this was how I was going to get my life back in order. A disillusionment that glorified starvation and purging and, in my mind, guaranteed a solution to all of my problems. A disillusionment that changed every detail in the way I perceived myself - both inside and out.
No wonder my roommates were so worried...
But that whole song and dance would get completely thrown off every winter when I had to go home for the holidays. Here I was, no longer independent and in control of my food buying, prep, and intake. Instead, I was surrounded by jars of candy and cake plates full of treats (which is always the case in my parents house - in high school, I was never tempted by the treats, but after months of starving myself at school, I wanted to stick my hand in every jar, every chance I had). My mom and I love cooking together, so every conversation we had was about what we were going to make for all of the entertaining we were going to be doing. We'd go through magazines and cook books and Pinterest, trying to find the most decadent recipes we could find. I would feel so tortured, excited to bond with my mom and excitement over the food, because I was (and still am) a foodie. But that excitement would always be overshadowed by the hardest part - eating said food.
Now, I know I'm not the first person to be blogging about food and weight and the holidays. Heck, this is probably one of the most blogged about topics. Influencers write about tips to help you stay "in control" of your cravings and portion sizes. Or they give you workouts you can do to help burn more calories before or after a big meal. Or they write about self love and how it's okay to gain a bit of holiday weight and you need to stop being so hard on yourself. I thought about taking this post in one of those directions - more on the self love side rather than the hack side because I am all here for recovery and have zero time for "tricks" that could trigger a relapse. But as I started getting my thoughts together, I started to realize how much harder the holidays are as someone fully in recovery than someone in an eating disorder - something that I didn't think was possible because of how miserable I used to be compared to how happy I am now. Which is a mindf*** in itself. As I keep sitting with these thoughts and emotions, it's dawning on me that I may not be the only person feeling this way.
So this post is for you. And me. But mainly for you. Bear with me as I figure out these thoughts.
For me, being in recovery from disordered eating is like driving to a destination with Pittsburgh-ese directions. I have a starting point (where I am now), a destination (keeping recovery habits up while maintaining my weight/continue muscle toning), with only a few vague landmarks to get me there (eat fruits and veggies, stay mindful/intuitive when eating, drink enough water, don't use exercise to combat food choices/quantities, get sleep, etc). And that's about it. Which may be enough for some people to get through the holidays. But for me, it's not as simple.
As you most likely know by now, I'm a rule follower. I like having a plan. I like order. I like things to be neat and simple and organized. Looking back, it's almost predictable I fell into disordered eating habits. It gave me rules and standards. It gave me punishment. It fueled self loathing. It helped me get through hard times because at least I had one aspect of my life completely reigned in. It was a safety net I had that kept me balanced during these especially difficult weeks.
Last year was technically my first "recovered" holiday, but I still gave into some of the old habits. I did a ridiculous amount of cardio both before and after parties (which I thought was helping with my anxiety for big social gatherings, but now I'm realizing the anxiety was about the food/my image and not the people). I only allowed myself to eat a certain amount of food (I was still figuring out mindfulness/intuitive eating). If I went over that quantity, I drank a detox tea or two (I still haven't relapsed with purging or laxatives so yay on that front). I want to say that at least for one of the days I barely ate 300 calories before dinner so I could splurge and feel free to eat whatever I wanted and not feel guilty. I was constantly aware of how much I was eating. Mainly because I wanted to prove to my family that I was doing better and therapy was working, but also because in the back of my mind, I was still scared of gaining weight.
I'm still scared of gaining weight.
There. I said it. I am still terrified of becoming the "fat" girl I used to be. And again, I know I never was a "fat" girl per say, but in my distorted brain, that's how it feels/felt, so don't get frustrated with me and tell me how stupid I'm being. Trust me. I already know. But still. I'm scared that those 30+ lbs will suddenly appear on my figure again. I'm scared of what people will think of me. Of what Greg would think since he's only ever known me as what I look like now. Of the back handed compliments and other criticisms that come with seeing certain family members at the holidays. It all makes me extremely anxious and allows the old ED demons to start whispering sweet nothings when I look at myself in the mirror.
But, as I'm writing all of this, I'm realizing there's something even scarier.
I could completely relapse.
I could lose EVERYTHING I've been working for.
The trust, the honesty, the vulnerability, the happiness. My relationships with my family, friends, Greg, and most importantly, myself. The self love and pride I've been preaching and cultivating the last however long it's been now. One laxative, one purge, one starvation - could reduce everything back to nothing and I could be just as lost if not more than I felt before my breakdown.
I'll gladly take the few extra pounds from eating too much bread during Christmas dinner than fall back into the darkest days of my life.
And maybe this epiphany is the last piece of the puzzle for me to get to my destination. Being thin is not worth the extreme torture it can take to get there. I know saying this and following through with it are two completely different things. I know there will be times my ED demons will scream at me to cheat to get to my goals. But at what cost? I don't want this year to be like last year or any year before that. I don't want to spend hours on a treadmill, I want to spend hours with my family and Greg's family, fully invested in the cheer and merriment. I don't want to plan out my meals and macros to a T, I want to eat what I want to in the moment and not be afraid that one more serving of potatoes is going to ruin "me" (and not feel like I need to starve myself all morning to not feel guilty about it). I'm tired of worrying how my dress is fitting me or what people are thinking of my figure, I finally like what I see in the mirror and I refuse to let my stupid, old insecurities take that away from me.
So let's end with this. The holidays can be dumb and they can bring up a lot of difficult memories for some people. The demons may still be there, and that's okay. It's okay to feel like you're struggling or to actually be struggling. Because we're all going through some kind of stress or anxiety right now. It's so easy to get lost in the high expectations we set for this "most wonderful time of the year". But the only outcome other than actually meeting that ridiculous expectation is failing to meet that ridiculous expectation.
This year, I want to focus on all the good that's been occurring with my recovery. I want to treat the next few weeks the same way I've been treating the rest of the year. I want to eat my veggies and drink my water and not feel like I have to run a million miles in order to allow myself to enjoy this special time. I want to keep cultivating this self love and I want to keep forging this new mindful life path. It's been really amazing to see how proud everyone else is of me, but what's even more amazing is how proud of myself I'm becoming.
So with that said, I hope you enjoy your holiday as much as you possibly can, and I know you aren't alone in the moments of sadness/anger/frustration/whatever that can occur.