Jemma reflects on her evolving relationship with food and eating since she started treatment with us…
Suffering from an eating disorder led me to have a lot of serious issues with food. Whilst I now know these problems were a symptom of my illness and not the underlying cause, the majority of the time I was unwell, I was completely consumed by food.
I’ve been at The Recover Clinic for almost 5 months, and in that time I have worked hard at combating my fear of food during my nutrition sessions. Recently during these sessions, I’ve had several realisations of just how far I’ve come and I wanted to share these changes to show others it is possible to free yourselves from a life of obsessing about food.
Before I started treatment I was stuck in an awful cycle of restricting to the point where I was so hungry I would ultimately binge on vast quantities of all the foods I was trying to avoid – basically anything sweet or containing fat and carbohydrates. After binging I would feel so disgusting, so guilty, I would throw up only to repeat the cycle again. Convincing myself this time I would restrict and not binge, that I would follow the rules I had made up in my head, but with every cycle I became physically and mentally weaker and I believed binging and purging were inevitable.
I used to have so many rules around food such as having ‘safe foods’ which were mostly fruit and vegetables and ‘fear foods’ which was pretty much everything else. Everyday I would eat exactly the same food at every meal and if this wasn’t possible I would be thrown into crippling panic. It was so incredibly boring, I was constantly anxious and so isolated as very rarely would I eat with other people, and if I did, God forbid they see me eat any more than half the plate! I was convinced people would judge me for what I ate and how much I ate.
I have now managed to break the cycle I was in which is such a relief and I feel so much stronger, healthier and have more energy. I no longer feel guilt around food as I have given myself permission to eat again. I don’t avoid foods which are high in fat or calories and if I have a craving for a certain food I eat it and don’t get upset with myself if I eat food which is deemed by society to be ‘unhealthy’. No foods are forbidden anymore which means I don’t have the urge to binge on anything and I’ve discovered I like foods I had convinced myself I didn’t because of their fat and calorie content.
I am able to eat regularly and not feel the need to restrict or throw up. I can actually tell when I’m hungry and when I’m full, rather than only eating set amounts at set times of the day. I can actually trust my body to tell me when, what and how much to eat, which I cannot describe just how freeing it is, not second guessing myself every time I eat and not having to follow rules. I am not constantly thinking about what I will eat and when, or planning my day around food. I spend very little time at all now thinking about food and mostly just decide at the time what I will eat. Being in recovery I now eat out regularly and I enjoy it, socialising and getting to try so many different foods.
Before coming to the clinic I would have very little food in my cupboards and it would all be ‘safe foods’ to try to avoid a binge. Going food shopping was an absolute nightmare. Being surrounded by so much choice and so many ‘fear foods’ it was my idea of hell. I would go around looking at everything on every aisle. There would be so many foods I would want to eat but thought I would binge on them, so avoided them only to return to the shop at a later time to stock up on all these foods when I was in binge mode. Now I know I can eat these foods without any repercussions, I don’t go on binge food shopping trips. I now spend time searching the aisles for new things to try and inspiration for new meals. My cupboards are now usually full with a whole range of food, including many foods I used to be scared of having in the house in case I binged.
I used to have so many circumstances that would trigger me to binge, such as being alone, being thrown off guard by a change in situation, eating one thing and then thinking I had ruined the day so may as well binge, feeling stressed, lonely, inadequate, unhappy, bored or avoiding doing something I didn’t want to do. Through treatment I now have the tools to get through these situations without resorting to eating disorder behaviours. I also know that it is common to overeat in these situations and don’t berate myself if I do because food is no longer the enemy.
To someone who has never suffered from an eating disorder, these things might sound obvious or simple, but to me these feel like massive achievements. I honestly can’t express in words just how incredible it feels to not have a constant battle with my mind over food, something so fundamental to surviving and necessary for our bodies to function. I used to believe my eating habits were ok because I was still able to function, but it wasn’t until I started eating properly that I realised just how malnourished I was and how much of a struggle it was to do anything.
I am so grateful to have been able to have the support to help me overcome this internal struggle, as having experienced what it is like to have a good relationship with food I know I will always fight to stay well, as I am determined never to go back to my old habits.