The messy picture of recovery: A Story about Ham

Back in June I was reminded that recovery is a process not a destination. I was was invited by an old friend to spend a week at her beautiful villa in France along with some of my greatest friends from school.

Prior to the trip our host if there was anything I didn’t eat. Perhaps she asked the question to everyone. Cooking for 8 people lunch and dinner isn’t an easy feat, not to mention on a budget, but of course I interpreted this as a personal question, and I was proud to say I was chilled with anything.

My school friends were the first to witness the change in my eating habits during and post my eating disorder. In the midst of a severe mental illness, food is no longer food and cannot be comprehended as such. Foods that had been associated with happy occasions, fun or celebration became foods I no longer “liked”, or else no longer could free willingly put to my lips.

Of course I still surprise myself with how many “fear foods” I’ve managed to re-introduce and re-learn to love. Pizza is a big one, and even chips. It is still liberating to be able to truly decide what I want to eat without my own head making everything convoluted and traumatic.

I can eat everything are the proud words I utter when asked. I appreciate that people are vegan or gluten free for the right reasons, but for me, conforming to such lifestyles would be indulging a part of me that robbed me of everything. For me personally, it would be rude and it would be wrong.

Of course when I say I eat everything there are obviously foods that I enjoy more than others, and I back myself that I am in a position whereby that’s ok. I feel like that’s the case with most of us. They’re the times when you bite your lip, have a good ol’ go at getting through enough to please your granny or to be polite, and then buy a sandwich on the way home. Of course people all have preferences and dislikes when it comes to food, so for the most part I can handle anything and cope with it in the way mentioned above.

There’s a change however, when I can feel people are watching. When the difference between me and another asking for something on the side is read as a bi product of my eating disorder, rather than a normal rational choice. Where if I don’t finish everything on my plate, I still have a problem.

There’s groups of people and different scenarios in which I feel the powerful gaze of others more prominently. Of course, I can’t expect a close group of friends who at 15 watched me quite literally shrink before their eyes to necessarily see me the same again. Perhaps the whole thing is in my own head anyways and no one is watching at all. Sometimes I feel frustrated and trapped by it, in other cases it challenges me in ways that I realise I have to see as positive, even if they defy what I have come to believe as my genuine likes and dislikes.

I’ll try and give you an example. I love French food. I love cheese, albeit good cheese and pain au chocolat. I love the white peaches in the south of France and the fresh lettuce with French dressing. I adore French bread and mussels and of course I’m partial to a glass of vino.

There’s also some foods I just simply don’t eat regularly and one of those is ham. I don’t buy it at home or eat it regularly and I think I just prefer other things. We all know ham is a great source of protein and the stuff I’m thinking of is also usually very low is calories. So as far as I’m concerned none of this was really about control or making me fat or any of that ED mindset, it’s just I’m not a big ham girl, no biggie.

Yet, one particular lunch I noticed that if I didn’t opt for ham, my plate wouldn’t really be deemed a suitable lunch by anyone’s standards. Just a large plate of lettuce with a little cheese and bread. Not just from a caloric view would it be unsubstantial, but also a nutritional point of view. Of course not having the perfect balanced meal every single day really doesn’t matter. But with all eyes on me, or at least all eyes on me in my head – should I just eat the god damn ham?

So I eat everything right, but here I am seriously over analysing ham. In my head I don’t think I like ham, I don’t eat ham, I’ve read enough bull shit articles to convince me that ham isn’t good for me. But don’t eat the ham, it might be noted I haven’t eaten enough – problem girl.

Even at the table, I’ve eaten everything on my plate except the ham. I could leave it, but there wasn’t that much and I don’t want to be wasteful either. HAMMMMMMMM, literally what is the big deal? I’m supposed to be at least 5 years recovered. So what do I do? I eat the bloody ham. I act like a responsible, normal, rational adult and eat the ham, no one the wiser to the internal craziness going on in my mind.

You know what? In my opinion ham isn’t going to set the world on fire, it’s fairly bland which is likely why they put it between bread and feed it to children. But ham isn’t going to kill me either. Just because I don’t eat it that often doesn’t mean it’s off limits or has to be an ordeal. It’s ham and I survived to tell the tale.

So what is the point of this very long tale about ham. Well, my point is, I’m not perfect. I stress that no foods should be off limits and I say I eat everything. Yet, while for the most part this is true, there are also times when I struggle. Whereby, I cannot deny that in certain scenarios I am anxious about some foods. Perhaps for a vegetarian avoiding the ham would have gone unnoticed, but for me, there was a position in which I felt uncomfortable about eating something and I felt pressure. Can I really claim to practice what I preach?

The main thing I guess is how I take on each and every one of these challenges as they come to me. The two options I had were leave the ham, or get on with it even though it put me out of my comfort zone. I could also choose to see these experiences as negative and blame those around me for being silently critical about what I put on my plate. Or I can step up to that plate. I pick the latter, because what can be initially viewed as defeat is also a chance for me to continuously defy my eating disorder, or at least what it was.

I’m not asking for any medals here either, but it’s the small triumphs like when I sat in the bath that evening laughing at the stupidity of the situation that make up the bigger picture. Little victories, still 9 years on which make up the messy picture of my recovery journey and grant me the power to share my messages of it with others.

Just to round things off. It’s ok not to like certain foods, my dislike of ham might be your dislike of anchovies or pickled eggs or something with a strong flavour or weird texture. I also very rarely find myself in situations like these, but that doesn’t

mean they don’t creep up on me out of the blue like this. My aim here is to let you know that I’m not perfect, I am always learning and I strongly believe in the importance of sharing a part of that with you.

Isa started her blog Goodness Guru after her first year at The University of Edinburgh. Although her main reasons for adopting a healthier lifestyle were based on curing an outbreak of acne, Isa had also suffered from anorexia as a teenager. Goodness Guru was Isa’s gateway into enjoying food again, cooking, experimenting and learning to nourish herself properly free from guilt and restriction. She is now studying a masters in Eating Disorders and Clinical nutrition at UCL and is on a mission to inspire young women to love their bodies no matter what and to enjoy a healthy and balanced relationship with 

food. Follow Isa on Instagram @goodnessguru

Posted in , , , , by The Recover Clinic

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