The Unconditional Permission to Eat
I often find myself looking back at the whole “recovery thing”. What a messy process. I can analyze it over and over, and still, develop new realizations. It’s likely how it should be. Not perfect. Rather messy. A mess personalized in a way that gets you out of the mess. This time, I’m contemplating parts of treatment that served me best, and ones, I wisely let go of.
I hated the food journal. For me, writing things down reinforced my disorder. I was spending a great time assessing my meals to perfectly match the prescribed food exchanges and my eating to fall within the prearranged time frames. When I noticed I craved more food than the recommended intake, or experienced hunger outside eating hours, I wasn’t comfortable responding to them. Eating felt wrong. I voiced the flawed thinking the food diary triggered, as I started comparing and compensating for times when extreme hunger took over. But the diary was apparently important in this phase of recovery. Eventually my dietician said I can stop recording, and the OCD somewhat loosened its grip.
Maybe the journal was important. But one thing that shouldn’t have its place in treating anorexia is any form of nutritional advice. I believe that above all, what we continuously need to hear and be accountable for is eating three meals AS MUCH AS WE WANT, three snacks AS MUCH AS WE WANT and besides those, eat WHENEVER THE FUCK WE WANT.
I was experiencing stomach pain.
#No shit girl, you haven’t eaten in years!#
My dietician suggested that all the yogurt I was having may contribute to lactose intolerance.
You know what I did?
I cut out dairy.
I shared my tendency to have a hard time stopping to eat
#No shit girl, you’ve been underweight for years!!!#
My dietician said I should eat mindfully.
You know what I did?
I started having meals in an even more ritualistic manner, whereby I had to truly sit down and enjoy each bite, as if it was the last. Talk about a diet mindset…
I was frustrated that my stomach hurt when my meal got delayed
#No shit girl, you’re hungry!#
My dietician said she too, needs to eat at specific times for her stomach gets upset.
You know what I did?
I started thinking that I’ll never fully recover; I’ll never be in that place where I can tolerate some hunger as I wait for dinnertime. I became inflexible.
When we looked over my blood work she said that given my cholesterol levels, maybe I should eat less full fat products.
I was already petrified of fat. You know what I did?
I cut out the motherfucker.
I shared that when I try something different, I keep craving more of it.
#No shit girl, food is good!#
You know what my dietician suggested? Tell yourself “I can have this again tomorrow”.
You know what that did?
Deprived my body of nutrients it needed right now.
When I shared a new coconut yogurt brand I liked, she said that “as my dietician”, she’d recommend something with less saturated fat.
You know what I did?
I started reading labels like it’s my job.
I want to apologize for the hard stance I took with these examples. My dietician helped me A LOT and had she not been there I am not sure I would have ever gotten better. She showed me my anorexia. She helped me be ok with food. She held me when I could no longer stand the hardship of recovery. She understood me when no one else was able to relate. I forever love her and can’t thank her enough. She played a HUGE role in my recovery, and was incredible at her job and beyond. I know she will be able to recognize how her approach and presence helped me. But the examples above were worth sharing to show how certain comments can speak to our eating disorder, in times when we aren’t truly able to differentiate them from our own voice. My experience is the only one I can speak from. On that front, I am of the opinion that when someone is so severely sick, the main focus should remain on the unconditional permission to eat.
For those recovering, my advice is you work to dismiss all nutritional science and just eat A FUCKING WHOLE LOT OF FOOD. Push yourself to eat in a way that you remember having in the past. Embrace the idea that food for you is unlimited. If you find that you aren’t hungry, hell you are actually beyond full, but you have this urge to polish off the entire jar of tahini, the whole pint of ice cream, the full box of cookies, as Nike said so wisely, JUST DO IT.
I wanted to be able to eat all those foods that currently make my stomach hurt with that no longer happening. I wanted to be able to eat a pint of ice cream and feel so utterly satisfied, instead of bloated. I wanted to be able to travel and not have to carry snacks around; because my brain got wired to thinking another famine may come. I wanted to be able to spend a whole day at a festival not thinking about food and then, eat burgers as hunger catches up. I wanted feelings of fullness to carry energy, happiness and satisfaction. I wanted to be free of having to think about what shit makes me bloat and what nutrient will keep me feel full for longer. I was determined to treat all food equal and to accept all discomfort in hope of reaching food neutrality and intuitive eating.
My dietician always encouraged me with how well I was doing. Seeing her was comforting. My therapist was of the same opinion. But he thought I could do more. He pushed me to try harder. My stomach always felt like it’s about to explode, there are no questions there. With that feeling came anxiety, unrest and mental torment. When he suggested adding an additional snack, I knew it would come at the expense of breakfast. That reasoning did not feel right. That night, as I reflected back on the situation, I was so confused. That night, I saw the flawed thoughts. I understood anorexia. That one question in therapy switched my world around, as I realized I have a license to eat, an unconditional permission to eat.
Fuck the balance, fuck the time, fuck the “mindfulness”, fuck the “challenges”, and fuck the conventional treatment, which to my ears spoke in code. I saw myself in the light of being ill. What I need is to gain more fucking weight. A lot of it. Someone in hospital, who is injected antibiotics to survive, is not given the choice. Food is my medicine. I must take it.
Engorging my three-day food allotment in one made me panic, thinking I may never be able to stop. But I accepted to deal with the repercussions of “obesity” and what not later, if they come, at all. The more I ate the less energy I had for daily activities, but at least, the mental hunger was appeased. So I continued eating, A fucking lot that is. Believing that all these people who recovered must be onto something. They were. Giving myself the unconditional permission to eat was the best decision I made. I gained a lot more weight, a lot faster, and guess what? I did not care. It felt empowering.
While a team by our side is of essence for guidance and support, what we need most is encouragement to eat past our physical fullness, away from any dietary rules, in a way that responds to our mental hunger. You’d be surprised how much we can eat, so what we need to hear over and over again is that there are no limits!
You have the unconditional permission to eat. To nourish your body. To feed your soul. To recover. And to bloody enjoy the process.