Eating Disorder History
I have anorexia nervosa. Right now, it’s in remission. But stressful times casue a loss of appetite. If I am mot careful, I start skipping meals, eating less, and forgetting to hydrate. My body interprets the pattern of skipping meals and eating less as a signal to start hoarding calories and retaiming water to protect vital organs. It falls back into the cycle instincitvely to protect my body from wasting away because past experience says “who knows when the body will be fed again?”
Even after I got the anorexia under control and found ways to make the allergies go away, I still had problems with disordered earing habits like:
- food fears
- dieting restrictions
- obsessive/complusive behaviors related to food
- shopping, preparation, cooking, meal times, and so on
I was taking in calories but unable to enjoy eating or maintain a healthy weight. Low energy, sleep problems, lowered immune system…you name it I experienced it in some way. My doctors and I are constantly surprised that the only long term sign of decades of malnutrition a d starvation is pale skin because of lack of melatonin production. That means I have problems absorbing vitamin D and have to be careful of sun exposure. It also means I have to take supplements.
That was about 4 years ago.
These days my skin is a healthy warm/neutral skin tone – neither pale white nor a obviously brown, but somewhere in between – and my weight stays mostly the same within a 5 lb range. This isn’t my target weight or my ideal weight, but it’s the weight my body/mind/spirit believes is best for overall health.
When I do lose weight, it’s less than the 10 lb cut off that tips me into an official relapse. Problem is that I’m already petite & slim, so can’t afford to lose any weight. Being slim also means that any weight loss is easily noticed. Same with weight gain.
I might not notice that my eating habits changed right away. Probably won’t notice if my sleep patterns or food thoughts have changed either. But I will and do notice when my tops feel too loose/tight or my pants and skirts start bagging at the waist or feeling too tight.
My stomach and abdominal area is really sensitive to pressure so bloating and discomfort from disordered eating usually catches my attention first.
What is the difference between Eating Disorders & Disordered Eating habits?
One can have disordered eating habits without an eating disorder.
For example, I used to have a lot of rules about what I could eat, how often I could eat it, and where I could eat it. The rules didn’t include how much or little I at at one meal or what had to happen if I over/under ate. It was almost like a restrictive diet that allowed me to feel like I was in control, but still eating healthy. These rules and restrictions would make sense if they were related to a medical or physiological issue that made me sick if I ate something. But they didn’t make sense for a healthy, young woman without any food allergies or sensitivities. The restrictions were based on fear and avoidance. Fear of triggering flashbacks or panic attacks; and avoidance as my coping strategy to not get triggered.
*Main difference here: I was aware of this and able to make the conscious choice to challenge these fears with support from medical nutrition therapy and mental health counseling.*
One cannot have an earing disorder without a history/pattern of existing disordered eating habits.
Example of my thoughts while practicing anorexia:
I’m too heavy. I don’t deserve to eat this food or even enjoy food. My parents, these teachers, are all trying to control me and force me to (insert physical activity here). If I’m too weak, they can’t make me do it. I hate my body. It’s the reason why these monsters want to hurt me. If I don’t eat, my body will change; they won’t want to use me anymore. I have to punish myself for losing control at (insert family event), so not eating (insert favorite food) anymore will prove that I have will power, etc.
Can you tell the difference in my thought processes?
Why is this important?
Stress does odd things to mental and physical processes. It changes internal chemistry too. Trauma causes changes in development. All of this can cause problems with digestion and absorption of nutrients. Advertising and the internalized messages from caregivers also have an impact on body image, self-esteem, and eating habits.
As a child, I starved and had to scrounge for food when my parents forgot or didn’t feel like cooking/feeding me. Most of what I ate were sandwiches, pastries, toast, and junk food (cookies, chips, canned whatever) that got stored in the pantry. The refrigerator was too heavy to open until I was about 5 years old.
As I got older, my mom put me on the same diets she was on. And punished me by taking away any food I liked whenever the diets didn’t work. She fed me less so she could eat more because it was my fault she gained weight. Yeah, fhat doesn’t make sense. But it’s how she justified her eating habits.
Then came the constant criticism about:
- how I looked
- my eating habits
- food choices
Finally, there were (inevitable) comparisons to cousins of a similar age and generation from everyone. Too fat, too skinny, too clumsy, too weak…
Connection: Stressful Situations & Self Care (i.e. eating habits)
I don’t know about you, but many of the survivors I have met and talked to have weight problems, immune system problems, and health problems that seem to stem from A) food choices; B) thoughts and beliefs about nutrition; C) beliefs about what their bodies deserve or don’t deserve in relation to food and health; and D) a lack of their own sense of self. For myself, I still struggle with all four of these topics and probably will for the rest of my life.
Life transitions are among the biggest stressors in my life. By transition, I mean lots of small changes that accumulate to create a BIG change.
Some examples: legal name change; moving cross country; reconnecting with family; changing jobs; deciding not to hide anymore; advocating for myself at work; decorating my apartment; talking with an attorney; getting my first bank loan approved; becoming more active on social media; changing my self-perceptions for improved self-image.
But even after all of this, I feel hope and joy whenever a change comes my way. Each experience taught me that a positive outlook, faith in myself and in the universal energy (aka spirtual or religious belief system) being there to support me as long as I welcome it into my life.
I know that each time something like this comes up, I will feel stressed out. My body might go into these automatic patterns, or they might not. The big difference is that I am aware this can happen and can put together safety plans to help recover faster once the stress eases up.
And as long as I stay within the criteria my medical nutrition counselor gave me, I will not fall into a relapse of anorexia no matter what my mind and body are telling me.
If you are not sure whether you are experiencing disordered eating or an eating disorder, maybe it’s time to talk with a professional.
Mental health counselors who specialize in eating disorders and have trauma experience are a good first step.
If you are not comfortable talking with a counselor, talking with your primary physician is also a good first step. He or she can get you a referral to meet with a registered dietitian or nutrition specialist. Or maybe refer you to a program that offers food and nutrition support.
Finally, there are many non-profit organizations and social media groups (legitimate ones) who offer support for people with diet and eating challenges. A lot of their resources are free and available in a safe, non-judgmental (sometimes anonymous) location too.
Whatever your eating challenges may be, I wish that you all find the support and resources you need to be successful.
Thanks for reading.