Finding a healthy relationship with food
Updated: Dec 11, 2020
Trigger warning: eating disorders, anorexia, mental illness
Food has always been a difficult concept for me ever since I experienced an eating disorder (ED). Before I developed an ED in grade 9, I started to feel self-conscious; for example, I felt obligated to wear makeup every single day when I went out and I was fearful of others seeing my bare face. This stemmed from numerous factors such as friend and family problems. Also, I compared my body shape to others’ figures. This engendered me to slowly cut down my portions, then increasing my exercise time. I started to throw away my lunch and started only eating a minimal portion per day. If I ate something, I felt compelled to exercise to burn it off. I hated myself and hated how I looked. I thought that I needed to be thin to be loved.
After I became very thin, I then judged others for their figure and felt proud for being the skinniest one; this is a very unhealthy mindset. During this process, I grew fearful of food. I was scared of bread and rice and I did not consume meat for an entire year. I barely ate. I also woke up early in the mornings to exercise. I was hurting my body and exhausting myself every single day. Furthermore, my relationship with my parents deteriorated because they wanted me to eat and stay healthy. I remember crying while my mom would force me to eat more than what I had. This mindset persevered until my dance teacher noticed and she called me out to the side. She told me that she noticed that I had lost a significant amount of weight and she expressed her concern and told me that I can take a break if I need. After that conversation, I remember going home and crying in my bed because I was just completely exhausted with the restrictions and the calculated lifestyle. So, I started to eat again and recover slowly. Also, I really felt fatigued when I changed my mindset: I never really observed that my body needed rest.
However, healing from my ED was a greatly taxing process. I went through a phase called extreme hunger which is an important yet grueling part of ED recovery. During an extreme hunger phase, you are ALWAYS hungry. My body was so deprived of all the essential nutrients that I missed out on in the year. I was craving a lot of sweets such as cookies and also carbs such as bread. I was eating a lot of junk food and large portions of my meals. I felt helpless because I was still hungry no matter how much I ate. In the mirror, my bloated reflection terrified me and the fact that I was still hungry made me anxious. I was eating a lot more than the normal recommended caloric intake because my body was trying to return to a normal metabolic level and to restore all of its damaged internal processes.
During this time, it was difficult to deal with gaining weight. Furthermore, recovery is not a smooth process like how the media often portrays it as. I relapsed a few months after I recovered because my weight gain induced the thoughts to emerge once again. Also, after I recovered the second time, I still tended to avoid certain food groups. I only had the same lunches that I felt comfortable eating. I only ate healthy snacks and only ate small amounts of the delicious food that my mom cooked because I thought they were too salty or starchy. I almost went into a relapse a few months ago, after COVID-19 started.
When I was recently struggling and on the verge of succumbing to the voice inside my head, I thought to myself about whether I want to have a “perfect life” or a “happy life.” I remember a few months ago not being able to get a snack at night, even when I was starving because I forced myself to follow another timed eating schedule. I had to pick myself up, even if it was terrifying, to break these rules surrounding food in my life because I was always constantly thinking about food: what I would eat, how I could meet the calorie limit for the meal, and always comparing my portions to how much other influencers ate. I also saw exercise as an obligation rather than something I do to de-stress and to benefit my own health. So instead of following the workout programs that gained popularity during quarantine, I started running and I truly discovered that I love running and now I don’t exercise too hard or when I don’t feel like exercising.
I am still challenging myself to always respond to my cravings and to not think that I have to compensate for what I eat. So...I am practicing intuitive eating, although it’s not super perfect as I still do have the thoughts inside my head, but I block them out by thinking I want to prioritize MY happiness over a “perfect” life. I want to tell you that wherever you are during your recovery, do not give up! You have made it this far and I want you to live the rest of your life happily. You have the resilience within you to block the voices. You got this! Healing is a difficult process but all these steps will lead up at the end and we need to be healthy to fulfill our dreams, to create so many more memories, and to experience all the opportunities in life.
MHN Coordinator & YMHA Contributor