This week, saw the return of the one force that grabs my ED by it’s snaky little throat and throws it way out into the field. I knew something was up when I cried at the end of Pitch Perfect in front of my frowning kids. And at Great British Bake Off. And because I’d forgotten to buy more shampoo. Later that day, enter the elusive period. Of all the arguments I have with myself surrounding any food, let me tell you Mother Nature doesn’t take my bullshit. Wednesday evening I was mentally frog-marched to the work canteen and left work that night with a belly full of Lasagne. I’m not supposed to eat it thanks to Gluten, but the row went like this…
Period: Just go and have a look
ED: I’m not even hungry
P: But you haven’t eaten, just go and see
ED: WTF are you doing?
P: Oh look! Lasagne! Look at the cheese!
ED: You can’t eat that. You’ve done so well these past few days, why ruin it?
ED: You finish in just over an hour, you’ve made it till now, don’t be weak. Don’t you dare.
P: You leave here right now, you won’t eat tonight and you know it
Me: It’s got gluten in it. Should I just get some veg?
ED: You have the power here. This will be your fault. Have the strength and just walk away!
I let people go ahead of me in the queue while I move backward and forward like a mad woman. I get back in the queue, convinced I’m getting a plate of cabbage. I pay at the till for the Lasagne. I walk it back with me, passing bins with ED yelling ‘throw it’ and period yelling ‘eat it’. I walk to the nemesis that is the coffee room, thankfully with only 2 people in it, neither of which will be interested in what I’m about to do. I sit and study it for a minute and the woman on the table in front turns around and says how good it smells. Period and I rejoice, I have to eat it now because throwing it away will attract attention. ED insists to offer her to try it, even just a few mouthfuls of calories subtracted will be better than eating it all. I do, but she doesn’t. I start eating and oh my god, at least one part of me is bathing in some comfort. ED is raging. And I’m just thinking it’s not going to stay inside me long enough thanks to the gluten, so please, please can everyone just chill.
Of course, the comfort is short lived and I felt lower than low for giving in, in every sense possible. Although it’s quite comical to read it back and imagine what I must I have looked like stepping around in the canteen while I rowed with myself, it’s an exhausting process in real time. I dread periods for this reason, although having missed a few months earlier this year, I should be grateful my uterus is trying to function at all. I read all the time about women who never get them back even after recovery and I feel awful for them. I imagine how I would feel doing everything ‘right’ and fighting as hard as they have against all of this, just to face that disappointment every month when they haven’t returned. I do find it ironic that my first proper diet came as a result of wanting children and being told I needed to lose weight in order to have regular periods, in fact everything that was medically wrong with me was always put down to being overweight.
When my periods stopped this time I was convinced it wasn’t weight related and it had to be something else. A friend of mine from work explained how the same had happened to one of her friends and she put off seeing her GP and it turned out to be cancer, which scared me enough to make an appointment. The scan was all clear and I squirmed in my seat as the gynecologist suggested it was probably dietary related and I needed to make a food/symptom diary for the next few months ahead of my follow up appointment. Red-faced I agreed and left knowing I wouldn’t, cancelling my follow up appointment after.
I know the sensation of normal hunger and the feeling of satisfaction upon eating. I can’t recall the last time I ate 3 meals in a day, but if I’m in the mindset to try I’ll get in the swing of trying to eat at least 1 at lunch for as many days as I can. These phases will develop into ‘safe’ foods and I’ll eat the same thing rigidly, everyday. Sometimes that makes weight loss more rapid than fasting, but I’ll eventually convince myself to cut the amount down until it’s nothing again. At some point, the fasting will be broken and if it’s for a reason such as this, the results are counterproductive. Any food intake after a significant time-period of starving yourself, does not initially feel good. In my case and with all mental turmoil aside, it is a physically painful process. Everything from the jaw ache of chewing, the severe bloating and stomach pains, nausea and diarrhea or constipation is enough to convince my ED brain further that eating isn’t what I need to do. It’s worse when it’s a larger amount and it contains a big proportion of sugar, carbohydrates and fat. I have worse food ‘hangovers’ after a meal like this than I ever have had alcohol ones. I read the journeys of people in recovery going through the refeeding process and some will report months of this until everything levels out as it were. I have nothing but admiration and respect for them for pushing on, knowing that they will also be working so hard to ignore the pain of their internal narrative at the same time. It seems like such a hard road to keep pushing yourself along, that what I exist in now currently seems a lot easier.
I’ve eaten more this week as a consequence of my period, not all as bad as the Lasagne, no more Gluten at least, but more than I would have. The good part of hormones and the only part I genuinely enjoy is my boobs make a guest appearance! I actually feel a need to wear a bra for a change. But I am thankful said hormones are calming enough for normal service to resume again and all that’s on my mind right now is getting through the next few days of feeling rough as my body processes it all and I can get back to feeling like ‘me’ again. Taking back what I’ve convinced myself is my control.
The ED voice is now very, very loud. Panic stations are fully manned, plan of action brief has already commenced and all available energy is pouring into undoing the ‘damage’ my weak will has caused. I’m looking in my mirror and seeing a body I don’t recognise even after just a few days of more calories. I ask myself repeatedly ‘It can’t be that rapid, can it? It has to be fluid too?’
I understand what the term Body Dysmorphia is, I was diagnosed with it when I told the GP all those years ago that regardless what the scales and clothes sizes told me, I saw the same massive body I’d always seen. It felt exactly the same to live inside of it. But being told ‘there’s a name for that’ doesn’t explain how or why it works the way it does. If I can’t see a difference when I lose weight, then how come I can when I eat? Why does every single cell in my body feel weight gain, but nothing feels or looks physically different when the scales say I’ve lost it? The feeling is convincing enough that I immediately change my clothes to the size up. I have a stash of them for times like this. I need them looser on my body to stop me actually wanting to cry. I don’t want to be able to feel them against my skin and I don’t want to remind myself of that damage I’ve done. It’s an agonising feeling at times. I imagine everyone around me can see it too and they are talking about it, judging my weight gain and loss of self-control. My ED tells me that is exactly what they are doing. My ED tells me there is no such thing as Body Dysmorphia and what I see is precisely what is there. Seeing is believing sweetheart, don’t you forget it.
So what about when other people comment on my weight? If the general consensus is I’m skinny enough, they can’t all be lying, right? It’s a trap, it tells me. They want you to put on weight. Think about how everyone made you feel at the beginning. Think about the comments they made then. They are the enemy. You wanted this. You needed this. You still need this. We haven’t reached your goals yet. Wait for that moment that you can really look and like what you see, then you are free.
I’ve lived with it for long enough now to know that moment will never come. I used to believe it, wholeheartedly. If I just weighed X stone, I’d be happy. If I could just get to that point, a little more, it’ll be enough. I’ve learned the numbers change nothing as my reflection stays the same. The feeling that it’s not good enough never, ever stops and the number in my head I want to see on the scales goes down and down the closer I get. What I weigh now would have been a target a year ago, but I’ve been lighter than this since, so now it’s a failure. I don’t know how people find the courage to throw away their scales, I don’t know what life would be like to live without any kind of measurement. What mine say to me each morning answers the very first question in my mind when my eyes open, but then I go back to my mirror like a ritual and feel like I’ve been punched in the stomach. If I’m really going to try, I avoid the mirror, but I’ve not ever mastered being able to avoid the numbers. No matter what they say, I have to know.
I will never understand why my reflection doesn’t change. I’ve even convinced myself before now that someone must be tampering with my scales because the numbers just couldn’t be right. I understand my ED is a mental illness. I understand that no one around me is hearing the narrative I am when I eat. But why can I see everything else around me accurately, the beauty of all the women in every shape and size and yet, I’m not apparently physically seeing my own body? Have I ever then actually seen myself? It’s something that really does make me question my own sanity at times. I wonder more if at any point in all these years, if I was looking at my body as I was supposed to have seen it, would I actually have liked what I could see? Would it have ended all of this?
I know the answers, like the peace and contentment with myself I continually chase will not be found in those numbers anymore. I know to most people, they are just numbers. But to me, they dictate my entire day ahead. Those numbers can make me want to fold in half with shame, hide myself away and never face the world again. They make me want to apologise to this invisible force or they tell me ‘You are getting there, but not quite yet, keep pushing’. What they have never said and never will say is ‘It’s ok. You did it. You can stop now’. I know my mirror won’t either. I’m left wondering how much of myself is real and what really is an illusion. The scariest question I have for myself right now, is can my own mind really be this deceptive and so, so unbearably cruel?