eating disorders: learning to let go

this is the second interview for this blog’s very own eating disorder’s week month spring. the first one was a three-part series on eating disorders and relationships. here is an interview with a vancouver woman who has struggled with recurring eating disorders, including anorexia, orthorexia and bulimia, and is currently maintaining a healthy weight with a healthy diet.

isabella: you say you’ve learned to stop obsessing about food. do you find that stopping that obsession is absolutely crucial for recovery, or does it just happen to be a tool you find useful for yourself?

vancouver woman: i’ve not been witness to anyone who’s recovered the same way i did. most people i knew who were in recovery were as obsessive as me about their diets; they were being told to eat more calories but they were still being tallied.

for me, letting go was critical. my ED phased between bulimia and anorexia with orthorexia; the orthorexia was very obsessive because it wasn’t just thinking of fat and calories but also the quality of the food and pesticides and additives, etc. i was vegan for a time too, which added yet another layer of concern and guilt. (now there’s the carbon footprint to worry about too!) it got so extreme that when i went into market there would be barely a half dozen items i was “allowed” to buy. that restrictiveness spiralled, i was vegan too and there was hardly anything i “could eat.” so i had to eliminate all restrictions and learn to get over the guilt and self-monitoring and calculating. to eat naturally again i had to start letting myself eat *anything* and not measure consequences.

do other people need to do that? i would say it depends how deeply obsessed they are.

isabella: can you give a “before and after” example of a particular type of food or behaviour around food?

vancouver woman: i had a small handful of recipes i made all the time because i knew what the calories and fat were thanks to online calorie counters; tally up the ingredients then divide and plan meals. that meant fewer and fewer convenience foods. might sound great, right? ultimately i was eating only homemade vegan soup with few ingredients because otherfood was too hard to make, to control and justify with all my rules. i never ate out, either. the more spartan and virtuous my diet became, the more rewarding it was (so was the weight loss) which kept it going.

now i don’t consult calorie counters at all, and don’t follow diets that require it. i admit i still look at labels when shopping but it’s for general quality info (like avoiding MSG).

isabella: “letting go” sounds so simple – and can be so difficult to do. do you have some tips about how to let go of the obsession about food?

vancouver woman: i had to stop all forms of restricting. all at the same time i stopped counting calories, stopped being vegan, stopped buying organic-only food. all the rules and barriers i’d created to keep myself from eating.

but the disorder wasn’t just about food, it was obsessing over my body too, so i also stopped weighing and measuring myself. all the numbers, conditions and pre-requisites had to go.

from there it was a matter of being mindful of having chosen to remove those restrictions. reminding myself again and again not to feel guilt or fear about food. “no guilt” became a mantra.

isabella: having learned how to let go of the obsession with food, do you find that this letting go is helpful in other areas of your life, as well?

vancouver woman: i can’t think of anything, no. my mindfulness skills were acquired before my recovery (independently of it; i never had a therapist work with me on my ED, nobody covered by insurance had special training) so i was already practicing.

isabella: is there anything else you would like to add?

vancouver woman: i do have a small regret about giving up veganism, because i support it in principle and have friends who are vegan (some people judge me for it now, not knowing my history). i don’t often eat meat beyond seafood, but fear that if i relabel myself i’d go back to scanning ingredients for reasons to put food back on the shelf (eggs are in so many things) and it could be a slippery slope.

i do choose healthy food a lot anyway. i genuinely prefer the taste of tofu!

11 thoughts on “eating disorders: learning to let go

  1. askcherlock

    Profoundly interesting site. I have a loved one who has had eating disorders since the age of eleven. I keep asking myself what I did wrong. It has impacted all her relationships with family, though she seems happily married. When I hug her, it feels as though she will break. Thanks so much for the informative site.

    askcherlock’s last blog post..Okay, Here Is a List Of My Gripes

  2. Wade

    I work at a drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre in Thailand that also accepts people with eating disorders. The lady, Amyra, that runs the spiritual side of our programme has a remarkable personal story about EDs and body image issues. She shares her story on her blog. She is incredibly inspirational, I would suggest that anyone struggling with body image issues and EDs take a look at her blog.
    http://www.theamyrarecords.com

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