Recovery feels like such a huge word. And some days I’m not even sure what I’m recovering from. I seem to have had all the eating disorders/disordered eating patterns over my lifetime, over weight as a kid I remember stealing food and binging on it when people weren’t looking. As an adult I just ate as I pleased but still binged regularly, often with friends in a somewhat fucked up but social acceptable way. In my late teens I starved my self, just eating one meal a day in order to lose weight. But once smaller, my eating habits reverted back and I soon found my self fatter than ever.
When I started losing weight this last time, it felt quite in control. I just counted the calories I ate and did a little more moving about when I felt able. I felt like I’d educated my self, before I never felt I understood anything about nutrition or how bodies worked, so it felt ‘different’. The longer the ‘diet’ went on, the more I learnt about food and nutrition and bodies and biology and the more I altered my actions to fit all this information I had gained.
But what started with a good education in food and nutrition, over time, spiralled into more and more control, more restriction, more fear foods, less and less nutrition, less health and certainly less wellness …
And after those years of restriction, came the binge eating.
My God, the binge eating. As a rule I don’t do numbers, but I gained so much weight in such a short period of time. Once on honeymoon, it was like flood gates opened. I fell into everything I’d kept my self from eating for years, there wasn’t a moment I wasn’t consumed with what I might eat or drink next.
When I finally started reaching out for help, I brought every book on Amazon on Binge Eating that I could find. I assumed I simply needed to refocus my will power, put all my rules back in place, get back ‘on the wagon’ .. we’ve all been there, haven’t we. You fall off the diet, you gain a ton of weight, and so you re-focus and start something else. I couldn’t have physically removed any more food groups from my diet, I was already paleo (no wheat, gluten, dairy, soy, sugar, legumes .. low carb, high fat, mid protein, full fucking shit show) .. I started my Whole30 in January 2016 after binging all Christmas and freaking out that I was about to ‘lose it’. It felt like these new guidelines would somehow reinvigorate my health and weight loss, but we all know what it actually did, it fuelled my already eating disordered brain and landed me even further away from the happiness I truly desired.
The problem with restriction, be it physical restriction or mental, is that eventually you will cave.
Psychologists called Herman and Polivy at the University of Toronto have underlined the effect of food restriction on willpower in an experiment on dieting and non dieting students who were invited to eat as much ice cream as they liked after being given three different “pre loads” – one glass of milk shake, two milk shakes or nothing at all.
While the non-dieters behaved as expected, eating less ice cream after one milk shake than none, and even less ice cream after two, the dieters actually ate most ice cream after the biggest “pre load”.
According to the psychologist the effect of the milk shake was to undermine the dieters resolve, temporarily releasing them from their vows of abstinence. After the milk shake, instead of doing penance for the calorific sin, the dieter persists in sinful indulgence, say the psychologists. After all, if staying on the diet is no longer possible then why not make the most of the situation. This seductive thought process – I may as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb – is a trap which awaits all dieters. After succumbing to one biscuit you feel such a failure you consume the whole packet. You decide to ditch the diet for the day and start again tomorrow.
And this isn’t just someone pontificating, have you heard of the Minnesota Starvation Experiment? Basically, they took a group of men, and restricted their calorific intake for 24 weeks to see what would happen as a result. Their findings support the comments above. The men ate uncontrollably once they were able to indulge again.
The 3 month refeeding period involved trying several different combinations of protein, vitamins, and levels of calories. Dizziness, apathy and lethargy improved first, but persistent hunger, weakness, and loss of sex drive persisted for several months. The men described “a year long cavity” that needed to be filled. The day after they were finally released from the study, one of the men was hospitalized to have his stomach pumped after binging
One of the most watched fat shaming shows in the world, Biggest Loser, have you see it? No? Basically they take a group of self confessed fat people, feed them next to nothing and make them work out for at least 8h a day so that they drop weight at a rate of knots. I mean, the transformations are incredible, you can’t deny that, but the shame these poor people are subjected to is horrific, and of course many of them end up gaining weight back again.
Six years after dramatic weight loss on the TV show “The Biggest Loser,” most contestants in a recent study had regained the pounds – and on top of that, their metabolism had slowed and they were burning fewer calories every day than they did before their stint on the show
As if the prospect of ‘recovery’ isn’t frightening enough, its pretty much guaranteed that for me it will include weight gain.
Intuitive eating isn’t a diet, I guess maybe it’s a lifestyle? I’m reluctant to give it a name because I wouldn’t want anyone to think it was just the latest way for me to control food. That is absolutely not it’s aim. And it’s important to note this isn’t a ‘hungry/full’ diet either. Intuitive eating is about listening to your body, making piece with food, moving because you love your body and accepting whatever size your body naturally falls at.
It sounds easy, but it’s a fucking mine field. Not only am I fighting the biology of someone who’ve been starved, but I’m fighting all the awful muscle memories too. I’ve ignored hunger for years. I’ve been drinking to excess in order to remove hunger. I’ve been eating food for calorific value rather than what I felt my body needed. I’ve binged to the point I’ve thrown up. I’ve totally lost sight of what hunger or full or thirsty feels like. I’m still struggling to move past foods I’ve labelled good or bad. I constantly over think food, only giving my body an amount I think it ‘should’ need rather than listening and assessing what it’s clearly telling me it needs. And on top of that, I’m dealing with the bullshit things I say to my self, I’m constantly talking my self down from the panic about the weight I’ve gained, anxious about what other people might be thinking or saying about the difference in my body. Not to mention the worries about the future, how big will I be, what kind of fat phobia will I face, how will those changes test my body positivity… I mean I could go on and on
On top of all the indisputable physical evidence that periods of starvation are followed by binging, metabolic changes and weight gain, these are other mental and physical scares that I’m learning to manage.
When you spend years ignoring what your body is trying to tell you, when you berate your self constantly, when you avoid social situations, talk about diets with your friends incessantly, recovery isn’t just about what your eating, your whole world has to change.
For me, the one saving grace and the only real thing keeping me going, is knowing that I have an entire movement on people behind me. Being body positive isn’t like being in a club, it isn’t exclusive, you don’t have to do anything or be anything to be part of it. My instagram time line is full of the most incredible and inspiring women, they are fat, they are disabled, they are trans, they are people of colour, they are from all over the world, speak a host of languages, but we all say the same fucking thing. I accept my body, as it is today, unconditionally and without judgment.
And that is how I will survive recovery. With unconditional kindness and non judgmental compassion. Whatever happens, however my body looks, no matter what, I will aim to live truly with in that.