No, this is not a “how to” article on starving and binging.
[I can hear you now, with either a nervous or nonchalant laugh. “Oh haha… yeah, I figured.”]
Except if you’re anything like me, you would have read the title of this article and said “OHMYGOODNESS REALLY?! I CAN DO BOTH?!”
Yeah, no. You can’t.
Believe me. I’ve tried.
Until very (very very very) recently, I have always TRIED to do both.
Me Out Loud: “I want to be healthy, and I want to eat healthy.”
Me In My Head and Guts Whisper Voice: “…while starving and binge eating whenever I want.”
OH I TRIED SO HARD TO DO BOTH. And it never worked, and I always ended up sad, frustrated, angry, and softer around the middle than when I started.
I have tried every diet. Every program. Every tracking system, every food journal portion method pie chart food scale perception shift food focus known to all the humans EVER, and I just couldn’t do it. No matter what I did, I could not stick to anything.
I couldn’t remove the emotional pull of Ana and The Binge Monster from my every day food intake.
I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t stop with the stress and control and freaking out and restricting and giving in and overindulging and punishment and penance and repentance and purge and repeat Nothing helped. Nothing worked.
No matter how great the system, I couldn’t help but weave into it the urges and compulsions of a lifetime-disordered eater.
It turns out, I was going about it all wrong.
When you’re an anorexic-bulimic, you have to approach dietary changes a little differently. When you’re an anorexic-bulimic and you want to “eat healthy,” it’s not as simple as “I’ll just eat less junk food,” or “I’ll add a vegetable to every meal.” In fact, from an ana-mia perspective, NOTHING about “diet and nutrition” is simple, AT ALL. It’s all super complicated. It’s like trying to measure the mass of the earth with a dog and a teaspoon and the color orange. Diet and food are nothing and everything all at the same time, like eternity and infinity divided by zero, stuffed into one tiny box of Girl Scout Cookies sitting on the counter of your kitchen that you just bought but TOTALLY SHOULD NOT HAVE, and the pressure of the whole universe and every spark of all life as you know it is pressing outward from the inside of that box, screaming at you to “OPEN THE BOX JUST DO IT, HAVE ONE, JUST ONE, THIS TIME YOU CAN JUST HAVE ONE AND IT’LL BE OKAY, AFTER ONE YOU CAN STOP.”
But you can’t.
You KNOW you can’t. The cookies are lying.
[“”Servings Per Container about 7″ MY ASS. Maybe if I was two again.”]
AND, even though you’re standing there with your fingers tapping the counter next to the end of the box with the “OPEN HERE” tab and you’re telling yourself “It doesn’t even matter, I’m worthless anyways, I’m so gross, a whole box of cookies is fine, I EARNED IT, I deserve it, I deserve to be fat, it’s what I’m worth, JUST OPEN THE BOX, JUST DO IT YOU LOSER,” deep down inside you know you’re lying. About all the things, but mostly that “I can do both. I can be healthy, AND I can do this thing.”
Just like *I* was lying.
“I want to eat healthy [and keep starving and binging at will].”
Those two things together are not possible, and to convince yourself of anything otherwise is one big lie.
You can’t do those things together, only apart.
And really, it’s a choice. It’s YOUR choice, and you have to make it. Just like everything else in our life, no matter how complicated and problematic and convoluted we choose to make things, ALL THINGS boil down to one, simple choice.
or binge and starve.
That’s it. It’s pretty simple.
Today, right now, I’m 37 years old. I have been an anorexic and bulimic for almost exactly 30 years. I have been a recoverING anorexic and bulimic for about ONE year, and after 30 years of lying to myself about how “this is so complicated, it’s just so hard, I can’t think straight, I have to eat healthy and I just can’t, it’s too hard, it’s too much,” I think I figured it out, and I really want to tell you about it.
It’s not complicated. It’s plain and simple.
or binge and starve.
[I can hear you again. “Yeah, SIMPLE. I know that already. It’s the DOING that isn’t simple.”]
I thought so too, but I figured out some MORE things. Also simple.
To be sure I’m making sustainable, healthy, NOT GOING TO DRIVE ME INTO “THE COOKIES WON’T STOP TALKING TO ME” INSANITY change, I have to follow three rules. JUST THREE, not fifty, “because simple.”
Duh, right? You’d think “duh,” but not for Ana. Ana doesn’t eat. And when we DO eat as anorexics, we’re all “Oooooh, I ate 400 calories for breakfast, my WHOLE PLATE was full, I’m stuffed, I did so good.”
Not so much.
Eat big, strong, protein heavy meals, especially breakfast. Starting this week, I’m trying to get in 80 grams of protein at breakfast, not counting the rest of my meals. To put that in perspective, three pieces of bacon, two whole eggs, and three additional egg whites provide only 31 grams of protein. If you know Ana, you can see how this would be a challenge. “HOLY SHIT that is so much food.”
That’s kind of the point.
If I eat a huge meal of the good stuff, I don’t have the tolerance (or stomach space) for junk food.
2. “SOME, NOT ALL.”
From now on, there are no “have tos” or “can’ts” when it comes to my diet. If I want it, I eat it… just not ALL OF IT. One cookie, not twelve. Six chips, not the whole bag. A small scoop ice cream instead of the whole pint. No shame, no guilt, no repentance, no punishment, nothing to make up for. Just eat the thing (some, not all), and move on.
I refuse to be a victim or hostage to food.
3. “HEY ERIN. JUST BECAUSE YOU WANTED TO BEFORE AND THINK YOU SHOULD NOW, YOU DON’T HAVE TO EAT THE THING.”
For me, this is the newest rule, and it has been the most liberating.
When I go out for coffee with a friend, I don’t have to get coffee. When I see a box of cookies at the store, lapse into weakness, buy the cookies, bring them home, and then think “WHY DID I DO THAT,” just because they’re in my house does not mean I have to eat them. (In fact, I have a 3/4 full container of Madeline cookies in my cabinet that are about ready for the trash, because they’ve been sitting there for two weeks.) If I take the kids for frozen yogurt, I don’t have to get any. And if I DO choose to get some, I don’t have to get a huge one, or any toppings, or super sugary toppings. When I think “OOOOH CHIPS,” I dish myself a huge bowl, eat three, then don’t want the rest, I CAN PUT THEM BACK. If I dish my plate too full because I’m starving, I don’t have to clean my plate.
I don’t HAVE TO have cookies that someone brings to my desk.
I don’t HAVE TO eat a catered lunch.
I don’t HAVE TO eat what someone hands to me, just like I don’t HAVE TO engage in a compulsive behavior, no matter how badly I worked myself up to want to do it.
Those Girl Scout Cookies? I DON’T HAVE TO EAT THEM. I don’t have to open the box, and I don’t have to even keep them in my house if I don’t want to. I can throw them all away. I can give them to the neighbor. Or the post man. Or send them to school with one of the kids, or send them to work with The Mr. I can get rid of them in ANY WAY I CHOOSE, and it does NOT have to be “cram them in my cake hole with a tear-soaked-self-loathing chaser.”
Convenience does not obligate you to eat the thing.
“Here I made these cookies for you” does not obligate you to eat the thing.
“BECAUSE I CAN” does not obligate you to eat the thing.
“BECAUSE I WANT TO” does not even obligate you to eat the thing, it just means you want to. And you can, as much or as little as you want, but not because you HAVE TO. Because you want to, and because you chose. Not out of guilt or defiance or shame or hate or self-loathing, but out of joy.
Simple, simple, simple. Easy, simple rules.
To my fellow Ana-Mias, I hug you now. I know it’s hard. I know that the idea of death you toy with is not a suicidal one, but a “sweet jeebus, at least if i was dead i wouldn’t have to eat any more.” I KNOW it’s torture, being forced to deal with (due to biological necessity) the very thing that causes you grief, stress, anguish, and pain.
What I want you to understand is, it doesn’t have to be that complicated.
Life, the one we live and breathe and plow through, is a series of choices. WE are a series of choices, and to become someone else we must choose differently.
I got so tired of being tired of food and eating and self-hatred, I decided to choose differently.
or binge and starve.
You can choose differently, too.
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