Sometimes, when I think about my past, — and specifically, my battle with anorexia — it feels as though it was another lifetime ago. And yet interestlingly enough, the more I ponder it, it can vortex to front-of-mind like it were only yesterday.
But for the most part, I have achieved the healthy, 14-years-into-recovery balance of putting my past into its rightful place: to rest, into it’s little box at the back of my mind.
But sometimes, little moments or a word or phrase – or even a sight or a smell – will spark a memory from that little box. And all of a sudden, I’ll be taken back to a moment in time, long ago, when I was not the young woman I am today.
And over the weekend, I had one of those moments.
My special gentleman and I have been watching the terrific, albeit very dark, show: Yellowstone. I don’t know if you guys watch it, but if you don’t, I highly, highly recommend it. Everyone in my family is watching it. But I digress.
I won’t give anything away — but I will link the clip here if you want to watch — but there’s a moment when John and his grandson are talking about dreams. And the grandson is recounting a scary dream he had.
But the grandfather, John, likens dreams to a “soup” – a jumble of your memories and your imagination. And then he says something that made me stop and pause the show to write down.
“But the thing about this soup is, you can change the ingredients.“
So profound. And it immediately opened up my little box, and made me think about that, not in terms of dreams, but in terms of my recovery.
Because that’s the secret to recovering from an eating disorder, an addiction, a bad habit….you’ve got to change the ingredients.
For me, that looked like, changing my environment, getting rid of the toxic relationships in my life, GOING TO INPATIENT TREATMENT, following a meal plan, having a support system, throwing away any triggering clothes – or “measuring sticks” jeans. I quit watching the TV shows with waif-thin leads (hello, The OC), and most importantly, I put God at the center of my recovery, and of my life.
I changed the ingredients.
Because isn’t that the truth? That, recovery or not, we keep doing the same exact thing expecting different results…we end up pounding our heads against a wall in frustration at why things aren’t magically changing?? It’s because we’re making the same soup. We’ve got to, literally spice it up.
I’m going to share something that I’ve only ever shared once on this blog, and that was my battle with binge eating. Not bulimia. But binge eating. It’s actually a super common thing for women coming out of severe restriction, such as anorexia. If you imagine a pendulum, during the anorexia it had swung about as far as it could go in one direction, so the natural consequence is for it to swing just as far in the other direction.
And just strictly biologically speaking, I had spent the last 2 years of my life starving, and so my body simply didn’t trust it not to repeat that same destructive behavior, and so naturally, it compensated.
And yeah, for those first few years of my recovery, I really struggled with binge eating. And it was a terrible, shameful season of my life, that I am so grateful not to be enslaved by anymore.
It was always at night, and it was always alone, and I would just eat anything I could get my hands on, until it physically hurt – and then I’d spend the next day, not only incredibly uncomfortable, but full hating myself, full of disgust, and shame and regret. And so I would then restrict throughout the day, or kill my body at the gym, only to repeat the process, if not again that night, one day soon.
It was truly hell on earth. Hell.
So why am I sharing this? Well, the more and more people I’ve talked to after coming out of this pandemic have lamented over how, during lockdown, they really turned to food for comfort, and now, they’ve developed bad food habits that they just can’t kick.
And listening to them, my heart goes out to them, because, I have certainly been there. To the extreme.
Because, let’s face it: every single one of us – doesn’t matter if we’re a college student, a parent, a single-in-the-city, an Olympic athlete – we all have a relationship with food. And this lockdown certainly didn’t make that relationship any easier, am I right?
And aside from God and family, food is one relationship that you’ve got to get right.
And so I wanted to just share how I changed the ingredients, and finally kicked binge eating once and for all. (And coming from someone who’s relationship with food has literally run the gamut, I can firmly say I am at peace with food – where I eat three full meals with snacks – and that is one heck of something to celebrate, if I do say so myself!)
Step one: I decided that I wanted to change. Like, I really wanted to change. And this is really where, like recovery, it has to begin. No one can want to change for you, you have got to want it for yourself. I had finally grown sick and tired of letting my life be run up and down by this binge cycle, and the terrible self-hatred that accompanied it…I wanted my life back. I wanted to be free. I wanted to change. And so I decided to do just that. And I dove in head-first to resetting my relationship with food.
Our relationship with food is deep seeded with strong emotional components. So much so that we probably aren’t even aware of it. For starters, how we were raised plays a huge role. Those habits we learn as kids become ingrained in our psyches. – So whether you were encouraged to be part of the “Clean Plate Club,” or were rewarded with sweets, or incentivized by an extra this or that, those habits become a part of our make up, both good, and bad.
And if I was going to reset my relationship with food, I had to first understand what my personal relationship actually was.
And that takes work, but is the key to success.
So I really examined – I wrote it down — for a week — every time I put something into my mouth — what emotion am I feeling? (I’ve created a worksheet below to print off).
Am I bored? Sad? Angry? Stressed?
And I promise, you’ll start to see patterns. Maybe every time you were stressed you reached for something salty/crunchy like chips. Or you had ice cream when you were feeling lonely or sad. You get the idea.
You’ll notice things.
And then here’s where the magic happens.
Once you realize what those “trigger emotions” are that cause you to binge, or restrict, or make unhealthy choices in your life — find non-food ways to replace them.
This has worked wonders for me.
If I’m lonely – I’ll call a friend — actually call, or FaceTime.
If I’m bored or feeling restless, I’ll get some fresh air. Take a short walk.
If I’m feeling stressed or overwhelmed, I’ll make a game plan and prioritize my “to do” list to make life more manageable.
If I am feeling sad, I’ll do something nice for other people.
If I’m looking for comfort, I’ll go get a 10 minute, $7 chair message at my local nail salon.
Food has become a source of nourishment, instead of a source of comfort or entertainment in my life. No emotions attached.
Other practical things:
Don’t keep “binge food” in the house.
Sit down for a full meal, three times a day.
“Close the kitchen” after dinner.
No food is off limits — (I eat dessert every day!)
Don’t skip meals, even if you aren’t suuuper hungry.
Give yourself grace if you slip up, and get right back on track with the next meal.
But here’s the thing: yes, all those strategies are well and good. And yes, they are great tools that truly help.
But…none of it will be successful without the biggest factor of all: God.
I got to the point where I literally had to hand it over to God and say, Look — I can’t do this alone. I need You. Help me.
So many times, those things that we’re feeling out of control of — be it food, be it alcohol, be it online shopping, or gambling, or pornography, or promiscuous choices — they’re all simply an attempt to fill a hole in our lives that only God can fill.
Every morning, I have to wake up and purposefully and intentionally spend time with Him. I have to seek Him, seek His love and seek His help. And doing that makes literally all the difference.
He gives me strength. He gives me clarity. And He gives me wisdom to be able to recognize what emotions I’m feeling that may make me want to make poor decisions.
There is such freedom when life is no longer ruled by food. So much joy when we can see food as the resource it is, and keep it in its proper place in our lives.
Because it will never love us back. It will never solve our problems or alleviate our anxiety or need for control.
Only the Father can do those things. And take it from the gal who’s been all over the culinary map. Food is just fuel.
“This is what the Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life.” Ez 37:5
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