(hi pals, just a quick message that i’ll be talking about eating disorders/disordered behaviours in this post! if you’re sensitive to these topics, please don’t read, I would hate to upset any of you!)
imagine a plateful of food being placed in front of you. the knife and fork are in your hands, ready to dive right in. as you take the first bite, your emotions are sent into overdrive. however, your body doesn’t respond to what’s happening – it doesn’t recognise that you’re eating. although part of you feels shocked when you realise you’re already half way through the meal, you don’t allow yourself to slow down. sure, you don’t feel particularly hungry, yet you continue eating everything until there’s no trace that any food was there in the first place. you have very little control over your actions, and when you look back down at the plate, and there’s nothing left, you feel like nothing happened. sounds bizarre, right? well, this has pretty much been my life for at least the past three years.
so many people think eating disorder recovery is as straightforward as simply eating more – however, it’s not that simple, and unfortunately, feeling content after a meal is still a mystery. after developing anorexia, my hunger cues have been all over the place. from restriction, to extreme hunger and attempting to intuitively eat, my body has pretty much no idea what it’s doing. in fact, it’s one of the main reasons why I put recovery on the back burner for so long. my eating disorder jumped to the conclusion that, because my hunger didn’t seem that strong or ‘relevant,’ I didn’t need to increase. when in actual fact, I didn’t feel the hunger because I wasn’t feeding myself enough.
but why does this happen? well, when our bodies are starved, all sorts of problems begin – from weak bones to poor circulation and organ failure, restriction can cause serious, lifelong damage. when we fail to provide our bodies with the basic nutrients, any fat stored away is used simply to survive (that’s right, contrary to what toxic diet culture tells us, we need fat). it gets to the point where our brains are broken down – yep, our brains literally shrink. of course, it’s totally possible to regain the brain volume lost during restriction. however, it’s terrifying to think that anorexia has that kind of power. I always remember being told that if I continued to ignore my hunger cues, my body would start eating away at my heart. although it sounds pretty hardcore, I knew that I couldn’t put myself through that, no matter how badly the eating disorder voice wanted me to waste away.
increasing my daily intake was a struggle. I mean, putting all those fun emotions like guilt and fear to one side, trying to get in tune with my body was, and still is, really tricky. ignoring hunger cues for a prolonged amount of time can make your body and brain out of whack. I was no longer at peace with myself, confused by the signals that were being sent from my mind to my stomach. when I had finished eating, I would never be satisfied, even if I was bloated and in pain (which I normally was, and still experience almost daily). it was like my body didn’t trust me, and thought that this was the only time I would provide myself with any nutrients. it felt like I was coming out of survival mode for twenty minutes and shoving down dinner, even though I didn’t feel hunger in the slightest.
many people recovering from an eating disorder have similar experiences, and there are multiple different ways to approach this lack of hunger. some decide to enter recovery with a meal plan, sticking to a certain amount of calories throughout the day. this can be a real helping hand at the start – through making a note of the meals you’ve had, and snacks you’ve eaten, you can be sure you’re getting enough nutrients. however, I actually found that this type of planning hindered my recovery, and that having such a routine of eating was detrimental to the development of my freedom. i’ve talked before about how my anorexia was driven by control; it loved to dictate whatever it could, whether it be the food I was eating, the exercise I was doing or simply through isolating myself so I had no fun whatsoever. being given a meal plan was just another way that my brain could play games, sending my anorexia into overdrive. if I didn’t complete my meal plan, my eating disorder would latch onto each little slip up, pushing them further and further each day.
another time my meal plan proved to be more negative than positive was on the occasions I felt braver than my brain, and wanted to try and challenge myself. i’d have something ‘extra’ to eat (although just so you know, nothing is an extra because there is no limit to what we’re allowed to eat), then feel like it wasn’t justified, because it wasn’t written on my meal plan. how completely terrible is that – I felt like I couldn’t enjoy what I was eating, because it wasn’t written down on a piece of paper? that’s why I decided to scrap any meal plans and just go for it.
side note, this isn’t to say that meal plans don’t work, they just weren’t the best for me. if you feel like you need that routine to get you started in recovery, do it. everyone is different, and making a plan might be exactly what you need to destroy your eating disorder.
anyway, when I started eating what I craved, my body seemed to thank me. by surrounding myself with positive people, my mindset changed. of course, my hunger cues didn’t magically restore themselves. however, as I started eating regularly, and focused on balance, I could feel the benefits. I no longer bloat as much as before, I’m way more relaxed around certain aspects of food, and I overall feel a sense of optimism I haven’t experienced in years. even when I don’t necessarily ‘feel’ hungry, I can judge whether I need to eat by multiple different factors, for example taking into account when I had my last meal, or whether I feel sluggish or exhausted. though each meal may feel like a battle, its the only way to get back on track to understanding our bodies.
if you’re in the same boat as I was once was, and feel like you’re never going to experience hunger again, don’t fret. you will feel hungry, you will feel full, you’ll eat whatever you want, whenever you want, and everything will begin to fall into place. it might seem like a faraway dream, but the first step is to start eating more. chances are you’ll experience bloating and probably extreme hunger, but they’re all positive stepping stones to moving away from your eating disorder. in the end, you’ll look back at your journey and think, ‘wow, I’m so glad I challenged myself to that cake,’ or ‘yeah I felt bloated then, but now I’m so thankful to have a working digestive system.’
also, if you needed more convincing to embrace an increase, whether it be through a meal plan or eating whatever you fancy, here are some photos of foodie bits i’ve eaten in the past few months. all delicious, all uncounted, all a step towards becoming the healthiest, happiest version of myself.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my rambles about recovery! if anyone has any questions, or needs advice, please message me-im never too far away!
catch you soon pals,