It’s a Process (Part 3)

I have more time to write tonight because I started feeling a little under the weather last night after my run.  I think it has to do with the changing seasons and the cold air that I ran in last night.  So rather than make my regular Monday trip to the gym, I decided it was best to come home and relax (and bake cookies!).

I said that I would talk about my struggle with “disordered eating.”  I did not think that I had a problem with eating because I did not have a clinical eating disorder like anorexia or bulimia.  It was actually Neil that got me started thinking about it a year or two ago when he mentioned that he thought I had an issue with eating and food.  I immediately became defensive and told him he didn’t know what he was talking about.

I looked up “disordered eating” today and actually found some articles on it.  While it is not incorporated into the DSM yet as a clinical diagnosis, it is becoming prevalent enough in society that it is attracting attention.  A study was done by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill along with Self magazine that examined the eating behaviors of women ages 25-45.

Behaviors that can constitute “disordered eating” include:

– excessive dieting
– eating when not hungry
– eating in secret
– skipping meals
– eating fattening, over-processed, “comfort” or convenience foods

(source)

It took me a long time to realize I had an issue with food because I wasn’t starving myself and I wasn’t bingeing and purging.  What I would do, however, is constantly think about food.  I would eat healthy, but when I started over-exercising I would also count the calories of everything I put in my mouth.  I would eat to feel better (comfort eating) but after I ate I would feel guilty about it.  I would be unreasonably happy to eat a brownie but only for a fleeting moment until the guilt set it.

“Why did you eat that??”
“Don’t you have any self control??”
“You didn’t need to eat a brownie”
“Why didn’t you eat something healthier?”
“Why did you eat anything at all??”

It never got to the point of bingeing on food for me, but I felt like I was.  When you deny yourself things that you enjoy eating because “you’re afraid you’re going to gain weight,” you overindulge on those things in the long run.  I find today if I eat sweets in moderation, I don’t ever feel like that when I eat one.  I also find that I don’t even want to eat them as much because I’m not withholding them from myself.

I think I realized it was a problem when I was able to get more in touch with my thoughts and feelings.  I realized that a large part of my day was comprised of thinking about food.  Thoughts about eating were always going on in the background.  I would think about when the next time I could eat was and what I would eat.

I equated going out to eat with being happy since growing up we always went out to eat when there was something to celebrate.  If Neil and I were fighting, I would suggest going out to eat because I felt that would make me feel better (instead of resolving the actual fight).  If we were going out to eat, I would study the menu beforehand so I could know what I wanted.  I would excitedly order dessert then feel a horrible sense of guilt when I was done.

Like I said, I would plan the times when I would be able to eat during the day. One of those times was before I went to bed.  I knew there was something going on when I would feel sad that my night snack was over and there were no more opportunities to feed my feelings that night.  Not a normal sad (if there is one in relation to not being able to eat something), but almost an overbearing sadness that would cause me to seem distracted and preoccupied.

There were times when I would eat in secret so that Neil wouldn’t know that I was snacking on things (like he cared?).  I remember one time he mentioned how much sugar there was in the dried cranberries we had so I told myself that if he saw me eating them he would somehow think less of me.  I would wait until  he left the room and then eat a whole handful.  These thoughts sound crazy when I talk to other people about them or write them down, but in my head they made logical sense.

I obsessed about the way I looked, or more importantly, the way I didn’t look.  If I could just lose 5 pounds.  If my legs weren’t so muscular.  If I wasn’t so flat chested.  If I could just look like that person.  Or that person. Or anyone but who I actually am.  Like I said in Part 2, the one time I looked the way I wanted to physically, I was the saddest inside that I have ever been.

It is an extremely hard habit to break because it is really a personal battle with myself.  It is another form of addiction in that instead of using drugs and alcohol to change the way I feel, I use food.  There aren’t many outward signs (unless I were to lose too much weight); it is just an ongoing obsession in my head.

What I learned was that even though I had a very good life, I still couldn’t be happy with myself.  I still didn’t have a healthy body image.  I would judge everyone else because I wasn’t happy with what I saw in the mirror.  I can be my harshest critic, but I can also be my biggest advocate if I let myself.  I need to be ok with me.

I’m not sure what changed, but I have been able to throw up my hands and stop trying SO HARD to control the way I want myself to look.  I can accept who I am and what I look like today.  Once I started doing that, I stopped looking at everyone else so negatively.  If we all looked the same, there wouldn’t be any individuality.

My eating (and thinking) habits have changed.  I find that I am much less preoccupied with food.  I eat when I am hungry and I eat whole, real foods that leave me feeling full for a longer period of time.  I don’t deprive myself of something that I want to eat.  Sometimes I feel sick and it is cold out and I want to make cookies (ahem, tonight) and today I don’t freak out if I eat about 2 cookies worth of dough while I am making them (ok, maybe 3….they’re good!).

I have freed up so much space in my head by not incessantly thinking about food and eating that I have been able to do things like make this blog and be present in my relationships with other people.  I can’t change anyone’s mind for them if they are struggling with a form of disordered eating.  What I can do is share my experience and let you know that it is possible to get to the other side.  It is up to each individual person to realize their potential and that they are fine exactly the way they are.

It’s a process.
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9 Comments

  1. April 3, 2014 / 4:35 pm

    Hi Erin,

    I love your honesty and openness. Thanks for sharing your story! Addiction and eating disorders are not uncommon! I used to be a mental health counselor, and I saw it all the time. Take care!

  2. Heidi
    February 27, 2015 / 11:41 am

    I just realized about a week ago that I am uncommonly obsessed with thinking about how I look. In a conversation with my husband about the lies we believe I finally said out loud what I had been wrestling with internally for quite sometime. I said, “Every decision I make is influenced by the fact that I believe there is something inherently wrong with the way I look and I need to fix it. Every. Single. Decision.”
    Actually saying it out loud was the first step in what feels like a breakthrough. I inherently believe that I am too fat, and that if I am not working to correct it I’m being lazy or overindulgent. I track my exercise and calories and steps. I workout to get thin, not because I enjoy it. I inevitably eat something I secretly want, even though I’m tracking calories, making myself feel unbelievably guilty and ashamed at my lack of self control. Waking up in the morning, my first thought is when I’ll workout and what I’ll eat. The two ends of the rope in my mind’s tug of war. Getting dressed is a self loathing experience.
    What I really want is to love myself and to be ok with who I am. I want to find an exercise class or experience that I participate in because it’s fun and I love it – not because of the calories it will burn. I want to eat because I’m hungry, not because of the clock or because of how I’m feeling. I want to wear clothes to express my personality, not to cover the things I hate about my body.
    I feel like I’m starting to overcome the lie…and to believe the TRUTH that in the grand scheme of life, how much jiggle I have around my middle DOES NOT MATTER. I’ve had three kids, and my body shows it. I want to get to a point where I can celebrate that. And where I just don’t care, because I have activities I love and a healthy view of myself.
    It’s a daily battle. But I’d much rather fight this battle from the side of truth than from the side of self hatred.
    If you have any advice, experience or truth to share, I’d love to hear it.

    • erinsinsidejob
      February 27, 2015 / 2:46 pm

      Thanks for sharing Heidi!

      I think as women we put so much pressure on ourselves to look a certain way and it takes a special person to be able to just BE in her skin. I have gotten much better, but that doesn’t mean that it still doesn’t come up for me from time to time. I strive to be someone who is always comfortable with the way she looks, but it is a process and I can’t just wake up to feeling like that. That’s the biggest thing I have learned. I have to be gentle with myself and just keep working towards a positive self image. I will never reach perfection (which is not even attainable), but I can always make progress.

  3. July 9, 2015 / 11:35 am

    I think you nailed it with the control and worrying about how others think of you. Very hard cycle to break-and I often wonder if it will always be a part of me, hiding in the background, waiting to pounce (not to be negative-just self-aware! You have inspired me to share my story….going to take some time but I will let you know when done. Would love your feedback! And best of
    Luck with continuing on your healthy path-you are worth it!!
    Amy recently posted…How To Organize Easy Peasy Homeschool On a Budget with DIY Storage BoxesMy Profile

  4. July 12, 2016 / 8:56 am

    I can relate to what you talk about here. I have always had an issue with food from when I was a teenager, but since I never had a ‘traditional’ eating disorder and was in a normal weight range, not skinny but not significantly overweight, I never thought about it as too much of a problem. I feel a significant emotional attachment to food, even now when I’m having a bad day at work I feel myself planning what I’m going to reward myself with during my break. I’ve become more aware of the problem recently, but it’s still hard to say no to myself. I also found the more focus I put on losing weight the more I think and obsess about food and end up eating more. Sort of the opposite of you but whenever I’ve been happiest in my life I naturally lose weight and think about food less. So now I’m trying to find a balance between focusing on eating healthier without causing myself to freak out and binge. I also noticed recently when I think about my eating habits I almost think of it as a third person outside myself that I don’t have control over, weird right? Anyway, thanks for being so open and honest and sharing your story here.
    Nikkola H @ Flimsy Lion recently posted…30 books to read before you turn 30My Profile

    • erinsinsidejob
      July 12, 2016 / 8:56 pm

      All of that totally makes sense and I get it. It’s a tough cycle to break and when I find myself turning to food as more of an emotional thing, I try and figure out what’s really going on. Thank YOU for sharing your own experience and if you ever need someone to talk to, don’t hesitate to shoot me an email or a comment 🙂

  5. Andrea
    March 2, 2017 / 2:51 pm

    What a great story! I could relate. I’m also in recovery for drug and alcohol addiction . January 8 , 2013 is my clean date. Once I put down the alcohol and the drugs , then I put down the cigarettes. But I gotta tell ya, I am struggling big time with food specifically sugar. I’m probably 10 to 20 pounds over what I should be. I’m 55 years old and about 5’3″ and today at the gym I weighed myself and I was 157 pounds. What you said about the cycle of guilt and shame. I get so excited when I know I can have a dessert but then I berate myself afterwards. I think that maybe the answer is acceptance, and I struggle with this as well. It can be a really hard life, my head keeps telling me lies and I believe them. I wish I could see in myself what others say they see in me . Thanks so much for sharing your story and for getting vulnerable on this public forum.

    • erinsinsidejob
      March 4, 2017 / 9:59 pm

      It’s definitely hard. You just have to keep working at it. I wish I had an easy answer too but one day after enough time and work it just clicked. You’re worth it – keep going 🙂

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