Christmas with disordered eating: ‘stop talking about how we’re going to ‘be better’ in January’
Eating disorders are just the worst thing in the world and I am so sorry if you're one of the unlucky people who have to endure the misery of it.
I’m talking to you who haven’t been clinically diagnosed with an eating disorder too, but like most, experience disordered eating as a product of a society that has built itself into an empire of self-loathing via the demand to self-optimise. Maybe you look great and maybe you feel great, but maybe you spend hours doing punishing work-outs and cutting out entire food groups and knowing that as soon as you eat the pastry you will feel bad about yourself until you find a suitable distraction. It’s you, who spends hours upon hours ruminating over the fat that covers your arms and back and abdomen and legs. You clutch desperately at the skin around your chin. You flit between despair and acceptance constantly. It’s exhausting, isn’t it?
We live in an orthorexic society where it’s normal to declare that you are “off the carbs” or “don’t do dairy”. Paleo, keto, low fodmap, 80:20, intermittent fasting and juice cleanses are part of our dialect. Presenting with self-deprecating statements about our body bonds us, body neutrality does not. Restrictive diets are rebranded as ethical. “Wellness” can save us. We have all lost our minds.
I wish we had more insight into how and why eating disorders and disordered eating happens so we could get ahead of it. Put it into remission before it gets out of control and your loved ones look scared, and you don’t know who you are anymore, and your body and mind begin to disintegrate even though it’s been trying so hard to look out for you.
Evil things, eating disorders. Creeping, quiet, secretive, they don’t differentiate or surrender. I used to be 42kg. I used to be scared of food. Not “bad food”, all food. Like bananas. Like yoghurt. Like rice. I used to exercise excessively. Until I saw stars and my body screamed out for respite. I used to tell myself that once I got to X weight, I would experience self-actualization, though my periods stopped and I was cold all the time, and my wrists looked like they could snap right off. X weight was a moving target but the sense of satisfaction, the end date never came. I used to be so afraid of my body that I didn’t even know what it looked like. I used to be anorexic, then I was bulimic. Now I’m okay, though I am told that I will likely develop osteoporosis before I’m thirty.
I want to tell you that you’re going to be okay too, even though now is the worst time of year for you, and you’re probably going through hell, feeling extremely anxious, probably looking for escape routes, ruminating and agonizing and ruminating some more around the declining control you’ll have during the festive period. I’m not a doctor or a psychologist. I’m not a self-help book. I’m not Lizzo, but I get it because I lived it.
The intervention was a hard pill to swallow but it put a fire in me to stop destroying myself. Understanding everything there was to know about eating disorders was crucial to recovery. I needed a sunset date. A timeline. A trajectory. A prognosis.
Anecdotal evidence from people who had “gone through it” suggested that an end was possible if I just tried hard enough. I’m here to tell you that there isn’t a sunset date because I don’t want you to think that you’re a failure when:
- You still think and think and think about the things you put into your body
- You still need exercise to feel okay
- You still have encyclopedic knowledge of how many calories are in everything
Certain food-related situations make you feel like the walls are closing in, minor weight fluctuations equate to your world falling down and you lose hope in the idea that you will ever be “normal”, that you will ever be able to view food as you did before this all started.
To be the six-year-old at the party eating cake, jelly, ice cream, crisps, pizza, fizzy drinks, and none of it matters, it’s pure joy. Can you remember the last time you ate something and didn’t calculate the risk, the consequences, and the actions of what you would need to do to make it okay again?
Again, I am so sorry. Sorry that it’s so hard. You will relapse throughout recovery and it will feel horrific but I am hopeful for your future. It’s time to face it. No one can take this off your metaphorical plate, no one can fight this battle on your behalf. No one is coming to get you. This one is up to you, even though it’s exhausting and it’s confronting and you don’t want to let go.
We need to get angry. Stop punishing ourselves and start punishing whatever cog in the wheel is making us feel bad about ourselves. Who else is sick of the side of the marketing spectrum that is telling us to self-optimise? I don’t want your skinny tea, de-bloat supplements, your collagen bar or your boot camp. I’m not interested in your fat freezing or your 90 day program. I will not be happier if I push myself to the impossible, neither will you. Trust me.
I’m sick of the other side too, the I’m-so-relatable-buy-my-products-with-my-discount-code-spectrum. The high definition images of stretch marks and cellulite and wobbly thighs, captioned “You do you queen” or “Tiger stripes *lightning emoji”.
I wasn’t thinking about the lines that cover the skin of my thighs, hips and breasts until now, YOU, declaring that I MUST ACCEPT myself. In the moments before this faux body positivity popped up on my screen, I was neutral towards my thighs, fond of them even, now I’m wondering if I need to overcome something that was a non-issue until highlighted. Unfollow.
I am sick of the societal narrative that separates us from our bodies, that makes us treat them like a commodity as opposed to a home. I am sick of the sexualisation of bodies to sell teeth whitening strips, or vacuums. I am sick of shredding, bulking, gaining, losing. We obsess about what our bodies look like more than climate change because we can control the controllables, and we feel that grip is slipping.
I go through days of loving this body, my body, the freckle on my stomach, the width of my hips, the frantic bush of my brows, the abundance of my breasts. I am proud of it for persevering through the icy, dark depths of my disorder and chaos. It kept going and beating and breathing when I wasn’t a good friend.
I go through days of thinking I look like an onion, and that’s okay too. Thoughts and feelings are fleeting and circumstantial but they do not own us.
Back to you.
In the future, when the spell is broken and little by little, you start reclaiming yourself, you may even feel like that whole period of your life was an odd dream, or a different person who went through it. I hope so, but I will not feed into the happily ever after nonsense that lives out there, it’s a daily decision to be well, to stay well, to break through the noise.
It is not easy. Some days the volume of your suffering will be so low, it will feel like food and exercise and control are things that never occupied your mind, other days it will be so loud that you will find each second in the day a misery, but you will keep going. I did it. So will you. I know what a loud volume day feels like. I am under no illusion that over time I will be a different person because I am who I am and what I am. This disease is part of me and I am impartial to it. It’s a friend I don’t really want to spend time with anymore, but I give it my attention because we’ve been through a lot together.
I want to not be consumed by consumption. I want to stand clear. To ghost the abyss. I will not answer the calls of my old security blanket. Someday you will do the same.
I know this time of year is excruciating for you, it’s still tricky for me, even though I eat bananas and yogurt and rice again. Even though I have learned to unapologetically love myself, even on days I think I look like an onion.
As a Christmas gift from you to you, tell someone what’s happening in your head, and let them help. Further, let’s stop talking about weight and how we’re going to “be better” in January. Just stop. I’m not unpacking it. Just stop. Change the channel. Talk about something else.
If nothing else, remember, this life is only going to happen once. It’s only going to happen once for me and once for you. This is not a dress rehearsal. Whether we’re wobbly or lean, happy or sad, we all come to dust.
Do I want to be thinking about how many calories are in an almond croissant and flat white ahead of departure? Do you? I really hope I won’t feel guilty about eating a bagel that one time, as my parting thought in this world.
When it’s time and I close my eyes, I want to see the smiles of the people I cherish, I want to feel a rushing wave blast over me, a sunny cold blue sky, the fluttery feeling of a belly laugh. I want the big, colourful moments of my life to hold me gently and fill me with serenity. I want to know that there was no need for an impossible encore because I did it right the first time. I wish the same for you.
Visit Bodywhys or call 01 2107906 for information and support relating to Eating Disorders, psychologicalsociety.ie or iahip.org to find a psychologist or psychotherapist or indi.ie to browse registered dietitians.
Photography by Pexels.