Pickles, Mustard & Diet Coke: Self-Talk in Eating Disorder Recovery

Metaphor for anorexia or bulimia eating disorder, apple in frontOh…and shirataki noodles. Anyway…

I am a recovering anorexic. Well… most of the time. Sometimes I’m just “anorexic.” (Relapse is part of recovery, right??)

Regardless of how “evolved” I may be now, nearly every comment made about my physical appearance, or my intake, or my weight… cuts through me like a knife. People think that they are being kind, but they don’t hear their words through the same ED filter that I do. 

He says: “But you look so much HEALTHIER now,” I hear: “You’ve put on weight. You’re fat.”

She says: “It’s different this time, because you don’t LOOK like you’ve been restricting,” I hear: “Well you certainly don’t need eating-disorder-specific treatment, because you’re not even skinny.”

I’m 32-years-old, and I’ve dealt with eating disorders for twenty years(?!). In that time, I’ve come to learn some valuable truths. Many have become internal scripts for me to keep me on the right, “healing” path. For example, I tell myself: 

  • “Food is nutrients for your body. You haven’t had (whatever) in a long time. You are giving your body a gift by allowing this to enter.” (Yes… I legitimately say this to myself about ice cream, hamburgers, and Pop Tarts.) 
  • “You didn’t lose weight by skipping one meal; you’re not going to gain it all back (or more!) by *eating* one reasonably-sized meal.” 
  • “You’re meal-planning? Again?? What would be a more productive and service-oriented use of your time right now? You like seeing things lined up just so… maybe you could organize a closet… or do some dishes or laundry?”
  • “I understand that you’re obsessed with meal-planning by the numbers. How about planning based on *cost* instead of calories? What about planning ahead to use up leftovers?”
  • “And for the love of everything… Stay off of the websites that encourage you to perseverate and obsess over restricting and weight loss.”

I saw a nutritionist in the early days of my recovery and found that I just *could not* follow her instructions. We just weren’t speaking the same language. She kept talking to me about nutrients, and the ONLY thing I cared about was calories. The dysfunctional dialogue didn’t change until one day, in desperation, she said to me “FINE. Can you just make a commitment to eat at least 1000 calories each day?” I stared at her. “Yes.” I had been eating 400-and-change for months. I didn’t think in terms of food groups or vitamins or minerals or proteins or healthy fats… the ONLY thing I cared about was the number. This moment was my turning point in connection with her.

Now that I have crossed that bridge, and proceeded further into my recovery, there is a new magical phrase/question that I have been able to add: “Is this a normal thing that a normal person would eat?” This consideration allows me to eat at fast food chains. I find myself staring in awe at the calorie counts for even the lowest-calorie-value meal, and this question allows me to measure by a different stick. Wipe away the number. Would a normal person have a burger and fries and a Coke? Then that is exactly what I will do. But I would rather get a kid’s meal, and then eat only half of it. “But, Liz, that is not a normal thing that a normal person would do.” Okie dokie… burger and fries and a Coke it is. Well — maybe fish sandwich and fries and a Coke. Or a Diet Coke. Chicken nuggets so that I can surreptitiously throw away half. “Okay stop, Sweetie. Breathe. Burger and fries and a Coke. You can do this. Slow, deep breaths. You are a normal person who eats normal things. You can do this. I know your brain is broken. I love you, and I am proud of you. We will get through this together.”

Oh — and you out there? You reading these words and marveling at the idea of a burger and fries and a Coke? Without purging afterwards? You can do this. I know your brain is broken. I love you, and I am proud of you. We will get through this together.

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