health

"It energises and horrifies me." The emotional battle of binge-eating recovery.

This post deals with eating disorders and might be triggering for some readers. 

Today, when I stepped on the scale, the read-out was lower than it was six months ago.

The knowledge at once energises and horrifies me.

My relationship with my body over the last three decades hasn’t exactly been healthy.

Watch: Kasey Chambers on what it’s like to have an eating disorder. Post continues below.

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I’ve lived most of my life paradoxically both believing I was fat and in denial that I might be fat. I would refuse to be seen in a bathing suit while at the same time wearing clothes that were too small because I couldn’t take the psychological torture of going up a size.

My relationship with food hasn’t been that hot, either. I’ve been through countless weight-loss cycles. Each time, I felt a quick shot of confidence early on, when my face started to slim and my jeans began to fit better. Eventually, though, the honeymoon wore off.

Frustrated I couldn’t seem to attain my idealised body as quickly as I’d hoped, I sabotaged my progress time after time by bingeing. After my transgression, I’d bury the familiar and unwelcome guilt under a burrito or a slice of tiramisu. And then another. And another.

The negative self-talk would inevitably follow, playing on repeat in my brain and setting me off on a long downward spiral of denial, despair, and binge after binge.

I can’t do it. It’s not worth it. I’m a failure.

It became my self-destructive mantra and, time after time, it managed to roll back every advance I’d made.

I am not a failure; I have an eating disorder.

It wasn’t until my mid-thirties that I realised I actually suffer from an eating disorder. Knowing this one fact turned my search for a way to lose weight into a search for a way to improve my relationship with food.

For my particular eating disorder in my particular body, the two go hand in hand, but the kind of help I needed to learn about and begin to recover from my eating disorder turned out to be vastly different from the kind of help I’d sought in previous attempts to lose weight.

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I needed help that addressed the thoughts and fears, the long-buried psychological trauma, that drove my eating disorder in the first place. Once I found that, my relationship with food improved and I settled into a significant weight loss that has been far healthier than the ones I’ve experienced in the past.

Why don’t I feel more excited about my progress?

As I work through the long process of significant weight loss once more, and as I see sustained progress for the first time in more than a dozen years, I’ve been feeling excited and confident. I know I can lose the weight — I’ve just lost a lot of it — and I’m eager to work even harder toward my goals.

Each achievement is tainted with a cloud of gray. Every satisfaction is temporary, every success followed by a but.

Yet, alongside all these positive emotions — and despite the encouragement and validation I’ve found both within and outside myself — an unexpected feeling has begun to creep in.

It began the day I realised I had lost weight. When I saw the magic digits on the scale, I smiled wide, nearly shrieking with glee.

Immediately afterward, though, my heart sank down to the floor, taking my stomach right along with it. I couldn’t place the feeling; I was confused at feeling so negative at what should have been a happy moment. Now that I’ve sat with it, I think the best word for it is dread.

Because, here’s the thing. While I can be objectively proud of the hard work I’ve put in and the progress I’ve made, every time I look in the mirror, an image of my ideal body stands there too, just out of reach, reminding me day after day that I haven’t yet finished losing the weight and that, even if I eventually do, I will probably just gain it all back again like I did all those other times before.

Each achievement is tainted with a cloud of gray. Every satisfaction is temporary, every success followed by a but.

My relationship with food has improved, but I’m scared I’ll fall off the wagon.

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Since my approach has been so different this time around, I have learned volumes about why I eat the way I do and how to curb the patterns of self-sabotage I’ve fallen into over food and my weight. I’ve begun recognising and counteracting my default behaviors, and I’m proud to say that, on most days, I make more healthy decisions than unhealthy ones.

But, I still have a long way to go; a few months of mindfulness can’t counteract a lifetime of unhealthy coping mechanisms, and the ideas of eating for enjoyment and eating for nutrition simply have not found a way to reconcile themselves into a healthy whole in my mind. I’m pretty terrified that I’ll go back to ignoring my red flags if I try to continue on my own. Having watched my behavior slip and my weight climb time and time again over the years, I know all too well that it can happen.

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I am more athletic, but I still feel too fat to do many of the things I want to do.

There are few things more liberating to me than strapping on a helmet and hopping on my bike for a long ride. Once upon a time, I even would have considered it meditative to run miles and miles around my neighbourhood. Completing a half-Ironman triathlon was the highlight of my young life, and I even have a tattoo to prove it.

For the last 10-plus years, though, riding my bike for long distances has resulted in nausea from the constant pummel of my knees against my belly, and until these last few months, I didn’t think I would ever run again due to knee and foot injuries.

Today, I feel stronger than ever. I get some kind of exercise daily and ride my bike frequently, and I have even begun wondering if it would be possible for me to go back to completing triathlons again one day.

But, each time my hopes begin to rise, the cynicism takes over. Don’t get ahead of yourself, a voice says. You’re still fat, after all.

And it’s true. I’m still uncomfortable on the bike, though less so. I’m afraid to even attempt running until I’ve lost more weight, in the hopes of avoiding further stress on my already-damaged joints. And even then, I am scared I’ll sustain an injury and take myself out of the game — the beginning of a cycle which has had very negative consequences in the past.

I am slimmer, but I feel like I’ll never look like an “after” photo.

Every few weeks, I suppress a smile as I place one pair of jeans into the discard pile and draw another from the stack of years-old, previously-too-small clothes at the top of my closet.

But, every day I look in the mirror, shaking my head at the ever-present fat rolls around my midsection.

I have been taking progress photos for nearly five years. Today, I weigh less than when I began. Despite that quite large objective difference, I am virtually incapable of seeing a difference between today’s photo and the one I took on January 7, 2015. Each time I snap a new one, I take a look and shake my head. Nope, still fat.

I fantasise about the day when I can put my “before” picture next to my “after” picture and say, unequivocally, that I’ve reached the destination on this interminable and circuitous journey — the day I can don a pair of shorts, or a bikini, or a little black dress, and be satisfied with the way it looks on me. And I am terrified that day will never come. Panicked that, no matter how much weight I lose, no matter how many friends compliment me on “looking great,” I will never meet the expectations I’ve placed on myself.

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I know I need to be kinder to myself.

I know I should be celebrating the enormous strides I’ve made — from improving my eating and exercise habits to attending regular talk therapy and nurturing my creativity.

I know it’s unreasonable to expect the weight that crept up over a decade to fall away in just a few months.

I know that, just as these habits didn’t develop overnight, neither will the skills of mindfulness and self-love that I’ll need to use to combat them.

And yet all this knowledge is drowned out by one small voice.

The voice of a version of me I’ve never even met before and can’t be sure will ever actually exist.

The voice that shouts in my ear that I’ll never succeed.

The voice that, most days, reverberates more loudly than any self-affirmation I can muster.

If I listen closely, though, I can hear the persistent whisper of the real me between the shouts of the imaginary one. If I tilt my head just right, I can see the sprouts of self-confidence and strength fighting for their place among the overgrown weeds of self-sabotage.

If I don’t let the fear stop me — if I instead interrogate it, find out where it’s coming from, acknowledge it, and offer an alternative — I can move past those dark places more confidently and come out the other side feeling the excitement I’m meant to feel about the difficult and amazing things I’ve done for myself this year.

The longer I spend pulling apart the cracks between panic, fear, and self-doubt, the more the image of myself as I think I should be crumbles away and the more light from the real me can pass through.

This post originally appeared on Medium and has been republished with full permission.

For help and support for eating disorders, contact the Butterfly Foundation‘s National Support line and online service on 1800 ED HOPE (1800 33 4673) or email [email protected]. You can also visit their website, here.  

Nikki is a career educator from Massachusetts, USA. She’s passionate about social and educational equity as well as children’s rights and mental health empowerment. When she’s not writing at the local independent coffee house, she can be found lifting weights, playing fetch with her pup, or trying her wits at an escape room. She lives with her partner and children just outside Boston. You can follow her on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook: @NikkiKayAuthor.

Feature Image: Unsplash.

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