My Struggle With Eating Disorders, Part II

To pick up where Part I left off, I made my way to begin anew in San Francisco…

It all started off quite swimmingly. The entire environment in California, even Northern Cali where there aren’t really any beaches and generally the scene isn’t that stereotypical sunny, OC, blondes-in-bikinis thing, encourages a healthier lifestyle. At least from my experience. All the hills in San Fran kept me active (I don’t drive, and have always had this mentality of even $1.25 for a bus ride is more than the FREE that walking costs ;P), and living with my non-cooking aunt meant tempting things were never around at home to test my resolve to abstain from bingeing.

I ate reasonably healthy things whenever I was hungry for about the first month or so, but then I succumbed to my long days at work with often no real breaks and returned to the habit of not really eating anything. I managed to drop about 30lbs in the first few months I was there, and by the time Thanksgiving was approaching, I was subsisting on two coffees a day and nothing more.

Around Halloween, I’d met a few people my age–the only people my age within the city that I’d befriend in any way the whole time I lived in SF–and got a bit worked up over something related to them. Between my growing inability to cope with experiencing any sort of emotional ups and downs and the feast that was available to me at the Thanksgiving dinner I was invited to, that uncontrollable desire to just eat anything until I was stuffed to bursting kicked in again.

It never quite got as bad in San Francisco as it had during University, the whole mindless bingeing thing. There were definitely days I was seriously out of control, but probably the combination of regular work and lots of travelling kept me somewhat grounded. It’s impossible to ignore the reality of day-to-day living when you HAVE to go to work or you HAVE to get on a plane. I simply didn’t have the option of bingeing to the point of stupor and laying in bed recovering for days like I did my last year of Uni.

I had good days and bad days, good weeks and bad weeks, and fluctuated within a 15lb range for the majority of my time in Fog City. Then I met the guy who ultimately was the driving force behind me coming here to Australia. We were insanely active together, and for the first time in years, I wasn’t thinking nearly as much about food and my weight and appearance. Part of it was probably that I simply didn’t have time to stress over it, with all the activities I was getting up to: a multi-day road trip from Portland, Oregon to Flagstaff, Arizona; many trips between San Fran and Portland; visiting Australia for the first time; buying a boat… I was more absorbed in life than my eating disorder.

Of course, I had to break my foot just as it was going so well. Compounding that obstacle was the fact that it happened shortly after he was laid off and came to live with me in San Francisco. We both, therefore, had way too much time to sit around and do a whole lot of nothing with far too easy access to food. I’ve always had a horrible habit of eating like the people around me do, and his metabolism is insane. He can put away food like there’s no tomorrow, has a penchant for things like potato chips and Domino’s pizza, and doesn’t easily gain weight. I, however, have a completely screwed up metabolism from years of suffering from anorexia, so even looking at junk food can send it straight to my hips.

After three full months of being laid-up in bed with a severely broken foot and giving in to the temptations of junk food, heavy meals, and home delivery, I’d put on nearly 40lbs. It was quite devastating. I felt more disgusting then than I ever did at even my heaviest weight. Surely, the fact that I had more time to reflect on it didn’t help.

Once I was back on my feet, though, I was determined once more to actually get healthy. That’s when I moved to Australia, and as far as weight control is concerned, it’s been the best place for me my entire life. I’ve eaten quite reasonably the entire time I’ve lived here, sometimes a bit more than I need to, sometimes a bit less, never fasting like I did in University. I took up really hardcore exercising again, and basically got into the best shape of my life. After about nine months of living here, I’d worked off all the weight I’d gained while incapacitated, and I’ve maintained quite well since.

Unfortunately, I don’t feel like I’ve recovered, as much as my behavior and appearance might seem like it. The reason is, the mental processes are still there. It’s a genuine FIGHT to eat enough and not overdo exercising. And a lot of the isolating and deceptive habits I developed while at the mercy of full-blown anorexia persist.

At it’s core, an eating disorder is about lies. Lies you tell yourself, and lies you tell other people. Thoughts in your head telling you horribly untrue things about food, exercise, your appearance, and what other people must be thinking. Behaviors and statements you use to deceive people into believing you couldn’t possibly have those thoughts on your mind.

From the lies, isolation comes into play. In practice, it’s easier to give in to the disorder the less time you spend around other people. While psychologically it’s much harder, because the isolation breeds even more extreme entrenchment in the disordered thinking and eating, at least you don’t have to be weaving tangled webs of explanations. It becomes a truly vicious cycle, the thoughts leading to the desire to give in leading to isolating yourself from other people leading to even more thoughts and more desire and more isolation and so on…

I still have a lot of issues with eating, whether or not I’m spending time with other people. Anytime I’m faced with a situation where I can’t avoid eating with others, it’s impossibly intimidating (unless I’m drunk). I have absolutely ZERO tolerance for people obviously monitoring my food, and actual comments about what I’m making, eating, or not eating are about the worst thing for me psychologically. I have to try hard enough as it is to not overthink food because it’s the biggest trigger for me to either binge or fast, and if someone specifically draws attention to it, I can’t escape the inevitable train of disordered thinking.

Additionally, I still have problems with the lies. It kind of goes hand-in-hand with the food-monitoring thing. I can’t NOT lie about what I’ve eaten or not eaten when faced with direct inquiries. The vast majority of people just don’t get what I live with every day, being someone who still suffers from an eating disorder. There are very few people that I can converse with completely honestly about anything related to food without it dropping a nuclear bomb on my thought processes.

I’m hoping that finally putting it out there, a lot of the things I’d kept to myself these past few years, might help a bit with that. However, I’m quite convinced that even after reading these past two entries here, it’s not enough for someone to really grasp what I’ve been through if they haven’t experienced an eating disorder firsthand. At least maybe if some people in my life are aware that I’m still struggling, that every day is a fight to not give in to fasting or bingeing, they’ll be more sensitive about the things they say to me.

That’s really the best thing that could happen for me at the stage I’m in right now. The few people who I feel completely comfortable eating around and talking with about the nitty-gritty is enough. Everyone else, I just want them to be completely unconcerned. The less I feel pressured, the less I’m tempted to lie, the less I’m made hyper-aware of food and my habits, the better.

It would be truly nice if I could someday reach a point where none of this is affecting me anymore, but in the meantime, I’m happy I’ve made baby steps at recovering. I’m happy I’ve maintained weight for nine whole months for the first time in several years. I’m happy that I can actually think seriously about recovering for the first time EVER, even if I’m still not there.

Everything in time.

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