When my eating disorder held me captive in a weight that was too low and a body that was declining more and more each day, I often thought to myself, “I wonder how much food I really need to simply survive.”
I knew that I could survive without cookies, cake, candy, milkshakes, chips, and things of the like…but don’t get me wrong, I was miserable. Yes, I was technically surviving, but I was growing weak and extremely fragile. Physically my body was always aching and groaning for adequate nutrition, but my mind was too petrified to do anything about it.
But what about bread, butter, salad dressing, meat, cheese, and pasta? Were those things really necessary for my survival? In my sick, disordered thinking, I didn’t think so. Consequently, I began to cut out more and more food until there were only a few foods that my eating disorder deemed as safe and acceptable to consume.
Boy, was I in for a rude awakening.
Somewhere between “I only need these 10 foods to survive” and “Mom, I think I have an eating disorder”, something shifted in my mind.
As terrified as I was to make adjustments to my diet, I realized that what I was doing was not, in fact, healthy. Sure, I was surviving, but I was not living the life I pictured I would be at 20 years old. In my pursuit of perfect health, I got tangled up into something much bigger than myself. My life was a wreck + I needed an intervention– big time.
During my first appointment with my dietitian, I was handed a list of foods that I needed to add back into my diet in order to get my life back. Each food group had a certain number of minimum servings I needed to meet in order to adequately nourish my body.
The worst part? The part that made my eating disorder cringe? I needed to eat these new foods every day, multiple times a day. And once I felt comfortable, I needed to add more– more variety, more balance, more consistency, and plain and simple, more food in general.
As uncomfortable as I was, I was also oddly excited. This was the first time in years that someone had given me permission to eat any food that I wanted. Nothing was off limits. Nothing was restriction. Everything was on the table.
When I started recovery, I also began reading Jenni Schaefer’s book, Life Without Ed. Among many passages, one passage in particular had a profound impact of me. Jenni writes: “I remember sitting in my dietitian’s office on day. I said, ‘I think I could [survive] another fifty years without adding more fat.’ Susan replied, ‘Maybe. Maybe not. But even so…It’s not about surviving. It’s about living.”
Jenni had put into words my heart’s deepest cry. I no longer just wanted to survive, I wanted to live my life to the fullest, and I knew that to do that, I needed to start making changes.
Slowly but surely, I started eating consistent meals + snacks, eating larger quantities of foods, and adding back in foods that I feared. Slowly but surely, I started to recover; I started to live again.
Let’s fast forward a few years later to my nana’s 81st birthday party. It was a small gathering in the activity room of an assisted living center. Mostly family + some friends gathered to visit nana, play games, talk, laugh, share memories, and celebrate 81 years of life.
For dessert, we had cupcakes, some of which had buttercream icing on them (my favorite)! The cupcakes were so sweet, so moist, and so delicious–I wish I had one right now! Anyways, I grabbed one without a second thought. No disordered thoughts about the nutritional content of the food or how the cupcake would affect my body. However, a couple of thoughts did come to mind:
- My nana lived to see her 81st birthday while still regularly enjoying desserts.
- I could survive another 50 years without eating another piece of cake–but I wouldn’t be living.
–Despite the popular belief perpetuated by diet culture, sugar doesn’t kill you or make you die young. 81 years is a long life to live, one that I am pretty darn proud of. What will cause premature death is chronic stress, social isolation, and/or malnutrition stemming from being too afraid / too anxious to honor our heath in a way that nourishes our mind, body, and spirit.
–Some people may not enjoy birthday cake…but I am not one of those people. Birthday cake is one of my favorite foods. To skip out on it, for me, would be to skip out on life.
Life is short, eat the cake.
1. Schaefer J, Rutledge T. Add Fat? In: Life without Ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Education; 2014:52-53.
Photo: Unsplash // Brooke Lark (@brookelark)