This post is dedicated to my dear friend Erin, who has listened without judgement, loved without restraint, supported without questioning and always, always made me feel worthy.
I think the title of this post sums up what I’m going to say pretty well. If you suffer from an eating disorder, or know someone who has, then I’m sure you would have experienced the strict “rules” that we make for ourselves; that horrible sense of doubt and panic that’s conjured up in uncomfortable situations. I’m going to refer to that part of the mind as the eating disorder, because it’s not you, not really! It’s just a nasty intruder that really deserves no place in your life and no space in your mind. So let’s expose some of the lies that it will have you believe in order to keep you under its control.
The eating disorder likes to focus on the negatives and jumps to (massive) conclusions:
“If I eat “xyz” it will show up on my body and make me gain weight.”
Ummm… let’s think rationally here brain. When your friend or loved one eats a piece or chocolate (or a whole bar #yolo), do you notice a visible difference in their appearance? No! So what makes you any different? Why would that cause you to gain 10kg and not them? Answer: it won’t!
“My friend told me I’m looking well/a lot better. That means I’m getting fatter and have been eating too much. I should stop.”
Ah, the double edged sword. It can be so hard for people to say the “right” thing to someone with an eating disorder. A lot of the time, all they really mean to do is give you some encouragement and tell you that you honestly do look better, but the eating disorder warps this into a negative thing. Why? Because it’s trying to convince you that you’re “out of control”. If you’ve gained weight and started to look like a functioning human being again, then that must mean that you’ve “let yourself go”, right? Wrong! It means that your body is finally receiving the nourishment that it NEEDS to survive and is beginning to flourish again! If insecurity about your appearance is what drove you into restrictive eating in the first place, then take those words – that you look well/better – as an encouragement that you’re doing the right thing for your physical and mental health and wellbeing!
“Carbohydrates will make me fat and fluffy.”
Urgh. Another piece of advice influenced by the media? I know I certainly struggle with this one. Well guess what eating disorder? Carbohydrates are the preferred source of fuel for the body and are necessary for proper brain function! Ever wondered why you can’t stop thinking about food, why your thinking has become so inflexible or why it has become so difficult to make decisions? Do you often have recurring thoughts about food and eating? Do these thoughts hinder your ability to think about stuff that actually matters? Have you become less interested in the things you used to love, but found yourself gravitating towards cook books, cooking shows and recipes? I know I sure did. I used to dream about food. I used to fall asleep thinking about breakfast… and then lunch… and then dinner. I was obsessed and I’m still not 100% free.
It may surprise you to know that your brain – the very way you think – is impacted by being underweight and/or not eating sufficiently. Your brain requires SO much energy to function properly that it’s no wonder people with eating disorders develop these psychological effects. If your brain is receiving the nourishment it needs then your thinking starts to become more rational, more reasonable and a whole lot freer. You can be more spontaneous, you can distinguish the voice of the eating disorder from your own, and the obsession with food is diminished considerably.
So tell the eating disorder to go and choke on a bread roll and then remember this: low-carbohydrate diets are dangerous. “Carbohydrates are the only fuel source for many vital organs such as the brain, central nervous system and kidneys.” Want to kick that eating disorder voice out of you head and start to think clearly again? Don’t eat low-carb.
“I want to gain muscle not fat.”
Eeep! It’s as if this thought was zapped straight from my brain. Let’s not deny that it will always be hard to deal with gaining weight when we live in a society that is constantly being told to do the opposite. We measure our worth based on the size of our muscles and hope beyond all hope that the little bit of pudge on our tummies will just disappear (or make its way to our boobs). Well, eating disorder, I have news for you. Fat is necessary; for life, for proper body functioning, for shiny hair, for plump skin, for babies, for warmth, for protection of vital organs. We cannot expect to gain weight and attribute it all to muscle mass. Your body NEEDS fat! Ain’t nothing wrong with a booty and some curves. And let’s be honest, if you’re underweight, then gaining some fat and muscle is not going to make you obese, it’s going to help you to achieve and maintain an average, healthy weight. Another point to add is that trying to maintain a low body fat percentage takes its toll on the body (loss of periods, impaired temperature regulation, impaired sleep, lanugo) and your body will no doubt fight to get to a percentage of fat that it knows is necessary for proper functioning. Your body knows what it’s doing. In fact, it’s fighting to keep you alive. Let it.
“I have no value to give in any other areas of my life; at least my thinness makes me special. If I’m thin then I’m in control but if I’m fat then no one will like me and I will have no reason to stand out.”
Hold up. What?! That would be the eating disorder talking. They like to make things black or white. For them, there is no middle ground. But ask yourself, are you really going to let that stupid life-ruining voice inside of your head tell you that you’re not worthy, that you’re not worthy of living life to the full?
Get angry at it! How dare it make you think something like that! Your worth does no come from the size of your dress or whether you are “thin” or “fat”. You most definitely have something offer. In fact, I’m certain you have many things to offer that have absolutely no relationship to your appearance or your weight or the way you eat. Don’t let the eating disorder limit your identity to a dress size. You are so much more than that. But what if weight gain means I’ve lost control, that I can no longer follow the “perfect” regime I feel so safe with? Let’s be honest, you’re not in control, you are BEING controlled.
Lastly, if someone is so shallow that they don’t want your friendship unless your thin, then they aren’t worth your friendship in the first place. I doubt many people are like this, but hey, you never know.
“If I don’t exercise I will get fat. I have to exercise every day.”
Now this is a toughy. Personally, I’ve progressed a lot since the days of my utter food obsession. I’ve gained some weight and some perspective, but I wouldn’t say I’m all there just yet. Why is that? Well, sometimes, even though our control over food loosens up, we feel like we need to start compensating for the “bad” or extra amount food we are eating by exercising a lot. Based on what I’ve been told by multiple professionals, and what I’ve learned from others’ experiences (plus a heck of a lot of reading), is that exercising during recovery is not helpful for your body. It can hinder the return of your periods, it can cause permanent damage to your body, it can make you more prone to injury and well… your body just doesn’t have sufficient energy to support that kind of thing. Your body needs A LOT of energy to repair the internal and external damage caused by eating disorders, not to mention the amount of energy it needs to function on a daily basis. If this energy is being expended through exercise, more often than not you’ll end up with a calorie deficit at the end of the day. And even if you do eat back those calories, your body will only just be hanging on to what little energy it’s being given and won’t have what it needs to start fixing the long-term damage that has been caused. Food and rest will help you flourish! That being said, you don’t have to stop exercising forever. I stopped running, which I had begun to do simply out of some strange compulsion that it had to be done. Instead, later on, I began to go for slow walks and then eventually started doing some weights, but in all honesty, I should have been more content to let my body rest.
I hope that reading about the little lies that eating disorders tell us has been both enlightening and helpful for you! Just being aware of them and acknowledging the eating disorder can be a huge step in your recovery! Now is the time to tell your eating disorder that it has no right to determine your health and happiness and that you’re ready to get rid of it for good.
You can beat that voice.
You can overcome those lies.
You are so worthy of a life free from any type of eating disorder.
Repeat after me: I am worthy 🙂