Tuesday, May 11, 2010

"Project Me" Update


Remember how I promised to share my experience with this project honestly? Well, here I am, coming clean. My decluttering efforts have been coming along slowly and this is mostly because I have been distracted. Since starting this project, I have experienced a subsequent upswing in my eating disorder behavior.

Last Saturday in ANAD (Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders) group I shared the recent eating disorder challenges I have been wading through. I noticed that ED's acting up coincided with the start of this project I created for myself. Barbara, the therapist who leads the ANAD group, gave me some valuable guidance. While she supported my intention to enjoy more homemade meals, she felt I needed to give myself some breathing room with this and back off from making it such an absolute condition of having to cook all my meals at home for 30 days straight. She believes this delves into an area of rigidity that can lead me back into patterns of restriction, deprivation, and starvation, fueling the eating disorder.

I heard her loud and clear. I have been cooking the majority of my meals at home. Some aspects of this have felt very supportive. My home-cooked meals feel more nurturing to my body. However, I have decided to lighten up around this because I think Barbara makes a valid point. After all, I cannot deny the correlation between the launch of, "Project Me" and subsequent rise in my eating disorder behavior.

I did share in group that I noticed the way I create back door scenarios that let my ED behavior creep in. I have been doing a lot of heavy emotional work. For the first time in my life, I am being fully present with my feelings. It has been a lot for me to deal with emotionally. There have been moments I have felt wrung out and drained. The thought, "I wish I could just make this stop" has danced through my head. Only problem is, I haven't been able to stop the flow of feeling. It just keeps coming... like a floodgate has been opened. It's OK. I understand all of this needs to be cleared in order for me to move forward. At the same time, understanding the necessity of this emotional work doesn't make it any easier to deal with the intolerable feelings that can arise. Throughout my life, I have used eating disorder as a way to disconnect and disassociate from my intolerable emotions. As you can see, the increased volume of my painful feelings has created a scenario akin to a dog chasing its own tail.

Quite conveniently, as the difficult emotions continued to surface, I decided to launch, "Project Me". During this period of deep emotional upheaval I set out on a challenge to cook all of my meals at home for the next 30 days. ED is a sneaky bastard and is very clever at finding alternate routes to gain control, especially when everything feels so emotionally messy. I totally set myself up by stocking my cupboards full of foods that require an inordinate amount of preparation... dry beans, rice, whole grains, lentil pilafs... you get the picture. While these may be wholesome foods my decision to load my kitchen full of ingredients that would require lengthy preparation is a bit like going from 0-60 MPH overnight. This is all or nothing mentality in full swing. Keep in mind that prior to making this switch I was almost exclusively dining out for all of my meals. I created an impossible scenario and what I want to make clear is that this was not coincidence. It was cunning.

ED is what drove me to set up my environment this way. Essentially, I put out the welcome mat and said, "Come on in ED. Feel free to take over." This gave me a brilliant excuse to fall into eating disorder behavior. My end aim was achieved. I could disconnect from the difficult feelings that have been surfacing within me. ED effectively achieved this desired result. With ED acting up, I have been completely distracted from the emotional work. Instead, my eating disorder challenges have consumed every bit of my attention. It is such a clever form of distraction from the difficult feelings! These past couple of weeks have shown me just how effectively ED helps me turn off the emotions. No wonder I have yet to find full recovery. ED continues to serve me well. I have yet to develop new coping skills to replace ED's role in my life. Until I do, I will remain stuck.

I believe that in the back of my mind I knew I was setting myself up. I created a very high-pressure scenario that made the proposition of cooking, and therefore eating, absolutely inconvenient, if not improbable. I was alerted to this obvious fact when looking around the circle of members at ANAD group on Saturday. Each person knowingly laughed and nodded their heads in recognition, having played out similar scenarios in their own lives. It became pretty damn clear what was going on.

In the interest of my recovery, I have decided to back off from the cooking portion of this challenge. It is too much of a leap for me at this time. Pairing this with the decluttering process is sending me into overdrive. It is causing my feelings of overwhelm to escalate and I believe this is why my eating disorder issues have become exacerbated in the past couple of weeks. It always comes back to this. When the intolerable feelings go up, I want to come in, tamp it down, control the food, and manipulate my body in order to gain a sense of containment for what feels completely unmanageable in my life.

I now understand why my eating disorder issues have been aggravated. In the past month or so, I have placed the focus back on food and my body size the deeper I travel into the emotional healing work. There has additionally been outside triggers fueling the eating disorder. Medical professionals have put me under a lot of pressure to address my health and when they say 'health', what they really mean, in no uncertain terms, is address my body size. This fuels my fear, pits me against my body, and throws me back into the disorder. I may start out with the best of intentions, but any manipulation around eating experiences to achieve a desired physical result, even one medically advised, triggers my eating disorder. No matter how well-meaning doctors believe their admonishments to reduce body size are, they must understand how harmful this focus is for those who struggle with eating disorder.

This experience has made it abundantly clear that I need to secure better support for myself as I go through this deep period of emotional release work. Knowing that I already feed myself in a very balanced, nourishing way, and that I enjoy this, I should view any desire to manipulate my eating experiences in the name of 'health' as a red flag. After all, I eat nutritiously. Treats make up a very reasonable part of my lifestyle. I know exactly what foods fuel my body and make me feel my best. I don't need to make any changes in this regard. The ED mentality found a clever way to manipulate my food experiences with this challenge in order to contain and control the painful emotions that have been surfacing in me. This is how ED serves me. This is the role eating disorder is playing in my life. 

Do I need to cook more of my meals at home? Yes. Would this help improve my health? Absolutely. Will it also save me money? Most certainly. Can I only guarantee true food quality when preparing meals with my own two hands? Sure. Do I need to be so controlled with it that I never let myself eat out? Not by a long shot!

I agree with Barbara. She is a smart cookie. I'm glad I was willing to open myself up to the group and share the challenges I have been struggling with. Barbara helped me own the scenario I was creating... a situation where it would be easy to fall back into ED patterns.

I'm done focusing on food. I eat in a very balanced way when I am eating and that is the key. Simply because my body has yet to physically reflect this balanced relationship with food in a way that doctors or the world at large view as an indication of success doesn't mean squat. Maybe my body will never fit within the confines of society's view of what a 'healthy' body looks like. In our culture, thinness has been equated with health. This is a gross distortion of fact. All I do know for certain is that eating disorder breeds so much suffering in my life. If being out of the disorder means I need to be a thick mama... then so be it. I will not let doctors, or anyone else for that matter, continue to pressure me to look a certain way so they can be more comfortable with me. What is important is that I am comfortable with myself. It is time for me to stand up and be a personal advocate for my recovery.

I can allow room for flexibility in my approach. I am choosing to view eating out as a treat. As Barbara advised me, I should be able to look forward to going out to eat once or twice a week. Dining out cannot provide the foundation of a solid practice of self-care, but it does give me pleasure and enjoyment. I shouldn't have to go without.

I swear, I am always learning new things on this path. At least now when I hit snags, the duration I stay stuck lessens each go around. I'm also able to see what is blocking my path to recovery and switch things up so I feel better supported. For the time being, my focus with, "Project Me" will be on cooking at home more often, rather than making homemade meals an absolute condition. I will also continue in my decluttering efforts and give room for understanding that it is a process. I do not need to overhaul my entire life in one fell swoop. Lesson learned! 


  1. Good for you for embracing the fact that ED is coming knocking. He is a sneaky little guy, isn't he. I sometimes feel like I slip back into those patterns when I am dealing with my food allergies, it starts to feel very rigid sometimes and I think that triggers my disordered patterns as well as when I start to feel emotionally flooded which is also happening for me right now.

    Honoring ourselves and listening to these signals is the only thing we can do. I wrote a post about this yesterday on my blog you may be interested in.

  2. I will definitely check out your blog post Christie. Yes... it always amazes me how subtly ED can come slinking back in. Although, I have to say, I have become more aware. I do catch the little bugger before 'he' can wreak too much havoc. ;) I look forward to the day when I never have to deal with ED again.