When Food Is Personal

I don’t know when it began. I didn’t really see it coming and once I saw it I didn’t want to look. I was 20 when I admitted to myself that I had anorexia. At the time I didn’t feel much, it didn’t matter anyways. Quitting was not an option. About half a year later I entered the clinic and started therapy.

Today I’m 27 and things have gotten better. My body is healthy, I can live on my own. I have stopped identifying as anorectic years ago but I still have an eating disorder. After seven years it’s just sometimes difficult to recognise its patterns. It’s difficult because it has gotten weaker but also because I have gotten used to living with the parts that remain strong. There is still a certain narrative about food and about myself that influences my behaviour.

Currently, my behaviour looks like this

  • I no longer identify as anorectic and I never want to go back there.
  • I can eat healthy and get enough calories to sustain my body even while doing sports and having a full-time job.
  • I regularly eat with other people. Most of the time I eat my own food but at least I don’t do it alone.
  • I no longer restrict food to cope with stress or to punish myself.
  • I have gotten less competitive with other people’s diets. I no longer have to be the person who eats least.
  • I no longer track my daily calorie count. I just don’t want to know.

  • I still rely on food to keep up my motivation. It’s my main source of endorphins and my main rewarding mechanism, stronger than hobbies, culture or social interactions. In context of this dynamic eating is always a balancing act between restriction and permission.
  • I struggle to pick whatever I like. Deciding with my gut just doesn’t work. Instead, I assess my options based on many criteria that have nothing to do with appetite or even health. Finding a good compromise can be exhausting and at times literally paralysing. To avoid these internal negotiations I usually eat and buy the same things.
  • I still don’t really trust my appetite or hunger. I schedule my meals based on time and the portions are usually determined in advance.
  • Because of all these constraints I still need to plan my meals. Not knowing what I’ll eat the next day can keep me awake at night and adapting to short-term changes is usually very stressful.

Often more revealing than the actions themselves are the motivations behind them and how they affect other parts of my life. Especially how they affect my social life. I only realised how central food rituals are to our communities once it became challenging to participate. Sharing company often transitions organically into sharing meals, whether it’s meeting my parents or working with my colleagues, attending conferences or going to parties. It seems very natural for everybody involved but if I’m not prepared for the situation or the food doesn’t fit my internal rules I can have a hard time even following regular conversations.

For years I simply avoided it, retreating from the meals and thereby also retreating from the community. These days I join more often. Not because I’ve found a great way to deal with it but because getting out of the isolation is the only way forward.

I really wish I wouldn’t have gone down this road when I has 20. I really wish I would have had the courage to quit. At the time it looked like a viable plan to handle my insecurity, my fear and shame and whatever else I tried to handle. It was a bad plan.

But I know that it can get better. I trained myself into this and I can train myself out of it. Learning how to live with my eating disorder allowed me to be functional, to graduate and get a job. But the long-term solution is learning how to live without it.

Writing all of this is challenging not only because I have trouble finding the words but also because I fear that no matter what I write or say it will mostly show my own blindness for what’s really going on here. Knowing that this whole problem is built on nothing but self-deception makes it kind of embarrassing and the fact that after seven years I’m still not over it seems hard to explain, even to me.

It’s a slow process, it often doesn’t feel right or even liberating. Whenever I reach beyond my addiction — voluntarily or because the situation forces me to — there is either a big void or a hot emotional mess. If I’m being optimistic for once it kind of feels like a young universe out there.

Still in chaos but full of potential.

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