Hitting rock bottom in my eating disorder after 30 years

Every alcoholic memoir has some form of “rock bottom.” This is usually the culmination of a several day, week or years-long “last hurrah” spiral into the abyss that marked the end of their alcoholic behavior.

For me, as someone who spent 30 years living with an eating disorder, I entered my last hurrah with a diet. This was going to be it, I said. I’m tired of carrying around this extra weight. It’s finally time for me to get serious and prove that I’m capable of keeping the weight off forever.

So I buckled down and read 15 books on weight loss. I downloaded the MyFitnessPal calorie counting app. I bought myself a FitBit to track every step of every day. I committed to a running schedule, eating schedules, dietary guidelines, and a daily weigh-in and commitment to myself that I would lose weight — for the last fucking time.

On a totally unrelated topic, my therapist recently said to me that I’m incredibly determined. I awkwardly took that information in with some surprise. Really? And yet, of course … I think so. Hmmm …

Her statement has popped up for me countless times since she said it. I guess I really am quite determined. I have noticed that when I decide that I REALLY want something, I get it.

Anyway, so I was determined, and therefore I got what I wanted. Over the course of about 5 months, I lost the weight that was driving me crazy. Then I became committed to maintaining the weight loss. Because I wasn’t on a diet, this was a total lifestyle change!

In the first phase of the diet — excuse me, lifestyle change –I carefully tracked every calorie — I mean nutritional intake — in MyFitnessPal, and measured and weighed everything I put in my body. I kept my calories tightly controlled depending on how much I was logging on my FitBit.

It was so great! Sure, I was starving and completely obsessed with my food, but I was also IN CONTROL. I absolutely love being in control. My perfectionism was still completely unseen by myself, and since I believed my anorexia was a thing of the long-ago past (since I never got skeletal or hospitalized for malnutrition, did I ever really have anorexia anyway?), I believed that my dedication and determination to losing the weight were absolutely right. How could losing weight be wrong?

Best of all, as I’d noticed numerous times before, when I’m in control of my eating with a great diet — when I’m completely and absolutely obsessed with losing weight, my bulimia goes into remission. Therefore, my circular thinking went, when I’m on a diet, I’m actually free of my eating disorder! How wonderful!

Of course, there were some unfortunate side effects to the glorious eating pattern I had adopted. First, it was no-carb. I’m a high achiever, so it wasn’t just low-carb — that’s for sissies! I was virtually no-carb. According to MyFitnessPal, I successfully kept my carbs to fewer than 5% of my caloric intake every day. I was a success! It’s true that MyFitnessPal told me that my diet was unbalanced, but I felt a thrill of pleasure when the warning pop-ups appeared. Yes! I am the best no-carber alive!

Unfortunately, there are some side effects to no-carb diets. My breath was terrible. It was truly, truly awful. My pee stank. My sex drive was pretty shitty. I had no interest in food, and I was completely bored out of my mind by all of the meat I was eating.

But it was all worth it to be thin!

Until I started bingeing, that is. And what did I binge on? Carbs, of course. I binged and binged and binged on carbs. Then, conveniently, since I have bulimic skills, I would purge them out of my system. How perfect! Never mind that I was back to being bulimic, anything seemed worth it to maintain the weight loss.

Except that my combination of no-carb and carb binges stopped working. My body slowly started accumulating the weight I had starved off.

And this was rock bottom for me. This was the moment when I realized that what I had been calling “healthy eating” was actually part of my eating disorder. During the tightly-controlled periods of dieting, during which my bulimia was in remission, I exhibited all the signs of anorexia. But, like many anorexics, bingeing and purging snuck into my diet, and then I was on the rollercoaster again.

Rock bottom hit me just before I turned 41 years old. I had regained some weight, I was drinking too much wine, and bingeing and purging every day. I was so disconnected from my body and my feelings that I really didn’t know what was going on, but I did know that it was time for me to heal.

And so, finally, I decided to open the door marked “exit” and lose the denial that had cloaked my eating disorder for 30 years. I began recovery for the very first time. Like any recovery, nothing about healing from an eating disorder is easy, but here I am, fully in recovery, starting to feel my body and increasingly feeling real feelings.

A therapist who has worked with eating disorders for more than 30 years recently told me that “nothing feels as good as your eating disorder when you’re in it.” Yes! I said! You’re right! She continued with “but nothing will hurt you more than your eating disorder either. It’s definitely worth the work to find other ways to feel your feelings than throwing them up every night.” Hmmmm. Yes. That is true, too.

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