I always wondered: what do people with eating disorders actually eat?
Yesterday I ate: a cup of yoghurt with honey, some homemade soup, a kiwi fruit, two tofu sausages, a wholemeal pitta bread, broccoli, three sundried tomatoes, and a chocolate cookie. It’s ever so slightly less than my current average, but considerably more than I was eating this time last year. I could no longer tell you how many calories were involved, with the exception of the cookie, which had 25 (I thought I’d found some kind of miraculous wonder food until I realised they were about the size of five pence coins and tasted not dissimilar). Numbers don’t matter so much to me now.
This marks part of a bigger change in how I’m approaching this business of eating. It’s not just about eating more, as such, or making myself sick less. I’ve really had to alter how I think about allowing myself food. Rather than prompting panic and self-punishment, eating is slowly becoming a way of looking after myself. It’s nourishing.
I’ve moved beyond the small group of six or so things I could eat 12 months ago towards eating a wider variety of foods in an attempt to ensure I get all the nutrients I need. It seems odd to me now that I wouldn’t allow myself to eat vegetables, despite my cravings for them, my bleeding gums, and their general . . . low calorie-ness. It seems even more odd to me that some days I still struggle with this.
It’s about allowing myself, I suppose: allowing myself to eat and allowing myself to enjoy it; allowing myself to have what I need; allowing myself time to prepare food when I feel I should be working; allowing myself to feel hunger, and allowing myself to satisfy it.
Yesterday evening I carefully took two cinnamon biscuits from the packet and put them (alongside a salad of broccoli, olives and tomatoes) into the box I use to take my lunch to work. I felt like I was being gentle and encouraging with myself. I had something ‘healthy’ and a small-ish guilty snack ready for the inevitable mid-afternoon sugar craving. I’d got it all ready in advance so that I wasn’t rushing around in the morning trying to decide between drying my hair and preparing my food in the mad dash to catch my train. I was reassured that it was all ready, with no options for last minute inabilities to choose and leaving without it. So far so good. But when it came to actually eating the biscuits I felt compelled to break them into small pieces and only allow myself one piece every twenty minutes. Not so good.
It’s difficult, sometimes, to stop myself falling back into these little rituals. They feel caring and nurturing, too. I’m trying to resist them, though, because it’s only a small step from there to eating whole meals in particular (strange) orders, and from there to maybe not eating anything after 3.00 pm, and from there to having so many rules that it becomes difficult to eat much of anything. Recently, I’ve been wondering if these little rituals have been around longer than I realise. I recognise them in the jar of sweets that sat uneaten on my bookshelf in the house we lived in when I was between the ages of five and seven, restraint warm in my belly instead, and in the uneaten Easter chocolates on display in the dresser in my Mum’s living room over 20 years later, little symbols of Stacey’s self-control.
Perhaps the way forward lies in learning to let go.