Do You Need to Completely Abandon Nutrition To Recover?

Image: @brookelark

There was obviously a right way to do things, and I tried harder and harder to find it. The next diet or the next prohibited food or the next super-vegetable was surely the key to my salvation. Someone had the answer, I was sure.

I remember lying in bed in the dark every single morning meticulously dissecting all the “mistakes” I’d made the day before and carefully planning my redemption. I always had some new plan that was surely going to work this time. Each day started with hope and determination, and ended in despair and hopelessness. Every. Single. Day.

The turning point

Oh, right!…the reason I feel so confused and miserable is because I’m putting all my faith in an inherently flawed design. My salvation lay in a paradigm that is, at its core, destined to fail.

Dieting didn’t work for me because dieting doesn’t work.

It had nothing to do with my character or willpower. Learning that lesson was the turning point.

Letting go of all the rules

Recovery forced me to turn inward again. To relearn self-trust and hear my own signals. To have health be self-directed rather than prescribed. I had to work my ass off to let go of all those rules and trust my body. To eat what sounded good, to stop judging food…and myself.

Approaching each meal with anticipation and excitement rather than dread and fear was life-changing. I wasn’t worried about my weight or my clothing size. I was happy again, and felt free of the endless confusion that had dictated my life before.

But…am I doing this right?

But then…a sneaking suspicion that I was going a little overboard. I felt confused (and bloated). How much is too much? Why does my stomach hurt each night? Am I bingeing again? Like a little tap on the shoulder each night before bed–the nagging thought,

You’re not doing this right.

Oh, right! Gentle nutrition! That’s what I was missing. In my quest to abandon dieting, I had also abandoned any attention to health.

I had gone from one extreme of health-obsession to the other extreme of not-caring-about-health-at-all. It was not easy to find that fine line between complete freedom and nutrition-informed choices.

Can I care about nutrition?

Was caring about my health betraying the recovery process? There was so much talk about eating without rules and judgment that it almost felt wrong to even think about nutrition.

After letting that pendulum swing back and forth for a while, and learning many lessons in the process, I finally had the answer.

Pursuing health is the next step in the evolution of my recovery.

Learning to do it in a loving, gentle way, without rules…not sliding back down that hole into restriction…that was the tricky part.

It’s all about avoiding extremes

And I did slide backwardsseveral times. For two full weeks, I thought I shouldn’t be eating dairy or sugar because I read a book that said that. I couldn’t figure out why I was so miserable and panicked. Then I decided that I needed to eat fruits and vegetables at every meal, and was so disappointed in myself when I didn’t. Another time, I became convinced that sweets at night were taboo, and spent my days preparing for the evening struggle, forlorn and anxious.

The eating disorder had deep, well-worn grooves and the recovery track was still new and easily overgrown.

Incorporating new things into my food repertoire was the key for me.

I can have anything I want, but I remember how much better I feel when I eat in a certain way.

It doesn’t necessarily come naturally every day, but it’s a heck of a lot easier than it used to be. Loving myself through every single setback, understanding why I tent to blame body for my problems, criticizing the system rather than my own shortcomings…that’s how I knew I had come out on the other side.

Really, it’s about balance and seeing the bigger picture. I knew I had my eating disorder conquered when I could see the whole big picture rather than feeling trapped in the details.

Food and nutrition is a part of life, but it’s not life itself. Because there is so, so much more to life.