**Note: This post talks about restricting, and may be triggering. However, I feel it’s important to share the good as well as the bad on this blog – because that is what real recovery looks like.**
The past week or so has been extremely busy for me – in fact, it will probably be one of the busiest periods of time for this semester. I had my second genetics exam yesterday, so I’ve been spending (most of) my free time studying for the exam, doing bacteria lab work and preparing for our fly analysis exam that’s this Tuesday. Basically, we take all the flies we counted, sort them by phenotype and map the mutant genes our flies have against known Drosophila fly genes. Since my exam was yesterday, I decided to take a much-needed break this morning to kind of assess what happened this week and try to take something away from it.
I wrote about my intrasquad meet last week and how it didn’t go quite as well as I hoped. Saturday, I performed much better and was very happy with that. However, ever since I got my period my body hasn’t felt like my body. For the first time – in a long time – there was an extra layer of…flesh…around my abdomen. And when I suddenly noticed this, I also noticed that all of my jeans are fitting…tight.
And suddenly, my mind is racing at the speed of light and there’s no way I can stop it. My eating disorder took over. It chastised me for gaining weight, for eating according to my meal plan (what it considers “too much”), and for having “unnecessary” weight and fat. It tells me I’ve “ruined” all the “hard work” I did to get skinny, and I did it in just two months (since swim season started and my meal plan was increased). I looked in the mirror and I couldn’t for the life of me find anything to grab hold of to pull me out. I was panicking.
The next three days I had time to stew over what was going on in my head, because my next appointment with my nutritionist would be on Tuesday. I decided, in the mean time, to ditch my meal plan and try and “fix” what had happened. I reasoned to myself (or maybe my ED reasoned to me…) that losing a few pounds quickly would make me more comfortable, and probably help me swim faster.
So I cut a few calories here, a few foods there. I cut my protein shakes because I am scared of the way my upperbody has gotten so muscular so fast. I cut my mid-morning snack, which I rationalized because I’m never hungry for it anyway. I cut a few things so quickly and so easily, it was like getting back on a bicycle.
I was angry. Angry at my nutritionist for “making” me eat “all that” food. Angry at my doctor for prescribing hormone meds that induce periods (and, apparently, have such high dosages of hormones they may cause weight gain). Angry at my rational self for listening to them.
I was also scared. If eating “fear foods” in such low doses had caused this gain, how could I ever justify eating them? I probably have a sweet once a week, if that. If eating the cereal I like causes me to gain weight then I’d have to switch back to the bland cereal I’d had all the time before.
I knew I was in trouble, and talked to my friends about it. But for some reason their words didn’t talk me out of where I was. All I heard was “you’re going to have to accept your weight gain” – and, honestly, I was too far gone to listen to that. I was back to old habits, old thoughts, and getting angrier by the day…all the while trying to hold together swim practices and studying for my exams.
I saw my nutritionist on Tuesday, and she knew something was wrong. She does body composition testing, and can tell if I’ve been restricting (even if it’s unintentional) by loss of lean muscle. I told her that yes – I had restricted, because I couldn’t deal with the weight gain anymore. At some point, it’s too much….it’s overwhelming. And I’d reached the breaking point. And I was angry that I’d been pushed that far.
We went through exactly what changes my body has gone through since August, week by week. We discussed the gains in muscle…which I can’t particularly do anything about until I’m done swimming. But the thing that really irked me was the additional fat weight in my abdomen and hips. I told her that this wasn’t something useful for swimming and she completely understood. We tracked back to where the initial gain had been, and she realized it coincided with the doctor putting me on the “progesterone challenge” – which is basically a very high dosage of progesterone administered to attempt to “kickstart” estrogen and the menstrual cycle. I’ve done it before, but this time it actually worked – I got my period after going through the pills, and then got it the following month. Unfortunately, this high dosage of hormone is known to cause some weight gain in the abdominal area – which is exactly what happened to me. My rational mind heard this and accepted it while my eating disorder still held onto the anger and blame.
My nutritionist then told me something I needed to hear at that moment. She said “You can restrict all you want, be miserable, and that extra fat will not go anywhere.” And she was right. It was hormonally-caused. I listened to her, because deep-down I knew restricting was going to get me nowhere, fast. And we compromised. We cut some stuff from my meal plan. It’s still much more than I was eating last year, but I feel more comfortable now. Although she didn’t want to put this constraint on me, she told me I needed to micromanage fat intake for a little while because estrogen takes fat and binds to it – causing what looks like fat gain in the abdomen. Essentially, what that does for me is turn a bowl of oats and peanut butter into 2 servings of oats with no peanut butter, or turns an almond butter sandwich for lunch into a turkey sandwich.
Not really a big deal, but I think it has made a difference already. I feel more comfortable in my body right now. I tried for the longest time to accept the tightness of my clothes, but I couldn’t do it. I was pushed too hard. I’m comfortable with what I’m eating right now, and grateful to my nutritionist for listening to me and respecting my feelings.
I also know this isn’t entirely healthy. But one thing I feel is unfair is that it seems to me if one is recovering from an eating disorder, they are supposed to not want to change their body, while “normal” people can make healthy choices and are allowed to lose weight. I understand why – losing weight is obviously not supposed to be a priority. BUT I also felt that I was being pushed past my “natural” weight by my meal plan. My nutritionist designed my meal plan with hours and hours of swimming in mind. I have gained quite a bit of muscle, which is good for swimming. My shoulders are broad again, I have strength and power. But I felt that my nutritionist was only happy if I came in and had gained weight – which isn’t really fair after I’ve reached my “target.” Sometimes I just wish my weight and my food could be up to me – but I realize that my treatment team has my best interests in mind.
Anyway, the rest of the week I did what my nutritionist said. I’m not restricting, but I can tell my body isn’t used to being underfed. I notice that towards the end of swim practice I lose steam, and my body can’t recover quite as well or as fast. I do, however, feel that cutting down on fats has helped with my body image (NOTE – I’m NOT encouraging this as normal practice. This advice was individualized for me and my body’s reaction to the high hormone dosage) because I’ve noticed a slight decrease in the abdominal fat already.
I wish I could say that I knew what – or if – is behind all of this. Honestly, though, I sometimes feel that there isn’t necessarily something “behind” the thoughts or behaviors. Sometimes there is – I’ve used my eating disorder to cope and to numb on numerous occasions. This time…nothing makes sense. Yes, I’ve been stressed about school – but it hasn’t really gotten to me that much. I’ve been having a blast at swimming, having fun hanging out with my friends and working at Wegman’s. I’ve been writing, I’ve been reading, I’ve been trying to check-in with myself. I’ve tried to be mindful. I guess, for now, I can accept it as a mild freak-out completely related to my feelings about my body and try to move forward with that.
On the other hand, I think this situation – whether you would call it a step back, a relapse, a “pre-lapse” – whatever it was, it cemented something in my brain. For the longest time, I haven’t restricted consciously. This was the first time I deliberately skipped a snack/meal since I entered recovery. Before, my slip-ups have been different – like not putting cheese on a sandwich, or not using milk in a protein shake – stuff that I didn’t even think about, it just happened. This time – my eating disorder was back, and it was calling all the shots. I walked around campus like a hungry zombie for all of three days. However, it was really important. It reminded me of what it really truly is like to be entrenched in your eating disorder. For a long time, I’ve romanticized my eating disorder (that sounds sick – and guess what, it is) by thinking about how I used to “just skip” things without any thought to it. I’ve romanticized the weight loss, the “special” feeling. Now that I’ve been back – even if for a short while – I realize how truly awful it is, and was.
Everyone in my life felt like the enemy again. Instead of me with a support system, it was me and my eating disorder against the world. It was me against everyone “trying to make me fat.” It was me against foods, me against laughter, me against life.
I’m not entirely sure where I am right now – I feel like I’m still a little more attached to the disordered thoughts than usual, but I feel that is something that will pass with time and adjustments. For now, I’m going to try and focus my attention outward.