Back in the winter of 2017, pancreas-related surgery complications left me reliant on IV-fluids, unable to eat real food of any kind for 7 weeks straight. One year ago, I wrote a personal essay about that experience and how it changed my relationship to food. Since then, my relationship to food has evolved quite a bit. Maybe devolved would be the better word, actually.
There was a period of time post-surgery where I unabashedly feasted on whatever food I craved. I ate anything. I ate everything. I didn’t care if what I was eating was healthy or unhealthy; If I wanted it, I had it. Post-surgery me was looking pretty malnourished (obviously, I hadn’t eaten literally anything for a month and a half), so I figured I had some wiggle room to regain weight. However, when adding the freshman fifteen to the mix, I gained more than just my pre-surgery weight. When you barely exercise and eat heapings of pasta every chance you get, your body tends to get bigger. Shocking!
Although my body image took a hit from my weight gain, I admire that version of me so much. She didn’t think twice about grabbing a second cookie or about ordering waffles instead of an omelette; she just did it. She also didn’t track calories in her head without even meaning to. She didn’t obsessively weigh herself, or force herself to stay on the elliptical while fighting nausea and lightheadedness.
Oh, shit! Things just got dark, right? That’s how fast disordered eating sneaks up on you. One day you decide you want to lose a little weight, and then suddenly, you’re crying in your dorm room because you ate a croissant for breakfast and feel like you’ve committed a mortal sin. When did I become the person that cancels breakfast with friends because she just “can’t handle it?”. It’s breakfast. What’s there to handle?
It was so easy to brush off what I was doing as okay for far too long. When your Instagram explore page is repeatedly telling you to swap out your spaghetti for zucchini noodles, or telling you the top ten breakfast foods to avoid, or telling you that snacking on anything other than almonds will leave you fat and unhappy, it’s easy to justify disordered eating patterns. Diet culture convinced me that what I was doing was normal, but it wasn’t. Waiting until the absolute last possible minute to eat your first meal of the day when your body is yelling at you to eat is not normal.
Nonetheless, figuring out that it’s not normal is the first step. I’ve never been formally diagnosed with an eating disorder, and I don’t think I can confidently claim that I have one, but I think if you find yourself googling “how do you know if you have an eating disorder?” repeatedly, you probably have some sort of issue that needs to be addressed. The first step to dealing with disordered eating is to accept that you need to change. A formal diagnosis shouldn’t be the only thing pushing you to do that.
Prioritizing a healthy relationship with food over the world’s (and your own) insistence on thinness isn’t always easy. Unlearning diet culture, figuring out how to honor hunger, and accepting that worth is not equated to weight doesn’t happen overnight. Just like with any other mental illness, when it comes to working through disordered eating or having an eating disorder, there are good and bad days.
Recovery isn’t instantaneous. But I’m working on it.