Updated: Mar 1, 2019
Back when I worked in an inpatient eating disorder treatment facility I had a patient that really put this into perspective for me.
This patient (we will call her Cali, not her real name) was admitted to inpatient eating disorder treatment and placed on my caseload. She came in with a history of severe bingeing and purging. From the very beginning, she decided that she was not going to eat anything, despite our efforts. We had to eventually place Cali on a feeding tube to provide her proper nutrition. Each night she would pull her feeding tube out and we would have to replace it. Cali and I’s conversations only focused on the feeding tube, acceptance around nutrition and the treatment team’s plea for Cali to stop harming herself with pulling the feeding tube out, then having us replace it, then pulling it back out, then having us replace it. Every now and then, I would see sparks of Cali’s real personality come through outside of her eating disorder, and she was delightful. The eating disorder caused her to push who she really was so far down it was hard to see the light of who Cali truly was.
Eventually, after weeks of battling through this feeding tube and with the eating disorder, Cali started eating on her own. She went from refusing all food orally and only using the feeding tube, to eating her entire meal plan on her own. Something inside her changed. She was funny, really funny, she had dreams, aspirations, enjoyed writing, loved traveling, was able to have meaningful conversations about life and events and history and all things that are fabulous to talk about.
I remember, right before she was ready to transition from our care, we sat down on a bench outside with our coffees (full fat, delicious, flavored coffees), on a beautiful and sunny day. We were talking about life; what she was planning for when she goes home. She was talking about pursuing a career in journalism, traveling the world, writing and sharing real stories.
She had told me, “my life was so small before I was here and in the beginning of my treatment. All I cared about was how I looked on the outside, how small I could get, how I could manipulate my next feeding, my next purge, how big my butt looked, how sick I could get. I never thought about things that actually mattered to me. For the first time, I feel hopeful. I am able to think about things that are outside of myself. I am able to think about the future, what inspires me. I think about things that are a lot more interesting that what my eating disorder made me think. This new life that I have is a lot more fun and exciting.”
At that point, I started getting tearful, which is pretty easy for me when others start talking about their passions and dreams. I love when people are doing the things or thinking the things that they love and truly brings them strength and inspiration. It just always brings me tears of joy. This discussion helped me better understand the world that someone struggling with an eating disorder and negative body image lives in. I have seen this with someone struggling with a severe eating disorder to someone who feels uncomfortable in their body to someone on a rigid diet. It manifests similarly. I have been in that thought process myself and I do not have found memories of that time. I just remember thinking about a time when I felt I had to deprive myself of my favorite food, popcorn (buttered, salted, oiled, delicious popcorn!). I only allowed myself to have it on scheduled days and not actually when I wanted it. I would wish the days away until the next time I can eat popcorn. It reminds me of the signs I would place around the kitchen where I worked, “Don’t eat that cookie Dani, you don’t need it!”. Those signs would make me eat more cookies, most likely in spite! That life for me is long gone (as it can be for you too), that was prior to my knowledge of nutrition and intuitive eating and before I truly loved my body. I remember it being all consuming.
This thought process of; the next diet, I hate my body, I’m too fat, I can’t eat that; leads to the same, small, hopeless world. Those thoughts take the place of your inspiration, your hope, your dreams, your passion.
I believe knowledge is important. Knowledge and understanding of how to eat well, for you, for your body, is important. Guidance on how to learn to respect your amazing body – no matter the shape or size - and begin to find love for yourself is key. Once you begin this path of self-acceptance and nourishing yourself well, your world opens up, becomes grander, warmer, more beautiful, more inspiring.
Sometimes we get so lost within our own battles against ourselves that we lose sight of what truly brings us joy and value in our lives.
Just imagine – without the fear of food, fear of your body holding you back – OH, the places you will go!