Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Recovery in a food/weight/exercise crazy world

I went into the kitchen at work to grab my lunch yesterday and the first thing I heard from a coworker was "I can't eat that, I'm doing a cleanse!"  I resisted the urge to shove my fingers in my ears, grabbed my food, and ran.  And people wonder why I eat lunch at my desk every day. 

I respect people's right to talk about whatever they want over lunch, I really do, but when it's always the calories in their meal or how they're getting fat or how long they're going to the gym for after work, I just can't handle it.  My brain chimes in mentally with "you can work out for longer than that" or "you should do a cleanse too".  It's hard because I don't know what other people see when they look at me but I worry that it's a chubby, out of shape girl.  And I want to show them I can fast more, work out longer, or lose weight better than them.  I worry people think I'm lazy for not going to the gym on my lunch break or fat for eating a piece of candy.  It's enough to make me want to stand on a chair and announce what a victory for me these things are, despite the fact that in our culture they look bad. 

I do wish I didn't look for external validation that recovery is a good thing.  But even after all this time recovery still feels so wrong and unintuitive sometimes.  I need to be reminded that what I'm doing is right and good for me.  That's why it was so hard a couple months ago when I told my mom that I bought regular ice cream and she brushed it off like it was nothing.

It's also frustrating when I'm constantly telling myself that recovery is good and then things happen like friends talking about their food intake for a day consisting of Thai iced tea.  This happened last week with my friend "Emma" again.  I get it, I don't look sick.  And I guess (if my coworkers are any example) this is what people talk about.  But she knows I was anorexic.  Anyhow, I finally told her she can't tell me these things.  When she asked why not I explained that my brain will turn it into a competition.  I don't know if that was the right thing to say or if it'll get through to her but hopefully. 

I told my boyfriend about it later and he sighed, "She's an idiot.  Want me to talk to her?"  I feel like the luckiest girl in the world to have someone who's so supportive of me.  When I need that validation that recovery is the right thing all I have to do is ask.  He'd tell me every day how proud he is of me that I make healthy choices and take care of myself if I needed him to.  I don't know what I'd do without him.

I think this issue of recovering in a culture that supports food and weight loss and exercise obsession is something anyone who's tackled ED recovery has dealt with.  In particular it's really other people's conversations that get to me the most.  I don't feel at all qualified to offer advice since I still struggle but I thought it might be helpful (mostly to remind me!) if I laid out the best ways I've found to deal with it.  So here goes.

1.  Tell people the truth.  Eating disorders are so taboo, it's ridiculous.  I've been known to, when someone recommends a diet to me, say "That sounds nice but I used to be anorexic.  I have to be really careful about restrictive eating plans."  I've gotten everything from silence to total understanding in response but I always feel better.

2.  Walk away.  I don't feel comfortable telling some people, like my coworkers, my history.  In that case I just leave.  If someone's actually talking to me I might smile and make an excuse but I get out of the situation.  I find my brain starts to chill as soon as I'm not actively hearing the conversation.

3.  Have a good support system.  Ask friends or your signifigant other to watch out for scary food/etc. talk and change the subject if it happens.  Generally I have trouble doing that myself since I find that kind of conversation like looking at a car crash.  I know I shouldn't keep listening but I can't stop. So someone else doing it is a relief.

4.  Remind yourself why recovery is good.  When I find myself still thinking about other people's gym hours days later I mentally go back to the reasons why I don't overexercise anymore.  I think about how much happier I am now and how much that time sucked.

5. Criticize other people.  It sounds bad but hear me out.  When all else fails I'll think about things like how badly my coworker who talks about her skipped meals is messing up her metabolism and will probably get fat later because of it.  Is that actually true?  I have no idea but it does make me feel better about what I'm doing and helps keep me on the straight and narrow.  In the end I think whatever keeps me in recovery is a good thing.

Any other tips out there?  I'm sure there are some better ones than mine and I'm always on the look-out for new ways to make recovery easier.