By Anne Falkowski
At 45, I made the decision to face my disordered eating. It was a dark creepy crawly which followed me around for more than half my life. (It’s not unusual for women in their 40s or older to have untreated eating disorders for twenty, thirty or even forty years.
I decided it was time to let go.
I could do this. But I needed help.
I called the experts and landed in an office the color of fog and ocean. The colors of healing. This was a place for anorexics, bulimics and eating disorders not otherwise specified (like myself).
There was a large rubber plate of fake food next to the tissue box. On this fake plate was a mound of beans, a thick slice of bread, a pile of broccoli and an unidentified piece of meat. I liked to run my fingers over the beans and feel their lumpiness.
It was in this ocean room, while I fingered the beans, when Mark, the therapist, told me I was a food restrictor.
“Are you sure? Wouldn’t I be thin if I did that?”
As always, I was hyperaware of my body which refused to be the size I wanted it.
“Well, not necessarily.”
His hand reached up to touch his tie. Mark always wore a shirt and tie. He was twenty years younger than me. At first his youth threw me. How could a clean cut baby-faced twenty something counsel me, a middle aged woman, who had been dealing or not dealing with disordered eating probably as long as he had been alive?
He told me that we cannot pick the bodies we want.
I wanted to be slim, slender, thin, and bony.
“It doesn’t work that way. We don’t get to choose our bodies.” He held my gaze.
“So what if I’m a restrictor. You mean I don’t eat certain foods or I hold back on the amount I eat? Isn’t that normal?”
Not for the first time, I mentally noted that the rubber mound of beans were more than one serving of food and who would eat both beans and bread at one meal?
Mark explained to me as if he had said this one hundred times before, “A restrictor is someone who counts calories.
I interrupted him. “I don’t count calories. So old school.”
“Or,” his voice got firmer, “someone who has so many rules around food and the rules give more power to food than food actually has.
“I’m a yoga teacher. Of course I have rules around food.”
Mark ignored my yoga comment and continued, “When you give food more power than it should have and continuously restrict, some people’s brains become obsessed.”
Well that was truth. My brain was obsessed. If I wasn’t thinking about food, I was thinking about losing weight or about how my body was too fat. All the time. All the fucking time.
“And then what happens is you start overeating, binging, or develop weird eating habits to compensate for the restricting.”
He pegged me. I binged. In shame, in the dark, and all alone.
But I thought I was a binger, not a restrictor.
Flipping this identity changed everything.
For the next six months I worked closely with Mark to undo the damage of restricting. He had me write down everything I ate so I could get a clear look at my eating patterns.
He had me throw out my long list of rules and trust that I knew how to eat in a way that served me. No food was off limits. For the first time in years I ate fish and chips with tarter sauce, cheeseburgers with french fries and downed it with a coke.
I lost ten pounds.
But more importantly I became unafraid of food.
My cupboards could be filled with potato chips, oreo cookies or kale and it didn’t matter. I no longer stuffed food down my throat, engaged in three-hour work-outs for damage control, or bargained with myself that I would eat nothing but rice cakes the next day.
I wish I could say the story ended there but disordered eating is not so simple; it looks for holes where it can slip back in.
When my yogi friends all went raw, it was seductive. I fantasized how beautiful I could become ingesting all that vital alive food instead of cooked dead food.
When it became hip to renounce gluten, giving up wheat tempted me like shiny baubles. My mind envisioned the svelte lady I could be giving up bread and pasta. But through my work with Mark, I knew these ways of eating were ultimately restricting and making rigid rules around food to lose weight would trigger my lopsided ways. I had to trust my body knew what it needed.
This past summer I ended up with a severe case of acid reflux. I tried to listen to my body but no matter what I ate- it burned.
After extensive blood tests, my naturopath told me to give up wheat, dairy, soy, corn, coffee, sugar and alcohol.
Maybe forever. Maybe not. “We’ll have to see how it goes for you,” she said business like.
Hearing her words, I started to freak.
Danger. Restricting. Go directly to jail.
What if I ended up out of control- starving and overeating-and never feeling safe or satisfied?
I had thirty something years of that shit stained mattress. I had finally trashed it and didn’t want to sleep on it ever again.
In the end I decided to take on the restriction diet for the healing of my gut.
It turned out to be so much more. I realized that this was not about giving up food for thinner thighs but for optimal health. If I lose weight, so be it. If not, I understand that getting thin is not what its about.
It has been three months and the burning in my stomach is all but gone. My skin is clearer and my eyes are brighter. I feel calm inside. Is it the absence of inflammatory food or is it that I realized I can ban certain foods and not lapse into disordered eating and body hatred?
Do I crave a piece of bread or a bowl of ice cream? Yep. From time to time.
But I also know that I can eat as much other food as I want. There is no limit. If I wanted a bowl of ice cream bad enough I would have one.
I feel like I have come all the way around now and can finally let go of food rendering me powerless.
Food can heal. Food can harm. But in the end food is just food.
The work I did with Mark on examining my rules and trust around food, played a big part in my ability to give up certain foods, whether temporary or not, without returning to out-of-control eating or self-hatred.
Because thats what disordered eating and body-image issues are: self-hatred, low self-esteem and lies.
Hey Body—I think I love you. These days I am so much more than just a body.
Whenever we choose to walk the path of healing, we change the direction of our life.
Anne Falkowski is a yoga teacher/workshop leader and a wannabe writer. She has published numerous articles on yoga and body image. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Terrific piece. You spoke to my soul.
Boy did you hit MY nail on the head!! I relate so much to everything you experienced … except the end. Still struggling with self-love and body image. May never ‘get’ it right … and i guess that might have to be it for me! xx’s