How to embrace your OWN imperfectly perfect food recovery?
I know how hard the struggle of perfection can become in our lives especially when we’re young. We see people on screens who seemingly have it all while doing it all while being it all and we think there’s gotta be a certain formula, a certain metric, a certain magic drink that will make us be just like them! I know this all too well because for 10 years of my life, I just wanted to be perfect. I just wanted to be someone that I was not and to look like someone, really anyone, other than myself.
I believe that if you’ve ever struggled with food before or currently struggle now, you also most likely battle endlessly with perfection. I think many of us believe that if we control everything in our lives it will somehow make life safer, more expected, less scary, or unknown! We control our bodies, diets, routines, workout regimes, timetables, calendars, and more and we lose touch with the reality of peace, presence, or really ever having a sense of serenity!
I know for myself, my battle with food became an inability to ever ‘calm down’ all too quickly! It usually starts as a simple ‘wanting to clean up my diet some’ or ‘wanting to just lose a few pounds’ and in the blink of an eye, can morph into having to track each piece of gum I ate that day on my calorie-counting app! I used to try to ‘eyeball’ the amount of ketchup I would dip my fries into or the grams of salt in my salad so that I could be CERTAIN I didn’t mess up that day!
And what do I mean when I say ‘mess up?’ For me, and many others out there, messing up meant not following my rules to a tee! It means maybe leaving the workout 5 minutes earlier than I had planned and spending the rest of my day in anguish because of it. It meant calculating the calories of my dinner and then re-calculating and then re-calculating again to be certain that I didn’t miss 10 or 15 calories somehow. It meant not sleeping for 8 hours every night and waking with anxiety if I didn’t get my perfect night’s rest.
It meant my life had become so robotic and routine that I couldn’t seem to stop this cycle of trying to plan, perfect, and coordinate my life EXACTLY the way I thought it had to be to then ‘mess up’ about one hour into my morning and spend the rest of the day wallowing in my failure and planning to begin anew tomorrow morning!
It sounds a bit like OCD, right?
Looking back on my struggle with food and more so struggle with life, I don’t think it was true OCD, but I do think it was a trauma-based response to feeling unsafe and unworthy being myself.
Somewhere along the lines, little Emily had shown her true self to someone and they hurt her. They either judged or criticized or made fun of Emily and her true self, her true body, her true being, and from that point, Emily made up a story. She made up a facade of who she thought she had to be, who she thought she ought to be so that everyone would like her and she would never be hurt again.
You may be doing the same thing, my love.
We all have moments when we’re young of pain and attack. It can be a simple moment that in the blink of an eye, perhaps a teacher yelled at you for singing out loud or maybe a babysitter made some backhand comment about your hair or weight. These small moments carry significance if not handled properly and when we’re very young, we don’t know how to handle pain properly whatsoever.
So, we put on masks. Mine was to be the perfectionist who could do anything and everything all the time! I was terrified to ever seem lazy or un-motivating or uninspiring. I was addicted to being seen and being seen in a positive light because many years ago I was seen as my true self and someone hurt me because of it.
I was never abused or neglected or anything like that whatsoever! I was actually raised in a home of two incredible parents, a best friend younger brother, and tons of friends/family who always had my back!
I simply went to the doctor for a check-up one year and he told me to lose some weight. My small brain told me it was unsafe to show my true self and my true body, so I began to control everything in my path in the hopes that I would never be hurt by someone else again!
We control what we fear and I feared being my authentic being.
This is then what transpired my decade long battle with food! However, looking back at this time in my life, I didn’t just fight food. I was obsessed with controlling my diet, workout routine, homework schedule, work schedule, organizing everything I could get my hands on! I was addicted to schedules and plans and could never do something simply for the fun of it! I was always being productive somehow and it drove me straight into the ground as my anxiety and overwhelm heightened throughout college and I ignored all of my pain furthermore.
It finally all came crashing down when I decided to recover and this is what prompted me to write this blog post.
I had been fed up with my food struggles for quite some time, finally, coming to a full-blown peak as I left my first job out of school and broke up with my long-term boyfriend at the time! I knew I had to make a change and the change needed to be with my body-food-being relationship!
So, I committed myself to full recovery, whatever that was going to entail, however long it was going to take, no matter how many times I was going to want to quit… I was going to heal.
And then, I made another list. I made another schedule. I made another diet plan and another routine.
I was only going to gain weight slowly and what I deemed acceptable. I was only going to eat clean, safe foods, just maybe more of them! I was still going to work out every single day, but just hope it didn’t hurt my progress…
Do you see what happened?
I still tried to control it. I was still trying to be ‘perfect’ now simply with changed metrics around what ‘perfect’ Emily was. I was still trying to wear masks and manipulate my body and diet and day and life out of fear of being just me!
We like control.
And when we enter recovery, we think we just need to eat more.
What we need to do is work on healing and the release portion of the process.
We need to do more work around relaxing.
Doing less and feeling better about ourselves for doing so.
I had to learn that there is NEVER going to be a perfect Emily, so I needed to stop trying to find her in my disorder and my recovery.
I needed to be Emily.
That was the answer all along!
It can be really hard coming from a control-freak, Type A, regimented reality to being told you need to relax, slow down, and live life simpler. I know this all too well! However, I think it’s a key component of recovery that no one seems to touch on! We all spend our lives controlling food completely! Even when I suffered from binge eating, I would binge, then try to control my diet once again the very next day!
Then, we go into a phase of recovery where we are still trying to control. Still trying to plan and protect ourselves from being ourselves. Still trying to find the solution online, follow someone else’s recovery EXACTLY, find the answers and never sway from the meal plan at hand.
We need to let go.
And surrender that though we may be scared of the unknown, we may be fearful of losing our control...for me, the only thing my control ever brought me was more times I felt completely out of control.
For the more you try to control something, the more you try to perfect something, the more control it has over you.
& that’s the whole purpose of recovery: to stop being controlled by the things you so desperately try to hold rigid.