The Story Behind Your Eating Disorder & How to Truly Recover from it
Our brains love stories.
They run off narratives, plot lines, characters, and background information (history). We live our lives remembering what happened back then, trying to either recreate it if it was good and trying at all costs to ignore it if it brought us some sort of pain.
So, today, I want to talk about the story behind my eating disorder and I don’t mean how and when I struggled with food, I mean why I did, what was the story behind my struggle, and how could I rewrite the chapters within my novel? Let me tell you just that:)
I think the prologue to my struggle with food was my personality. And this is something, of course, I and you cannot change. I was a Type A girl growing up, with a perfectionistic personality and a sense of over-achieving at every turn! And while on paper this may sound motivational or inspiring, it was not, I ran off the approval of other people.
I chased good grades to have my parents tell me how proud they were of me. I was the President of every organization in high school and my college campus because I needed to be seen and heard to feel worthy and loved. I worked countless jobs and strived to be the perfect employee even if I hated the job in the first place or they treated me poorly.
Because when you tie your self-worth to something like accomplishments or achievements, it’s like giving your heart to other people for them to judge it, take advantage of it, either permit or deny you to love yourself. It’s a dangerous game because by planting my self-love roots in everyone and everything other than myself, I was going to be disappointed. I was going to feel like a failure. I was going to always be searching for that high approval. I was going to run myself ragged trying to make sure everyone loved me before I even asked myself if I loved me.
I was going to struggle to feel good enough. Every. Single. Day.
Because the only way I believed I was good enough was if people told me that I was.
And with that, let’s move into the body of the book.
I remember the first time I heard the word ‘good’ and ‘diet’ in the same sentence. I was at a holiday dinner and heard one of my cousins about five years older than me say, “I have been so good on my diet this year.”
What did that mean?
Could you be bad on your diet?
I had always run FAR away from bad grades or bad reviews or bad feedback. If I was told you did a ‘bad’ job on something my heart would sink into my sneakers. I was addicted to being told I was great, good, and grand! I couldn’t bear to have someone say I was even mediocre at something. Mediocre wasn’t good enough in my eyes.
What did it mean to be bad with your diet?
I googled it.
Being ‘bad’ meant that you were eating sweets, candy, cookies, chips, bread, pasta, certain fats, meat products, animal products, cheese, dairy, simple carbs, sometimes even fruit, some nuts, nut butter, soda, gum, starchy vegetables, oil, no wait, oil is okay, nope, now it’s not!
This was truly the moment I panicked!
WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO EAT!?!
I want to be good.
I have to be good.
I have to eat good to be good.
That right there >> that’s the plotline that ran my life for 10 years.
That my food meant something about me.
That my diet meant I was either good or bad.
Disciplined or off track.
Out of control or in control.
My diet became my religion and I believed everyone else saw it the same way, as well.
If I ate a cookie, I wasn’t actually scared of the cookie, I was scared of what the cookie MEANT about me. I was scared that other people noticed it meant something about me, as well. I was scared of the story behind my food. If I ate an apple, well that made me good, proud, disciplined, motivated, intelligent, routined, admirable. If I ate chips that made me ashamed, guilty, bad, lazy, inadequate, unacceptable, and certainly unlovable.
This is the story I want you to reread and rewrite.
What are you telling yourself that food means?
Not looking at food as “I’m scared of sweets,” I want to know, “What do you think sweets mean about you?”
I do this work with my clients and it never fails that the root of the pain is not the food because if it was we would all be scared of the same food for the same reasons.
For example, I never struggled to eat fruit or cereal. Two foods that are very commonly cut out by women who struggle with their food relationship. However, somewhere along with the storyline, I adopted the story that these foods were safe, I wasn’t bad for enjoying them, I wouldn’t be bad for eating them and then, I never struggled with them.
It’s the meaning and power behind the food that makes us fear it.
It’s the power of the language, influence, and pressure to identify with our diets in society today.
Food means absolutely nothing about you. It’s the least most interesting, inspiring, or motivating thing there is about someone. I’ve never thought to myself, in my real life, I’ll choose her as my friend because she also ordered the side salad. Never.
We need to identify with our identity, not our plates or scales.
And how do you start to rewrite this story when the old characters and scenes come back to tell their tale?
“What is the story I’m telling myself right now?”
I use this still to this day! If I find myself internally freaking out about food, I ask myself this question. “What is the story I’m telling myself right now? What am I making this food mean about me?”
And sometimes it’s harder to identify than other times! But, there is always a story rooted in pain beneath food struggles. There is always an identity crisis at the wound. There is always a reach to be good enough, to fit in, to be accepted, to be approved upon.
And once you can find the root of the weed and pull it, you will be free.
Our brains run off stories, but stories that are written in pencil. They can be altered, updated, and changed completely.
I urge you to pick up your pencil and make some changes.
To challenge the belief that your worth is tied to the food you eat or do not eat.
Your relationship to the world, your dreams, your relationship to others, your relationship to yourself is more important than what you do or do not eat.
I promise you that.