• Emily Formea

What a Stack of Pancakes Taught me about my Eating Disorder

When I was 12 years old, I developed an eating disorder.

I went from being the girl who freely ate Fritos with her friends to counting every single carrot stick I packed in my lunch.

In a matter of 5 months, I found myself hospitalized for anorexia and then, finally released to be on supervision from a dietician and therapist every week for the foreseeable future.

I only went to therapy four times.

I wanted to start this story this way because I think it showcases a very important misconception around eating disorders and especially those who struggle with them: My disorder shape-shifted.

And why is that?

Why when I was in the hospital, I had never been more sick, going into treatment I hadn’t eaten a piece of bread in 5 months, yet when I was in the hospital and for a time after I left treatment, I would eat however much bread someone put in front of me?

Because I was a shapeshifter and you may be, as well.

My struggle with food was a struggle with my identity.

Going into the hospital, I wasn’t eating anything processed, most carbs and fats, only lean proteins and vegetables and a few fruits if I had too. Then, when I came out for a few months, I was eating exactly to my meal plan. Enjoying higher-calorie foods, I didn’t even bat an eye when I was told to eat peanut butter before bed and milkshakes in the morning because I was going to be perfect at whatever I had to do and then, all I had to do was please my nutritionist.

My point is my problem was never really with food.

It was with what I thought food meant about me.

If someone had told me that cake would make you beautiful and skinny and desirable, I probably would have eaten cake every day, but no one says that.

The war on food has gotten so out of hand that I believed that bad food made me bad and good food made me good.

However, my definitions of good and bad food or eating habits changed throughout my disorder depending on who I was listening to, who I was seeking approval from, who I was trying to please.

When I left the hospital, my sole focus was to please my nutritionist and therapist >> and I did!

Then, going to college, I wanted to please my parents with my food and not lose weight or they would pull me out of school >> so I did!

Then, and here we come in with the pancake story, I wanted to please my boyfriend in college…

So, I did!

My boyfriend was super into weightlifting and macro-counting. Now, he NEVER pressured me to be into these things, as well! He made it very clear to me that he would never pressure me around food or my body/workout routine because he knew my past struggle with food and for that, I am forever grateful for him!

But, I had to ‘fit in.’ I had to be perfect with this new perfectionist plan of being the girl into weightlifting and macro-counting. I began to go to the gym every day, watched thousands of YouTube videos on how to program weight lifting for women, and of course, started to track my macros.

If you aren’t familiar with macro-counting, it’s when you not only track calories, but you also track how many carbs, fats, and proteins you eat in a day. So, you track calories, but also where the source of those calories is coming from.

Of course, I was pumped! This was a new plan, regimented routine that I could perfect! I could use this as another distraction from my anxiety and insecurities!

I began to track and workout 5 days out of the week. I was becoming incredibly stronger and toned and for sure eating more than I had even in treatment, which was good!

However, the lesson here was this: I ate pancakes every single day.

And not even the ‘whole grain, banana, vegan’ pancakes.

I ate pancakes from the box mix every day and I never batted an eye at it.

When I was in treatment, the one meal I cried over in the hospital was pancakes. They made us eat all of our meals and snacks together with a nurse and I cried when they placed a huge stack of pancakes in front of me. To this day, I don’t know what scared me so much about them, but trust me, I was scared.

And yet, here I was, two years later and eating them every single day.

Because I had taken advice once again from someone else on how my diet should look.

  • It wasn’t because the media all of a sudden found that pancakes cure cancer.

  • It wasn’t because I only ate one meal a day and they happened to be pancakes.

  • It wasn’t because I permitted myself to eat freely, I was still heavily restricting back then and not allowing hardly anything ‘processed’ to enter my body.

It was because my boyfriend told me that pancakes were a good source of energy for lifting.

And that he ate pancakes a lot.

Then, so did I.

My advice to you if you’re trying to find peace with food is this: Make your own opinion of food first and most important.

You will hear that apples cure anxiety and then the next day that apples can kill you if eaten more than three times a week.

We fear food so much when we should fear our relationship to it because that means something about us and how we view ourselves in this world.

Your relationship to food will ALWAYS be more important than what food you eat or don’t eat because just like I allowed everyone in my life to choose my food permissions for me, I also suffered from doing the same with my major, my career, my outfits, the books I read, music I listened to. But the moment I chose to embrace my authentic, goofy, imperfect self >> I never felt more at peace.

I was a shapeshifter, remember?

And you may be too.

My problem was never with food.

It was that I always ate, spoke, acted, moved, and lived for other people.

Sincerely, XO Emily

Sincerely, XO Emily || 2020

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