As part of my commitment to eating disorder recovery, I’ve decided to work my way through Christy Harrison’s podcast, Food Psych.
I started with episode #182, Fitness Culture, Hypothalamic Amenorrhea, and Why Hleath is Not an Obligation with Cara Harbstreet
CN: Description of eating disordered thinking
Your body isn’t meant to be at a weight that it can only sustain through restriction.
Christy Harrison, The Truth About your Weight
I was very interested to find out about exercise bulimia, not least because I believe that I suffered from it for years. It’s reassuring to have a term for this kind of eating disordered experience. When I stopped showing the more conventional symptoms of bulimia, I thought I was better, but then I started engaging in exactly the kind of behaviours described in the article above. I exercised compulsively in my late twenties and early thirties, and my experience of exercise is still hijacked by my eating disorder. I find it very hard to exercise without making it into a sort of penance for eating. It’s a difficult condition to address because we tend to view exercise as being always beneficial.
This devastating article about boarding school trauma helped me to better understand my father. He was sent to a brutal Catholic boarding school and suffered from a lot of the symptoms described on the survivors website. He was a workaholic and terrified of abandonment. He struggled to maintain friendships outside of the immediate family circle and couldn’t give up the cigarettes that eventually killed him. He was sent to boarding school at eleven, which is older than most of the men featured in the article, but what makes my father’s case so horrible is the fact that he was abandoned by his mother at the age of five. I just can’t imagine the trauma of that second abandonment by his father’s family. On reflection, I’m surprised that my father managed to be as functional as he was in life.
I just took a big step in eating disorder recovery and got rid of the last of my “skinny clothes”. I’ve only ever been able to fit into these clothes during the times when I’ve been doing something extreme to reduce my weight. They’ve been lurking in my wardrobe for years, taunting me, whispering, “What a failure you are. If you only worked a bit harder, you could get into us again”. “Skinny clothes” is a euphemism really, it would be more honest to just call them my “eating disorder clothes”.
About a year ago I was getting really tired of the morning panic attacks and decided to dispose of all the clothes that were making me feel miserable about my body. I began the process of removing them, starting by bagging up the worst offenders and putting them out of sight for a few weeks, and then taking them to a charity shop when I felt ready.
Content note: post contains descriptions of eating disordered thoughts and feelings and discussion of my desire to lose weight.
My eating disorder has been getting worse ever since my father died. I manage not to act on the thoughts and feelings, at least most of the time, but they’re definitely getting more insistent. While I may be keeping the symptoms to a minimum, I’m obsessed with the idea of losing weight and feeling more sensitive to triggers than ever before.
Content note: description of self-harming behaviour
For a long time now I’ve felt deeply ashamed about some of the things I did during the time when I was experiencing the worst of my mental health problems. I’ve tried very hard to forget but I still find myself lying awake at night in a cold sweat of shame and horror, replaying it all in my head.
When I look back at that time in my life, I can see that it was characterised by an absolute inability to identify and cope with the strong emotions I was experiencing. I still struggle to identify emotions, but back then, well, the phrase “emotionally illiterate” doesn’t even begin to cover it. Because a lot of my emotional responses were based on past trauma, they were disproportionate to the events that were triggering them in the present. I was sort of aware of this at the time, but I didn’t understand what was happening or why. All I knew was that I was experiencing unbearable emotional pain. I felt like I had a volcano inside me that was always threatening to erupt and, when it did erupt, that I was utterly in its power. I couldn’t seem to control either the emotions I was feeling, or my own behaviour in response to them. The experience of being driven by emotions that you can’t even name is quite terrifying.
Content note: discussion of ED triggers and strong emotions
I think I have finally had a breakthrough in my struggle with eating distress. This breakthrough has come about through work I’ve been trying to do on the relationship between anger and fear in my life.