Weetabix x 2.
White toast x 2, butter.
Breaded haddock fillet, chipped potatoes, mushy peas.
Tuna mayo sandwich (wholemeal), 5-bean salad, side salad.
Peach full-fat yoghurt.
…& the usual PINT of semi-skimmed milk.
Am I referring to those little plastic things in poker? Or the shapes of potato? We could be talking Las Vegas OR an Eating Disorder inpatient Unit right now… …either way, all I know is that at lunch I took a gamble. Knife and fork as my witnesses.
By ticking ‘chipped potatoes’ (to be precise) on Friday’s menu, I had pretty much signed a divorce contract… taking the risk of saying ‘ta-ra’ to Anorexia. How would it react? Would it abandon me? Yes, I want to leave, but not so suddenly… ? I need time to make plans, to slowly get away.
This is why even when you’re so incredibly determined to recover, part of you will keep trying to cling on, drag it out, to let go a finger at a time… so eating chips, for me, is really a dive in the deep end (as the cliché goes).
I was ready for the mental abuse about telling me how pathetic and weak I would be without it by my side. By CHOOSING chips over mashed potato, ESPECIALLY as it wasn’t a ‘compulsory’ option (which would help life the shame/guilt a little…) was like a threat of ‘moving on too soon’ according to Anorexia.
I can see why some describe their Eating Disorder as being in an abusive relationship. The psychological manipulation. The fear of leaving that abuse behind… for something they tell you will be ‘worse’. That you may feel weak, but you’ll suffer more without them by your side… the lies about how the world without them is so big and scary…
…this reminds me of a particular feeling as a kid. At our local swimming pool in Cleethorpes, in the deep end where all the big people dare to go… there were metal rods on one side under the wall, right at the bottom of the water. I used to believe there were sharks living behind there. I had no evidence, but the atmosphere and the fear of the unknown was enough to warn me away. I hadn’t seen a shark… but I also hadn’t been behind there to see that there WASN’T a shark. So the fear had decided for me.
All the other kids believed it too. Me and my sisters used to swim up so close for that adrenaline, get each other all giddy and wound up, then quickly swam away like our lives were at stake. Before we got a chomp at our ankles.
It was terrifying. I had no evidence of what I believed was making me so afraid… but equally I wouldn’t choose to be in that pool alone in the dark at night for a free twenty pound-note. (a lottery win for someone eight/nine years old… )
Staying away from CHIPS was similarly feeding those dark and dangerous thoughts… Anorexia allowing me to think that way, to amplify what is in the real world, a perfectly safe situation. With only imagined, mentally constructed consequences…
All I could think of this morning up until dinner was the word ‘chips’ that now sounded so harsh and offensive and wrong and messy… my head had sent it into a whirlpool of created thoughts and images. The associations, a bit like white bread – the poor thing, are falsely pretty negative in today’s modern world…
…we latch onto them being ‘sinful’ and naughty. Well you may as well say that to a carrot. Because EVERYTHING is good for us. Which is why it’s frustrating putting work in to recover from an Eating Disorder, knowing that when you go back to the outside world, so many people in our world will continue to be under a false illusion. Of self-punishment, of judging food as black and white. Of seeing themselves as good or bad from what they’ve had to eat that day.
If I’m totally honest, that concept makes it more difficult for anyone to maintain a recovered lifestyle after an Eating Disorder. Society’s low self-esteem when it comes to food… we’re all emotionally wrapped up one way or another. The problem isn’t with the food itself, but around our self-control… from either end of the spectrum. Severely starved to severely overweight.
We all deserve the compassion and the education to learn how to survive in our rainbow of emotions. To dance and sit in the sh*t whenever it is presented. Not turning to food, self-harm or addiction.
Taking my plate back to the table, having just portioned my chunks of potato (because that’s all they are!)… it actually took me a couple of minutes to come round. I felt in a state of surprise… like if someone were to pretend to go to punch your arm, but actually poked you with their pinky… the feeling was quite similar.
Anorexia (and society’s general food shaming) had worked this idea up in my head as to how they would look. How I would feel even looking down at chips being on my plate, knowing that I’d taken on the responsibility of eating them. Was I overwhelmed? No. Did I feel greedy? No.
The portion was extremely reasonable. At the end of the day I wasn’t in a proper chippy (which is one of my ultimate recovery goals, so I’m not knocking it here…) where you would get a generous portion for your money… the idea on the Unit is to promote a ‘balanced’ plate of food groups. No measurements, no numbers, just visual guidance.
Nothing was measured or counted. And I still managed to feel relieved looking at a plate of food. Not just any plate of food – but fish and CHIPS. Thinking back to a couple of months ago I feel quite amazed that my brain could play this way. That it would ever be possible. Not only was I not calorie-counting, weighing every food, but I now felt positive things, showing evidence in the court to anything Anorexia had convinced me would be such a negative experience.
They weren’t ‘greasy’ like the word ‘chips’ echoes through my mind from all those negative associations. And surprisingly, I didn’t feel self-indulgent. Yes I could taste a little bit of whatever they were cooked or coated in… but they were a handful of bog-standard oven chips. And they tasted ‘fine’…
Did they stab my hand when I wasn’t looking? No… Did I faint at the sight of them? No… Did I survive the afternoon AND still feel motivated to complete my tea? Yes…
…because like everything, emotions are fluid. Everything passes. Even if I had found it traumatising to eat chips after so long, I now recognise that as humans we can ‘ride things out’ – no feeling is permanent.
Seeing and tasting the chips on my plate was like that little kid back at Cleethorpes swimming pool… peering my head between the metal bars and finding out there were no sharks there after all. And swimming away at a leisurely pace with a smile.
It was all my imagination.
I feel proud that I’m now one step closer to eating from a proper chippy – battered fish and tasty English chips… something I’ve been wanting to do with my mum for ages but I’ve never dared to think about it. It’s her ultimate favourite grub!
I never saw it as an option for me… not since I was about 8… a bit like admiring someone’s green eyes when you have brown, I just assumed I was never born with that ‘permission’ to make that decision… this is a way I described it in one of the groups the other day when I was explaining about my new discovery of white bread. That I almost ‘forgot’ there was another option available to me. That I didn’t HAVE to choose wholemeal bread all of the time. Suddenly realising you DO have options, can be empowering to say the least.
Anorexia pretty much tells you you’re pre-determined to be allowed certain foods. That if you eat these nice foods other people will eat, you will put on weight quicker than everyone else. That your body won’t be able to take it. That your head won’t be able to take it.
No-one is born with an Eating Disorder…
…Eating Disorder or not, we’re surrounded by other options and paths on a daily basis that we’re too busy, blind or distant to notice.
Let’s stop feeling ‘safe’ in our suffering and start taking more risks to discover what else is out there.