I am doing Whole 30. Today is Day 18. I’ve made it pretty far into this program. There are 12 more days to go but I have little doubt at this point that I will finish. I may dive directly into melted chocolate on Day 31, but I’ll make it. So, I’m doing Whole 30, Dan and I committed to doing it together. I’m doing it with him, with him and with an eating disorder.
I haven’t talked much about this partly because it’s embarrassing, and partly because the eating disorder tells my brain that since I’m not under 100 pounds with my organs failing, I can’t actually have an eating disorder. “Skinny chicks have those and you, my girl, have never been skinny.”
The voice in my head is wrong. I had the first clue something was wrong in 9th grade, though I believe it started long before then. I was eating only one apple a day. I was exceedingly happy. The hunger pains that were my constant companion were a badge of honor. I could withstand what others could not. I was in control; I was strong. I was going to win! There have been other flare-ups, college was rough. I stopped eating completely for short periods of time. There were portions of my marriage where the disorder ran my life. But the last few years have been better.
One of the ways I knew something was wrong with me was that I always knew who was winning. I kept a running tally of friends, family members, strangers, celebrities, and girls at the gym who were ahead of me; I was losing to them. They were skinnier. I am not the ideal body size and shape for an American woman, they are, therefore they win and I lose. I wanted to be something else. I fantasized about how to make my body into an ideal shape. Surgery, starvation, pills, nothing was off the table. If I could have made myself shorter, I would have done that too. I didn’t just want to be something else, I compulsively worked toward that end, always falling short and ultimately telling myself: “Those girls are winning. You are losing. You’re unattractive and a loser.” Even when I have felt like my body looked good, I still carried with me the belief that I was losing.
There are a million ways this disorder has run my life behind the scenes. One glaring way is that I have only ever dated two men I have been physically attracted to in my whole adult life. Eighteen years and almost everyone I have dated was someone I didn't find attractive, including the one I married. (Luckily one of those two is my partner now J) The madness behind this was the eating disorder. There was no point in trying to date anyone I found attractive because I could never be on their level. If they were attractive then clearly, they were out of my league. It made more sense for someone like me just to settle.
Exercise has been keeping my eating disorder calmer for the past several years. Eight months ago those coping skills were dealt a serious blow when I severely injured my arm. I couldn’t get dressed without pain, run without pain (because the arm bounced), hold my children without pain. Pain became my companion. I wasn’t able to exercise. Exercise was the thing that kept me at a tenuous peace with my body. On top of that I went on several rounds of steroids, having no idea that those medications cause weight gain and they certainly did. My peace was gone.
The blows to my normal coping skills kept coming. I found out I would be having hip surgery. There would be no running, no lifting, none of that for much longer than it would take to rehab my arm. I felt like I was in an existential crisis. Most people would gladly take 6-9 months off from working out, but I felt like a chair had been pulled out from under me. I didn’t know how to manage life if I couldn’t run my stress away, lift my stress away, or be the strongest, most badass female at the gym. Those things were etched into my identity and without them I was lost. Plus, then I would go back to losing.
The situation was a perfect storm for disordered eating to return. My thought-life spiraled, along with my emotions. I didn’t want this broken body. I wanted the one I was used to, the one I could beat into submission. Bodies aren’t meant to be treasured, they’re meant to be trained! All my old habits started creeping back in. I obsessively tracked everything I ate. I worked out even when I wasn’t supposed to because I was desperate for control. I hid my body from other people, ashamed and embarrassed to be seen like this. I didn’t want to be touched. Old voices began taking center stage, reminding me how hideous I was. I believed them. I tracked everything I could think of, my food, my weight, my measurements, my steps, my sleep, my water. Everything, in hopes that I could just get a little control back. I was unsuccessful.
Finally, I went to see my therapist. I fought with her for an hour and a half before she proved to me I was again fighting an eating disorder. That this thing had control over me and I did not. I was honest with her. I told her, I didn’t care. If it made me skinny that was fine. She encouraged me to consider if I would be okay with talking to my daughter the way I allowed the eating disorder to talk to me. Uh, no. Definitely not. Could I give myself a little compassion? I acknowledged that maybe the tracking was a little out of control. And perhaps the disordered voice in my head was a bit of cunt, an effective one, but nonetheless still not a kind person to be living in there. I agreed to work on it, to attempt to stop doing some obsessive behaviors and consider disagreeing with the bitch in my head from time to time.
What does any of this have to do with Whole 30?! Dan decided that he was going to do Whole 30 and on a whim (shortly after my meeting with my therapist) I said to him “I’ll do it with you,” all cheerful-like. It hit me later that a restrictive program like this one could be dangerous for someone with an eating disorder. I wanted to back pedal and find a way out. Plus, changing my morning coffee sounded like a terrible idea. Before I backed out I decided to read the book. I learned that the Whole 30 program was single-mindedly against tracking. I wouldn’t be weighing myself, counting calories, measuring my body. Nothing. All my familiar, comfortable, debilitating habits were not permitted.
I called my therapist and talked it over with her. She encouraged me to fully research the program and ask two doctors if it was healthy for me before committing. I followed her instructions and decided to go for it.
Now, I’m not going to sit here and say I’m cured in 18 days. That would be ludicrous. But I will say the biggest benefit from this program for me so far has been what it has done for my eating disorder. I’m “not allowed” to participate in those obsessive behaviors. That permission has given me tons of freedom that I didn’t anticipate. Am I anxious about slipping back in to my old habits at the end of 30 days, you bet I am. But I at least now know one way out. Secondly, this program because of its rigidity, has freed me from that voice that was constantly judging me for everything I ate. Condemning and belittling me. It was a bitch to live with that. I’m also not going to lie and tell you I don’t miss comfort foods, because I sure as hell do. But I certainly don’t miss feeling judged every time I ate them.
Do I hope I lose weight through this program? Yes, I do. Will I be mad if I don’t, probably. But what I have gained, the possibility of freedom from an eating disorder, is worth so much more than a number.