I know I haven’t done a “Life with Ed” post in awhile, and I really am sorry about that. It’s been weighing on my mind a lot and I know that y’all are waiting on a post about how to help the people you know that have eating disorders. That’s a much more complicated post than it sounds like, so trust me that I’ve been working on it and it’s coming soon. I have not forgotten about it. Today, I want to talk a little bit about what my life looks like at this point in my recovery. A lot has changed since I first started writing this series, so I feel like it is time for an update. If you’re new to my blog and have no idea what I am talking about, start here.
Disclaimer: This is a series of posts about my experiences with anorexia and bulimia. Many of the things I discuss could be extremely triggering if you are dealing with an eating disorder, so please read at your own risk. I am not an doctor or a therapist. I am simply telling you my story. I will discuss my current weight in this post, so if numbers bother you, please do not keep reading.
As you probably know, I had surgery to fix my severe chronic acid reflux back in February. What you may not know (unless you listened to my interview over at Marathon Training Academy) is that my surgery left me with the physical inability to throw up. My surgeon had told me that there was about a 50% chance of that happening, because the entire point of the surgery is to keep acid and food from coming back up your esophagus, so it stands to reason that doing so would, well, keep acid and food from coming back up your esophagus. My surgeon did not know that I am bulimic and I made a point not to tell him because I knew he would not perform the surgery if he knew – the risk of me relapsing and injuring myself would be too high if I was one of those 50% who couldn’t throw up. In fact, when we were doing our initial consultation and I asked about not being able to throw up anymore, he actually made a joke about how it wouldn’t be a very good idea if I was bulimic. Story of my life, right?
You may be wondering, then, why I would get a surgery that medical professionals wouldn’t recommend for someone with my condition. Well, that’s a pretty complex explanation. First of all, I really really don’t like other people trying to make my decisions for me. It’s not a matter of being stubborn, because I can be convinced, I just don’t like being told that I can’t do something. You can tell me I shouldn’t, but not that I can’t. Second, I felt like this was a really important point in my recovery. Choosing to get this surgery would effectively mean I was closing the door on bulimia. It felt like I would be making a commitment to myself and my recovery that I hadn’t been prepared to make before, and that idea was kind of empowering. Third, and perhaps most importantly, I was really sick of acid reflux. REALLY SICK. After trying a million diet and lifestyle changes, every medication on the market, and realizing that surgery was pretty much the only way I would have consistent relief, I knew that I had a way out. I didn’t want to live with reflux forever, and I didn’t have to. That was a pretty powerful motivator.
But I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t freaked out by the idea of never being able to throw up again. It’s not like you’re allowed to try it out to see if you can, although I’ve since had some complications that have confirmed that I cannot. My mom asked me what I planned to do if I had a bad day and started freaking out because I couldn’t purge, and I had no real answer. When I sat down and thought about it, I figured that if the situation became really desperate, I would most likely start restricting my calories again and my eating disorder would swing back to closer to anorexia on the spectrum. My mother wasn’t particularly comforted by that answer, as you might imagine, but the one good thing about anorexia is that the behaviors are much more noticeable than the behaviors of bulimia. People notice when you don’t eat, especially if they’re looking out for it. To me, that knowledge was comforting. Even though relapse is always a possibility, I felt safer (for lack of a better word) knowing that I wouldn’t really be able to hide the way I used to.
Since I had surgery, I have not had acid reflux a single time. The results are better than I could have possibly imagined. I also have not thrown up once – because I can’t. As of today, that means I officially have not thrown up for 60 days. That is the longest streak ever since I first became bulimic 8 years ago, and it’s a pretty big deal to me. Even though it is facilitated by necessity, it feels like a victory nonetheless, because I was able to make the leap to get to this point in the first place. So, that part of things is going well.
But there are parts that are not going well, or not going better. Previously, my entire recovery effort hinged on controlling the behaviors associated with my eating disorder and hoping that the thoughts that cause the behaviors would go away in time. Now, I am mostly left with my thoughts. I notice it all the time, but some days more than others. Lately, I’ve been running a lot and bumping up my mileage and speed. I’m training hard to achieve some goals that I have set for myself, and it’s been hard work. Having learned a few weeks ago that my body can no longer process sugar, my diet has changed considerably.
The other morning, I found myself feeling really heavy, for lack of a better word. Fat, I guess. I looked in the mirror and saw a giant staring back at me. I figured I must have gained weight, and although I try not to weigh myself very often, I couldn’t resist stepping on the scale to assess the damages.
I had lost 5 pounds since the last time I weighed myself and 10 pounds since I had surgery.
Is 5 pounds a lot of weight? No, but I’m not a very big person anyway. And when you’re feeling heavy and expecting to see that you weigh more than you did a couple of months ago, it’s kind of shocking. That moment served as a horrible reminder of how screwed up my head is. Despite the fact that a lot of my clothes are now much looser than they used to be and that I look noticeably thinner in pictures, when I look in the mirror, I see a giant cow. I see huge thighs and a muffin top and a person that basically isn’t real. I feel heavy and bloated and fat even when I am not. When I look at pictures of myself, I understand that I am thin because it feels like I am looking at a different person, like someone who isn’t real. But when I’m in my own body and looking at myself in the mirror, there is some kind of disconnect that happens that I can’t explain, and all of a sudden I’m looking at someone who is literally obese. The signals get messed up somewhere and I lose the ability to perceive the reality of my body and shape.
This is why I say that eating disorder patients don’t have a goal weight, which is part of what separates them from people who simply diet. Even as my weight gets lower, I do not become more satisfied. Usually, I start to feel worse. At a minimum, I feel just as heavy as I did before. Seeing the number on the scale go down while still feeling so big only reinforces that “smaller” is not enough. You always have more to lose. When I weighed myself last week, I weighed 120.2 pounds. Literally, the first thought that flashed across my brain when I saw that number was “I’ve got to get into the teens.” Why do I need to get into the teens? There is no reason. 120 is already less than I normally weigh, and dropping a few more pounds will put me in the “underweight” BMI category for my height. My clothes are already much looser than they used to be. This is dangerous territory for me. Seeing the number on the scale go down is like a trigger for me that is hard to stop once it’s been started. An underweight BMI is a source of pride, even if that measurement really means nothing. I can’t even explain why.
Before you ask, I haven’t consciously been restricting my calories. I have been eating mostly normal foods and trying to eat frequently throughout the day to keep my digestive system happy, but cutting sugar out of my diet has dramatically decreased the number of calories I take in each day. I am a total dessert and Sprite whore – I literally eat dessert after every lunch and dinner (and sometimes breakfast) and I used to drink at least one soda per day. I can’t do that anymore, and I’m supposed to be eating smaller, more frequent meals now, so eating as much as I did before is a challenge. Combine that with the fact that I’m upping my mileage and I’m not usually hungry after I run, and now I’m losing weight without even trying. Whether I’m doing it on purpose or not, the lower my weight goes, the lower I want it to keep going.
In the interest of transparency and honesty, I told all this to AJ a few days ago. His response was “I’m throwing away the scale.” This overwhelming sense of panic and anxiety washed over me, which is odd since I haven’t weighed myself before this in probably about a month. It’s definitely not something I do every day, but just knowing I wouldn’t be able to anymore if I wanted was terrifying. And my immediate thought was “I’ll just buy another scale and have it sent to my office.” The sad thing is I really would do that if I was desperate enough, and I wouldn’t think twice about it. For the record, I have not done that – yet.
Although it may seem like my recovery isn’t going very well at the moment, there are a lot of victories to be celebrated. I haven’t thrown up a meal in 60 days. Considering that I was purging very regularly before my surgery, that’s a big step forward. I have not actively restricted my calories with the intention of losing weight. Both of those things are a pretty big deal, especially with the uncertainty I was facing after my surgery. But just when I start to feel like I’m making progress, my brain slaps me back down again and I’m reminded that I have a whole lot of work left to do before I have a healthy relationship with food, and more importantly, myself. It’s a long road.