I get this question a lot.
Truth is- looking back- when I first consented to going to rehab I thought I was entering the motherland in terms of nutrition.
GOD FINALLY, I thought. Off to the land of Kale Smoothies and Quinoa.
Butternut Squash and plump Eggplants.
Coconut milk ABUNDANCE.
There’s no limit to the whole grains and veggies, I pictured gleefully.
IN FACT, I’LL TOTALLY EVEN LOSE WEIGHT IN REHAB! (my secret goal)
I won’t be binging cereal, I reckoned, and I’ll have nature’s vitamins at every meal- I’ll be a slenda’ beyotch when I leave!
If you’re shaking your head as you read this, well, join the club. In complete candidness, I never would’ve agreed so easily to rehab had I known ahead of time what the meals were going to be like.
By the end of my 8+ year eating disorder cycle, nearly every food was off limits to my diet. The Orthorexic (obsession with eating healthy) side of the cycle had spiraled into years of google searching every sodium/carb/fat content in almost every food group you can think of- and for that reason alone, I had gone vegan to try and “fight back” against the horrid FDA clogging our American pores with GMOs and Fat.
I “knew” everything back then. I may not have always remembered what year Columbus “discovered” America (because, hey, that wasn’t relevant to my disorder), but I knew every damn calorie on every tbsp. of almonds, cup of blueberries, and/or bag of chips you could put in front of me. So you can imagine my horror when on the first day I was forced to ingest 27g sugar yogurt (I’m still bitter over that if you can’t tell. I’ve mentioned it in several posts.) alongside a hunk of chicken, brown rice, and some carrots.
WHERE’S THE COUSCOUS? THE STEAMED COLLARDS? THE SEITAN?
A patient next to me laughed that first day. “Oh honey,” she said. “Have you ever been to rehab before?”
No, I said- shaking my head. God, course not, I remember thinking- People come back to this?
She smiled. Okay well yeah, it’s not gonna be what you think it is.
What do you mean?
The food’s shit, she said- and everyone around her agreed, shaking their head vehemently. Like forget about all your veggie crap. You were all vegan before, yeah?
You’re not getting that here, she said. They do it on purpose.
Feed you basic shit. No frilly stuff, she paused then. But it makes sense. They’re just trying to show you that you can eat whatever.
But I can’t eat ‘whatever’- No one should just eat ‘whatever.’
They don’t. They divide up all the food groups, she said- showing me a piece of paper from her binder. Everything’s measured, she pointed to my plate. Tomorrow they’ll make you write it all down like I’m doing. The quantities of everything you’re eating. They measure it all out to get you all the food groups you need.
No way in HELL is there a food group based on 27g of sugar, I said- pointing to the yogurt label.
She smiled. Like I said, they don’t care about that. You just have to write it down here so they can check it every night.
I looked down at her paper- saw each of the things she’d eaten all day marked on a column along with the measurements.
2 Waffles (Eggo), 1 tbsp syrup, 1 banana, 1 tbsp. butter, 1 cup milk.
A whole banana- I thought. DON’T they know the sugar content of a banana?!
Butter AND syrup? I scowled. We do this every meal?
What’s that part? I asked, pointing to the right side of the paper.
Our mood when we eat. We have to write some bullshit about how it makes us feel when we’re done.
JESUS, I said, scanning the paper. We eat ALL of this everyday?
Yep, she smiled. But you’ll get used to it.
No I won’t. I’ve never eaten this much ever.
She shrugged. You just get used to it.
One year later, I’d love to say that I did get used to the quantity of food we had to eat, but I’d be glorifying the past.
It was difficult for me throughout my 8+ weeks in rehab to consume the portions of three meals a day. Some days were fine- others weren’t.
I always felt full, and that was something I’ve never enjoyed the feeling of – even to this day.
I can laugh about it now; I’ve accepted it as part of my disorder- but I’ve got about a 45-minute period of time that will always be my post- lunch ‘angry birds mood’ and I’m learning to cope with it.
Feeling full has never felt very natural to me. Even as a child, I never had a big interest in food. I ate 25 things growing up- they were comfort- I knew what to expect, and that’s just what I ate.
What eating in rehab gave me, however, was a realization that all food in moderation is acceptable.
I fought tooth and nail with my eating disorder to disprove that too.
At some point my first week in- once I fully realized that no steamed collards were coming my way- I decided to just ‘let go.’
Fine, I thought- staring down at a donut one night. (We had to eat dessert 3x a week.) You wanna feed me shit, rehab? FINE. Feed me crap- and you’ll see how fast I’m gonna balloon up.
THAT’LL SHOW ‘EM.
I had visions of me lopping along the hallways in a wheelchair- too big to fit through doors.
At least then it’ll justify my disorder, I thought- letting the grease-ridden donut dissolve in my mouth.
I was going on a crusade.
For weeks afterwards, I’d tumble out of bed at 5am for our morning vitals and peer over the nurse’s shoulder to check my weight when she wrote it down (yes, it was wrong. But I’m being honest)
I was so thoroughly convinced that everything I’d eaten the day before was going to stick to me like glue. I could “FEEL” the Oreo in my thigh; the chicken in my midsection.
Every day I peered over her shoulder with a nauseating fear of what that number would be-
And EVERY morning I was faced with a dose of reality that I couldn’t believe.
IT. WAS. THE. SAME. DAMN. NUMBER.
WHAT, I’d think- shaking my head when I’d walk out.
I’d think of the chicken, the beans, the 1/4 cup of cheese.
The TBSP. OF SOUR CREAM.
How am I NOT getting bigger?
“Because you’re eating in moderation,” my therapist said to me one day. ”Lindsey, you can play this game the whole time you’re here and that’s fine. But your weight is where it wants to be. We’re not trying to hurt you,” She smiled. “We’re just trying to show you that your body wants moderation. It wants all the food groups. It wants variety.”
“But, HOW is this normal?” I asked her. “My weight went up and down all the time before now.”
“Think about how you ate,” she said. “Think about what you were doing when you’d starve, binge, and run it all off. Your body didn’t know what the hell you were going to do to it. So when you ate, it saved. That way when you starved it had something to fall back on.”
I was quiet on the couch that day, chewing my finger.
“Your body is telling you something Lindsey,” she paused. “It’s telling you where it wants to be in the real world- and it’s this weight. You will most likely never again eat with the same accuracy that you do here,” she said. “But take this knowledge with you when you go. Remember this.”
Truth is, I don’t always remember- or agree one year later. Sometimes, I look at people around me and scowl to myself “Why can’t my natural body be a toothpick?”
But, I did learn something valuable in my quest to disprove the rehab eating method. While I have returned to a predominately vegetarian diet, I don’t shy away from the Chicken Cordon Blue when I’m in the mood.
I don’t eat a snack pack of Cheez-It’s and think it magically “appears” on my thighs.
Your body wants to find balance. It craves balance. Opening myself back up to foods of all types has taken away a tremendous amount of urges for me. Allowing myself to eat a cookie and not feel guilty about it keeps me from binging an entire box of sugar-free wafers later.
I get nervous sometimes, sure. But in the year I’ve been out of rehab my weight has fluctuated a grand total of 4lbs depending on the month and time.
Today, I’m right where I was a year ago- standing on that scale- my eyes lurking over poor ole’ Nurse Betty’s shoulder.
I’m right where I was, and I’m right where I should be– and as I wrap this post up, I’m slumped down in my work swivel chair on this Friday afternoon-
A glass of water next to me-
And I’ll be damned if I’m not about to go get me a cookie from the break room.
1 cup Granola
1 cup Milk 2%
1 Tbsp. Almonds
1 cup Bean Fajitas + Tortilla
1/4 cup Cheese
1 Tbsp. Sour Cream
1 Tbsp. Guacamole
1 Cup Mixed Veggies
1 Fiber Bar
1 Veggie Burger w/ Bread
1 slice American Cheese
1 cup Salad
1 Tbsp. Balsamic Vinaigrette
1 Tbsp. Walnuts
Tomato + Lettuce for Burger