First things first – I think I’ve coined this whole “leftover anorexia” term and I’m feeling called to take a moment here to chuckle at my own irony. (Is it irony? Leftover? Like … leftovers. Like, food. Get it? Oh God, I know. Lame. Possibly insensitive.)
But, it’s another one of those eating disorder topics that seems to be difficult to acknowledge – though my guess is quite a few of us struggle with it.
Thought about it yesterday at the Eating Recovery Center conference and again on a hike a couple weekends ago.
There we were – camping in the mountains of Yampa, Colorado. Moseying around the mountains as I listened to my partner belt the most ear-shattering ‘elk bugle-ing’ whistle in recorded human history.
To be clear: I don’t hunt. Nor do I have any desire to own a gun. I can hardly kill a spider without whimpering over its corpse. I’M SORRY HECTOR – YOU HAD TO GO. YOU WERE MULTIPLYING YOUR BRETHREN IN MY BATHROOM SHOWER.
My partner, however, in his caveman primitive dreams – has a passion for the bow & arrow, which in turn has led to a passion for hunting in its truest state.
… I’ll never understand. I support anyway.
He promises me that if he does bring back an elk, one of these days, we’ll use all parts of it in order to make the sacrifice worth it. I eyed him suspiciously, and announced we better be robing ourselves in its fur and utilizing its kidneys for medicine….
Or some shit.
I don’t know. You get the point. I’ve been watching a lot of Vikings.
ANYWAY, there we were, right? On top of plains, gazing for elk doo-doo (riveting) and we’d been going at it for something like 5 hours.
I’m hungry, he said – as we sat down for a water break.
HUH, I yelled back over the lip-chapping wind.
I’M HUNGRY, he said. Let’s get off the summit and go to that lake we passed.
I agreed pleasantly enough.
But, as we start to descend – I had that thought.
The one that tends to appear in its sneaky ways.
The immediate question “is it time to eat?”
Judged on nothing but my anorexia “can only eat X in X hours and X times” mentality.
I looked at my watch.
Hmm, I pondered. Okay yeah I can eat. It’s been enough time between meals.
It’s then I thought of this “leftover anorexia” post.
Do you still struggle with the leftovers of an eating disorder?
Some thoughts here. A calorie count there. A fear food avoidance that you know is irrational after months (or years) of treatment – but yet you still tend to say “ehhhh – not for me.”
You’re not alone. I struggle with it, too.
Happened again yesterday as we drove to the conference. 7:30am. Partner and I exit the highway to pick up some breakfast burritos. Dr. Colleen Reichmann and I spoke together on the “not sick enough” concept in eating disorders – and how clinicians and medical professionals can play a role in that narrative. (More on this in a later post)
Anyway, I was nervous. Goes without saying. So I’m siting there in the car, knee bouncin’ and sipping/glorifying my latte (side note: I realized I was spending an EXCESSIVE amount of money on vanilla lattes per week so I’ve forced myself to take a step back and only have one on the weekends … sigh. Money.)
“Babe,” my partner motioned down at my lap. “Eat.”
“I-AM-GO-TO-HELL-YOU-HIPPY-PONYTAILED-FOOL,” I said.
That’s a lie. I only thought it.
“I’m FINE,” I snapped. “I’m just nervous so gimme some space.”
“You can’t go to an eating disorder conference – and not eat,” he said – half joking.
“Yeah yeah,” I said. “I know. I just have the jitters and don’t wanna be too full.”
I ignored him.
Leftover anorexia remains. I ate lunch and dinner following it, and was fine.
Yesterday, while speaking to my personal story, I said that I think there’s a tendency to overstate recovery once we’re in it. Goes back to that all-or-nothing mentality we hold onto so tightly.
I HAD an eating disorder. I’m recovered now.
Well, that’s dandy – but give me your grey area. ‘Cuz there ain’t a person in this world that develops a full blown eating disorder and then is miraculously cured by a couple months of treatment – or an inspirational quote.
And I have a hard time believing people when they tell me they don’t exhibit any eating disorder “leftover” tendencies.
In my two cent opinion, it doesn’t happen because our brain doesn’t rewire that quickly. And also, culture. We’re embedded in a beauty paradigm of marketing and advertising and constant diet subliminal messaging.
So, I just want to take a second today to say – I’m with you.
I get it.
“Leftover anorexia” flares in the oddest of ways.
It’s interesting where I’m at in my for-lack-of-better-word “journey.” I don’t count calories anymore – have little to no idea (other than the embedded, unyielding memory I have for certain food items) what I eat on any given day. That’s a substantial amount of progress – and took a couple years to get there in itself.
And I’ve noticed that the past year, I find myself letting go of my own “beauty narrative.”
I’ll be 30 soon. The belief that being thin or being some version of a blown out Mila Kunis dies a bit more with every new wrinkle and age mark.
I am letting go. I feel it in the way I eat without concern about what I have or haven’t had.
There are actually days I think to myself “I’m craving a french fry.” Or a salad. Or an ice cream cone or a green leaf or chocolate covered pretzels – and I just eat them. Because I simply just want that thing.
And I don’t binge it.
In fact, I haven’t binged in probably 2 years – maybe 3 at this point. I 100% cannot remember anymore – and that in itself feels like moving on.
… But, still, this “leftover eating disorder” is a part of me. And I know that it is real.
Why don’t we talk about it?
We’re so scared of seeming unrecovered that we end up just masking over all the shit that got us there in the first place.
But, I’m not your counselor – and I’m not a therapist.
So, I’m here, I guess, to tell you that I know it’s still real. And I know that you can be doing really well – and still have leftovers.
Went on a hike this past weekend with my best friend’s little sister.
She came to visit. Its been years since we spent time alone.
The last time – the Christmas after he died.
I don’t much like to talk about that year it seems, only the day he died. Somehow it seems easier to talk about that – than the world after he was no longer in it.
Woke up last Saturday, after I’d picked her up from the airport –
Tried outfits for over an hour.
I am not joking.
Like from 7:30 – 8:25am I was peeling and putting clothes on my back.
I don’t know what it is about grief – I cannot seem to find a better coping skill to subside the innate disposition towards turning it on my body.
But, on I did.
Finally, recognizing it and being like “OK just pick something ’cause you aren’t gonna change this.”
Settled on leggings and some Athleta shirt I thought was “flowy” without being “baggy.”
Marketing, man. It gets you.
Spent the rest of the day with her.
Noticing that every time he was brought up – every time I didn’t know what to say – every time a painful moment arose – within minutes, so did my body image woes.
It’s interesting how the two coincide.
It’s laughably easy to connect the dots once you’re self-aware enough (and present) enough to notice them. This only can happen when some of your eating disorder thoughts subside enough to let in new ones.
I think that’s really the strategy in recovery, ultimately. It’s what we spend $1000s in rehab and counseling trying to solve.
The self awareness (and presence) to acknowledge the thoughts we’re having – and where they derived from without having to “do anything” to fix the pain.
Spent an hour and a half talking with Colleen yesterday about the “not sick enough” cognition – and why it’s so dangerous.
Asked the clinicians to have their patients write out the following:
A day /event/year/trip that you envisioned one way – and actually went another due to an eating disorder.
I spoke to my year in Spain when I was 22-23. How I thought moving would somehow save my ass from my own ass. Had all these dreams, that year, to travel freely. Without whim.
Flock from place to place – see the world. Uninhibited by food or exercise. Talk to the locals in my new-native Spanish tongue.
Of course it didn’t happen.
I spent a better half of that year running excessive amounts of times a day. Treating stress fractures and shin splints.
And mostly getting hammered to forget that I hated myself and body.
I also did not become fluent in Spanish.
Ultimately, it’s the memory and awareness of that kind of event that reminds me of where I was vs where I am now.
And regardless of how difficult its been to get to even this awkward place of “leftover anorexia” behaviors – I know, standing up there yesterday, that it’s a helluva lot more meaningful of a place to be than at 22.
Got up this morning, didn’t feel like making breakfast. I’ve been on this shift lately – trying to steer away from granola bars and bananas – the “safety” breakfast food I’ve eaten for over 10 years.
I went and got a doughnut and a bear claw.
Ate them in my way, slow – with coffee – sharing with my partner.
Dunno what the calories are, have an idea, don’t feel the responsibility or tick to add.
Going to my partner’s mom’s birthday dinner tonight. Appetizers, finger foods galore.
Got a PCOS acne bump on my chin. It hurts. I’m aware of it.
I mean that. It’s okay.
Sometimes, it’s not.
But, today it is.
Cloudy, cold, sitting at the kitchen table with my dog under my feet. Partner watching football and yelling obscenities every three minutes (apparently, the Broncos aren’t winning?)
It is okay.
Life – in its ever “flexible okay.” Recovery in its ever flexible way of being.
7 thoughts on “Do You Struggle With “Leftover Anorexia”?”
I’ve often wondered if there is a “well” as I sit at 4.30 am reading this in place of sleep knowing my ed is saying I’m eating too much, drinking too much fluid while waiting to find out if I have menopause at 40….
I wish I could be well but it’s been over 20 years.
My body rejects all food but bread based ones
And no one will tell me how to fix it because I’m a grown up and in Australia services for adults are virtually non existent.
I don’t want to be bigger than size 12 Au.
I don’t want to be heavier than I am
What if I find out in two days no more babies.
What if that is because of my ED in the first place. Gargh.
Just want to be well.
I like your raw honesty and appreciate this post. It is so true that the labels of either “recovered” or “sick” are far too black and white for something as complicated and life-altering as an eating disorder. Thank you for being vulnerable and encouraging those who often find themselves somewhere in that gray zone.
i absolutely loved this post. i’m almost to one year of recovering from anorexia and have started my own page as well. i just posted my first blog on my website about my first year of recovering and what that has been like… and i talk about how my “leftover anorexia” still definitely comes into play.. it would mean a lot if y’all showed some love on that as well 🙂
This is perfectly true for so many of us. Thank you for putting a term to it.
Thank you for this!
This is perfect. Thank you. I used to think I was “totally recovered”, but life has a funny way of humbling you (possibly knocking you on your ass). I’m human. The “leftovers” don’t mean the good things and the real progress aren’t real, too.
(I also really like your 90s dad ensemble)
Bravo on this one, little lady! Had an episode of “leftover” thoughts with an english muffin yesterday. A god damn stupid english muffin. C’est la vie. Looking forward to the next time we can wine and dine together!