Admitting the Truth / by Michelle Cowan

When I sit down to eat, I sit down with myself. It has been a long time since I had a bowl of cereal - a simple concoction of grains and milk, maybe some fruit or cinnamon added for pizzazz. I just finished eating one. Delicious. I was hungry.

For months, I've been attempting to sate this hunger within, a hunger fueled by long bike rides, walks, and all my daily energy expenditures, with fruit and energy bars. I eat more than four or five times per day easily. I eat all the things I feel comfortable with. But it's never enough. I don't WANT to eat the things that will help me sustain my weight. I don't WANT the high-fat and/or high-calorie foods I've long avoided. But in order to survive, I have to start asking myself if I should try these foods I don't want, just to see if I like them enough to reintroduce them to my diet.

I'm living on the teetering edge, it seems. That's how I feel. My mother commented this weekend that I was looking thin. She asked if I was doing anything about it. I told her, honestly this time (as opposed to many years ago when I never really tried), that I was working on eating more, that I am working on eating until I am satisfied. The only difficulty with this lately is that I never feel satisfied. I want so much more than is normal. And I believe this is because I am underweight. Of course, my mom is the only one with guts enough to say it aloud, perhaps because she's one of the few who understand the havoc this disorder can wreak. That is why, instead of doubting her (For who can help but doubt the over-protectiveness that comes with being a mom?), I'm believing her.

Admitting this now scares me. I want to be a normal weight. I know that the thoughts about food and the focus on food diminish when I eat enough and reach a healthy weight. But I have yet to fully step over the food hurdle. I have broken through with many fear foods in the last year. But it's time for more. I long for FULL recovery, and that takes "risky" moves sometimes.

Right now, I'm just below where I want to be weight and diet-wise. Notice that I said, "where I WANT to be." It's no longer about where I NEED to be. I have no answers to the question of where I should or need to be. I am not at a dangerous weight or doing anything monumentally perilous with food. Where I need to be is with my healthy desires. I am wise enough to know what is best. I believe that. I get more and more in touch with that part of me every day.

Let me outline the main points of this difficulty:
1) I am underweight.
2) I think I would be more beautiful/healthier/able to think more clearly if I were at a higher weight.
3) I must eat more in order to get to that higher weight.
4) I must be willing to eat foods that I have some anxiety toward in order to consume enough calories to gain weight.
5) I am still afraid of those foods.
6) I still have some worries about actually being bigger and staying that way (loss of power, loss of "special-ness").

So there it is, laid out as simple as day. My goal is to think more clearly and feel better. How does that happen? Gain weight. How does that happen? Eat enough. How does that happen? I must be willing to eat until I am actually SATISFIED - and this includes eating foods I am uncomfortable with while trusting myself to know when to stop eating.

I also have to realize that I am special without this eating disorder and powerful without being thin. I am unique and strong in and of myself, regardless of outside markers.

I want the food obsession to end. And until my body knows it is out of a physical danger zone, I will naturally, biologically focus on food. It's time to end this!

In light of my new goals, changes have to be made. I have made so much progress over the past decade, especially in the past four years, with this eating disorder. I must let go of it as an obsession to make room for the other things that wish to occupy my mind, like music, writing, friends, and general exploration of life. Right now, I tire myself out, and all I can think of is consuming food and then expending the energy I take in.

I have moved. I'm settled in, both in my new physical home and in recovery. It's time to release control.

This is not as simple as eating more. Or maybe it is that simple, but it's still not easy. It means letting down strongholds I have built up that dictate when I will eat, what kind of food, in what location, in addition to how much. It also ties into notions of my body and if I am willing to release the thin, childlike one I have for one more appropriate for my age and stature. I wouldn't mind looking more like a woman than a girl, would I?

Society approves of my current weight. I am no thinner than a typical movie actress. But I am thinner than I feel is optimal. I can tell. I hate looking in the mirror and thinking, "I look like a high schooler." No. I want the strong, sufficient woman on the inside to shine through on the outside. More food would give me the energy and appearance to do that.

So I am also bucking society. I have to do what is right for me. It means resting more and listening to my body, trusting that it knows how to take care of itself. I can enjoy food while not overindulging or restricting all the time. I don't have to be a tiny size to be loved or successful. I will find success that is not based on superficial things. And I will be focused and sharp enough to pursue my dreams. Food will not distract me from my goals.

Creative expression - musically and in my writing. Helping others with eating disorders or depression. Loving those around me. All of these are worthy goals. And I want the stamina to achieve them. I still want to ride my bike and rock climb and walk and swim and do all the active things I do. I have made huge strides in putting exercise in its place. Now, it's time to see what lies beneath my resistance to new foods. It's time to release control. It's time to let my body be my body as I let myself be me.

All these things seem like Eating Disorder Recovery 101 to me. But sometimes I have to work my way around, through all the abstract concepts and underlying factors in my eating disorder to get back to the plain truth: How I look and what I eat ARE components of this, and I must use all the deep emotional and spiritual work I've done to combat what lies on the surface. I will win, and how I feel physically will be an expression of that.

Come with me.