I AM NOT ANOREXIC. It took me years to admit the opposite, and now it has taken me even longer to be able to say that. I have realised just in the last week that I have been proudly using the title 'fully recovered', when in actual fact there are still aspects of my eating disorder which I am holding onto. That is not to say I am still unwell!
Whilst going for a pub lunch with my boyfriend recently, I came across a new hurdle... For so long I was obsessed with numbers - calories, weight, exam grades - that I couldn't do anything without knowing the exact number related to it. This largely applied to meal times: I couldn't comprehend choosing a meal without knowing how many calories were in it to satisfy my need to be in control, and I couldn't enjoy that meal unless it was consumed in the knowledge that I had been successful in selecting the lowest calorie option.
In my celebration of recovery I congratulated myself on the fact that this was no longer the case: I now find a sense of freedom in not knowing the calories in my food, and enjoy it nonetheless.
As I strolled up the hill with my boyfriend in the sunshine I was actively looking forward to our meal together, and was well aware of the hunger pains that had eluded me during my illness! However, this particular pub had decided to follow the current trend in obesity-prevention by publishing the calorific content of every option on the menu.
Those infamous alarm bells immediately began to ring in my head, and only at this point did I realise that my avoidance of numbers was part of a delusion - in revelling in the fact that I no longer needed to know the numbers, I was overlooking the reality that I had now gone the opposite way: seeing those numbers in front of me immediately ruined every meal I might have selected, because I knew exactly where they each came in the calorie ranking, and many of them were not near the bottom!
My old instinct to scan the menu for the lowest value kicked in, but at the same time so did the revelation that until I could switch off that instinct I would be feeding the anorexia rather than feeding my own needs. I made a vow there and then - one which I am determined to repeat and one which, although simple to most people, has the potential revolutionise my attitude. I vowed to choose what I wanted to eat - that which my taste buds craved rather than that which stood out as the 'healthiest' (read lowest calorie - another delusion) option.
Every time I make that choice I will be staring 'Ana' in the face and saying: "No". I will be taking control in a real sense, not in the way that Ana used to tell me I had control. I will be living as the role model I want to be to other sufferers, but also setting an example to myself.
Only two people have ever told me it is possible to recover completely from an eating disorder: the psychotherapist who I did an internship with last year (who had, herself, 'recovered') and my boyfriend. Before I met these two people, I was firmly of the view that 'recovery' meant learning to cope with the illness in everyday life. I strongly believed that anorexia was not something which ever fully went away; I simply had to develop coping strategies which made me stronger in resisting the temptation to slip back into my old ways.
'Ana's voice' would become weaker, but never silent. These two alone have taught me that it was that mind-set that would, in fact, prevent me from recovering. By telling myself it was impossible, I had so easily slipped into the comfortable acceptance that I no longer had to try and beat it, I merely had to live with it without it beating me: a false truce with Ana. But today I am making the choice to live without Ana. It is a choice that I will make each and every day for the foreseeable future, but one which will truly allow me to take back my life.
If you or someone you know has been affected by an eating disorder, visit b-eat.co.uk for advice!
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