Parts of this post may be distressing to survivors of sexual abuse.
If you need support, you can call Lifeline on 13 11 14, or the NSW Rape Crisis Centre on 1800 424 017 .
May also be triggering to those suffering with, or in recovery from an eating disorder.
In you need support, you can find a list of services in you state on The Butterfly Foundation website, or call them on 1800 33 4673.
Eating disorders are incredibly complex, multi-dimensional illnesses. Many things have been linked as contributing factors in the susceptibility to, development of, & maintenance of eating disorders, including biological & genetic factors, psychological, emotional, & cultural factors, & the research is ongoing.
Despite having suffered an eating disorder myself, & having gained some incredible insight during treatment, i still do not fully understand the complexities of my own illness. But that is not to say that i do not understand it at all, & indeed, i have much insight into many of the factors that influenced the development & maintenance of my eating disorder.
One of these things, i found, was an incredible lack of trust.
This realisation came, when i began exploring intuitive eating with my dietitian early on this year. Although quite flexible in terms of food choices, i had spent the few months prior following a very structured meal plan – making sure i was eating at regular intervals throughout the day, making sure i was covering all of my food groups… I was feeling quite comfortable with it – it had become quite manageable – but it was beginning to feel quite rigid at the same time.
When i started treatment, it was all about meal planning, covering my food groups, getting enough calories….i thought that if i could accomplish these things, if i could follow these “rules”, that i would have achieved “normal” eating. But then, it dawned on me – at this point in my recovery, i had simply replaced one set of rules with another. Sure, i wasn’t using rules to starve myself anymore, but i wasn’t eating with spontaneity & freedom either. I looked at the people around me, people without eating disorders, people i saw as having “normal” eating patterns, & i realised that not a single one of them was following a structured meal plan like i had been. I had made a lot of progress, but i wasn’t quite there yet.
At first, intuitive eating was an exciting adventure – i loved the idea of truly connecting with body, & trusting it to tell me what it needed (or didn’t). I was excited by the idea of being able to make food choices based on hunger, & my desire for certain foods. I loved the thought of being able to say no, as well as yes, & eating with freedom & spontaneity. Intuitive eating was a concept that i had believed quite passionately in for quite a while, & i was excited by the possibility of a new & forgiving relationship with my body & with food.
It wasn’t long though, before the true difficulty of this exercise hit me – & hit me HARD.
Earlier this year, Melinda Tankard Reist published a piece on her blog, where i described my experience of sexual abuse, & resulting criminal trial for which i was a witness. While i do not believe in any way, that this abuse was the sole reason for the development of my eating disorder, it was this experience which left me with a complete & utter disgust for my body, & a need to be entirely disconnected from it in order to survive.
As soon as my second week of eating intuitively, i was overwhelmed with panic & fear – ‘I don’t want to “connect” with my body!’ I didn’t know exactly what it was that was lurking behind my fear, but i knew that if anyone threw the words “body” & “connect” together in the same sentence, it would terrify me. My panic soon gave way to anger – a deep seething anger, that i was, up until this point, oblivious to. I felt betrayed by my body – it had reacted to my abuse in ways that were abhorrent to me, & despite understanding the biology behind these reactions, i still carried a lot of shame. A shame which i blamed wholly & solely on my own body.
Thinking back on it now, while i recognise that a lot of my reasons for starving myself, were about disconnection – from my body, from my emotions – there was also an element of rebellion to it. I was angry, & i directed that anger at my body’s perceived betrayal – it told me it was hungry, & starvation was my way of saying “f*ck you”. Denying my body it’s needs made me feel strong. In control. But that need to manipulate & control my body, was a dangerous one to implement.
Now, a year into my intuitive eating journey, with a good deal of therapy, & a lot of painful & confronting (but equally exciting & beautiful) self-exploration, i am happy to say that i have found that new & forgiving relationship with my body & with food. Everyday my connection to my body becomes deeper, more respectful & more loving, & the freedom & spontaneity i experience around food now, is greater than i ever imagined.
I once found myself pondering whether or not my body was a reliable judge of what it needed – was I a reliable judge of what I needed? When i shared these fears with my dietitian, she responded with a ‘YES! Definitely!’. I will always remember that moment as the moment i was given the reassurance & permission i needed to trust in myself again. It is a trust that has filtered down through all aspects of my life experience – not just those which relate to food & eating. And really, that should come as no surprise – after all, eating disorders are about so much more than food.