Eating Disorder Not Specified

Trigger Warning: The article below may contain triggering and/or sensitive material. Eating disorders and diet culture are some of the topics mentioned in this article. If you feel triggered, please know that there is a list of resources available regarding this topic here.

October 29, 2020

Yesterday I made myself some Kraft mac and cheese and ate a bowl–no added chicken breast, no protein shake on the side–as I wrote my ethics paper. It was heaven. My cousin and I had bought the boxes on a whim a few days ago, and I ate some of the box that she made, but my box sat in my pantry, unopened.

As I made my mac and cheese, with a hint of sriracha, of course, I realized this was the first time that I had made unmodified mac and cheese in nearly three years. A year ago, I would have eaten a few bites (with more baked chicken than macaroni and no butter) spreading the “extra” calories out over a week and called it intuitive eating. Two years ago, I would not have even thought to buy the box.

My eating disorder history is long and complicated. I don’t even know what to call it. Until recently I refused to acknowledge that I had an eating disorder because, in my mind, I didn't have an eating disorder. It wasn’t typical of eating disorders: there was no binging, no purging, no cutting my food into tiny bites. I ate like any normal 19-year-old would, maybe more. I was athletic, swimming, and lifting six days a week. I could run up the USFCA LoMo steps without getting out of breath–which are extremely steep and nearly 200 steps-if you didn’t know. I took the stairs instead of the elevator to get to my third-floor class. I could fast walk to class from my apartment ten minutes away and barely break a sweat. Girls like me didn’t get eating disorders. I love breakfast for crying out loud, and yet here I am. 

Recovery for me was all over the place. I had grown out of calorie tracking by my junior year in high school. I didn’t think in terms of “good” foods and “bad” foods by the time I started my senior year. I deleted MyFitnessPal after graduation, redownloading it again freshman year when I first started lifting, thinking I could use it to track my macros. It worked until it didn’t. By the time my fall semester of freshman year had ended I had dabbled in intermittent fasting and decided it was stupid. I scoffed at the Keto diet and the Atkins diet, knowing that cutting carbs was not the way to lose weight. 

I wasn’t dieting because I was still eating pasta and rice. I still went out with friends to get boba. But, I was tracking my calories the whole time. I moved meals and ingredients around like it was a chessboard and I was the master. If I wanted to eat something, it had to fit within my macros. But my macros were generous, at least to me. I kept my carbs high so I would have more fuel to lift but I couldn’t eat carbs unless I had them with protein. I even gave myself a little leeway in my fat macros because I knew I would be cranky and hormonal and binge eat if I didn’t get at least 60 grams of fat a day. I would meet my numbers for the day and go to bed feeling accomplished and miss them the next and feel terrible about myself. It was a vicious cycle of highs and lows and obsession over numbers.  

My friends were lifting too and I’d always tell them to eat, to keep their energy up while I was depriving myself of the same thing. When one of my best friends started the Keto diet, I was one of the first to tell her it was a dumb idea- she quit after a week by the way. I preached about macros and caloric needs and BMR to my best friend. I gave my roommate advice on how to safely lose weight. Reflecting on it now, I think I did those things so my friends wouldn’t go down the same path I did. I was giving them valuable advice but I needed to start listening to my own. 

With the pandemic and moving back in with my parents, my eating drastically shifted. I could no longer pack my meals with protein. I was also working out less, if at all. I settled into a new, old routine: intermittent fasting. I would sleep through breakfast but eat another meal between lunch and dinner. It worked to regulate my eating habits over the summer because my sleep schedule had also drastically shifted. I'd go to sleep at 2 or 3 am and wake up twelve hours later, still exhausted. 

With the fall semester approaching, I scaled back the sleeping in for my morning classes, thinking I could avoid eating until 2 pm. I soon quickly discovered how much I loved my first meal of the day, whether it was 9 am or 2 pm. 

As I sit here writing this, I'm reminded of the saying to treat yourself like you would treat your best friend. It’s been almost five years since my disordered eating started and up until a week ago I staunchly denied that it even existed at all. 

What finally helped me accept that I had an eating disorder was to sit down and write about my feelings. I'm publishing my thought process in the hopes that these words reach someone who is currently going through an eating disorder, or in the same state of denial I was in, or simply confused about whether they have an eating disorder or not. 

I think the most important aspect on the road to recovery, so to speak, is to reach out to a loved one. it can be a sibling, a friend. The scariest thing for me was reaching out because still 1) I was in denial, and 2) reaching out for help isn't easy for me. As someone who is in this situation, I can attest that having a support system truly helps. Start with a small conversation, maybe over text if you don’t want to have it face-to-face. 

Another aspect that helped me over years was getting any rid of any triggers. With the pandemic, I was finally able to delete MyFitnessPal for good. While it helped me initially, having that much control over my calories quickly turned tracking my calories and macros into an obsession. Constantly deleting and redownloading the app made me feel ashamed and angry that I had turned such a useful tool into something that had completely taken over my life for nearly five years.

I’m still recovering, still learning to unlearn the harmful habits I’ve acquired over the years. Every time I think I’ve made progress, I relapse and redownload MyFitnessPal. Or I get caught up obsessing over my carb to protein ratio in my meals. I’ve been tracking my calories and macros for so long, I had begun thinking of food in terms of numbers: how many calories they were, their macromolecule composition. I no longer fixate on food labels. I’m doing my best to focus on how the food makes me feel when I eat it, not what I feel when I eat it. I'm actually listening to what my body wants and needs, instead of what I think it needs. 

Becoming self-aware and acknowledging my eating disorder is extremely difficult for me. But I think it’s time I confront it, both for my mental and physical health. I have to let go of old habits, of the constant need to be in control, of the pressure to maintain a self-assured facade. For a long time, I have known that my diet was neither normal nor sustainable. It took a box of Kraft mac and cheese for me to fully understand just how abnormal and unattainable it really was. 

Taking the time to ground myself and reprioritize my diet and health has been a breath of fresh air. For the first time in five years, I am not obsessing over what I am eating. I can finally catch myself when I began spiraling and hold myself accountable when I became obsessed with my diet again. 

It’s a slow process, learning to love yourself again, but I’m glad I’m finally giving myself a chance. You should too.