We always talk about how hard it is to gain weight when recovering from an eating disorder. But there comes a moment when losing weight hurts too. It seems as if your titanic efforts to reach a healthy weight had been wasted. You feel like a failure and a fraud. The final part of recovery is in a certain sense a phase with more consolations, but in another one particularly hard, because you’re never happy: you still suffer when you gain weight, but now you suffer too if you lose it.
This isn’t the post I was planning on writing today. I’ve just come back from the most wonderful Spiritual Exercises and I wanted to write about the graces the Lord has shown me there. Especially, to tell you how much He loves you and how He shares your sufferings. Of course, I’ll write those posts in the future. But today I’ve weighed myself and I’ve seen that, in just 4 days, I’ve gone from 45.4 kg —just a little bit more than a kilo away from a minimum healthy weight— to 44.6 kg, almost 2 kg away from that goal. 800 grams less in 4 days.
That has made a very negative impact on me. What have I done wrong? I’ve made my best effort! Now surely everyone must think I’m a fraud. I’ve fallen again into the traps of the ED. I’m stupid. Now maybe I don’t get the objective of reaching a healthy weight in 2018. And, in addition, there’s the temptation of… oh well, I look fine, if I still look healthy at this weight, maybe it’s better to stay here. That is, just the opposite of what I was saying: “nothing happens if you lose weight”. Therefore, a mental agony pulling in two opposite directions like that torture in which horses dismembered the prisoner by pulling from his arms and legs.
I arrived to the Exercises with a very clear idea: it was not like other times, I already knew the ED was going to attack me and its screams were going to be louder. I knew it was going to be a moment of more struggling, and I was ready. Like, come on, it can throw at me whatever it wants, since I already know this comes from the devil and then I’m going to be able to identify it and dodge it.
I should have known that fighting a temptation with a vice (pride) doesn’t work. When I realized I was not controlling it as well as I had expected, I felt my pride hurt, like saying, “I thought I was over this”. I’ve gone through life full of pride, telling the Lord, come on, I already have this under control, I’ve got this and I’m not going to fall, uh? Instead of being afraid of falling because of my misery and begging Him to deliver me from it, admitting that, no matter how much I think I’m over something, I don’t trust myself at all and I know I’m weak and I can fall again at any moment. I’ve put my trust in my strength instead of in His goodness. I’ve put my trust in my false security instead of in His Heart. I’m sorry, Lord.
(Please note: I’m not putting myself down by saying this. I don’t feel worse, but more free, because truth sets us free).
One trap I’ve fallen into is the trap of hidden compensations. Back then, I thought I wasn’t compensating, but when I look back, I realize I was. Not eating bread because I thought the food might be cooked in a way that gave it more calories than at home. Compensating snacks from the second day on because I had eaten sweets the day before as afternoon snack and at dinner. I called it “balance”, and now I see that’s nothing but an euphemism.
Not to mention that indeed I should have compensated, but the other way round. Because, sly me, at breakfast I tried to eat the same than at home (possibly underestimating as it usually happens to me), and at lunch and dinner, however, the same amount as others. So at lunch and dinner I was eating less than I should, but I didn’t use breakfast to compensate for that.
This brings us to the next trap: letting my head and not my body tell me how to eat. That is, eating what I thought I should eat and not what I needed. I think this is a generalized problem today, we’re super disconnected from our body. We let either diets and numbers or subjective emotions guide us. We don’t know our body, we want to make it fit into rigid boxes that we think should work for everyone, or we just don’t care and go with the flow. Neither do we listen to our body, but to diet gurus or to the food industry marketing.
In recovery, interpreting body cues is complicated since they get too mixed up with the ED confusions, but a clear rule —especially if you need to gain weight— is this: sometimes you need to eat more than what “your body” (for a long time abused and ignored, with all its cues upside down) tells you, but never less. Even if it’s what others are eating. Comparisons are useless and very harmful.
Show and demonstrate
But maybe the biggest mess I got into was eating for others and not for myself. Truth is, the Lord warned me, that I didn’t have to justify why I eat or don’t eat something, I had that in the bottom of my mind, but… no way. Pride again. “I have to show I’m recovered”. “These people who know my story can’t think I’m refusing to eat something because of my illness”. “I can’t let them think I’m a fraud”.
I got swept up in the desire to demonstrate that, putting it above my body cues. Fried, breaded, battered food, sweets… well, I must eat it all, right? Don’t I always say that there’s no bad food and we should not exclude anything? Yes, and in fact that’s true. But that was the kind of food we were given over and over. Obviously, if you follow my instagram or have seen my recipes (1, 2, 3), you can imagine that the food of camp-like places is very different from my usual diet. The result? I started to feel frankly bad in a physical level. So in the end I had to give in to the humiliation —it was only that in my head, not in reality— of asking for different foods.
However, it was too late. It was enough for my body, but not for my mind anymore. There I started to think that, had I done that from the beginning, I’d have eaten less, so the logic thing was to compensate a little. Point already covered. In addition, I didn’t realize that when I ate something different from others, with less calories, I should have eaten a bigger amount so it could really be the same from a nutritional point of view. Point already covered too. The ED also took advantage of this to try to mess up with me and tell me that in fact I hadn’t eaten those things because of the reason I’ve said, but because I’m a glutton.
Weight loss in my mind
In the grand scheme of things, losing 800 grams doesn’t matter. Because I know I’m going to gain them back right away and I’m going to continue my recovery process. It hasn’t been intentional or marks a trend, but it’s just been an one-time slip in a special circumstance. That’s why, more than the physical incident itself, the worse part are the psychological consequences. I’ve sketched them before. On the one hand, the feeling of failure and being mad at myself because how silly I’ve been, and the frustration because I feel my efforts have been in vain. That’s all false as I’ll explain later.
On the other hand, we have that paradoxical fact that losing weight is a trigger to keep losing weight, or at least to stop gaining. Indeed, it’s more difficult to continue recovery after a setback. It’s like the ED telling you: “see? Nothing happens. What they were telling you is a lie, you can lose weight and still be fine”. And then, why gain it? This is linked to the fact that no one notices anymore, that is, no one thinks that I suffer from this illness anymore. It’s harder to gain when you don’t have that external pressure, when everyone thinks you’re ok now. Which is positive, who’d want to look sick? But makes the way a bit more arid.
Then there’s this absurd idea that, if now I look the same as with 1 kilo more, that is, I haven’t sized down, now when I gain that kilo back I’ll look bigger than the first time. It makes no sense, and believe me when I say I struggle to write about thoughts that make no sense. If someone else has them, please don’t feel alone.
The bright side
As I said, it’s not true at all that I’ve wasted my efforts or failed. To start with, because neither food, nor even recovery, ought to be the center of these Spiritual Exercises. And, for the first time, they haven’t been. I’ve been much less obsessed than in any other occasion of these characteristics. Facing basically one meal at a time. And thanks to that I’ve been able to be receptive to the many blessings the Lord wanted to give me. I think that’s the most important thing.
In addition, it’s been the time I’ve made a greater effort. For example, when I decided I didn’t want to eat exactly what was being served, I’ve asked for replacements instead of just skipping the meal or eating a misery. I’ve eaten dessert. I haven’t tried to eat less than anyone, like counting the spoonfuls to have one less. All these achievements haven’t been translated into physical gains, but they have into mental gains, and the second ones are still valid despite what has happened with the first ones.
Therefore, no effort has been wasted. I’ve learnt: now for the next time I’ll know how to do it better. I’ve grown: in humility and integrity. I’ve made mental progress: behaving as I have would have been impossible not so long ago. Fighting is always worth it. Maybe others from outside can’t see I’ve done it. But the Lord has seen it, and He has accepted my offering. My suffering hasn’t been lost.
I’m not writing this post just to make a fool of myself. But to show you that recovery isn’t linear. And that it’s normal to fall into traps and make mistakes. And so you can identify the tricks of the devil of the illness, that become more and more subtle as you go on in the way of recovery. It can’t manipulate you with the clumsy visions and lies that used to terrify you anymore. But don’t think you’re out of danger. And you can’t dodge these new traps of cutting-edge technology, no matter how carefully you walk. You need Someone to carry you.