Nine years ago at the beginning of lent, I gave up eating after dinner. I did it for reasons that made absolute sense at the time. I found, late in the evening each night, around the time I should have been going to bed, I’d get a case of the munchies, and I’d indulge in what to me then was ‘too much’. It felt like something that was completely unnecessary, a temptation I needed to be able to give up.
So I gave it up.
I can see now, because of my personality, it was easy to forego eating. For something that was supposed to be a challenge, it just wasn’t. It felt like I finally had a safety. I had decided to do it, asked God for help, and then I did. It felt easier to lean on him when tempted, than the thought of not having control over my own actions.
And so it began.
What started as what I thought was a lifestyle decision to begin exercising a healthier habit (eating mindfully), became a ‘control every morsel of food’ obsession. I’d wake up in the middle of the night with my stomach growling and feel righteous that I had mastered my own will power. I’d wake up early on weekends and dutifully wait hours to eat until brunch began. I was running and working out several days a week, having found a new love in athletic activities. I compared my eating to my girl friends who were less active, who had slower metabolisms, and I was fooled into thinking I needed to eat just like them. Then I stopped eating calorically dense foods altogether. It got worse from there.
At one point, a moment in time I remember vividly, I sat on my bed writing in my journal about this thing, this beast inside of me that was my mind slipping into an obsession that I could no longer stop. I recognized then in that moment of clarity that I was powerless and I couldn’t climb out alone. I ignored that voice, tucked away my journal, and put my feet back down on the floor in the same spot. I didn’t listen, and from then on, I couldn’t. I was over the edge into denial and there was no problem. Life was glorious. I was skinny and getting compliments on both my appearance and my ability to be so fastidious. I was making meals smaller and smaller, more fervently tracking everything, and I felt superhuman. For the first time in what was a tumultuous life period, I was in control of something that most everyone struggles with–I had mastered control of self. (Except in all actuality, I had completely lost control; isn’t it ironic how we can convince ourselves?)
For my whole life up to then, I had always had a sort of fear/loathing/uncomfortability with my body and for the first time, at that point when my physical size actually was healthy, when I was active every day, when I had close connections with friends, was activity involved in my community and my faith life, I felt beautiful. I recognized my body, loved it, and felt at home in it.
Fast forward a few months.
I came home from class on a particularly windy, snowy late fall day and was so incredibly cold that I immediately shed all my clothes and jumped in the shower. I stood under the hot water longer than I can remember ever standing in a shower and finally, finally I was warm. As I got out, I glanced at the mirror, and I saw something horrifying. I saw a bony skeleton that I no longer recognized. This body wasn’t beautiful anymore. My pelvis jutted out where months before I had flesh. As I truly looked at what I saw in the mirror, a Jekyll and Hyde mind battled over the realization that this wasn’t okay, while a mwah hahha cackle echoed behind it, you’ve got it!; shrinking to nothingness is the ultimate victory.
My fears this lent, the ones that are underlying and what I thought I had ‘mastered control over’ these past few years, are that my body will betray me again. If my mind doesn’t consistently show it who is boss, it will slink back into that terrible thing it was before ‘all of that’, into the body I didn’t feel comfortable in.
Because the truth is, I am comfortable. Running and working out has made me realize how much I LOVE and ADMIRE my body. Not only what it looks like, but what it can DO for me. How awesome it’s abilities to accomplish and heal.
And so, all these years later, we’re again near the end of the season when I think the most about what happened and where I am now. We’re at the end of a season in which I have decided to release something in order to grow. As lent began, I had been thinking, I don’t know if I can handle 40 more days in the desert. I don’t know if I can handle the unknowns. I just want to be on the other side, whatever that looks like, as long as it’s not here, down in the trenches, working at something that is so individual, so solitary, so invisible that I can’t explain to anyone who asks. Years ago, I promised myself I’d never give up food again for lent. That, more generally as a lifestyle, I wouldn’t set rules for food. And so, aside from the foods I don’t eat for medical reasons, there are no parameters. I eat what I enjoy, what my body craves, and try very hard to let go of that voice that often wants to negative self-talk. As I ended 2014 and began 2015, I recognize now I was slipping. My skinny jeans were getting looser. I needed to eat a damn cookie without justifying it with activity. I needed to take a good, hard look at the situation and not disillusion myself into thinking I was alright. I know there is a very fine line for me between eating enough and convincing myself I’m eating enough, and I can easily deceive myself.
I also still have a fear of the idea of being hungry, of being isolated again, of the obsessive, only-self-interested thinking that I had to fight like hell to climb out of.
Like most eating disorders, this whole thing is less about food. It’s less about body image. It is about control. I don’t get to have control over this life. I can’t determine what will happen tomorrow. I don’t know if my body will be the same body tomorrow evening as it is this evening. I don’t know if it will accomplish all the dreams I have for it.
I do know I want to find out. The beauty of this life is that we don’t get to go back. We move forward.
And so I ask myself a question today that I likely will need to ask myself every day: Am I giving my body what it needs so it can do all that I want it to? Am I setting it up for health in the long haul, or am I punishing it because today I’m afraid of letting go?