Rachael Recovered? Phases of the Eating Disorder and Where I Am Now

TRIGGER WARNING: Eating disorder behaviors mentioned.

When I talk about my past eating disorder behaviors, the past Rachael I speak of seems so different from the Rachael I know now. When I write it all out as I’ve done here, it becomes clearer than ever.

Restriction (2 years)

7 a.m.: Wakeup, and the first thing you think is BREAKFAST. You weigh yourself first, of course.

You run to the cafeteria in the darkness of dawn, feeling the ache of an empty stomach and crazed anticipation to eat at last. You arrive exactly the time the cafeteria doors are supposed to unlock, but rage within when you realize it has not yet opened for the day.

You try to hold yourself back from running to a table when you enter three minutes past opening time. When you grab your oatmeal and milk and sit down to eat, you eat as slowly as you can. You are still hungry when you leave, but you know that this will be your biggest meal of the day because you heard about the concept of eating “breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, dinner like a pauper”.

It has become a rule you cannot allow yourself to break away from.

You anticipate lunch all morning. You are the first person at the cafeteria when it opens because you are starving starving starving. You eat with your teammates and try to participate in conversations but all you are thinking is how many calories, how many portions, how many bites, how many vegetables, how much do they think I am eating, how much are they eating, will they notice what a glutton I am, what if I can’t avoid desserts?

But you escape without desserts and run through the hunger in the afternoon. You anticipate/dread dinner since that has to be the smallest meal of the day because you have transformed into the pauper.

You chew through a whole pack of gum an hour after dinner because it is the only way you can concentrate on your studies instead of on food. Hitting the pillow at 9:30pm, your stomach claws for more food.

Binge Eating (2 years)

You wake up feeling guilty and wonder why.

And then you remember.

You remember the three sandwiches, the four granola bars, mounds and mounds of peanut butter, trying to stuff down vegetables so you can keep the binge as low-calorie as possible. You remember going to bed with your stomach aching, fit to burst, wishing you had more self-control.

But it’s a new day, so you’re starting over—right?

With each meal, the dread of a binge is there. But you don’t know when it will come. You can’t control when it comes. You do feel the urge build, though.

Track practice feels uncomfortable because you ate too close to the run. You knew this as you were eating forty-five minutes before start time, but the urge to eat is so strong, so animalistic, that you can’t resist any and all food. You can’t resist and now your body is suffering through the workout because you are not used to handling so much food, so many heavy fats from avocados or granola bars, and chocolate and peanut butter.

You have a night class and you bring in your strange combination of food to avoid all fear foods. You feel like people are staring and thinking about what you’re eating. You hate eating in front of people because of this. But you are so, so hungry. Food is not about pleasure—it was never about pleasure since you started counting calories. And even when you finish your meal, you think about what other foods you can eat.

During the break, after much contemplation, you cave into the vending machine snacks. You buy two granola bars, sink your teeth into them, and everything is better–for a moment. Because now they are all you are thinking about for the rest of class. You think about how guilty you feel about eating the “forbidden” and how badly you still want more.

You arrive back to your apartment late after class only to shovel in leftovers from the refrigerator, not even bothering to heat it up. You hate how out of control you feel, and you wonder when this will all end, when the weight will stop piling on, and when the obsession with food will diminish.

It is still all you think about.

Bulimia (9 months)

You’re sad. Frustrated. You want to fight back. You don’t want to feel the ache and pain and guilt from bingeing, so you feel like bulimia gives you power. When you’re angry with someone, you can flush it away. When you’re frustrated with yourself, you can flush it away. When you feel guilt from the food, you can flush it away.

It is purging food and emotion from these past few years. It is releasing all the pent-up anger and frustration with your body. But no one will have to see your anger and frustration because you can hide it while still letting it all out. And now you have a form of control again like restriction. But since you can’t restrict anymore, this is your new control.

You eat, and purge, and then you feel hungry again twenty minutes later. Because purging, you realize, doesn’t do anything except waste all the food you just bought.

Now

I wake up in the morning shocked with my appearance. I am still getting used to looking at “now” pictures because I am not used to a body like this. But I no longer wake up with guilt. I still have setbacks once in a great while, but nowhere near to the extent I had before.

I pack a balanced lunch for class. Eating the sandwich calmly, I am no longer worried about what other people think about my food. I engage in conversations and laugh and smile with my classmates. I’m not constantly thinking about when my next meal will be because I eat until I am full.

I’ve been cooking new foods. I enjoy going out to eat with friends and family.

I am in recovery.

I still have some disordered eating habits. I remember the calories of most foods. I may purge once in a while but it’s very rare now. There may always be a lingering fear from the eating disorder I dealt with for five years.

There is no quick fix or perfect answer. All I can say is that it has come with patience, learning my triggers, and avoiding the competitive running life for a while.

I’m learning how to be happy with myself.

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6 replies
  1. Hemming
    Hemming says:

    Hi Rachael,

    Oh boy, can I relate to the restriction phase you describe. So great to hear to how far you’ve come and that you now feel recovered. I’ve often told people that it feels strange to want to laugh, smile and be yourself again. It’s like you become another person in that period and have to find yourself again. I’m so glad to hear you have done that.

  2. Emma
    Emma says:

    Wow… I can relate to the restricting and binge eating part so so much, in fact I could have written this. It is crazy to hear someone voice EXACTLY what goes through your own mind. This is unbelievable. Goodness, the anticipation of meals, the internal (or external, if I was at home) rage that occurred if a meal was to be a bit late.
    Then the bingeing “you can’t resist any and all food even though you know there are consequences” … I’ve had to sit down before, and during my gym fitness classes sometimes because I have just consumed an entire loaf of bread or something similar. I completely understand you!

    I am so so pleased you have come out of this now. I hope one day I can too :)

  3. Tamara Steil
    Tamara Steil says:

    I continue to be amazed with your writing. I do not suffer from disordered eating, but the way you write about it makes me feel like I am right there with you, experiencing what you are going through, and feeling the rawness and frustration. Your descriptions are excellent and relatable (obviously – see above comments) and you give everyone a front row seat to who you are and what this beast is. I am enthralled with your honestly and especially grateful that you are coming through this journey with hope and calm anticipation that it no longer rules every phase of your life. Each time I read a piece by you, I learn something new and different about you that I did not know before. Thank you for letting us all in.

  4. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    I identify with every single phase you just wrote about. It’s painful for me to read this because it reminds me of when I was going through each of these stages. For me, each stage was worse and more shameful than the last. I am “recovered” now, as well, but it’s hard as hell some days. Reading this post really gives me consolation that I’m not the only one with these thoughts, and that they can be beat.

    Thank you so much for writing this xx

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