It seems like people are in love with food. People love eating, cooking, and talking about food. It brings people together, often serving as the centerpiece of family gatherings. It’s at the center of romantic meals, business lunches, weekend brunches…food is everywhere. Except my refrigerator. Or my fruit bowl. Or my cupboards.
Last year at this time, I was barely eating. Very, very fortunately, I’ve worked hard and come a long way since then. And I’m really proud of the progress I’ve made. But every day I’m reminded of the fact that things aren’t 100% normal (whatever that means, amirite?!) This becomes especially apparent at mealtimes. It’s hard for me to articulate why, exactly. Truth be told, I’m just not all that interested in food. As a result, I just don’t feel like eating all that much. It’s not a question of how hungry I am. It’s just that I don’t want to deal with food…at all.
I’ll give you an example. Yesterday I did my 20-mile marathon training run. Now I don’t know exactly how many calories that burns (I don’t even know how much I weigh at this point) but I can say with confidence that it’s over 2,000. So basically in order to break even on a day like that, I’d have to eat roughly twice the amount of food I’d normally eat. I think this prospect would thrill most people. To me it’s a daunting chore. I started the day with a whole wheat bagel with peanut butter and strawberry jelly, and an 8-ounce coffee with milk. I went running about 90 minutes after breakfast, and had a chocolate GU beforehand, and three GUs during my run (along with plenty of water). When I got home, I chugged a quart of chocolate milk, because nothing stands between me and my chocolate milk, especially after a long run. Then I worked on a quart of Gatorade. I also snacked on some peanut butter-filled pretzels, eating maybe twice the amount I’d have as a snack. For dinner, I had four vegetarian pigs in a blanket. After eating two, I had to really rally to eat the rest. It’s not that I wasn’t hungry, just that I wasn’t all that interested. I also had a popsicle. Then I went to bed. Writing all that out, it’s pretty clear that not only did I not have any fruits or vegetables (which is really pretty unusual for me, actually), I didn’t really eat all that much, either. Especially given how much I ran.
Having to deal with food stresses me out. I can’t remember the last time I grocery shopped for more than a handful of items (typically the things I’d need to get through the next few days) at a time. When I do have food in the fridge, it tends to go bad before I use it. I dread being asked what I want to eat. I’m happiest and most comfortable when decisions about food are made for me, and I can avoid dealing with it altogether.
It’s not great. And it makes me a little nervous.
It also really shines a light on what is, for me, a really difficult part of recovery–reaching the point where your illness becomes invisible. I’ve reached a healthy weight, and to an outside observer, I’m sure it looks like I eat normally. After all, I have three meals and two (sometimes only one) snacks a day. I drink plenty of water, and I make an effort to eat a variety of foods. I don’t think anyone would guess that there was anything wrong with the way I think about food, and I think part of the problem is that it’s easy to get drawn in to that mentality. Ultimately, I start believing everything’s just fine: I don’t have problems with food! Look at me, I’m healthy now! I eat plenty of food! There’s nothing wrong! But the fact is, it’s not really that easy. What I’m realizing as I constantly make and break my promise to plan meals and go grocery shopping with a list is that recovery is a complicated process. Just because the disorder no longer manifests itself the same way it used to doesn’t mean that you’re out of the woods. It sort of just means you’re in a different part of the woods. Maybe a bit closer to the edge, but still decidedly in there.
Another tricky thing about the recovery process (and being more firmly on the “healthy” side of things than the “ill” side) is that you sort of lose touch with the support networks you may have had. It’s been a while since I’ve been in touch with anyone who is dealing with their own issues with food. In a way it’s nice not to be in an environment where you’re looking at your illness (and the illnesses of others) under a microscope. But at the same time, it can be sort of lonely. I have no idea if anyone else who has gone through these things has also found themselves feeling this same sort of disinterest in food. I’d be interested in hearing whether this is sort of typical, or if it’s something people don’t usually experience.
I figure that at some point, my interest in food will come back, at least to a certain degree. Until then, I’ll just have to depend on the interest and passion that other people have for food, and appreciate it as something that I might not necessarily love or feel any affinity toward, but as a necessity that will help me do the things I want to do, and get where I want to go. If I can’t love food, I can at least appreciate its value, right?