Saturday, June 1, 2013

Recovered? What's That!

"Recovered? What's That!"
Amy Grabowski

When I introduce myself as leader of the ANAD group, I say that I have recovered from eating disorders. I often get the same reaction from the new members in the group: "Is it possible to recover fully? How do you know when you are recovered? You don't think about food all the time!"
Total recovery to me means that food, eating, and weight eventually become "non-issues". I tell my clients that we have to take the "power" out of food and turn it back into, well, food. Total recovery means being able to eat without feeling guilt, remorse, despair, panic, self-hatred, etc. After I eat I forget about it! It becomes a non-issue! I can get on with the rest of my life.
At this point I usually get quizzical looks: "You mean you can eat ice cream or pizza and not feel bad afterwards? That's fine for you, but I can't stop eating! I can't have those foods." Part of the recovery process involves learning how to eat like a "normal eater". Normal eaters eat foods like ice cream and pizza. Normal eaters eat three meals and a snack or two a day. Normal eaters eat when they are hungry and stop when they are full - most of the time. Normal eaters do not panic at the sight of pizza!
When I was in college there was a woman in my class who would bring a slice of left-over pizza for lunch every Tuesday. This truly amazed me at the time, because the words "left-over" and "pizza" never went together in my vocabulary before! And she brought it EVERY Tuesday! I got up my courage and as nonchalantly as I could I asked her about it - how could she have pizza every Tuesday and feel OK about it? She told me that she and her husband had pizza every Monday night and always had left-overs for the next day. At the time I wondered how she could "control" herself having pizza so often. She explained that since she knew she was going to have pizza on Monday and the next and the next… it was no big deal! She had taken the power out of the pizza and turned it back into, well, food.
This story illustrates that when we give ourselves "true permission" to have a food, we do not have to "control" it. Total recovery involves learning how to give ourselves "true permission": "Yes I can have that and I can have it again too". This is opposed to "sort of permission": "Well, OK, I'll have it this one time, but never again!" (You know the consequence of "sort of permission": "Since I can never have it again, I better eat it all and then some!") The consequence of "true permission" is that we do not feel deprived and can trust that there will always be enough and that we will always be able to get our share.
How do we learn how to give ourselves "true permission"? Everyone is going to come up with their own solution to this. One approach is to buy food in such large quantities that you could not possibly eat it all. This can be expensive and very very scary. Another way is to start by allowing yourself one "treat" a day. I, myself, took the middle road by starting with a scary food: peanut butter. I decided one day that if I wanted peanut butter I was going to have peanut butter! I had peanut butter for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. On the first day, I just relished it like a greedy little child! On the second day, I found that I could relax a bit and get in touch with the taste and texture. The third day, I still liked it but the enjoyment was beginning to wear off. On the fourth day, I ate it but did not really want it. By the fifth day, I rebelled and refused to eat it! I craved a salad! I couldn't believe it! To see peanut butter and think, "No, thanks." Peanut butter had been turned back into, well, food!
This wasn't a freak occurrence. I have repeated this experiment with my clients and most have found that by the fifth day of "true permission" they no longer need to "control" the food. When food is, well, food you can eat it and enjoy it. You can stop eating when you are satisfied and forget about it. It takes a lot less food to satisfy you when you know that you can eat again in a while, when you are hungry. You can get on with the rest of your life.
Amy Grabowski