I've been thinking a lot lately about something that my therapist used to tell me all the time--especially when I first arrived in her office with my ambivalent and skeptical attitude towards recovery. According to her--and let's call "her" Jessie--what I really needed to do was not to focus on food and exercise, but to focus on the emotional, psychic, and/or social things that were compelling me to starve myself and overexercise.
This sounded like a bad excuse for crappy Freudian therapy, i.e. "How does your fourteen year old self feel when you malnourish your body?" (Well, "Jessie," fourteen year old Nikki prolly feels relieved that she at so many Hot Tamales candies, since the prognosis on eating those in the future is baaaaad.)
At the time, I wanted only to stop feeling so bad and so sad, and my immediate focus was the practical side of things. I never considered myself anorexic (despite being diagnosed with anorexia) and instead I thought I probably just needed a more focused diet that would support my ever-increasing running mileage.
Hearing that food was only the outward manifestation of my real problems seemed like a vague and murky cop out. Like, "Am I seriously going to sit here and talk about how I process my emotions when what I really need to know is how many Omega-3's are in a 4 oz. serving of salmon?"
In retrospect, however, it seems perfectly obvious that Jessie was right--at least in my case. My eating disorder has changed form over the years, from compulsive dieting to bulimia to anorexia, all interspersed with periods of what I call mini-binge eating episodes. (I mini-binge on two small children per session--not ten--that would be gross!) This proves what Jessie kept telling me, which is that eating disorders are really only ways of coping with things that one cannot handle in a healthier way. (But come on--running ten miles or eating an enormous piece of cake are much more more palatable way of coping with things than, say, taking a freaking bubble bath.) The form of my disorder has changed depending on many personal and situational factors, but what remains is the impulse to focus on my body and my relationship with food when I'm unhappy or unsettled about something else.
I'm not going to go all crunchy yoga on you and say that I'm grateful for the struggle because it's made me who I am, but I am grateful that now I recognize that focusing on food, fitness, and my body is not going to make me happy. I'm uncomfortable in my body right now and still really struggling with the weight that I've gained (for good reason) over the last two years. And lately I've been combing my brain for every dieting/exercise "solution" for my rounder hips and fuller face. But now, this time, I know that my rounder hips and fuller face--i.e. my recent weight gain--is only important because it tells me that something else in my life needs tweaking.
Now if only I could figure out what that is?!!!
*How many Omega-3's are in a 4 oz. serving of salmon, anyway?