I like to be good at things.
In my experience, this kind of goes with the territory for people with restrictive eating disorders. As a general rule, anorexics tend to be extremely high achievers and massively competitive mofos.
While I was heavily restricting, I always wanted to be the one who had eaten the least, and who had achieved the most, be it miles walked for the day, professional achievements, etc. I wanted to be the smallest person in the room, the one that made people shake their heads and say “how on earth does she do it all, and fit into a size zero?”
Of course, there was literally NOBODY who was doing this. Truthfully, most non-disordered eaters really don’t fucking care how much you eat or what size you wear.
But I did, and to a certain degree, I guess I still do.
I won’t lie: one of the hardest parts about eating disorder recovery is giving up how GOOD I was at restricting.
While I have made a commitment to no longer actively restrict, I still struggle with the desire/need to be good at things.
Really, it’s a thing with me and has been for some time:
I gravitate toward yoga because I am flexible. I enjoy being noticed as a writer/illustrator. I like the validation of social media likes, sometimes too much. I like it when people have crushes on me because it makes me feel desirable.
I mean, it’s all connected to the eating disorder. These are all ways that I’m trying to validate myself and feel good about the space I take up in the world. It’s me trying to be special.
Recovering from a restrictive eating disorder means gaining weight. For me, even a few pounds changed everything. I’m no longer the smallest one in the room. I know this is a normal thing. Of course in this great wide world, some people will be bigger and others will be smaller. But in some ways it feels like the most terrible and fearsome thing in the world.
Without my eating disorder, am I really special anymore?
Without restricting, there’s the threat of something truly terrible: being average.
An eating disorder gives you the illusion of safety because it gives you structure. In a way, you believe that you have superpowers. The problem is that it’s not true. All that you’re doing with the structure of the eating disorder is isolating yourself from really feeling anything at all.
Without the eating disorder, you realize that you’re human and all of a sudden you’re subject to regular human things like rejection and pain.
There’s a beauty to this. It forces you to be more open and vulnerable and to actually, you know, feel.
But it’s also fucking hard, because you’ve lost the superficial armor that the eating disordered mindset tricked you into thinking you had. It makes the ground feel shaky at all times.
Without my eating disorder, I often feel like I’m living this sticky, uncomfortable place. The grey zone. I feel things. I experience fear. I experience feeling not good enough. I experience not being the most of things.
I won’t lie. It gets me AGITATED.
Sometimes it makes me want to crawl out of my skin. It makes me want to drive around in my car and have my own DIY primal scream sessions, to draw all the curtains and hide, to avoid going to yoga in case someone thinner than me is in the room, to never date again because if I let myself care, I can be hurt.
I think that plenty of people in recovery can relate to that. But what can you possibly do?
Here’s the good news.
In this uncomfortable space, there is also an invitation to do something truly radical: to love yourself, and to let go of being the fucking best.
To love yourself is different than being proud of yourself because you’re the thinnest/fastest/cleverest/best/etc. To actually love yourself means to recognize that even not being the most extreme version of anything, you’re probably still pretty great.
Self acceptance and self love sounds simple, and it is. What’s hard is actually practicing it, day in and day out. I struggle.
And yet even as hard as it is to face who I am sometimes, there are other times when I look at myself in the mirror and feel a true burst of love and think “hi, you”.
More good news: I think it gets easier with practice. And a life where you can enjoy yourself is better than the imperious but lonely life of a restrictive eater.