I write this not because I have reached recovery paradise – Eden. I write in order to reach Eden. I am however under no illusion that recovery does not take away any of life’s difficulties. It simply means that I choose not to carry the extra baggage of an eating disorder with me. Watching Nigerians hauling excess baggage at airports reminds me that if I can do without it, it’s better to ditch it. The baggage I have to ditch as I now embrace the joys and horrors of recovery is that of the restrictive/dieting mentality.
It is hard to go one day without hearing about a new diet, clean food fad, cleanse, fast or whatever else. Some may say they’re watching their weight. Nigerians may say they’re watching their height. Whichever it may be, diet talk is hard to escape. It’s not just the average Joe Public engaging in this but also doctors and those in the medical world.
This post was in itself prompted by an article I read about Dr Andrew Renaut who believes that skipping breakfast is the key to losing weight and is also on a mission to ‘educate’ people about the dangers of obesity.
Since I am not a specialist, I will not pretend to contradict him. However, I would like to posit a different theory. BALANCE rather than AVOIDANCE and FADDINESS is the likely key to good health (note I do not talk about weight loss). I do not believe in focusing on losing weight. I simply believe in finding balance and not dictating what one’s body should look like. Breakfast does not kill but dieting sure might. Obesity probably is dangerous in the long run but so is malnutrition and/or being underweight. Malnutrition can exist at any size.
As someone recovering from an eating disorder, I have to find ways to keep my mind focused on recovery even as my body grows to uncomfortable levels. For me, this is like walking down a road littered with chewing gum on the ground and having to hop, skip and jump so that I don’t end up with a mountain of chewing gum under my shoe at the end of each day. It reminds me of the time I lived in France and spent my time dodging dog mess on the ground whenever I went out. It gets annoying to say the least.
The more I read, the less I believe in dieting. We think as human beings that we have a monopoly on intelligence but that is not the case in my opinion. Our bodies are more intelligent than we think. We cannot outwit our bodies by pretending that cauliflower is real rice or that courgetti is really spaghetti. Our bodies will fight back through cravings which can often lead to binges and/or purging (through vomiting or overexercise) and then back to restriction again, therefore undoing all our ‘dieting’ efforts. I choose not to fall into this trap.
What can I do to avoid the chewing gum and the dog mess?
- Educate myself. Read lots of literature about the dangers of dieting, recovery from eating disorders and other literature which boosts my self esteem without reference to my size or shape. This has been a godsend.
- Remind myself that everyone’s story is different and so are our journeys in life.
- Ask myself whether I want to return to the depths of the eating disorder (the answer will always be no). I am by no means ‘recovered’ but ‘recovering’, with all it’s physical and mental side effects, is much better than being trapped in an eating disorder.
- Avoid comparing myself to others. Physically or in terms of nutrition. I always used to find it weird to be ‘complemented’ on my unhealthy and manipulated weight. In fact, I used to smirk. Not because I was proud of my shape or size but because I always used to think ‘if only you knew’. If only they knew the hellish existence I lived to maintain that size, they would pity rather than complement me.
- Remember that I am MORE THAN and so are YOU. Yep, you heard me. More than our size or weight. More than our bodies. More than our race, gender or other descriptor. More than our names and more than our diagnosis. More than the labels others tag us with and even more than the labels we tag ourselves. More than the food we eat and more than the way we look. Our bodies, in my humble opinion, are not the key to our happiness. They are simply vehicles which help us live, thrive and navigate life’s obstacles. These vessel will wither, fade away and eventually go onto the scrap heap. I chose therefore to respect, take care of and nourish this vessel. But, I will not worship it. My body is not my god. Nor will I idolise food, diets, fads nor anything else man-made which claims to be the key, the secret, the elusive elixir of life. Don’t get me wrong. Health is wealth but how to enjoy good health is likely not through a lifetime of dieting/restricting or the inverse, bingeing.
- In keeping with the thought that I AM MORE THAN WHAT I EAT, I choose to use my time and mind in meaningful ways which benefit myself and others, such as helping those who struggle with literacy and warning people about the dangers of dieting and how diets can lead to eating disorders for those with a predisposition to such disorders. I also choose to spend my time and mind focusing on what I can do rather than how I look. This does not mean I will ‘let myself go’ and stop taking pride in my appearance. It simply means this will rank lower in my list of life priorities. I want to spend good time in the company of others rather than obsessing over food and therefore isolating myself.
- Finally, I choose to remember that in the end, WE ALL DIE. It really is that simple. We cannot name the day or time. Some things are beyond our control. I have seen people die prematurely from all sorts of illness who were not overweight. What I remember about these individuals is not their weight or ‘height’. What I remember about them is their compassion towards me, their attempts to understand me, the way they made me laugh, the way they allowed me to cry and be vulnerable in their company. In conclusion, what I remember is the way THEY LOVED ME – for who I am on the inside, not what I am on the outside.
LOVE NEVER FAILS. Diets do.