There are a thousand and one reasons to recover from an eating disorder. More than that, probably. One of the first things I did when I committed to recovery was make a list of reasons why I should recover. I sat in my bed with candles lit and mellow music in the background and scribbled out a list of everything I could think of in my journal. There’s a lot of reasons and I hope to talk about a lot of them as I continue to share on this blog- my hope is to share a new one every few weeks. They won’t be in any particular order- none are more or less important than the others. But right now, I want to share one in particular with you all.
So here is my first reason to recover that I want to share: being able ot eat out at restaurants without guilt. I love restaurants. I think eating out is such a small and delicious pleasure in life. I love going to restaurants with their perfectly set tables and their beautiful flatware and their tasty cocktail menus. I love a perfectly dressed salad, a wonderfully seasoned piece of meat, creamy polentas and risottos. I love the option of appetizers and desserts. I love breakfasts away from home. Omelettes, perfectly buttered toast and homemade french toast. I’m getting carried away but the bottom line is: I love food.
Buuuut…I hate food at the same time. Food has provided me with the biggest love/hate relationship of my whole life. I love food- how it tastes, how it looks, how it’s art within itself. But I hate food- for causing me anxiety, for never feeling like I deserve it, for the never ending guilt that I associate it with. And throw in the fact that I am a nutrition major and know much more about the scientific properties of food than any person should…well. It’s just complicated.
But recovery has flipped this whole thing upside down. I’m trying to go from a love/hate relationship to a love/love relationship. Which is hard. But kind of awesome.
I’ve been to a lot of restaurants throughout my recovery and while I love love love dining out, there’s been very few occasions where these outings didn’t totally consume me with guilt. Before recovery, eating out at restaurants meant being in very tight control of my intake and exercise for days before and after. It meant ordering whatever was “safest”. It meant saying no to dessert even if I wanted it.
But NOW. Now, my friends, things are different. Now eating out has no rules- it doesn’t take preparation. No extra workouts. No calorie counting. No restricting in preparation. Now, eating out is just that. It’s just a meal out. No strings attached. And how wonderfully freeing that feeling is.
Now I’m going to be totally honest: the first time I went out to dinner in recovery, it practically sent me back into a relapse. I was filled with anxiety before we even got to the restaurant. Despite how “free” I was, I felt ED screaming back at me to order the “safest” entree so that’s what I did. And I felt so guilty afterward, I felt sick to my stomach. This experience left my mind whirling- I felt like I had messed up my recovery. It turns out I didn’t mess it up- I just had a very normal, somewhat expected and entirely temporary fallback into my ED brain. I felt like I could do nothing but go home, curl up and go to sleep.
This weekend, exactly two weeks after that first experience, my partner and I went out to dinner once again. My ED brain was screaming at the top of her lungs last week so I was a bit nervous. When we first got to the restaurant, I went to the bathroom and made myself breathe and then said out loud to my reflection in the mirror “it’s not what you eat, it’s who you eat it with” (I’m a bit crazy I know). I went back to the table and quickly identified the safest entree on the menu- but that’s not what I ordered. I challenged myself to order something that I would have never even considered ordering before. Something that came cooked in loads of butter. Something that was delicious. We shared two appetizers before- and I can honestly say that I don’t think I have ever allowed myself to enjoy a cheese plate so thoroughly. At the end of the meal, we ordered Irish coffees, something which I’ve said I wanted to try for years but never had the courage to actually order.
Here’s the thing: this experience didn’t fill me with dread or shame or guilt. It didn’t make me want to cry and it didn’t make me embarrassed. It was so freeing to sit across from my partner and enjoy a meal with him. It was so nice to be able to carry on a conversation without adding calories in my head or sneaking my phone beneath the table to try to add them up. It was so nice to be present and not be caught up in the food or everything I have attached to it.
Dining out continues to confuse me- just yesterday morning, I went out to breakfast and I couldn’t decided if I wanted the safe food because I wanted it or because it was safe. I spent minutes antagonizing over the decision of what to order. I expect that this will continue to happen for awhile until I can repair my mind-body connection and be able to truly rely on my hunger cues.
The confusion is worth the freedom. I might not have had to deal with the confusion and the indecisiveness of ordering when I was stuck in my ED, but I was just that: stuck. I was trapped. I was trapped in a little prison I had made for myself and while it was cozy, it deprived me of so many of the beautiful things in this world. Like coffee with cream and broiled fish in butter and white wine and pancakes and scallops wrapped in bacon. Things that may seem mundane and insignificant to other people that represent a HUGE win in my recovery.
Being able to eat out and enjoy not only the food, but being able to enjoy fully in the conversation and presence of the ones you’re with when you’re out to dinner is a beautiful, beautiful thing and in my opinion, one of many reasons to recover.
If you haven’t already done it, follow me on Instagram @sundaesforthesoul, Facebook at Sundaes for the Soul or Twitter at @sundaesforsoul (links above). I have heard from quite a few of you and I LOVE reading your comments and feedback so please keep it up! I love to talk about my journey and hear about yours. Sending you all strength and love this week!