Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The irony of being controlled while trying to be in control

I know I’ve written on this topic before, but I recently had an “aha” moment that cause me to revisit the experience.

When I had an eating disorder, I wasn’t free.  I was bound to the shackles and chains of counting calories.  Everything that passed my lips not only had to be counted but also accounted for.

I thought I was free.  I thought that I was in control; my biggest fear was being out-of-control when it came to food and weight.

The irony was that I wasn’t in control – even when I was controlling everything little thing I ate down to a stick of gum, an Ibuprofen, or even licking an envelope shut.

My mind was constantly preoccupied with food, exercise, how many calories does this have, how many miles will I have to run after I eat this, how many pounds will I gain if I don’t…

I could never live in the moment.  I could never fully let go of the control of food in order to be present in whatever situation I found myself.

Parties were the worst – I was so afraid of the food that surrounded me.  I could not fully participate in conversations because I was either trying to figure out if I could manage a cookie or I was beating myself up for eating some buffalo chicken dip.  Then for days or weeks after, I tried to exercise away all of my eating “sins”.

My big turning point in this regard was after I ran a marathon.  The day of the big event came and I was still counting calories.  After the race, my husband and I had a celebratory dinner at our favorite restaurant.  Still, even after vigorously training for and then running a marathon, I had to tally up what I was eating.  I realized then and there that I had a problem.  It would never end.  If I was still obsessed with calories after I ran a freaking marathon, then I would never be able to stop.

I realized then and there that I was not in control.  My obsession with food, calories, exercise, and weight was in control of me.

After that day I decided to stop counting calories and stop “making up for” what I ate through exercise.  If I am to exercise, then I will do it because it feels good and makes me feel good after – not because I “need” to in order to negate the food I consumed.

Because I had been counting calories for about 10 years, the practice was a deep-rooted bad habit.  Its roots had spread over my whole being infiltrating every aspect of my life.  Stopping this routine was very difficult, to say the least.

It’s a lot harder to “unlearn” than to learn.  It’s not easy to just forget how many calories are in a banana, a granola bar, or a glass of milk…containers, boxes, and labels don’t help the situation either.

But since I realized that I had a problem, I had to be committed to giving it up.  So, I don’t look at nutrition labels anymore.  If I try to tally up calories in my head, I literally make noise, “la la la la la”, until it passes or until I’m distracted by something else.

The critical moment comes when I try to count how much I’ve had to eat in one day.  I’ve been known to hold my head with my eyes tightly squeezed shut saying “no no no no no”.  I have to remind myself that I don’t want to be controlled by this evil eating disorder anymore.

I have to remind myself that I want to live life – I don’t want to be on my death bed counting the calories in my ensure shake or the liquid in my IV.

So, with a lot of grace from God and continual practice I can say that I no longer count calories.

Most days I don’t even remember what I ate anymore, and for me, that’s a huge turn around.  It took about a year to get the information out of my brain.  Occasionally, calories will pop in my head but I dismiss them and move on.

The other day, I was at my parent’s house and almost everyone was home (which is a big deal nowadays).  Of course there was plenty of food around.  Only a few years ago, this would have caused me so much anguish, so much anxiety.  But, during our gathering, I didn’t think anything of it.  I actually didn’t even eat any of the snacks because I was full from a delicious dinner earlier that evening.  And I never thought twice about it.  (Well, until the next day when I marveled at how different the experience was for me compared to what it would have been in the past.)

It was an “aha” moment when I realized later how great it was.  I laughed, I was fully present in conversation and company, I was relaxed, and, most of all, I thoroughly enjoyed myself.  Had I not changed, had I not given up the control, I would have been miserable.  I would have been distraught from being surrounded by food.  I probably would have been hungry because I was afraid to eat or I would have been mentally defeated because I did eat.  I would not have been able to enjoy myself because I was a slave to my eating disorder.

I am still working on keeping a positive body image.  I can’t say that I don’t still struggle with low self-worth.  But I have to remind myself that I don’t want to go back to the way I was, being controlled by the eating disorder.

When I am tempted to start controlling what I eat I have to remind myself that I would not be in control, but I could be controlled by an evil that I no longer have room for in my life.

I also have to remind myself how awesome it is not to be obsessed with food and what I did or didn’t eat.  I eat when I’m hungry, I eat what I am hungry for, and I don’t eat if I’m not hungry.

In the past, when the eating disorder was ruling my life, I thought that I if I didn’t control my food, then I would be out of control, like an animal, and not able to stop eating.  But it’s not like that at all.

I guess the point of this post is to let you know that it is WONDERFUL on the other side!  (I rarely use exclamation marks an all caps in my posts, so this sentence should stick out.)  I have a much better relationship with food now that I’ve stopped trying to control it.  I’m not saying it’s perfect – it never will be.  But, it’s a heck of a lot better now.  If you are teetering on the fence, make the leap of faith – it’s worth it!

If you are struggling with letting go of controlling what you eat and need some more information, try implementing some intuitive eating techniques.  Click here, here, or here to learn more about this practice.  Or read these other articles from other bloggers.

Why diets don’t work
Mindful eating: What it is and isn’t and why kids don’t need it

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