The Post That Nearly Didn’t Happen

Svenska: Självbetjäningsbutik i Svedmyra
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“You can get the monkey off your back, but the circus never leaves town” 
―    Anne Lamott,    Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith

This is one of those posts that has sat in my ‘drafts’ box for several weeks as I’ve tried to summon up the courage to identify and write about my atitudes.  Then this week rolled around, and in some parts of the world it has been Body Image And Eating Disorders Awareness Week (BIAEDAW), and so I thought it would be good to get it done for that.  But fibromyalgia leapt up and attacked me for a few days this week and I find it is Saturday (in my part of the world) already.  I’m just scrapping in.

Body image and eating disorders are hard to write about, and I think the reason for that is that they are so personal.  I also accept for people who don’t suffer from problems of either, it is hard to get your head around just how much of a struggle it is.  After all, “why not just eat your dinner and be done with it?”  Or “just stop bingeing, stop vomiting” … sure it’s simple.  But it’s not.

What about the view in the mirror?  “Just don’t look”.   That could solve the problem but the reality is I don’t need to look in the mirror to struggle with how I look.  My mere physical existence can be too much for me some days, and it’s not a case of how everyone at some times hates what they look like.  It’s much more than that, and it invades every part of life.

It’s impossible to escape food, and to escape our physical bodies.  If I never had to eat again I think I’d be sorted, but as it is, I have to eat regularly to maintain that physical body I still loathe, and so I can’t hide from either.

One of the things that can be difficult is the normal, everyday task of a trip to the supermarket.  A lot of people struggle with this chore, for a variety of reasons and in the past I too have regularly run from the supermarket crying, leaving half a trolley of groceries standing in the aisle.  It just simply got too much for me.  I know for a lot of people this is about anxiety, but it wasn’t so much that for me.

A trip to the supermarket, or where ever you buy your groceries, can be a great experience (apparently) through to a nightmare, depending on a number of issues.  For me there are two issues that affect my experience.  One is the availability of money to pay for the groceries, but the much bigger issue for me is that of my attitude to food and my body.

For nearly 20 years I have had a diagnosed eating disorder, of varying degrees of severity.   I used to fit (pun intended) into the Anorexia Nervosa category but more recently have been classed as ED-NOS.  That sounds like it should be a food additive on nutritional information labels but actually it means ‘Eating Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified’.  That can be defined for me as having disordered eating patterns and attitudes while I don’t meet the medical category of anorexia anymore because of regulation of menstruation and weight.  So for me it was a good thing.  It was heading towards recovery.

Recently my psychiatrist told me that he didn’t think it was an issue anymore although accepted there were still problems with my relationship to food and weight.  Somehow I suspect it will always be a battle although now that I am committed to life , it makes an enormous difference to putting food in my mouth.

While there are different categories of eating disorders, commonalities can be seen.  But how an individual’s eating disorder plays out is exactly that, individual.

My reaction to walking into a building full of food (known as a supermarket) will have similarities to others with ED-NOS (and other types of eating disorders) but there are also big differences.  I need to be clear in that because what I share here is my experience only.  It is not necessarily the case for anyone else.

Here’s what happens for me when I enter a supermarket, depending on my mood, even down to what I’m wearing, and how physically comfortable I am;

  1. I’m going to prove I don’t need/want any of this.
  2. I’m going to let myself have whatever I want.
  3. There are too many choices and I can’t decide on anything.
  4. This food is ‘out to get me’ and make me look fatter.
  5. Everyone else in the supermarket sees me as a fat slob who can’t control her desires.
  6. I don’t deserve any of this.
  7. I can’t afford any of this, and I’m going to deprive myself.
  8. I’m going to choose wisely what I need.
  9. I’ll choose all this food but then put it in the food bank bin, because they need it more than me, and I really can’t bear to have it in the house.
  10. Get me out of here… fast!

It’s a battle of wills (the whole way) between the healthy Cate who knows she needs and deserves food, and the disordered Cate who can’t deal with all the decisions about something she really doesn’t want to think about anyway.

Sometimes I can go through the whole store and purposely walk past what looks good and what is my favourite, just to test myself.  And as my eating disorder has always been about claiming control on my out of control world, I can do this really well.  It’s just that I get home and have nothing.  But hey, at least I’ve saved money this week!

Usually I don’t know which of numbers one to ten will be the issue on any given day.  I am getting more aware of my attitudes now and can identify what the problem is.  Sometimes I can now re-think, and sometimes it’s actually just best to go home and try again tomorrow.

Another thing that I struggle with is shopping with someone else.  I hate it because not only am I making the judgements on myself the whole way but I assume the other person is also making these judgments on me.  Last year while I had my parents living with me I struggled with this, and would often end up without the things I needed.  It simply wasn’t as easy as putting the food in the trolley and then paying for it.

My bet is that every person with an eating disorder will battle with this everyday chore.  There is a huge element of ‘I don’t deserve this food’ for many and I know that there will be different issues for every person.  So if you know someone with an eating disorder, spare a thought for them this week.  Everyday, and even mundane, tasks are far from easy.

“I am angry that I starved my brain and that I sat shivering in my bed
at night instead of dancing or reading poetry or eating
ice cream or kissing a boy…” 

―    Laurie Halse Anderson,    Wintergirls


14 thoughts on “The Post That Nearly Didn’t Happen

  1. It’s hard to respond to your post. I don’t know what to say and I wish I could add something sage that would help you or comfort you. All I can say is that, as I read your posts I’m getting to know you better and my respect for you is growing. I’m not sure how you look of the outside,but I surely like what’s on the inside.
    God Bless!

    1. Thank you John. I appreciate you taking the time to comment in spite of it being hard to know what to say. It’s always lovely to get feedback and I very much appreciate your support.

  2. Sounds like the grocery store is quite the adventure. Some of my friends struggle with eating disorders on various levels so I’m familiar with how difficult it can be, not necessarily to eat, but to explain to people what is going on. One friend said that once diagnosed with an eating disorder people will never stop asking you if you’ve eaten today. I can only imagine the stress that brings up.

    I would sometimes not eat to punish myself or I would hope that if I could hold out on eating long enough it would kill me but my relationship with food was never bad, just the relationship with myself.

    Thanks so much for sharing this with us 🙂 xoxo

  3. Sarah

    Cate, ,just wondering have you ever tried internet shopping? Woolies do it, and probably some others. You make a list, and just order those things- then they deliver it!! I hate supermarket shopping too, although for (mainly) different reasons to yours. I find my brain gets overloaded with trying to remember what I need, trying to find it, trying not to get in the way of other shoppers, trying to compare prices, the noise, the advertising… worrying about the budget ( we have one in common there!!).. trying to remember if I do need that product after all even though its not on my list… , so internet shopping really helped for a while, especially when we were going through a really stressful time.

    1. Thanks for that Sarah. I actually use internet shopping for a lot now days but haven’t for groceries yet because of the delivery costs they charge. Because I am only shopping for one I don’t buy enough to get free delivery. One day though I think I will probably resort to it because it definitely has some advantages. Thanks for the idea. 🙂

  4. On a “good” day at home when you are thinking healthy and happy thoughts, could you write out a list of what foods you need to consume to stay healthy and happy? Protein, fruits, veggies, dairy, bread/cereal/pasta and a treat or two. This could be your staples list. Make copies, choose a day each week to shop, take your list with those things you are out of circled or checked and buy just those. You are in control and it may weaken some of those more difficult thoughts on your 1-10 list. Just a thought.
    Thanks for being brave and sharing your story. I have had a fight with food and thoughts for more that 35 years. I got into binging/purging in college. Not too the extent of being diagnosed with something except probably for one 6 month period when I was throwing up most every day. I rarely do it now; I can usually reason my way out if it rather than into it. It can be so easy to head that route when life seems to close in. Certain foods put me into a ‘coma’ state and that is welcome to avoid having to think on those tougher days. I’d come out of the coma long enough to feel really sick so I’d make myself get sick which starts a difficult cycle. I don’t have to tell you…
    Keep working hard…you are doing great!

    1. Thanks for your suggestions Shelly. I have a plan worked out but often it is not until I physically walk into the supermarket that I realise whether this is going to be easy or hard. Actually to be honest sometimes it’s not until I walk out of there and see what I have actually bought. 🙂

  5. reflectionsonlifethusfar

    As a person recovering from an ED I know how difficult buying food can be. Even when money isn’t a concern the food still is. I feel pretty good about myself these days body image wise but grocery shopping still poses challenges. Mainly the decision making is hardest for me. There are so many varieties of the same thing and I sometimes stand for 10-15 min. in an aisle trying to figure out if I should buy an item or not. I’m sure security thinks I’m a shoplifter or something! As long as I eat before going grocery shopping then I am usually alright, well not as bad anyway! On an empty stomach in the supermarket I can’t make any decisions! Everything becomes this monumental task where one wrong move and my decision could have dire consequences! LOL It sounds so crazy because it is. Glad I’m not alone in my struggles-even though I wish you didn’t have to know what it’s like.

    1. I agree that the decision making is the hardest and some days it is simply too hard. You are definitely not alone in this and I totally get it. But hey, recovery includes recovering the ability to grocery shop. Well that’s what I’m working on anyway. :-\

  6. Pingback: Teetering On The Edge | Infinite Sadness... or hope?

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