As some of you may have noticed, I always love to include a recipe with most articles I write. Somehow, I always find a way to weave in a meal I ate earlier in the week into one of the articles, in hopes of giving you all a glimpse into my plant-based life. This week, however, with an unexpected course of events, I do not have a recipe to deliver.
This weekend, a surprise storm came, tossing trees and power lines around like feathers. For the extent of this past weekend, we have been without power, meaning no working stove, oven, or even microwave. This translated to meals consisting of a measly bowl of cereal, a jar of peanut butter, or canned goods, all of which could not sustain my family for an entire weekend until our power returned. An initial panic blanketed everyone in our house when we lost power, and every anxiety-ridden question was directed towards me: how will I be able to follow my routine meal plan without a functioning kitchen? Though my brother saw losing power as an excuse to polish off all of the ice cream melting away in the freezer, I, along with my family, saw that this storm presented me with two different options: I could either allow the storm to threaten my progress in recovery or embrace it as a chance to test the limits of my eating disorder. For the past five months, my days have been shaped by routine. Days are constructed around cooking and meal times. Despite unexpected events that may arise from day to day, cooking and eating have been constants throughout my recovery.
Recovery is divided into distinct stages, all of which contribute to restoring abundant health both in mind and body. In the first stage of recovery, food acts as a healer. Just as insulin is vital for those with diabetes, just as chemotherapy is imperative in the treatment of those suffering from cancer, food for me was a healing medicine. Though ironic in nature, food is the only medicine for those coping with relentless eating disorders during these beginning stages. The mind can only be healed by what some fear the most. In this stage of recovery, you must distance yourself from your control mechanism. For someone enduring treatment for alcoholism, it is vital in the first stage of recovery that they separate themselves from alcohol, their mode of control in a world that seems uncontrollable at times. Eating disorder recovery acts in the same way. I had to separate myself from the set of rules I established regarding food. These were my control mechanisms. Currently, as I transition into the second phase of recovery with restored health, it is time to abandon the sense of control and comfort my eating disorder promised. Now is the time to feel uncomfortable and break the rules my eating disorder rigidly set.
When recovering from any illness, both mental and physical, routine establishes the foundation for success. Routine assures that there is a constant amongst the radical change occurring in your life. Often times, people are confident in their belief that those with restrictive eating disorders limit themselves to organic or all natural health or “super foods,” regarding any other foods falling outside the limitations of these labels as toxic. In reality, however, this is a myth that has evolved into a stereotype. Those struggling with eating disorders often follow a strict routine of eating the same foods without fail day after day, whether or not they are deemed superfoods or not. When fully consumed by my eating disorder, my life was dulled by the ritual of eating the same foods day after day, one of these foods being a scoop of vanilla ice cream before bed each night. If a scoop of chocolate ice cream was placed in front of me, however, my mind would have shutoff to the idea of eating it. This foreign food was not in line with the precious routine I had delicately constructed for myself. Though routine is an essential piece of recovery, especially when restoring one’s weight and returning them to a healthy, abundant state, it can be harmful as one progresses past this stage of recovery. This week, I realized that if I continue to cling to my daily routines, I will only strengthen the ritualistic nature of my eating disorder. I will only fuel its all-powerful voice.
With this in mind, this weekend of unexpected storms could not have come soon enough. After realizing that peanut butter, cereal, and canned goods were not sustainable, my family decided that eating out at restaurants until our power returned was the answer to our dilemma. I immediately dismissed this plan. Since embarking on recovery and following the meal plans carefully constructed by my medical team and parents, every ingredient down to the amount of oil coating the pan before an egg is cracked and fried, or the amount of flour and baking powder in a batch of chocolate chip cookies was measured, calculated, understood, and accounted for. At restaurants, everything is crafted artistically and prepared spontaneously. Chefs do not take the time to count out the number of calories in a cup of sugar before pouring it into a batter of sorts. I know what you may be thinking. For most, restaurants are a luxury. Most families are treated to a meal out once in a while, seeing it as a reward after a week of exhaustive cooking. At this stage in my life, however, restaurants can be a source of anxiety for me-- they go against the routines I have strategically formulated. For me, eating at restaurants translates to a loss of control.
There is no distinct date that terminates the end of a recovery stage. There’s no deadline to meet, buzzer to beat, or ribbon to cut. I love how my therapist epitomizes what it means to be in the second stage of recovery: this phase is one that is ever-evolving. In this stage, perfection should not be a goal, after all, perfection is what landed me in a critical situation in the first place. The second stage of recovery is about saying "yes" to new opportunities that would have been immediately dismissed by my eating disorder in the past. It is about accepting that you will be uncomfortable, and it is this discomfort that will ultimately grant you a life of freedom. Since eating out at restaurants for a weekend, my parents now realize that a storm of anxiety should not brew if I did not completely finish a meal. Rather, the act of distancing myself from routine to go to a restaurant is a victory to be celebrated. Leaving bits of food on my plate is just one moment, it is a not a pattern of restriction. It is not an act that will spiral me into a state of emergency. This stage is constructed of moments, both victorious and difficult. And it is these moments that will lead me towards stage three: freedom and independence.