Affirming Freedom

Affirming Freedom

I always nourish myself lovingly and intuitively, and I am free from all disordered eating.

I am free from all disordered eating.

I am free

FREE

F

R

E

E

From all disordered eating.

Today is a new day. It is a beautiful day. It is a blank slate of a day, one I’ve yet to live. It is the 14th day – and half-way point – of the affirmation I am working right now: I always nourish myself lovingly and intuitively and I am free from all disordered eating.

Nourishment, in this case, refers to more than food. It comprises my physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual nutrition. It means feeding myself when I am hungry and not feeding myself when I am not hungry. Sometimes food is not the solution in the given moment.

Sometimes, in anorexia recovery, I feel pressure to eat all the time, as if eating heavily and constantly is the appropriate way to work my recovery – or to prove to others I am working it. I eat out of anxiety to prove that I am healthy, a decisively unhealthy behavior.

The real challenge, and the real recovery, is balance. It’s respecting my body enough to say yes when it wants food, and no when it does not. It’s like choosing whether or not to have sex. Sex is great, when it’s what you want. But if you’re engaging in it anxiously, to prove yourself to someone (your partner, a friend, or even yourself), then it’s not. It’s not great.

The same goes for dessert! When it comes to dessert, I gotta ask myself, “Do I want this now or not? Am I eating this because I want it, or because I want the friend sitting next to me to see me eating it?”

Pasta.

Growing up, I was taught that carbohydrates are bad. That eating them would make me blow up like a balloon. Of course, every time I ate them, I binged and felt like a failure. I was too afraid to ask for help – help balancing my relationship with food – because I didn’t want to admit I was a carbohydrate addict. I didn’t want to admit I had failed in the first place.

When I finally got control – i.e., developed anorexia – carbohydrates were the first to go. And there was pride around this. Pride, pride, pride.

“I don’t eat any carbs,” I chirped.

“Good for you, Bella, you have such motivation!” peers cheered.

Carbohydrates? Not the enemy. Very much here to be my friend.

The real enemy? Control. Obsession. Judgment about the carbohydrates. Projection that they’d ruin my body.

For a while, my recovery was conditional. It meant maintaining a healthy weight while still rejecting sugar and carbs. Real recovery – my real recovery – means no restrictions. No rules.

(I emphasize “my” here, because I respect everyone’s abstinence. Some people need to abstain from carbs, and there was certainly a time I did. However, that is not where I am right now. And I need to let myself, and my recovery, evolve, rather than clinging to my “training wheels,” so to speak.)

As some of you know, I found myself down 12 pounds last winter. I promptly re-surrendered my eating disorder, and like clockwork, found a girlfriend. I learned that relationships are one reward for maintaining health. So, in my relationship with my partner, I continue to say yes to life and surrender my fears and restrictions – surrender pieces of my eating disorder – as opportunities come up.

There’s a restaurant in lower Manhattan which I quite enjoy.
It’s called Bar Primi.
(So much for anonymity.)

It’s known for pastas, but one can order chicken or fish if they’d like to.
I like to.
I truly like to.

I often get into squabbles with people who think that I eat what I eat out of restriction, rather than genuine pleasure. The two can co-exist. Or rather, they can look the same. Let me explain this distinction:

Freedom of Choice

There are two places from which we can operate: Love is one, Fear is the other. In my experience, while I can oscillate between them, I can only operate from one at a time. The thing is, they’re intangible: fear and love, I mean. That said, it can be difficult to pin-point which one is driving the car.

At Bar Primi, I like the fish dish. I like the grilled branzino. Sometimes I order it because I like the grilled branzino. But I haven’t told myself it’s the only thing on the menu I’m allowed to have. I’ve told myself I can have anything on the menu, and that is what I choose.
That’s love.

Other times, I choose the dish in fear. I tell myself – or my disease tells me – that it is the only dish I can have.
That’s fear.

What I’m trying to say is, they outcomes can look the same.
Two different intentions can have the same outcome.
That’s where things get tricky.

No one can tell me whether or not I’m using my eating disorder, particularly in the moments when it’s not obvious, i.e., the moments when I am at a healthy weight and eating a salad. It’s up to me to get honest with myself and examine my intentions.

A big part of my disease is repetition. Pattern. To stay healthy, I need variety. I can healthfully eat a salad. But if I eat a salad for every meal – especially the same salad for every meal – that’s a problem. That said, experimentation is a must.

Because I like Bar Primi and go there frequently (and by frequently, I mean for special occasions), it’s important for me to try new things every time I go. I can’t get set in my ways. I can’t get dependent on a specific food. I must release my fears of unknown foods having scary effects on my body.

Last night (which is no longer last night as I publish this, but was last night at the time of composition), I had dinner at Bar Primi with my girlfriend and a family member. I had been there one week prior with my girlfriend and a different family member. One week prior, I had gotten the branzino. Tonight, I had to do something different.

I eyed the menu.
I ogled the pastas.
I noticed “squid ink campanelle.” Crab, garlic crema, and fresno came with it.

Did this scare my eating disorder? Yes. Practically every component. The pasta. The cream. But squid ink? How adventurous. And Real Bella is adventurous. Real Bella says “Yes!” to life and tries new things.

I decided to go for it.
But my Eating Disorder loves conditions.
It found a condition.
The bottom of the menu read, “all pastas have a gluten free option.”

Eating Disorder Bella jumped on that.
But she got caught.

The waiter told me that the gluten free pasta wouldn’t have squid ink.

My girlfriend asked if I was allergic to gluten. I said no, because I’m not (though in the past I would have lied). She then told me I could use a little gluten. She was joking, it seemed, but I knew it was true.

I surrendered and I got the squid ink, as presented, with no substitutions.

In treatment we were not allowed to make substitutions.

In recovery I have the freedom to make substitutions. I have choices. It’s up to me to choose wisely. In this moment, I chose wisely. I set the intention to enjoy the meal and asked my body to digest it lovingly, using it as energy and fuel.

By choosing to play, trying something I’d never tried before, I opened myself to love and possibility. I also allowed myself to grow closer to to my girlfriend. I gave my energy to her and the moment, rather than to the goddam, mother-fucking carbohydrates.

Again: I always nourish myself lovingly and intuitively and I am free from all disordered eating.

It’s working.

I feel it working.

When I come back to this mantra, I let go of all obsession. I fully trust my body to use every calorie I consume. I release control of my digestion.

I’ve had several eating disorder victories at Bar Primi, in fact. One took place in October when a family member visited and took my friends and I out. We sat upstairs, in a circular booth.

I’d been ruminating over the menu, trying to figure out the safest option. 2 appetizers should be enough to prevent restriction, but what if it was too much and I didn’t now how to regulate? I observed my friends. Most of them were getting pasta. 3 of them, in fact, ordered the same pasta.

Hmm. An opportunity to participate in a group experience, I thought.

To Free, Unencumbered Bella, the dish sounded appetizing. Plus, it was an opportunity to share in an experience. So I ditched my “health appetizers” and joined in. Last night was similar.

Again: while I love “healthy” appetizers and fish, I don’t want to tell myself that I am only allowed to eat them. I want to eat them because I enjoy them, not because I have to. On this particular night, I wanted to participate in the group experience. Group dinners aren’t about food; they’re about connections.

Showing up for relationships is scary for me.
At least it can be.

Because of all the hard one-on-one conversations I had while active in my eating disorder, which always inevitably came back to my health, I always expect people to ask me something heavy and personal in my conversations with them.

But each time I emerge from a conversation, I affirm for myself how safe it is. I simply commit to confidence and joy and laughter and all is fine.

I’m constantly reminded that I have choices.
I get to choose how I nourish myself.
I get to choose between love and fear.

The food I eat is just a stepping stone that allows me to nourish myself fully. It gives me the energy I need to participate in life and participate in relationships. When I get hung up on the food itself, I stunt my experiences.

Being free from disordered eating is so much deeper than food. It allows me to listen to others. Respond to others. Connect with others, which I can’t do when obsessing.

Eating disorders keep us isolated.
Loving, intuitive nourishment keeps us free.

See What Happens

Go on the ride of this human experience.
Go on the ride and see what happens.

I learned that in an acting class.

Make a choice, and see what happens. Don’t worry about the outcome.

That’s how I now make my food choices.

I don’t know how food will affect my body, nor should I. Each time I eat, I get to go on a ride. And I always come back to balance. The ride always ends. And if I don’t like it, I don’t have to take it again.

There are two core parts of my identity: my identity as a storyteller, and my identity in recovery. The two overlap so uncannily. This wisdom from my acting teacher, this wisdom about telling stories, directly informs my relationship with food.

I’m constantly reminded that I don’t live in a vacuum. That the various parts of my identity all connect and relate. Embracing this connection, surrendering to the rides: that is what it means to be free.

Thank you for reading. If you liked this, you may share it. If you don’t like it, leave it alone! These opinions are entirely my own, but the message is there for the taking. Love, Bella.

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