Post prompted by Brienne asking if I had a list of things that made it easier to handle food when food is hard. I did not! I should! Here we are!
This is a list of things I did in order to sustain momentum of recovery. At some point in college I managed to get to the point that I believed I should eat food regularly, possibly even in meal sized amounts. This sounds like it’s a flippant line, but was huge progress from high school, where I’d only managed to conclude that I should eat enough food to prevent dying and/or injury.
The list is divided into food-specific stuff, and other ways I changed my environment to make my symptoms less invasive.
These aren’t suggestions that are likely to cure your eating disorder, nor are they Official Therapist Advice. They helped me keep momentum in recovery and go about my daily life without melting down so frequently. The second half of the list might also help with gender dysphoria, body dysmorphia or related body badbrains.
-First and foremost, Recovery Record made the largest difference in my food pathology. A free app for iOS and Android, it prompts you to record mood, exercise, and food each time you eat, as well as prompting you at each meal time (customizable to when you normally eat). I was both able to notice what made for good trends (waking up early, lots of fruit) and what made for bad days and weeks (I thought anxiety was the issue; it turned out that guilt was a higher-risk emotion). If eating food isn’t something you will naturally be able to do, attaching a sense of accomplishment from checking it off your to-do list isn’t a bad solution.
-I listed all of the things that made food even slightly harder, no matter how silly, and then immediately stopped those things. I do mean even the silly things. To give you an idea, here is a partial list:
Eating food that was not served in bowls.
Eating food that did not come in single-meal sized amounts.
Consuming more than one type of food at a sitting (for instance, a sandwich and an apple)
Things that could not be eaten with a spoon.
….and then for nearly a year, every time I made food, I planned to avoid falling into any of these categories. Obviously, I started introducing more complicated meals later. Yesterday I had an apple, a sandwich, and snap-pea crisps for lunch, a meal which involves snack food, eating on a plate, several components, and no spoons. During no part of this my brain split asunder, nor did I consider that oh no, a multi-step, spoon-unneccessary, snack-food-including meal was occurring. But, the important part was that this was once I’d felt stable, and when things are more instable (during midterms, finals, and emotional crises) I revert to my spoon-involving, bowl-using meal plans.
-I told other people I was struggling with an eating disorder. This is advisable if and only if you expect this to result in support that is not emotionally draining.
Not supportive: friends and acquaintances who watch every bite you eat, continually push more food on you, and are vocally skeptical if you express a lack of hunger. This can very quickly make eating feel like performance art.
Supportive and worth their weight in gold: friends who offer to cook for you, make a standing weekly dinner/lunch/brunch date with you, are willing to tolerate that you will be suddenly hungry or full or eat at odd hours. (See also: longform tumblr writeup)
-Loved the everloving fuck out of foods that were not stressful to me, no matter how weird. At some point in my adult life, I ate a square of baking chocolate (that’s right, the kind with no sugar at all. It was probably eaten by accident.) and thought hunh, this is oddly tasty and reminiscent of chocolate bars. Since then, I keep baking chocolate around, because I can eat it without spending fifteen minutes calming myself down after.
Last week, I remembered that I like bread-and-butter pickles, and this week, my partner put two jars of them in the fridge. If it is 3am and I wake up hungry, it will take more brain power than any reasonable person has at 3am to talk myself into eating a protein bar or making toast, or pouring a glass of milk. Instead, I will go eat a few bread and butter pickles. Or maybe a square of baking chocolate. Is this deeply weird? Probably. But at 3am I will wake up and eat a very strange snack and then go back to sleep with exactly zero panic attacks whatsoever.
-Mirrors. Mirrors—well, really any reflective surfaces—were a huge problem. However, in one of the regular bureaucratic snafus of college, when I was a sophomore, my dorm complex was remodeled. Some how, in the construction, mirrors were forgotten. All the rooms had previously come with a full length mirror (on the back of the door, and thus, unavoidable), which disappeared. And this was amazing. Suddenly I could put on clothes or just be in my room with seeing my body, which meant far fewer cues for invasive thoughts about food and my appearance. In houses I’ve lived in since then, we’ve had the mirror in a hard-to-locate place, so that I had to be actively seeking out a view of my whole body.
-Related to the previous point, I cultivated the habit of taking routes which didn’t mean walking by reflective storefronts or buildings. Nanotechnology building had a glass front? Guess I was walking by the chapel instead. I framed the additional time as extra exercise, which made for near-compulsive motivation to take the safer routes. (Trade one pathology for a less dangerous one!)
-My object permanence for food is terrible. You know that game you can play with babies, where you put a cup or a blanket over their toy and they look confused, and then delighted when it appears again? (see also: peekaboo) At some point it stops being funny. That’s when the baby has realized that things that are out of sight have not suddenly stopped existing, and that you are not a magical toy-creating wizard. They have object permanence: things that exist do not cease existing because you can’t see them.
At some point, I noticed that I find food far less distressing when I can’t see it. Put a chocolate near me, and I’m caught in an endless (and distracting) loop of wanting it desperately and practically feeling as much guilt and horror as I would if I ate it. This can make it difficult to even focus on conversations at times. (Cue added guilt for being a bad friend.) So, particularly tempting food is quickly hidden. There’s a a plate of brownies on our dining room table…can I put a stack of textbooks in front of it? Is there a dish of candy at work? What if it was a dish of candy with a lid and a sign instead?