I am making no New Year’s resolutions for 2012. Being vulnerable to eating disorders and anxiety, I especially avoid resolutions related to body image.
I live in the moment these days. Take care of the moment, focus on it, and the rest of the day or year looks after itself. When eating disorders ruled my life, each day was black or white. There was little or no grey. Each day would be good or bad, and I would be good or bad, depending on whether the calorie target was met or blown. The target – and I set thousands of them, again and again and again – would be broken within hours or days. Always. And with each failure, my spirit would crash afresh.
Freedom came eventually, not from making resolutions, counting calories or checking weight on bathroom scales, but from allowing myself to ‘be’.
The key to freedom was remarkably simple: three meals and three snacks a day. If pressed to make a 2012 resolution, ‘three meals and three snacks a day’ is as good as it gets. Throw away the scales, refuse to count calories, eat three meals and three snacks a day, and amazing things will happen.
The problem with resolutions, especially related to body image, is that calories and weights set us up for failure. People who suffer eating disorders have rigid mindsets. Therefore, no matter how tempting, it is best to avoid setting boundaries, or limits, on the types of food we can eat, and how much we can eat. We are too hard on ourselves. We need to learn to be kind to ourselves. We must not let figures on a page or in our mind boss us around, determine if we worthy beings.
Today I don’t think in terms of black and white, or grey. I prefer red and green, with amber between. I like a lot of amber. Definition: a yellow light used as a cautionary signal between green for “go” and red for “stop”. Amber is sunny, soft, warm and friendly. Amber is loving and forgiving. Amber provides a safe place to recognize we are going in the wrong direction, to pause and head back to the security of the green.
But life was not always this way:
Age 27, December 1st, 1978: I have decided that this muddled year will give me at least one achievement. I will weigh xxx by the end of December. From today, until I weigh xxx, I’ll eat no more than zzzz calories a day. And thereafter I’ll always weigh xxx. I will record everything, containing calories, eaten by me, until I reach my goal. … I’ll have the consolation of knowing that every day I’m getting a little slimmer. And I’ll start the New Year as a new person, rid forever of the nasty effects of anorexia nervosa which have plagued me since I was 11 years’ old. I’ll be a new me!
December 8th, 1978: Down to xxx. Only xxx more lbs and I’ll have won my battle. I am very determined. I will not let myself down this time.
December 22nd, 1978: As is obvious, I went off my diet for a few days – despite ‘gorging’ myself, I gained only xx lbs. I will not ‘gorge’ myself again. I’m allowing myself zzzz calories per day. I find I have to count calories – but I don’t mind, not if it means I’m slim and carefree, and can still eat special foods in my intake.
Age 28, January 8, 1979: I feel like a bird that has lost its wings … I’m sick of feeling sorry for myself and hope something happens soon to brighten my outlook.
January 10, 1979: My depression has led to me ‘gorging’ myself this past week. Today I must start lifting myself out of the doldrums, and live in hope … I’ll allow myself zzzz calories a day, with no increase until I reach xxxx.
Oh, painful to read, isn’t it?! Does she ever get off the eating disorder treadmill? YES, she does!
For decades, December was the worst month of the year. It should have been the happiest month, for it was full of events to celebrate – Christmas Day, my birthday and New Year’s Eve. But December was a reminder that I was about to be another year older, another calendar year was about to end and, despite many self-made promises to the contrary, I remained bogged in my eating disorder.
I would try to engage in light-hearted fun and socialize with friends and family, while inwardly feeling dreadful. Small chat on the outside served as a camouflage while my busy mind plotted and planned strategies to ensure that the next New Year would mark the moment in time when I would ‘take control’ of my life and ‘be normal’, ‘eat normal’.
For the truth was that ‘ED’ was sabotaging every area of my life – at work, with friends, with family. I knew what I wanted but didn’t know how to get it. I wanted peace in my mind, and contentment in my soul.
Surely writing things down, creating New Year’s resolutions, would help. I mean, it would be there in black and white, and all I had to do was stay true to the resolutions, right? Right. Surely this was possible. The idea was good but the method was wrong. It was helping my eating disorder, not me.
The dictionary definition for ‘resolution’ is: a firm decision to do or not to do something.
The years rolled by. Countless ‘firm decisions’ were written on page after page of new diaries. Thousands of ‘new starts’. Matched by thousands of ‘failures’. I was aware at some level that I had tried this before, and failed. So why try again? Because this time, I would succeed. I had to. I had to keep trying to escape, or ‘ED’ would nab me completely. Fear was acute….
When we have an eating disorder, it is scary to eat three meals and three snacks a day. Patient recovery guides eventually convinced me that this was the only way to freedom. They formed a safety net of support while I summoned the courage to break free of entrenched eating disorder behaviors. I learnt that if I binged after breakfast, not to miss lunch. Even if I felt full, I would make a sandwich with a favorite filling and eat it, and plan another favorite dish for the evening meal. If I binged in the evening while watching TV, I learnt to get up in the morning and sit down to a full breakfast. I learnt to never skip a meal. Ever. Gradually, by ignoring the eating disorder, it shrank in significance and began to loosen its hold; I began to relax and the urge to binge subsided. Instead of focusing on food, I began to focus on my feelings and gained the courage to embrace and nurture them. The poor things had been ignored and numbed for years. I began to get in tune with my body and appetite – I began to actually feel what I would like to eat for my next meal. I began to be the true me.
Five years ago, I experienced my first Christmas in more than 40 years, without feeling depressed, anxious or terrified that I would be an unacceptable human being if not a certain weight; I looked forward to eating whatever was served on my plate, including the gravy on the meat and potatoes, and the brandy sauce on the plum pudding. What treats! I was also able to look forward to my birthday and the New Year. No more counting of calories, no more weighing, no more dieting, no more isolation, no more depression, anxiety or ED. No more tormenting voices screaming in my head. No more PLANS. Hello to peace, contentment and opportunity to engage fully in the joy of eating, sharing and connecting with others.
One meal three times a day, with a snack between, put me on the path to freedom. That’s all it takes.
June Alexander is the author of My Kid is Back, A Girl Called Tim, and A Collaborative Approach to Eating Disorders. She is also a speaker and a blogger at junealexander.com! Currently June is Co-editing an international textbook on Binge Eating Disorder. Learn more about her work at: www.junealexander.com