Most of us struggle with moderation, especially when it comes to desserts. Whether it’s Thanksgiving, Christmas, your birthday or any of the hundreds of “special days” that seem to have sprung up in the past few years having enough self control to not overdue it at the sweets table is extremely challenging.
When you throw ED into the mix, however, it becomes an entirely different ball game.
It was Thanksgiving, 2013, my Freshman year of college.
I stood by the counter laden with pies, puddings, cakes and cookies, trembling. I took a deep breath. This was good, I thought. Maybe I could just enjoy the smell of chocolate. I didn’t need to actually taste it.
I watched as relative after relative piled their plates high with desserts, ready to indulge and then collapse on the many couches crammed into the living room to sleep off their food comas.
But I didn’t join them, I couldn’t. If I did…I couldn’t even let myself think about it. If I did, it could end up like last year where I threw up five times in one evening, making myself dizzy, nauseous and incredibly unpleasant to be around.
I took another deep breath as my dad patted me on the back, “you got this Jules.” I looked up at him and managed a weak smile. It was still a bizarre feeling, to realize that I wasn’t alone in this fight, and that at this very moment my dad and I were actually battling with the same thing – well almost – how to eat dessert, but not overdo it.
That was my first Thanksgiving after beginning treatment for bulimia, just three months into recovery. That year, my dad and I made a pact to not eat any desserts, and we did it. I didn’t throw up, he didn’t gain too much weight and I called it a success. But in the years that followed, I realized success wasn’t avoiding desserts, success was learning to eat and enjoy them in moderation without feelings of guilt or regret.
Even 4.5 years into recovery, this is no easy feat. Just this past weekend I ate a piece of leftover birthday cake with my boyfriend as a delayed celebration and I panicked. It went down okay, but not 10 minutes after eating the last piece I could sense the feelings of regret and self-loathing creeping in.
Even though I know it is physically impossible for the piece of cake I just ate to suddenly turn into rolls of fat, that’s exactly what it feels like. It’s as if bubbles of fat are populating across my stomach, down my legs and along the back of my arms.
It’s a wriggling, writhing feeling of worry for what I have done and what is to come and all I want to do in that moment is go back in time, undo what I did and make it all right.
ED’s voice creeps back in telling me purging – either through throwing up or a 12 mile run – is the most logical and best choice I can make to correct the situation. To avoid giving in to these thoughts becomes a game of tug and war.
- You could get rid of this stomach ache if you threw up right now…but then you’ll probably get acid reflux tomorrow.
- You could prevent any weight gain if you ran 12 miles tomorrow morning and skipped breakfast…but then I might end up with stress fractures again.
- You would be thinner if you threw up right now…but women are supposed to have body fat and seeing your ribs isn’t healthy.
Even if I manage to avoid actually purging, I long to go back in time, to remake that decision, to skip the dessert. But going back isn’t possible, and it isn’t even necessarily right.
That second part, that took a long time to come to, but it is so true. Avoiding desserts completely doesn’t make you happy and it doesn’t help you rebuild a healthy relationship with food. Once there is one rule restricting food, adding more becomes easier and easier.
Before the next Thanksgiving rolled around I had made a new rule for myself…don’t restrict! Try a dessert or two on the holidays, actually eat the cookies you make for guests and when you do, don’t purge! No excess exercise, no throwing up, no skipping subsequent meals. It won’t be easy, you might mess up, but keep trying and eventually they’ll be no (or more accurately less of a) dilemma with desserts.