If you’re ever received formal treatment for substance abuse or other addictions, you likely recognize this wheel depicting the stages of change:
When it comes to my own recovery from alcoholism, I was oblivious to these stages. Looking back, I was at Precontemplation right up until Action. That’s what I mean when I say I was "delivered": I had no intention of quitting right up until I quit.
Recovery from eating disorders is often compared to recovery from substance use. I’ve said before that I understand the existential overlap between these problems, but I'm skeptical that the recovery process could look the same. I can cut out alcohol, but I can't cut out food.
I've heard this argument a lot, and lately I sense that it's a straw man. No, I can't cut out food; but is food really the "problem behavior" - or is that just what my eating disorder wants me to think?
These are just hunches. To be frank, I'm not sufficiently recovered from my eating disorder to speak to the similarities and differences in recovery. One day, I hope to be an expert. One day, I hope to feel just as dismissive about food, weight, and body as I now feel about booze. Booze who?
Unlike with alcohol, with disordered eating I am aware of my own stage of change. For a long time, I was between Pre-Contemplation and Contemplation: that is to say, I was aware that a problem existed, but had no intention of changing my behavior to address it.
Quite recently, I’m in Action. I seem to have whizzed through Preparation in three days, which is typical for me. For me, very little comes between thinking hard and doing hard.
I have, for the first time in a long time, appeared to summon the courage (or is it exhaustion?) to challenge my eating disorder. To change my behavior around food, and potentially accept a higher weight and different body as a result.
No sooner had I made this decision than my eating disorder caught wind of the idea. And in her fear, she recklessly revealed herself. I perceived her voice as distinct from my own for perhaps the first time.
And let me tell you: She had something to say about this recovery thing. Or rather, she had ten things to say. And I'm not kidding: she said all ten in ten minutes.
ED: You shouldn’t eat peanuts right now. They aren’t filling enough so you’ll want to eat again soon after you finish them.
ME: But I’m allowed to eat again soon.
ED: If you eat a serving of peanuts right now, how many calories will that bring you to for the day?
ME: I’m not supposed to be counting calories.
ED: Is a quarter cup really the same as an ounce?
ME: That’s not supposed to matter.
ED: Maybe ease into this whole recovery thing. Don’t start today, because tomorrow you have a flight to San Francisco. You don’t want to be feeling fat on the flight.
ME: Maybe I won’t feel fat. Maybe if I don't start today, I never will.
ED: Maybe, but all I'm saying is ease into it. Maybe just try adding one or two foods and see how you feel.
ME: But I’m supposed to be eating what I want. What if I want three or four foods?
ED: Do me a favor and at least avoid your allergies. No soy, right? No corn? And you won’t do dairy. Remember what Paleo says about how everyone is allergic to dairy? Only infants are supposed to drink milk.
ME: Wow, you sure talk a lot. I don’t even know if any of that is true.
ED: I mean, it might not be, but why risk it? Anyway, at least change out of your current outfit before you go to the grocery store. Wear something that shows you’re thin so you aren’t judged for buying junk food.
ME: Oof, now that’s toxic. I wonder if fat people feel judged when they buy groceries.
ED: Yes, they absolutely do. And so will you if you gain weight. No more airily eating what you want.
ME: Since when do I airily eat what I want? And besides, I’m not supposed to be thinking about what will happen if I gain weight. I’m just supposed to be thinking about today.
ED [Shrugs, sighs, rolls eyes]: Ok, well, go ahead and pretend you’re strong enough for this. Let’s just hope that you’re metabolism isn’t totally screwed up by the time you come back wanting to lose the weight again.
ME: Maybe I won’t come back. Maybe I'll keep the weight.
ED: Wait, how many calories did you say you’ve eaten today?