Food and body don’t have to be your only hobbies.
I pulled this quote from Instagram back in January of 2018. Yesterday, I found it in my saved folder. The saved folder is the section on Instagram for things I not only like, but that I expect to like again.
Also in my saved folder are people with bodies like mine and quips about introversion and canceled plans. (For example: I put the ‘no’ in I’ll let you know.)
In terms of my disordered eating, January of 2018 was actually a time of relative recovery. I was neither starving myself nor binging. I was a "healthy" weight, according to the BMI scale. I was also earning my Master’s, providing counseling to clients, and working a research job that interested me.
And yet, in the midst of this ostensibly full life, the line to the left resonated deeply. Food and body don’t have to be your only hobbies.
High-functioning alcoholics are the ones who accomplish a lot without raising any eyebrows. Their drinking occasionally get “out of hand,” but in a way that only they notice. When they drink too much, they dismiss it as simply blowing off steam, a reward that they’ve “earned,” or an “understandable” response to a traumatic event. And besides, they think. Look at the life I've built! It's not like drinking is getting in the way.
High-functioning disordered eaters, too, accomplish a lot without raising any eyebrows. They don't surreptitiously push the food around on their plates. They don't vomit, even efficiently. They haven't always "just eaten"; sometimes they say yes to a meal. Their bodies aren't significantly smaller or larger than the world expects. Their disease leaves virtually no trail.
It doesn’t look like it, and they certainly won’t say it - but for these high-functioning disordered eaters, food and body are still their only hobbies.
Last year, I reached a peak in my disordered eating. It wasn’t perhaps as obvious as it had been when I was 14, or again when I was 19. My excuses were better. My lines were smoother, expertly delivered. I reasoned that if weight loss was this easy, perhaps I was just heading for the weight my body wanted. Perhaps my set-point just happened to be the weight at which I also lost my vision going up the stairs, or stopped being able to think every day around 2pm.
It would be weird, yes, but my high-functioning brain had justified weirder.
Here’s the tricky part: my life was still ostensibly full. Someone who knew me well would see that I was writing a lot, dating a lot, lifting a lot of weights, working a full-time job, making my AA meetings, sponsoring and being sponsored, growing and helping others to grow.
I was the only one allowed access to this fundamental truth about myself: Food and dieting were my only hobbies.
Too many people hold the mistaken impression that, in order for something to be an addiction, it must wreak havoc on your life. We know that some addicts are high-functioning, but we have a harder time remembering that even those deep in addiction can satisfy their professional, familial, and even spiritual commitments. Active addicts can master a new skill, care for a dying parent, raise thousands of dollars for a noble cause.
Their disease may have even told them that, through it, all things are possible.
If you are an addict who is deeply committed to the process of saving the world or your family or yourself, congratulations. The jig is up. You can do both. You can attend the fundraiser while thinking about food. You can slip in a quick workout between negotiating a raise and getting your daughter in therapy. Learning a new language might help you fall asleep with a rumbling stomach.
You can do it. The question is: Do you want to?
For me, the urge to get well – first from alcoholism, then from disordered eating – was not rooted in my need to achieve more. I could tick off the checkboxes I was raised on - job, family, service - while staying sick.
I chose to get well first and foremost because I was tired of thinking about food and my body all of the time. I had the feeling that I could do more, be more, feel more if I weren't so damn hungry. I wanted a new, more honest relationship with myself.
I was ready for a better hobby.