life is so endlessly delicious

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one of the goals that my therapist has set me for this week is to think less about food. this means less time on pinterest and instagram scrolling past pictures and automatically starting to calculate the calories. less time reading recipe books and food blogs, planning meals that i may or may not eat. less time looking at restaurant menus online, paralysed by hypothetical indecision.

the idea is that food – and everything i associate with it – is taking up too much of my time at the moment and forms far too large a part of how i view and value myself, leaving very little left for any other aspect of my life. every thing that i eat – or just think about eating – takes on far more signficance than it should. sometimes i can spend hours just trying to decide whether i should eat breakfast or not and what either of those decisions means about me (which, the rational part of my brain knows, is absolutely nothing).

like many people with an eating disorder, i love food. i’m obsessed by food. in some ways, i think this is a legacy of being a fussy eater as a child – i was always thinking about food and whether there would be something i could eat at the next meal. without wishing to sound like a twat, my husband and i have been lucky to eat in some of the best restaurants in the country over the last few years (including a spectacular pre-wedding meal at the fat duck) and i’ve been fascinated by every single ridiculous course.  for a while, this was channelled into the food blog i used to run which legitimised it. there was a whole community out there of people who spent just as much time as i did thinking about food. although i might have been free from some (or indeed most) of my disordered eating habits, that obsession meant that they were never very far away. and then, when life went to shit, they came back with a vengeance.

i do understand my therapist’s point of view. my life needs to be less dominated by food. but, at the same time, food is so bloody delicious and the idea of a life that doesn’t celebrate that seems pretty grim. i guess where i’m struggling at the moment is to find some sort of middle ground and so i end up swinging from one extreme to the other.

 

{title quotation from ruth reichl}

my doctor told me to stop having intimate dinners for four. unless there are three other people.

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very briefly yesterday, i had a flash of what it felt like to be ‘normal’.

my parents came round for sunday lunch to mark mother’s day. we had champagne to start and then sat down to twice cooked chicken with chilli sauce and kaffir lime leaf salt (more delicious than anything with such a pretentious title deserves). with it, we had wild rice and green beans and crisp broccoli, roasted with garlic and ginger. and i ate. and i wasnt anxious about eating. that is mainly because i had cooked everything and i’m sure that the champagne helped (as it always does) but still, it felt like a step forward.

and then, because i’d eaten and, paradoxically, not felt guilty about eating, i decided to make myself feel guiilty by punishing myself with a binge. it wasn’t a massive binge – nowhere near the scale of friday’s – but it was a deliberate and conscious act intended to remind me that i’m worthless and don’t deserve to enjoy anything.

one thing that my eating disorder has shown me is how central food is to my life and how, without it, my world has become so limited. i’ve used a litany of excuses after the last few months to avoid social situations where i will be expected to eat. when i’ve had no choice – generally because my mother has mandated my attendance somewhere – the anxiety that it has provoked in me has rendered me unable to focus on anything else. how can i engage with other people when i’m so consumed by what’s on (or not on) the plate in front of me?

i’ve never really been comfortable eating in front of other people, immediate family aside. i can trace this back to the very start of my disordered eating habits; it’s the seed from which the last twenty years of restricting and bingeing has grown. i never ate lunch at school. the anorexic voice in my head (which i didn’t recognise or acknowledge as being that at the time) told me that anyone who saw me eat lunch would automatically think that i was fat and greedy. even though i know (and knew) that people are generally far too self-absorbed to really give that much thought to what anyone else is eating. i think this is relatively common with eating disorders; when you spend most of your time thinking about food and what you, and everyone else, is eating, you expect other people to do the same.

clearly now, the idea of eating anything in front of anybody other than my husband or parents is too terrifying to contemplate but i can also see that, even when i’ve been ‘healthy’ (ie not now), this anxiety has both limited and also dominated my life; even simple things like choosing my food in a restaurant based on what i think other people think i should be eating rather than what i actually want to eat.

so when i think about what ‘recovery’ might be like for me, i realise that actually, i don’t know because i’ve never been there. yes, there have been long stretches of time when the eating disorder has been quiet but i’ve always felt its presence, just waiting for me to slip up and fall back into its arms. and, frankly, the idea of not having it there anymore is simply bloody terrifying.

{title quotation attributed to orson welles}

life itself is the proper binge

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i had a dream last night that my husband and i argued over what type of waffles we should have for breakfast today. not only is every waking thought about food at the moment but it’s clearly started to invade my sleep as well.

the picture above isn’t today’s breakfast, needless to say, but a picture of some spectacular chicken and waffles that i ate at poppy and rose when we were in la for our honeymoon a couple of years ago. the buttermilk waffles were crisp and tender. the coating on the chicken was heady with seasoning and the meat was juicy and lucious. the smoked honey butter that it came with had just the right balance of sweet and savoury. god, it was bloody delicious.

i put on a fair amount of weight on our honeymoon (which was a slightly extravagant five week jaunt). it wasn’t a huge surprise really given that we ate out at least once, if not two or three times a day. i even ate foie gras carbonara (twice); surely that is the height of excess? there was no bingeing or restricting though, just a real and thorough appreciation of the good food that i was eating.

it’s just under two years since we went on our honeymoon. it was, without a doubt, one of the best experiences of my life. it came after a stressful few months filled with our wedding, a major operation for me and a long wait for the outcome of the police investigation into a historic allegation of rape that i’d made. we finished our trip staying in an apartment a few blocks from venice beach. on the last day, i went for a walk by myself and stood at the edge of the pacific ocean with my toes in the still-freezing water and realised that everything was going to be okay.

for most of the last two years – and the last year in particular – it hasn’t felt that way. i’ve never had to battle so hard and so constantly. and in that fight, i feel like i’ve totally lost myself.

twice in the last week, i’ve binged. i’ve not really binged since october so it’s been a shock to the system to say the very least. my doctor has said that it’s totally normal and part of the recovery process; my body is screaming out for calories and it will do anything to get them. last night i binged until the early hours of the morning, clearing out the fridge of anything that i could eat quickly and mindlessly. as a result, the number on the scales has risen hugely and my breakfast this morning has consisted of 200mg of sertraline and a laxative. i know this is wrong on all sorts of levels but i’m powerless to stop it.

of all the disordered activities that i partake in, i find bingeing the most shameful. our society does not look kindly upon those people who just can’t stop eating. they’re greedy and fat and unable to control themselves. i feel all of those things about myself when i binge and it just reinforces every negative self-belief that i have. but, just as restriction serves a purpose, bingeing also serves a purpose for me.

after i went to the police to report my rape, i had to give a video statement. if needed, this video could then be used in court in lieu of me giving evidence. the process lasted for two hours and went into all sorts of intimate detail that i never expected to have to tell anyone, let alone a police officer that i’d only met ten minutes before. my video interview was at 11am and i was too nervous to eat anything beforehand. after it was finished, i was supposed to go back to work. i didn’t (at least not immediately). instead, i went to buy as much chocolate as i could afford at hotel chocolate and gorged myself until i could think of nothing more than how sick i felt. only then was i able to force myself back into the present. that pattern continued throughout the two years that it took the for the cps to finally come to the decision not to press charges.

last night’s binge wasn’t related to the rape or any of the ptsd symptoms that characterised my long period of binge eating last year. but i felt anxious and sad and defeated by the thought of the fight ahead of me and so i binged. and today i know i’ll restrict.

and so the cycle goes on.

{title quotation from julia child}

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we’ll be counting stars

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i like numbers. i’ve always liked numbers. i liked maths at school and, although i didn’t end up studying it at university, i chose a subject with a similar set of rules. you either get numbers or you don’t. there’s no judgement either way as far as i’m concerned but i’ve always considered myself lucky to be firmly in the numerical camp.

i like baking because i like numbers. again, i know this isn’t the same for everyone. but i love the precision and the rules (there they are again) and the magic that can be created from some simple ratios. the most traditional, of course, is the old favourite of the 4-4-4-2 sponge which i don’t think can ever really be beaten for pure magic. but there are hundreds of other ratios that i use every time that i bake and a little too much one way or the other will normally result in catastrophe (or, at least, a slightly flat cake which, depending on how dramatic i’m feeling, might well be a catastrophe).

my anorexia (i’m still trying to get used to calling it that) is dominated by numbers too.

  1. how much do i weigh?
  2. how many times have i weighed myself that day?
  3. how much weight have i gained or lost since the day before?
  4. since the week before?
  5. since the month before?
  6. how much does each ingredient of my dinner weight?
  7. how many calories have i consumed in total?
  8. how many calories have i burnt through exercise?
  9. how many glasses of water have i drunk?
  10. how often have i been to the loo?

there are many, many more numbers that i track on a daily basis, even if just subconsciously. in order to recover, some of these need to go up and some of these need to go down.

letting go of the numbers is going to be one of the hardest parts for me i think.

i tried to explain to my therapist this morning that my issues around needing to control my weight are far more about having control of that number than about my size or how i look. the latter two concepts are so fluid and nebulous. my weight is piece of hard evidence that i can use to demonstrate that i’m in charge of my life. i don’t think he really got it.

on the way home, i spent a long time wondering around waitrose, trying to decide what to have for lunch and was uninspired. i’ve never really been very good at working out what to cook when it’s just me at home. for that very reason, i’d bought signe johansen’s book ‘solo: the joy of cooking for one‘ on a whim the other day.  before anorexia, i would default to a bowl of pasta. these days, i’m lucky if it’s anything. the first recipe that i’ve tried isn’t technically a recipe for one i guess but it’s one that i hope will form the basis of many more solo meals to come; a simple seeded multigrain soda bread. it couldn’t really be easier – a mix of spelt, wholewheat flour, oats and seeds all squished together with buttermilk and a little treacle. cocoa powder gives it a beautiful brown colour and trusty bicarbonate of soda gives it a rise. i threw in double the amount of salt required and a handful of chopped rosemary from our just-about-surviving plant. i topped my first slice with some roasted cherry tomatoes, a few crumbles of goat’s cheese and a sprinkling of fresh basil. utterly delicious.

my doctor says i need to be eating at least 500 calories a day (although, it goes without saying that the more the better at the moment). i’m hoping today i’ll get there.

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to reawaken us, to shake us from our lethargy

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today is pancake day. the day to feast before 40 days of restriction.

except 1) i am not religious and 2) every day is a day of restriction here.

no such caveats apply to my husband though and he has been mulling what to give up for lent. i suggested alcohol but, as he has just successfully completed a dry january, that didn’t seem much of a challenge. last year, he gave up all processed/added sugar and he was considering doing that again. he did pizza one year but has vowed never again. normally i join him in whatever he gives up, more for moral support than any other reason.

it’s been strange since i told him last week of my anorexia diagnosis. once he got over his initial confusion (‘is that the one where you throw up?’), he said he was sad. and that makes me so sad.

i can tell that he doesn’t know what to do or to say. this morning in bed, he had his arms around me and i could tell that he was feeling the bones which have gradually become frighteningly close to the surface. but i could also tell that he didn’t know what to say. we’ve had more arguments in this past week than we’ve had for the whole of our relationship, generally because he’s tried to make me eat something that i don’t want or – more often – can’t bring myself to eat. as much as i might be struggling right now, i think it’s even worse for him.

this morning, i emailed today’s weight to my psychiatrist. i’ve lost even more. his reply was stark. i’m heading for a hospital admission within a month. that’s not what he wants for me and that’s definitely not what i want for myself. i can’t even begin to imagine how it would devastate my husband. in order to avoid that, my psychiatrist has said we need a more ‘aggressive’ approach. i don’t know quite what that entails yet but i know it’s going to be fucking hard.

when i asked my husband earlier what he’d decided to give up and he said he’d decided not to give anything up. i think that’s his sacrifice for me; the last thing i need is more restriction in my life.

by the time lent finishes, on 1 april, i would love to have our first round of ivf underway. i’m not sure that’s a realistic proposition any more given where i am today but i have to believe that, 40 days from tomorrow, i’ll be in a much better place.

oh and whilst i can’t face our normal shrove tuesday pancakes, drowning in lemon juice and crisp with sugar, i’m not a total heathen so i’m planning a version of these alongside my latest obsession, broccoli roasted with garlic and a scattering of chilli flakes.

{title quotation from pope francis at the start of lent in 2014}

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every meal would be like saying grace

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this week, i saw a nutritionist. i was wary and i was right to be.

i paid £150 to be told, firstly, that i was eating all the right things and that my diet was very healthy. i don’t disagree with this per se but i was 100% honest in my food diary and it didn’t amount to more than a couple of hundred calories a day. nothing was said about this. that seems irresponsible to me.

secondly, instead of practical suggestions of how to eat more, i was left with a two page document filled with a mix of trendy wellness crazes and bad science. it told me to eat more turmeric (“why not try a delicious turmeric latte?”), have a shot of apple cider vinegar before eating and stick to ‘alkalinising’ foods. when someone has an eating disorder which, by its very nature, results in all sorts of arbitrary rules, i feel like the aim should be to try and encourage a more relaxed and healthy relationship with food rather than introducing yet more restrictions.

the second half of the ‘lifestyle’ plan was a list of different (and very expensive) supplements that i should take with a referral link to buy them and which, i presume, will result in a hefty commission payment to her.

a lot of what she said, i fundamentally disagree with being, as may be obvious from the title quotation, a true believer in the doctrine of michael pollan. (another, longer, quotation that i feel is relevant here is from in defence of food: an eater’s manifesto – if you’re concerned about your health, you should probably avoid products that make health claims. why? because a health claim on a food product is a strong indication it’s not really food, and food is what you want to eat). i know that i don’t eat enough and i want (i think) to eat more but i don’t want to get there by artificial shakes (which she tried to sell me on), faddy trends and stuff that isn’t actually food. i like food. i love food. i like the colours and flavours and textures. that’s what i desperately want to be able to eat. i have bigger problems than not having enough turmeric in my life (plus, i cook with turmeric all the time so i’m probably okay on that front. it’s just, you know, everything else).

i’m supposed to follow the ‘plan’ for the next 6 weeks and see if i feel better (how? i feel absolutely fine now). i’m not going to. i’ve forwarded her advice to my therapist, who i’m seeing on tuesday, and will discuss it with him then. fundamentally, i think her suggestions are wrong, not just for me but for anyone with an eating disorder. i think it’s actually quite dangerous. she is chasing me to make a follow up appointment. i won’t be. given that i was referred to this nutritionist by my psychiatrist, i’ve also got serious concerns around whether i need to get rid of her and find myself someone who can actually help. another thing to discuss with my therapist on tuesday (i get the sense he might agree with me; i don’t think there is much love lost between them…). i don’t know what the fall out will be of telling the nutritionist that i’m not going to see her again – i will take my therapist’s advice as to whether i am honest about the reasons why – and/or telling my psychiatrist that i’m not going to see either of them again but i’ll deal with it. more than anything, i need the right people around me now.

{title quotation from the omnivore’s dilemma: a natural history of four meals by michael pollan}

you don’t reconcile the poles; you just recognise them

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this morning, i emailed my pre-appointment questionnaire back to the nutritionist that i have been referred to. i am sceptical about this whole nutrionist thing for many reasons.

firstly, i’m not sure that this nutritionist actually has any proper qualifications or, from the testimonials on her website, any experience with eating disorders. secondly, and perhaps more importantly, she posts pictures on instagram of green smoothies and hashtags them #feelingblessed. no thanks.

really though, i don’t know what she’s going to tell me that i don’t already know. i understand what makes a healthy and balanced diet (as much as anyone can these days with the plethora of mixed messages we get). i’ve experimented with various ways of eating over the years so know what does and doesn’t work for me. i also know that i don’t eat enough and there are a number of things which should be part of my diet that i ‘won’t’ eat.

i also think, despite everything, that the core of our diet (i say ‘our’ because i do all the cooking not because my husband has any kind of eating disorder) is pretty good. although this in turn helps me rationalise my restriction (i’m eating vegetables; how can i be unhealthy? i eat dinner every night; how can i possibly have an eating disorder?). that aside though, our meals are generally based on vegetables with some lean protein and a handful of carbs, generally wholegrain (and way more for my husband than me in case anyone thinks i’m starving him). over the last few nights we’ve had, for example, risotto with leeks, peas and spinach; roasted vegetable enchiladas; roasted pork tenderloin with chickpeas, red pepper, kale and spinach (a recipe from the new jamie oliver book which i think we’ll have again).

even now, i can’t see how that (which also made up the food diary i had to submit this morning) can possibly equal an eating disorder.

but i met up with friends yesterday for brunch and sat there, nursing a mug of (black) tea, watching them all eat variations of avocado on toast and not eating anything myself. after that, i went to the food market on the southbank and bought a brownie for my husband but couldn’t buy anything for myself. i’m supposed to be seeing some other friends today for afternoon tea but i have bailed, blaming work (which is partly true) but really because it’s almost impossible to hide the fact that you’re not eating at an afternoon tea.

i am simultaneously worried that the nutritionist is going to read my form and refuse to see me, not least as my bmi has slipped into the underweight category in the last couple of day, that she’ll think i’m eating far too much and/or that she’ll look at me and think i’m lying because i’m surely too fat for what i claim to eat. i realise that all of these thoughts are totally contradictory and that is one of the things that i find hardest to deal with about having an eating disorder. or, at least, the way in which i live with my eating disorder.

how can reconcile the part of me which pours over cookbooks to find new recipes to try with the part of me which once weighed a chocolate button so i could accurately calculate (and log) how many calories it had?

the part of me which spends hours saving images of food on pinterest with the part of me which knows how much each pair of my pyjamas weighs so i can account for any differences when i hope on the scales in the morning?

the part of me which loves standing over the stove stirring a risotto or filling the kitchen with the scent of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies with the part of me that can’t even contemplate eating a slice of avocado toast with some friends on a lazy weekend morning?

none of this makes any fucking sense.

{title quotation from orson welles}