Yesterday I spent a good chunk of my day in our garden putting my green thumb to work. I've never been much of an outdoorsy girl or been able to keep plants alive, but for some reason I felt the need to give it a try. Surprisingly, my little outdoor adventure turned into a bit of a triggering situation as planting a bunch of vegetables brought back memories of my old, disordered diet.
To say my diet had become unreasonably rigid before I entered treatment would be an understatement. As I ironically began culinary school, one of the many ways I began to cut out food groups was to become a vegetarian. After learning about the appalling farming monopolies our country is currently practicing - thank you, Monsanto - I also began a local-foods-only diet. The local food movement is trendy in the culinary world right now after all, so it only made sense for me to jump on the bandwagon. Now add in my excuses to avoid anything containing high fructose corn syrup, food dyes, or any other ingredient I didn't recognize, and you can begin to understand the strict guidelines of my diet.
In my mind, surrounding myself with culinary geniuses gave me the perfect excuse to become a "food snob," even though it was literally killing me.
The treatment center I spent six months in, however, was on the complete opposite end of the food spectrum. Because they believed in the calorie counting meal planning strategy, every food I ate during my stay was packaged (as a way to easily count calories). Fresh fruits and veggies were off limits because they did not have an exact calorie count. Every time I go back to my treatment center to guest speak, we always have a good laugh as we think back to my first day and the impressive temper tantrum I threw after learning what I would be expected to eat. There was no way in hell those people were going to force me to consume those packaged products. I didn't even consider that to be "real food" at the time.
Occasionally I would have the option to plan frozen vegetables and dried fruits into my meal plan as long as they were perfectly measured. At one point, we all joked that planning anything healthy into our daily regimen was pointless because those low calorie foods took up too much room in our already bulging stomachs. After a few months, not only did I finally give into eating poptarts and little debbies on a daily basis, but I actually began to (I can't believe I'm saying this...) enjoy it.
(Let me just say that eating this way is definitely NOT recommended for healthy individuals. For eating disorder patients, however, it does not matter where the calories are coming from as long as the number being consumed is enough. Also, by constantly facing my fear foods, I was able to learn that I can eat "unhealthy" foods (in moderation) without gaining weight.)
Although I have been home for quite a few months now, I still struggle with estimating calories sometimes. Fruits and vegetables have made their way back into my diet, but I still get a little weird about having to ballpark those calories. The calorie counting meal panning strategy definitely works during the refeeding process, but its inflexibility makes it difficult to move away from after leaving treatment.
Like many things in life, I am currently searching for a place of balance with my food choices. Spending time in the garden yesterday did make me crave those super clean meals and even made me feel a little guilty for my recent "unhealthy" food choices. Those "I just want to eat like a normal person" thoughts were relentless as I angrily dug a hole for each plant. Maybe being alone in a garden with my thoughts wasn't the best idea I have ever had.
The optimist in me, on the other hand, is searching for the benefits of my current meal planning state. Most importantly, I have maintained my current weight since the day I left treatment, so that proves to me that meal planning actually does work. Also, I finally believe there is no such thing as a good food or a bad food. As long as I stay within my calorie limits I can eat whatever I want.
Sometimes I forget that my dietary needs are different than the "normal" person at this stage in my recovery. Every time I turn on the TV or listen to the radio I am bombarded with weight loss ads. Living in a society that places such a huge emphasis on being fit is aggravating. Eating disorder or not, the simple task of fueling our body has turned into something much more complex.
Yes, gardening was a little triggering yesterday, but it might actually be exactly what I need to break my strict meal plan. Growing a few of my own plants will allow me to enjoy a bit of moderation in my diet. I never thought I'd be trying to ADD fruits and veggies to my diet, but here we are.
My eating habits might never be completely normal, but who can honestly say they have a perfect relationship with food? Does normal eating even exist anymore? Maybe I'm not so weird after all.