Carrie Arnold, the author the ED Bites blog, wrote an excellent post on fullness cues over the weekend and although I say this with every new post of hers, this one really might be my favorite to date. During recovery, we constantly hear about hunger cues and how it takes time for our bodies and brains to adjust to being filled with fuel again. I have heard it can take anywhere from six months to a few years, depending on consistency of eating and the individual's metabolism, before hunger cues can be trusted again.
"Part of my problem was that I figured that not actively feeling I was going to immediately starve meant that I was full. At least, that’s how I interpreted it. So I would eat a little bit of a meal or snack and feel full. Of course, I wasn’t actually full, I just got confused and thought that I was full."
After a few days of processing this fullness cue idea, however, I'm still left questioning why is it so gosh darn difficult for those of us in recovery to feel full? Sure, there is physical discomfort in constantly being stuffed to the max, but there is also a psychological component that, in my opinion, has a much larger impact on the recovery process.
Feeling empty provides a temporary high; a short term fix for our daily problems. This feeling becomes comfortable, which makes straying from it seem impossible. While I was in treatment we made two lists; one contained the "benefits" of feeling empty and the other the feelings associated with being full.
Numb-Out Strength Controlled
Superior Attractive Safe
Worthless Weak Out of Control
Anxious Irritable Restless
Miserable Gross Lazy
Basically what this means is feeling empty provided a feeling of accomplishment in my ever disappointing world. Feeling empty meant I was in control. Rather than feeling the pain I had bottled up inside, I could numb it out for the time being if I knew I was in my safe and comfortable "empty zone."
The tricky thing is, however, while I was stuck in the eating disorder I didn't realize that not only was I physically empty, but I was also empty in every other aspect of my life. My relationships suffered, trust was broken, a loss of interest in everyday life developed, and an overall lack of purpose in life were all the result of this emptiness I craved. My face constantly held a vacant stare due to the lack of life inside me. I was empty in every sense of the word.
Sure, being full and gaining weight might make us anxious at first, but it also has the potential to fill our lives with meaning. Being at a healthy weight has allowed me to be full of life again. Those feelings of weakness and worthlessness still linger from time to time, but I think I have slowly been able to separate those feelings from my eating habits.
Through recovery, I think we slowly begin to learn that feeling empty isn't all it's cracked up to be. As Carrie Arnold pointed out, it just as difficult to rediscover our fullness cues as it is our hunger cues, but that doesn't mean it can't be done. There is a good chance I will sit down to a meal today and still be full from the meal before, but maybe if I can switch my thinking and tell myself I am filling myself with life it won't be so bad.