Defining “Normal”

So guys, guess what day it is???

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MY BIRTHDAY!

No, not really. But that would have been really fun… I mean, even if you don’t like the idea of getting older, who doesn’t, somewhere, deep inside, secretly love birthdays?! You can’t tell me that balloons, and flowers, and that extra little bit of love you feel doesn’t warm you up somewhere on the inside.

Alas, it’s not my birthday. But guess what day it IS?

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Have you figured it out yet?

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That’s right, Friday! Specifically, fear food Friday! I mentioned this before, but I’ll recap. When I was in residential treatment, Friday was the day you kind of loved to hate a little bit, because chances are that you were going to be challenged with a typical fear food on that day, at least once. I mean sure, they denied it, but we all knew when we got that 7 am wake up call that we were walking downstairs to pancakes with whipped cream, or “cheese surprise” (basically extremely cheesy mac and cheese) for dinner that night. Or that one day… that ONE day, where they gave us pizza for lunch, milkshakes for afternoon snack, and then surprised us when we thought it couldn’t get any worse by putting heaping mounds of pasta on our plates for dinner.

Yeah, that wasn’t pretty. A lot of Ativan was given out that night…

Anyways, Fridays tended to push our boundaries a bit in terms of what we ate. This was stressful for sure, but, at least for me, there was still a small part of me that really looked forward to Friday just because I knew I was going to be able to have something that, chances are, I really enjoyed (except for the whole pancakes and whipped cream thing… I’m not huge on pancakes, I legitimately can’t stand whipped cream, and the alternative was syrup and butter, which we all know that despite my Canadian roots, I find repulsive too). And there was this whole permission thing… like I could let myself enjoy it because I didn’t have a choice but to eat it. So in some ways that obligation was my scapegoat, and my way to assuage any guilt I felt. Or at least most of it.

When we got through that day, in particular the pizza, pasta, and milkshake one, the next morning we all pretty much went on strike with the dietician. We insisted that eating like that was not “normal”, that even people we know without eating disorders did not eat like that in the “real world”.

Our dietician had a rough job… actually all eating disorder dieticians do, because so often they become the enemy in the recovery relationship. They become the evil one that is just trying to get you “fat”, and the one that you can hurl all the horrible garbage that is swirling around inside your head at. Let me tell you, that day she got a beating from roughly twenty outraged patients. Ever cool and collected, I remember her sitting in her chair and insisting, in her quiet but firm, no nonsense way that this WAS “normal” eating.

Believe me when I say that none of us were convinced.

But as I move farther in my journey, albeit after a relapse, albeit being in a worse state now physically than I was on that fateful fear food filled (alliteration is fantastic, is it not?!) Friday, I can say I’m definitely in a different mental state now than I was then.

For me, relapsing in many ways has resulted in a harder recovery this time around. The depression that accompanied the acquisition of such a low BMI was much much worse this time around, and the resulting hole that I dug for myself seemed that much harder to climb out of. Or rather, I didn’t have the mental energy to build the ladder needed to help me climb out of the hole.

Before, the threat of dying, the threat of having a heart attack, the threat of not waking up in the morning was enough to allow me to take the initial steps on the recovery path. This time it was different. I knew the battle that lay ahead, and I knew the end result: weight restoration, and yes fat acquisition, but even more so, a body that I never learned to love. A skin that I never felt comfortable in, regardless of all the therapy. The constant feeling of wanting to crawl out of yourself, or hide yourself away because you feel so ashamed of the physical body you are in.

And more than once, as I worked my way down deeper and deeper into my anorexic pit this time, I found myself saying: if that is how I’m doomed to feel every day of my life, what is the point? Even at a weight restored place, even after rounds of therapy, my exercise was entirely linked to my intake, and my intake was controlled by a strict set of rules that had gradually gotten more and more specific. As I maintained a “pseudo-recovered” mindset, I fought so hard to ward off old, dangerous behaviors (like weighing and using measuring cups for food, or using calorie counters) that I just ended up developing new ones. And eventually the old behaviors came back too.

I didn’t see it. The threat of dying wasn’t enough when the threat of living was so overwhelming.

I never thought of suicide. I never wanted to end my life. I still don’t. But I was willing to let it go if that was what it came down to.

The admission of that is depressing.

All I’ve wanted, ever since my eating disorder first took hold was to have a “normal” relationship with food, to be able to eat “normally”, and to be able to maintain a healthy weight in a body that I felt comfortable in. This time, this goal felt so impossible that I was willing to let go if I had to.

In all of this, it sounds as though I was actually in a worse mental state this time than before. Perhaps I was, in some ways. But in others, I was leaps and bounds ahead of where I was the first time I decided to try and regain my health and happiness.

This time, I know the path I am on. I know, in general, what to expect. And, this time, I have an ability to be realistic and not naïve about the process. This time, I know that it’s not a simple matter of regaining the weight and then magically your life goes back to what it was. I know that I can’t expect to wake up one morning and have this all disappear, like it was just a bad dream.

Anyways, I have a point to this…

Going through the motions: recovery, relapse, recovery… and through the different phases: hospital medical ward, inpatient, residential, home, real world, and ALMOST (but not quite) hospital again, has taught me a lot that I didn’t know before. Or rather, I never thought about.

For example: the dietician sitting in her chair, insisting that the consumption of pizza, milkshakes, and pasta in one day was “normal”. No way!!

Except I know now… it kind of is “normal”. Actually, it’s so unbelievably “normal” that you can’t believe it.

I can see you all getting out your pitchforks… I can see some angry hater getting on my case about the obesity epidemic, about the “unhealthy” food choices and their ramifications in our modern society…

BUT, hear me out!

Firstly, I’m not getting into the whole argument on “healthy” vs. “unhealthy” foods. My goal in my own process is not to put such labels on anything, or to allow that judgment to reign supreme. Those labels are the source of deprivation, dissatisfaction, anxiety, stress, depression, and overall guilt and shame. With such ugly side effects, I don’t know why we’d want to swallow that pill?

Secondly, “normal” doesn’t exist. There really isn’t a set of rules, even though probably a good 90% of people believe there is. “Normal” is unique, and completely individual.

But, for the sake of the argument here, I’m going to use the word “normal” as I can’t really think of one to replace it. Perhaps balanced could, but context-wise, I think all of you eating disordered people out there will understand what I’m talking about, what I’m feeling and thinking, if I stick to “normal”.

Is it “normal” to eat pizza for lunch, a milkshake for snack, and then a big bowl of pasta for dinner? Yes!

I can say that now! I finally get where the dietician was going with this!

Yes! But here’s the catch: it doesn’t happen every day.

The label of “normal” has become almost synonymous with black and white, or all or nothing thinking. You’re “normal” or disordered, good or bad, skinny or fat, smart or stupid, starving or binging… the list goes on and on!

But picture this. You wake up on Friday morning and grab a quick breakfast before you head off to work or school. Lunch is in the cafeteria, and oh look, there’s pizza! And the salad at the salad bar either had someone just sneeze on it, making it totally repulsive, or you saw mold on the grated cheese on top because that one has been sitting in the grab and go case for WAY too long, or simply you just really don’t feel like eating it and are craving a slice of pizza. Doesn’t really matter. You grab a slice of pizza and go sit down to enjoy with your friends/colleagues. During lunch, you get to talking, and it’s Friday, so plans for the weekend are discussed. Someone mentions the new movie that came out this week, and everyone talks about how much they are looking forward to seeing it. Before you know it, plans are made to head to the showing tonight at seven. You’re excited!

After lunch you head off to class/work. The day progresses and you get busy: you have after school band/soccer practice, or a project is due to your boss first thing Monday morning. Either way, you get tied up and don’t get home until 5, 5:30…

Luckily, your spouse/parents was there and has cooked dinner: a delicious bowl of your favorite pasta in that amazing sauce. Not only is pasta relatively quick, but it’s usually fairly easy to make, and it tastes good to boot. You sit down and have a nice dinner that was lovingly prepared, while chatting about your respective days.

Before you know it, it’s time for the movie! You head out and meet your friends/coworkers at the cinema, and sit down to (insert emotion and response of choice here) your head off/eyes out/etc. Afterwards everyone decides that they’re really enjoying themselves and the night is young. How about going to the ice cream shop around the corner, someone suggests? Why not?

So you go. You order that classic favorite shake of yours (mine would be a combo of Caribou Caramel and Cookies and Cream J) and enjoy it with everyone else. After some prolonged socializing you head home and off to bed, thoroughly content with the course of your Friday. After all, TGIF!

And look what happened! You ate pizza, pasta, and milkshakes, all in one day. Not only did you live to tell the day of it, but also you didn’t even realize it. You didn’t even know that you committed some societal cardinal sins, and that you behaved so “abnormally”. You never even thought about it.

Because guess what… your “abnormal” was “normal”. It was special, social, fun, and guiltless. No shame.

This is why fear food Friday is so important!

Not only is it important to challenge our fears, whether they be food related, work related, or what have you, but it is important to remember that indulgence, that satisfying cravings, and that occasionally overeating is part of a “normal” lifestyle, and a “normal” relationship with food.

It doesn’t happen every day. And on those special days where it does, no harm, no foul. No guilt, no shame. No judgment, no fear.

Well, theoretically… easier said than done. It’s a bit hypocritical for me to say that considering that I almost had a melt down over a smoothie and nuts today… but I’m a work in progress. And I do believe that this outlook, while not totally embraced by me right now, is a healthy one, and one that I will strive to have, through fear food Fridays and my recovery journey in general.

So without further ado, here are some scary things I dealt with today:

Breakfast:

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I made a pumpkin bread breakfast bake with oats, topped with coconut peanut butter, and yogurt on the side. The fear: adding in a yogurt. I love yogurt, but somehow having yogurt when I have nut butter already is terrifying. Gotta love those fats and those calories! To top it off, a sprinkle of granola on top. Scary too!

Morning Snack:

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Harvest Crunch Granola. I wasn’t really sure what I felt like for snack today, but when I saw this guy in the cupboard it was calling me. I haven’t eaten it in so long, and really for me it’s a nostalgia thing, as my Dad used to make me a bowl before school often. The fear: additive sugars. For someone who is already afraid of granola as it packs a bit of a punch relative to volume, not making it myself and being able to control the additive sugar is always a challenge.

Lunch:

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A plate of indecision! Once again, I didn’t know what I wanted. Actually I did: I knew I wanted pretzels, and I knew I wanted black bean puree. Reality: I needed to use up some of the hummus, and those beans taste wayyyy better with cheese on top. The fear: Processed food (aka pretzels) typically judged as “junky”. Plus cheese. Plus the volume of beans and hummus… ED never likes multiples when the option exists to always have less. Plus kombucha… because I don’t drink my calories.

Afternoon snack:

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My doubler, and quite large snack of the day. I went shopping yesterday and bought protein powder for the first time as I have seen so many interesting looking posts around the web that use it. Decided to try this recipe. The challenge: smoothies tend to be scary with the sugar content, and the inability to totally count out exact servings of things… I knew I had to add to it as it wasn’t enough for me right now, but my judgment of “normal” portions kept getting in the way. Eventually I tried the KIND bar (normally love KIND bars) but that flavor was… unpalatable to me. Will not buy again. After two bites, went for some nuts instead, which my dog heartily supported. The fear: FATS! More to come on this, as I could go for pages and pages!

Dinner:

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Was on my own for dinner for the first time in a long time. So I did what every young person does when they’re on their own… roast chicken breast and cook boozy red wine cheesy pasta with fresh herbs and veggies! Not everyone does that? What? Is it just me? Then again, many people would say I’m the only person that plates their lunch at work and garnishes with fresh herbs and spices…The fear: Pasta, cheese, wine… you name it!

Dessert:

So my own personal (and dietician approved) challenge is to work my way through immaeatthat’s single serving cookie cookbook! I’ve had the cookbook since it first came out but have been too scared to use it! Daily challenges are the best! Today was a no-bake toasted coconut cookie with chocolate drizzle. The fear: fats, in chocolate and coconut, as well as the walnuts. Sugar in the dates.

One recipe a day, plus some yogurt (because I don’t like milk and cookies… sacrilegious I know) for the next 35 (because I started yesterday with 36!) days. Feel free to join me on this, or at least on your own Fear Food Friday challenges! And tag me, and let me know what you’re challenging yourself with, food-wise or in other aspects of life. I’d love to hear  🙂

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Because it’s “normal” to like cookies, too.

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3 thoughts on “Defining “Normal”

  1. I love the whole normal eating scenario. And I can attest, from both personal experience before ED and also by watching my sisters who are completely normal eaters, that it’s true. It’s crazy to watch but if they eat pasta, pizza, and ice cream all in one day, they don’t care! They just move on. Anyway, it’s awesome that you are challenging yourself…stay strong:)

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    1. Thanks! It’s so true though right? You could ask almost anyone if eating like that was normal and they’d reply no way, because the reality of normal eating is that you don’t pay that much attention to even realize that you ate that way… and you don’t eat like that all the time. Challenging oneself is super important, even if it’s tough. Thanks so much for your words :

      Liked by 1 person

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