This episode was inspired by Sarah who is in my free support group and is an avid listener of my podcast – thanks, Sarah!
“How do you move from missing the ’empty tight feeling’ in the stomach each morning?”
This is a great question because I used to miss this feeling so much, along with other aspects of the eating disorder, which is what I want to go into today. I know that I’m not the only one who feels (or more so felt) this way and so I want to talk about it in the hope to validate and support those that are currently in recovery and perhaps missing the eating disorder.
It’s normal, it will pass and going back to the ED is NOT the answer.
Things I used to miss about my eating disorder
I’ll share what I used to miss about my eating disorder and then after each one I’ll give you an honest overview of where I am at with that now. I started my recovery journey 5 years ago the time I am writing this.
The feeling of being empty
As always, it’s not the actual empty feeling itself, it’s what you make it mean.
Due to my childhood upbringing alongside society’s conditioning, here’s what I made it mean…
Feeling physically empty made me feel successful and special .. like I was innately good if I was totally empty. It felt safe, reassuring and comforting. It felt like I was closer to myself somehow, empty with no distraction from emotions…even though now I know that I was totally disconnected from my body.
Part of it felt painful… and ‘pain’ was good. It meant that I was strong and didn’t need to be controlled by the human body’s needs – such as eating, drinking, using the toilet etc. I could hear what my body was asking for yet I had the ability to totally ignore it. Most people can’t do that and most people try to do that when they diet. I could endure pain, and ignore my body’s needs and that made me feel superior.
When I took laxatives and my system was fully empty, I felt ‘clean’ and (here’s that word again)… ‘safe’.
I wanted to be different. I wanted to be ‘seen’ and ‘acknowledged’ and ‘loved’ but at the same time, I didn’t want anyone to notice me. I wanted to be left alone yet I was lonely. I wanted to be different and separate from everyone else… yet I longed for belonging and to feel included.
I wanted to be able to just eat a chip and not think anything of it like my sister… but at the same time, I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to die but I didn’t want to fully live either.
I could go on and on but to clarify; I loved feeling empty because of what I made emptiness mean (due to childhood trauma, conditioning and my personality) … success, superiority, safety, numbness, coping, comfort, love, being seen and acknowledgement.
I missed feeling empty or should I say, I missed those feelings of what emptiness used to give me, as I entered into recovery. In fact, I felt the complete opposite of those feelings in recovery! This is what giving things meaning does to you (and also why recovery is so god dam hard)…
if you make emptiness ‘mean’ success, superiority, safety, love, being seen and acknowledgement, then fullness automatically means failure, Inferiority, danger, overwhelm, rejection, unloved and not seen…
No wonder you miss the feeling of emptiness if the feeling of fullness is so overwhelmingly painful. right?!
The good news is, you get to change all of that! You get to change what you make emptiness and fullness mean.
And how do you do that?
By understanding and letting go of your trauma, changing your identity, beliefs, thoughts, feelings, actions, behaviour and therefore the reality you live in.
“If you want to change your personal reality, you must first change your personality”.-Dr Joe Dispenza
Your personality consists of your identity, beliefs, thoughts, feelings, actions and behaviours. Change those (and you can) and your whole reality/life with change.
For 1:1 or group support to do that, reach out to me to explore the ways in that you can work with me. ❤️
Where I’m at now: Do I still miss the feeling of being empty?
In short, no. I do not miss the feeling of being empty anymore. In fact, the only pleasure I get from feeling empty is to know that when I eat next it’s going to feel extra satisfying!
When my tummy rumbles now and I can’t eat; I say to my body (out loud if I’m not on a coaching call) “It’s ok sweetheart, in ___ we can eat. Just hang on my love.”
I get no feeling of satisfaction or success, only the desire to feed and nourish myself and if left too long, hangry!
I got here by doing the inner work to live in full recovery and self-love.
- By getting support
- By re-wiring my fear of weight gain.
- Understanding and letting go of my trauma.
- By changing my personality (identity, beliefs, thoughts, feelings, actions and behaviours.)
- By reflecting on my values and purposefully living in alignment with them.
- By connecting with my worth and self-love.
- Letting go of needing to be the best or needing to prove something.
Honestly, it’s difficult to put into words how I get to where I am it’s more of a journey you go on and then experience… but I got here and so have my clients. And you can too!
Here is what else I used to miss about my eating disorder…
I used to love being thin when I was in anorexia and lean when I was in bulimia. I didn’t see how thin I was in the anorexia even though I could see every bone in my body… I knew I wasn’t “fat” but I always wanted the number on the scales to go down. I secretly loved it when someone said “oh my goddess you’re way too thin”. I thought they were only jealous as like so many people, they wish they could restrict themselves. I’d watched my mum and aunties diet my whole life after all.
In my bulimia when I was super lean, it felt amazing when people would comment on my body…
“Wow, your body is insane! I wish I looked like you!”
“Your body is unreal. I wish I had your discipline.”
I also often had married men attempt to date me and when I asked outright about their relationship they would say things like, “Yeah but look at you, you’re different, you’re every man’s dream” which then for me this equated to;
Being lean = being desired, loved and safe from being cheated on by your partner.
I also genuinely liked the look of my body when I was fitness modelling. Granted, it was never good enough but at least I was proud of what I had achieved and the validation from others made it all worthwhile.
I had similar feelings about being thin and lean as I did when I felt empty… I felt successful, desired, superior, safe, comforted, loved, seen and acknowledged.
Where I’m at now: Do I still miss being thin/lean?
I’m always radically honest and raw with you and the answer to this question is honestly both yes and no…
I miss looking in the mirror and loving the way my body looks. I miss being able to wear anything and it actually fitting, looking good and feeling comfortable. I miss feeling super light when I run and train…
Please don’t run away from this podcast and recovery, I’ll speak to this more in a moment!
Let me phrase it in a different way. If someone asked me “would you like a million pounds?” what do you think I’d say…?
Let’s not beat around the bush…being thin/lean gives you social capital. More men will desire you, women will envy you, you get served quicker, you’re more likely to get what you want (unfortunately because that’s how fucked up society is) and people will want to be like you (or so we think anyway). We’re human and we have egos so who doesn’t want all of that?
HOWEVER at what cost?
This is where my hard NO comes in.
I do NOT miss everything I had to do and be to be lean. (in bulimia, obsessed with food, my body and my toilet habits, my happiness and sense of worth relying fully on how I look).
I do NOT miss my shallow, egotistic values all based on what I looked like (but were rooted in fear of not being good enough or loved). No way ho-say.
Plus now, I deeply love and accept myself and my body and how it looks. It doesn’t mean anything negative to me anymore if I don’t like the way I look. I wouldn’t trade self-love and acceptance for thinness AND a million pounds… really!
What I have gained as well as weight is my sanity, happiness, self-love, deeper more aligned values, freedom, connection to myself, my body and others, a meaningful life, an incredible relationship and honestly SO much freakin’ more!
And so I do miss small aspects of my lean body but what I have now is 100000000000000x better and more important to me than loving my physical reflection in the mirror, clothes fitting easier and feeling light and fast during fitness.
Knowing what I know now and feeling how I feel now in my body and my life, restriction is just not worth it.
It was my number 1 coping mechanism
Restriction was my number one coping mechanism. It made me feel safe and in control. It stopped me from feeling all the feels and it distracted me big time. It was also so easy to blame my body anytime I felt anxious, uncertain, angry or upset with anything in life that had nothing to do with my body. Yet I would unconsciously make it about my body. My body was my greatest scapegoat.
Didn’t get the job? Must be because I need to lose weight.
Didn’t get the man? Need to get to the gym more!
Not sure how this situation is going to pan out? If I lose weight then everything will fall into place!
When I started recovery and my coping mechanism was gone, shit hit the fan! I felt overwhelmed, and out of control, and didn’t even know who the fuck I was or what to do. It took a while, a lot of exploration and a shit ton of self-compassion to find other ways to cope with life.
Emotional eating (which always spiralled into binge eating) was my second choice of coping mechanism. It’s the other side of the coin to restriction. When I added in ways to self-soothe and practice feeling my feelings – journalling about them helped – I was able to naturally and gradually move away from restriction and binge eating and find other ways to support me such as learning to dance with an app, foam rolling and yoga, listing to music, journalling, cuddling my dog, asking for support from my man, watching a movie, walking in nature and sometimes just feeling my feelings.
“The worse thing that will ever happen to you is you’ll feel a feeling”
Restriction is NOT the answer. It’s a self-harming behaviour.
Where I’m at now: Do I still miss it as my coping mechanism?
I don’t miss restricting as my coping mechanism anymore. The more spiritual development I do, the more I am able to surrender to what is. I don’t really feel the need to ‘cope’ anymore as I have learnt to accept and surrender to what is and to look for the lesson in challenging times. When you are able to be with your feelings, feel them and then let them go, you don’t need to cope anymore.
I’m definitely no Buddha or Jesus and so of course I’m not always able to fully surrender and embrace what is and when I’m not able to access that, my coping mechanism is to spend time alone…whether that be taking myself to the cinema on a solo date or for a walk in nature. Anything that gets me out of my head and connected to something else, especially something greater than I.
Having an eating disorder as my identity
When I was anorexic, it was who I was. It was what I was good at. Everyone treated me as anorexic. I felt cared for when people worried about me. I simultaneously loved and hated all the attention and the extra care I got. At my core, I wanted to be taken care of, I wanted someone to come and “save me”… but nobody could.
Turns out you can only save yourself!
The longer I was in anorexia, the more ingrained my identity of it was. I unconsciously used it as an excuse not to be able to recover “because I was anorexic” and anorexics don’t eat. I used to look at pro-ana websites and felt like I belonged. I was one of them. I would hear professionals saying things like “You’ll never truly get rid of your eating disorder, you’ll just learn to live with it in a different way.” and “Anorexia is extremely difficult to recover from fully and many never do.” I was basically living in learned helplessness.
If we don’t become aware of what we are choosing as our identity then we will never be able to change it. Our identity feels like it’s who we are but we are so much more… we are literally infinite possibility.
Over time, my eating disorder morphed into bulimia (and then eventually binge eating) and so then I identified as being super fit and lean and others would say I was super “healthy” (haha- jokes, if only they knew!)
I always had a goal that I was working towards… and it was always weight loss and improving my fitness. It gave me purpose, drive, motivation and a sense of achievement. It felt good, I was good at it and well… who the fuck would I be without it?
If you don’t spend your entire life trying to lose weight and then sustain it then what else are you supposed to do…? 😉
When we say the words I AM, we are literally casting a spell to keep us in the I am. “I am anorexic.” “I am a binge eater.” “I am bulimia.” “I am terrified of weight gain.” “I am not enough.” Even to the point that we say “I am anxious/sad/lonely/angry.”
No! You are not any of those things, you are EXPERIENCING them. YOU (the true you) is infinite possibility and you are experiencing what you’re currently experiencing.
Deattach yourself from anything that you identify as and start to notice that you are infinite. You can be, do and have anything you truly desire, including food freedom and body love.
Where I’m at now: Do I still miss it being my identity?
When I LET GO of identifying with the eating disorder, let go of the ideal body I had been chasing since I was 9 and took time to write out my vision of who I’d like to be, everything started to shift. I was no longer unconsciously holding onto my identity as someone with an eating disorder. I was moving toward the new version of me that didn’t have an eating disorder.
By letting go of the identity that had been keeping me stuck, was I then able to move forward and make huge progress and heal. I now identify as a soul living a human experience and I allow myself to follow my heart and live in alignment with my values, wherever that takes me. I know I am infinite possibility and I know that my GPS in life is my heart and my intuition.
But you don’t have to believe in the woo-woo like I do to be free from yourself. You can create a new identity that serves you.
EG- You can choose to identify as someone who loves their body and themselves and eats with freedom, nourishment, pleasure and intuition.
“You can’t heal from an eating disorder if you’re acting like someone with an eating disorder.”
– Tabitha Farra
The high that bingeing gave me
Honestly, I used to miss that intense feeling just before and during a binge so much. The rush of excitement, adrenaline, release, pleasure, freedom and allowance. The anticipation of buying my binge foods knowing the pleasure and release I’d feel when I started eating. The almost drug-like high I’d get when I started eating. The taste, the pleasure, the letting go of resistance. It felt so good. It was like a part of me enjoyed starving and feeling deeply deprived because I knew that I’d soon cave in and binge and that would feel SO good compared to the restriction.
It was like I lived for the highs and lows. Of course, the high only lasted a short time as the low would come the moment I’d finished eating. The shame, self-loathing, fear of weight gain, anxiety, panic, the plan to restrict the next diet to follow…
Honestly, I only stopped dieting because I couldn’t diet for longer than an hour in the end. I had literally lost my ability to restrict and all I was doing was bingeing. I wasn’t even getting the high from it as much because I wasn’t restricting in between.
That’s when I reached rock bottom and reached out for help.
Where I’m at now: Do I still miss the high?
I kind of sometimes miss the high that I used to get from restricting and then bingeing. Now I live in food freedom, food is just food. Yes, it’s a delicious part of life and I still love chocolate but it doesn’t hit the spot quite the same way as it used to. I eat it whenever I want it. It’s not forbidden. Therefore there are no long periods without it and I am not mentally restricted and so I know I can always have as much as I want when I want it.
But again, there’s no way I would trade in the high just before and during a binge for what I have now.
How to let go of what you miss
To speak to Sarah’s question; “How do you move away from missing _____?” then this is my answer…
What do you want more….thinness or recovery from the hell-hole of restriction or feeling crazy around food? Food freedom, body acceptance and sanity really begins the moment we decide that we want sanity & freedom
…more than we want thinness; more than we want our food to look a certain way.
There will no doubt be triggers towards restrictive thoughts and behaviours along the way; there will no doubt be struggles with body image, diet-culture, or a desire to control;
but when we decide that our mental health and happiness are more valuable than trying to control our food and bodies at all costs; when we prioritize our mental health, happiness and well-being over whatever rationalization for restriction that our fear brains have come up with that day,
that’s when we can finally do honest, effective work towards healing our relationship with food and our bodies—that’s when we’re really on our way.
Every moment that we make a choice to put our recovery first—over our compulsive desire to control—is a moment that we stand for and move towards our own liberation.
With body image and self-love work, you can do this!