Article originally published on recoverywarriors.com.
Buffets used to make me nervous. So did parties with large amounts of food. These were just some of the issues I faced when I followed a very restrictive eating pattern (I can also include refusing to go to brunch with my family one weekend, ordering separately from my friends at dinners, and trying to convey to a very confused waiter at a Chinese restaurant that I don’t want any salt in my dishes). I’ve come a long way since those days (mega thanks to both my therapist and former dietitian), to the point where I feel pretty much normalized around food.
So I surprised myself at the 4th of July party I went to last week. I didn’t go in with much anxiety, but I began to feel a little hyper-focused on food once we arrived, and I had less self-control than I thought I would.
In my head, I heard my former dietitian telling me to focus on the people, the environment, and the conversation, but I felt myself distractedly going back for more chips in the middle of a conversation with awesome new friends I was making. I noticed I was rushing from one dessert platter to the next. I ate a slice of cheesecake a little too quickly and eagerly – dropping a bite on the floor as I did so.
By the end of the night, I was disappointed in myself. Partially because I’d lost some self-control, but more because of the thoughts that crept in as the party ended. I’ve been feeling really good in my body, but I ate too much tonight… Tomorrow I need to regain control… And I should definitely take a spin class after work. These types of thoughts only feed into the vicious cycle of restriction and reward that is characteristic of many eating disorders. They are thoughts that I no longer support and that I work with my clients to reduce! So I thought, What is happening?! Why am I feeling this way?! I’ve come so far!
You will have setbacks; you may relapse. But this doesn’t mean you’re failing. In fact, these steps backward are vital parts of the recovery process.
And given that striving for perfection is a common feature of disordered eating, you may be extra hard on yourself for these setbacks, just like I was when old thoughts crept their way into my head last week. When this happens, it’s beneficial to shift your focus towards how far you’ve come and away from any steps backward and negative thinking.
In my case, I had to recognize how the day after the party went. Several years ago, I would have avoided bread, eaten lean protein with veggies all day, and booked 4 workouts for the rest of the week. Last week, however, on the day following the holiday, I didn’t restrict at any meals. I gave into my craving for 2 bowls of Chex Mix after work because I was hungry, tired, and craving carbs; I had Oreos for dessert after dinner; and I didn’t force myself to the gym to “undo” Monday.
When, in the thick of your eating disorder, you used to spend so much time trying to achieve perfection, it helps to remember now that the road to recovery itself doesn’t have to be perfect. And can’t we all use a reason to cut ourselves some serious slack (plus a little more cheesecake…)?