A friend of my mother’s came around today with her daughter, who’s still at secondary school. I get back from college at around half five and usually have my snack straight away, but I didn’t want to eat in front of them, so it was agreed they would leave at 6PM. So they came around, Mum picked me up, and I chatted to her daughter for a little while.
When I checked the clock, it was 6.08PM. I started to panic a little. I glanced over at the kitchen where they were but they seemed deep in conversation. 6.15PM. I got up and paced a bit. 6.20PM. I went through to the kitchen and put my coat away- the woman didn’t even look around. 6.30PM and Mum is trying to politely get her to leave and she is going ‘oh, is that the time? I didn’t notice. Did I tell you about what happened with my colleague the other day?’
I was nearly in tears. I was thinking that it was a hour later than usual and she hadn’t gone yet and she was going to be here forever and it would be so much easier to just say ‘I’m not eating!’ She did eventually, very slowly, leave. I was nearly in tears again, telling Mum ‘I’m really sorry and I know I’m crazy and weird but I get strange about time and it’s really late and we’re off schedule and that scares me a lot’. She was very understanding and sympathetic.
Back when I was healthy I would have come in, eaten whatever the hell I wanted and not cared if they didn’t leave until 9PM. Back when I was relapsing, I would have kept them around as long as possible to avoid eating. But now I’m in recovery, I suddenly have no idea what to do. Am I supposed to be flexible with eating times? Yes? But then it’d be like 7PM and I’d have to eat a lot of food in three hours. So do I go straight to dinner? But I usually eat late so that would be wrong too.
Maybe it’s OCD, maybe it’s anorexia- I think it’s a little of both. But either way, flexibility when it comes to eating is not an option for me. I eat this amount at this time. Any attempts to change that terrify me. Breakfast later, dinner out, lunch early- for some reason, I panic. I don’t know what’s coming or what’s happening and I can’t plan it out and I get very anxious. I think quite a lot of people can relate to that.
But I do think that with recovery, there’s a certain element of ‘whatever gets you by’. Only ever eating with a book to distract you might not be normal- but if that gets in food that you wouldn’t be eating otherwise, I think that in the short term it’s okay. At the start of my recovery, I’d choose what I wanted to eat the day before, similar to the menu forms they give out in hospital. That’s sure as hell not normal, but it relaxed my anxiety a lot. Eating at set times and knowing what I am going to eat makes the whole thing less daunting. The panic lessens and I can eat more easily.
I’m not saying ‘taking laxatives is fine if it calms you down after eating’. Of course I’m not. Replacing disordered behaviour with disordered behaviour is like saying ‘I used to steal DVDs, but now I’m completely fine because I only steal computer games’.
What I am saying is be gentle with yourself. Some of your behaviours around food may not be 100% normal- but it’s small steps, you know? You don’t become a completely socially acceptable eating person overnight. Don’t let shame over coping strategies let you slip back into easier, disordered ways.
Whilst there’s no denying that those behaviours may hold you back and it’s a good idea to work on letting go of them, I do personally believe that if it helps you to stop engaging in disordered behaviours like restricting, purging or binging, then it’s okay to be a little weird.
Of course, you might disagree, and that’s okay. So what do you think? Is flexible eating difficult for you? Do you think a strict routine and other coping strategies are a help or a hindrance?