I'm going to write the code for an eating disorder on your insurance form, my therapist told me one day as she looked at me very seriously, as if she were about to cry.
I thought I was going to throw up. That couldn't possibly be the code she'd selected based on her assessment. I wasn't underweight. I didn't have an eating disorder. Sure, maybe I was a little too intense with exercise and restricted my food too much. But that seemed dramatic, for sure.
No one will see it, right? I asked her flippantly, unwilling to match her sobriety. I felt exposed. I needed to take control here.
It will just be used to process your insurance claim, she told me. But it's important for you to understand that, based on what you've told me, this is the accurate code.
It's fine if you want to code it that way, I told her. I'm not sure I agree with you, but if it's the only code you can find, it's OK with me.
She nodded seriously, gently.
This is a stalemate, I thought as I held eye contact.
I left her office with my insurance form and looked at it over and over again. I'd gone to therapy to get over my ex-boyfriend and now, here I was, being told my relationship with food and exercise was unhealthy and obsessive.
I never should have told her I'd lost my period, I thought as I signed up for a FlyWheel class.
I spent hours on her couch.
She was right. My relationship with food and exercise was no longer healthy. It had escalated and the degree to which I was restricting my food had gone too far. My body was breaking down. I had amenorrhea, the stomaches from my IBS had gotten out of control, my hair was brittle, I had insomnia and was calcium deficient. Exercise had taken over my life - all of my free time was spent either planning workouts or doing them. My diet consisted of about six foods because everything else had become, in my mind, "bad."
But I wasn't underweight. So I thought everything was fine.
I am not a doctor (or anything in the medical field) and I understand, clinically, that there are differences between food restriction, disordered eating and an eating disorder. But, sometimes women who aren't underweight can have very unhealthy relationships with food and exercise and are overlooked because they don't check certain boxes when it comes to a clinical eating disorder.
What my experience taught me is that you don't have to be clinically diagnosed with anorexia or bulimia, to have a disordered relationship with food and exercise.
If you're wondering if your relationship with food and exercise is healthy, perhaps you could consider these questions:
- Do you schedule each day to revolve around your workouts?
- Is it your top priority to exercise daily, even if you're super busy, on vacation, sick, traveling, slammed at work, exhausted, etc...
- Do you go to an early morning workout, even if you couldn't sleep the night before?
- Are you doing two workouts or more each day?
- Do you workout before you meet a friend for a walk or run, just in case she doesn't want to go as hard as you?
- Do you have entire food categories that are off limits because you think they're bad? (Think: bread, dairy, sugar, alcohol, desserts...)
- Have you convinced yourself you "don't like cheese" or "aren't really a sweets person" because you don't want to eat those things? Some people don't like cheese, I get that. But if you did a few years ago, cut it out, lost weight and now don't like it - do you actually like it?
- Are you obsessed with spicy foods because they boost your metabolism and make you drink more water at meals?
- Do you feel panicked when someone asks you to go out to dinner because it's just so much easier to control what you eat when you cook it yourself? Do you want to lie to get out of it or, perhaps, attend the dinner but tell your friends you already ate?
- Do you consistently miss your period?
I can't reiterate enough that I am not here to give medical advice. But, if you find yourself nodding yes, yes, yes in agreement with these questions, I want to challenge you to think about your relationship with food and exercise.
We live in a really dichotomous society that forces us to label everything. If we took away every label around eating disorders, where would you fall on the scale of an unhealthy to a healthy relationship with your body? Are you free? Or do you feel like you're being suffocated by the constant need to exercise and count calories? Does the idea of losing weight consume the majority of your thoughts?
In our society, it's so normal for women to talk about wanting to lose weight and diet. I've noticed that we've all sort of adopted this mentality that being a little weight- and exercise-obsessed is OK. But it doesn't have to be this way.
One day at lunch in college, a sorority sister was talking about a friend of hers who was always trying to lose weight. Wouldn't it be so sad if you were always trying to get skinnier? She said as she took a big bite of her grilled cheese. I mean, to always feel like you wanted to lose weight and were unhappy with your body would be so tiring.
I was shocked at her words - not just at the flippancy - but that this was foreign to her. I didn't realize there were girls who didn't feel this way, I remember thinking as I pushed around my limp iceberg lettuce.
I know now that it really doesn't have to be this way. These days, I still love to exercise and eat healthily. But, I've found freedom from them. If I eat a donut or miss a day of working out, I don't feel my chest tighten or my pulse begin to race. I don't read nutrition labels obsessively or feel panicked when I eat bread. I love veggies and ice cream and burgers and coffee. When I go out to dinner, I don't automatically order a salad; I order whatever sounds best in the moment. Kale is not my king.
But, I'm far from having a perfect relationship with my body. Anyone who has struggled with this topic knows that aiming for perfection is, in fact, the exact opposite of the end goal. The goal is healing and healing means learning to move with the rhythm of the world - not against it. Healing means understanding that some days will feel harder than others. Some days, the allure of exercising just a few more times (what's one more walk? that little voices asks) or the sense of control you get when you restrict your food will feel more tempting than on other days.
Healing, for me, looks like asking for help when I need it. It means telling Chris when I need him to take a rest day with me for solidarity. It means admitting to a friend when I'm struggling with my relationship with my body. It means going to see my therapist when I find myself exercising just a little too much; when the allure of extra endorphins feels overwhelmingly tempting.
Most importantly, it means remembering, in these moments, to step back and take a deep breath. It means reminding myself that I don't want to live that way anymore - I want a life of freedom, not of restriction. It means affirming myself with the truthiest of truths: