Normal Eating (how I learned to eat)

April 19, 2008 at 2:15 pm 11 comments

My 13-year history of anorexia/bulimia left me with an enhanced sensitivity about food. My own eating behavior at this point is pretty normal. Some people might even consider it boring! My awareness extends more to other people. I observe the eating behavior of those around me – not in a condescending way, but I am simply curious why so many people have such difficulty with food, on both ends of the spectrum. I observe unrealistic expectations and lack of enjoyment. Just think how often you hear people say, “Oh, it looks sinfully good. I really shouldn’t.” If they eventually eat the sinful object, they feel guilty.

Consider one essential ingredient of most women’s magazines. At the airport recently, I was looking for something interesting, but almost every one of them was bragging about some great diet. I think one of them even claimed you could lose 8 pounds in 12 days. Actually, not to go off on a tangent, but this reminds me of the pollution problem. How often have we heard about how much waste is involved with packaging? We are told not to wrap presents, to buy with “waste awareness.” But if one takes a good look around, packaging is increasing at a rapid pace, and the packaged items are getting ever smaller. It is absurd.

How does that relate to food? Well, how many times have we heard that to lose or maintain weight, we need to change our diet or have a consistent diet, and that it is unhealthy to lose more than a couple of pounds in a certain time frame? Anyone who has ever dieted knows this, I am sure. There is no quick fix. Those who keep looking for one are probably intimately acquainted with the yo-yo effect.

So, today I thought I would outline my steps toward lasting recovery. In addition to Overeaters Anonymous and therapy, at some point I finally realized that food is actually fuel to keep me going. Despite my desire to deny it, I admitted that I wanted to live, and accepted that I needed food to survive. Recovery is about honesty.

Let me warn you from the start: This is not a how-to-recover list of instructions; it’s just what I did. Since I’ve always been stubborn and felt that I had to do everything on my own, I did it with the food as well. As I have said time and again, I wish I’d consulted a nutritionist. But I didn’t.

After several near recoveries, lasting anywhere from a few days to a few months, I realized two things: I wasn’t eating enough during the times of recovery; thus I would binge at some point simply because I was so hungry. The second enlightening realization was: I didn’t know HOW to eat! I set out to research roughly how many calories I actually needed, and what three normal meals a day would look like.

Then I decided to eat three meals a day consistently – no more and no less. From previous experiences with recovery, I knew that I would be constipated, feel funny, possibly gain weight, feel weird or even panicky. So at the outset I vowed to see it through. You see, I’d decided that I’d really had enough of the sickness and I was willing to do whatever was necessary to recover. (I was only doing it for myself, by the way, not to make anyone else happy!)

There were no forbidden foods, no diet foots, and no low-calorie foods to binge on. My goal was normal eating. The only criteria was: it had to taste good. Why? Because I wanted to be satisfied, and I am a person of extremes. If I am not satisfied, I will eventually want more. (That was usually the point when I went off to the races.) I did get a fair amount of exercise at the time – jogged a couple of times a week for about 30 minutes, biked to work and night school – since I hoped that regular exercise would get my metabolism going.

When I ate, I always made sure that I had enough time, and chewed thoroughly. That enabled me to taste the food, to enjoy it, and by eating slowly, the body could send the “full” signal at the appropriate time. (I remember reading that somewhere as well. It’s true!) Now I am still a slow eater. When I try to “keep up” with other people, I generally end up with an upset stomach. It’s much pleasanter to eat slowly.

After a few months (or possibly longer, I don’t remember), something happened. I actually began to feel hunger and satiation. That brought me to the next step: varying the amounts, depending on my degree of hunger. Sometimes I ate more, sometimes less, but it always balanced out. It was important to not overeat, as that feeling was uncomfortable and to be avoided.

Of course it didn’t stop from one day to the next. During the first year or two, there were a few incidents. They generally were stress-related, and so I learned to recognize them as a warning signal and work with them. There was no need to punish myself or feel bad, I just took it to mean that my coping mechanisms needed some fine tuning.

Since I’d been somewhat underweight when I began recovery, I did gradually gain some weight back. Through regular, normal eating, my body was able to find its comfortable/appropriate working weight, and that has been my weight now for nearly 20 years (with the exception of two pregnancies, and over the winter I sometimes put on an extra 3 or 4 pounds, but that disappears by itself). There is no more up and down. (Oops! I actually have gained a few pounds since turning 40, but it was so gradual and barely noticeable, that I still feel the same. I just wanted to say that, to avoid fostering another unrealistic expectation!)

What you need to realize is: There is no quick fix. It doesn’t pay to deprive yourself – you’ll make up for it eventually! And recovery is about making a commitment to yourself. You are not perfect and don’t have to do it perfectly. Life is about ups and downs, why should recovery be different?

Although an eating disorder is awful, it is familiar. It’s kind of like being stuck in a bad relationship. My biggest hindrance in life is and has been fear – fear of everything and fear of the unknown. It was a big help to be willing to open up and try something different, a different way of life. But I think I’ll save that, as well as the issue of a distorted self-image, and the fact that bulimia and anorexia are not just about food for another blog, because the sun is shining and I want to go out for a walk. And I think this one offers enough food for thought. Remember? One step at a time!


Entry filed under: About Recovery, eating habits and food. Tags: , , , , , .

Greetings from the Roller Coaster Why am I not satisfied when I eat?

11 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Joanna Poppink, LMFT  |  April 20, 2008 at 4:39 am

    Dear Martha,

    Your above post is a joy to read. Your commitment to your health and your recovery and your finding your way to a healthful way of eating while realistically respecting your humanity is beautiful and moving. I’m certain you are inspiring others to seek their way of moving beyond an eating disorder into a more healthful life.

    I’m especially delighted to learn of your two pregnancies! You kept enough or regained enough health to conceive. That’s such good news. I hope you are enjoying motherhood.

    Brava, Martha. Thank you for sharing your recovery.

    Warm regards,


    Joanna Poppink, MFT, psychotherapist eating disorder specialist, Los Angeles,

    Thank you very much for your feedback! My intention is to offer hope and encouragement to other sufferers, giving them what I would have needed thirty years ago. I do believe that nothing happens without a purpose, and perhaps I had to hit bottom so low and so many times in order to prove that recovery is possible, even for severe cases.
    I thank my grandmother for my iron constitution. Looking back on all my poor body went through, it is indeed a miracle to be alive and to have two healthy children. My first pregnancy occurred in my third year of health. Both pregnancies were pleasant and without complications. In the meantime, I have two teenagers, which is a special challenge all by itself!

  • 2. Joanna Poppink, LMFT  |  April 20, 2008 at 5:18 pm

    Dear Martha,

    Two teen-agers? Well done. You must have made some serious progress in diminishing your fear of the unknown. Children, especially teen-agers, introduce us to challenges that are beyond our old imagination.

    They take us into the unknown and demand, just by existing as normal adolescents, that we rise to the occasion.

    warm regards,


    Joanna Poppink, MFT, psychotherapist eating disorder specialist, Los Angeles, CA

    Thank you! That is so true. It is an incredible experience to be a mother, and I continue to be challenged and required to deal with fears, just in the normal development process (i.e., going to bed and trusting that my daughter will get home safely). It’s a good thing we don’t know ahead of time what we will be faced with! In addition, adolescence takes the parents back as well. It is quite a trip! All I can say is, thank God neither of them is as wild as I was. Yet!!??

  • 3. Stephen M (Ethesis)  |  May 13, 2008 at 2:32 am

    Wish you well in your journey.

  • 4. diaryofarecoveredbulimic  |  May 13, 2008 at 6:13 am

    S: Thank you. I send you the same good wishes back. 🙂

  • 5. Joanna Poppink, MFT  |  February 8, 2012 at 8:55 am

    Dear Martha,

    Since we last spoke I’ve written a self help eating disorder recovery book, published by Conari Press. Healing Your Hungry Heart: recovering from your eating disorder: stories, meditations and exercises.

    It’s getting wonderful reviews. I hope you will read it and let me know what you think.

    warm regards,


    • 6. diaryofarecoveredbulimic  |  February 15, 2012 at 12:29 pm

      Dear Joanna,
      Thank you for the information! At the moment I am drowning in literature, but I will be sure to check it out. The title sounds very inviting!
      Best wishes,

  • 7. Jessica  |  November 29, 2012 at 11:21 pm

    I find what you said in this blog inspirational. I am struggling with an eating disorder which my intelligent mind completely understands but I always see myself so overweight in the mirror that I decide I’m to fat to have one. I don’t know if that makes sense cause most of the time it doesn’t even to me. Anyway I just wanted to say thanks for your blogs. I find myself going to them when I google how to get better when I’m feeling desperate. Hopefully one day it’ll click cause I have teenage children quickly following in my footsteps

    • 8. diaryofarecoveredbulimic  |  December 1, 2012 at 11:47 am

      You are so welcome. Yeah, if it just depended on intelligence, most of those suffering under eating disorders would get over them right away! Your body is not you — there’s a lot more to you, the person. It just carries you along and enables you to live. Maybe try not to put too much pressure on yourself, but find windows of happiness over the course of the day. What interests you? What makes you happy? Focus on that and see what happens! 😉

  • 9. Meg  |  August 16, 2013 at 12:45 pm

    I felt really good after reading this article. That there is hope to recovery. I’ve been suffering with this disease for about 15 years. All I do is wonder how I can stop this awful disease. I made a commitment to myself that I will make this come to an end. 100% for me but also for my children.
    Thank you

  • 10. c  |  August 4, 2014 at 10:59 am

    Thank you so much for sharing this. Truly insightful and helpful : )

  • 11. Wendy  |  August 29, 2014 at 1:22 pm

    Thank you for this message of hope. I suffered bulimia and anorexia from the age of 14. I was hospitalized a couple of times. I become very overweight at 18 and then from that point on have battled with my weight and food. It never leaves me. I am now in my 40s and just want to be healthy around food.


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