Thoughts on Anxiety and Eating Disorders

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Anxiety….

Let’s talk about it. 

How are you dealing? 

I’m talking about the type of anxiety that is crippling. The kind that adds a layer of depression and sorrow. The type that causes you to live in fear of the “what if”. 

I’m not really sure where I’m going with this post… but I do want to talk about anxiety as it relates to an eating disorder (at least mine).

Anxiety was a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Growing up I had a lot of irrational fears and dark thoughts. I feared I was going to get kid napped or my parents were going to die. I had anxiety about societal expectations… anxiety about weight gain. I knew that a “thigh gap” was “idea”… and I remember the exact day and moment in high school that I looked in the mirror and saw my thigh gap was gone. And I felt disappointed at myself and fearful that I was ugly.  

Unfortunately, I carried this anxiety with me into my college years.

Anxiety caused me to do a lot of irrational things and make poor decisions. If you’ve read my other posts, you know my top priority in college was certainly not “wellness”- despite being in school for nutrition. (The irony… I know.)

Anxiety controlled my life and was the driving factor behind almost everything I did: my intense study schedule, my lacking sleep schedule, my extreme workout schedule, my calorically sparse diet, my social life etc. All of these things were driven by anxiety and fear. 

What drives you? What motivates you? Is anxiety the captain of your life? If so… then I submit that you have given away your ability to make decisions based on what you truly want. Your judgment is clouded with the fog of fear. You are robbed of your ability to truly enjoy anything without reservation. There is always an underlying uneasiness. There is an intensity in your soul. An intensity that never quiets down. 

Peace? What is this peace you speak of? What is joy without reservation? 

WHAT IS HAPPINESS APART FROM THIN-NESS?

Ahhhh… there it is. I thought that if I was miserable, at least I could be thin and miserable. I thought - if I don’t have control of the other areas of my life, at least I can have control in this one. If I cannot deal with my thoughts and fears of failure, then at least I’d have one source of my anxiety under control. I can’t fully control everything else… but I can control this one.

Unfortunately, control cannot fix anxiety. On the contrary, in my experience, control only perpetuated my anxiety. Even the idea of loosing control was terrifying. To try to control your anxiety by tightening the death grip you have on your life is an oxymoron. It does not work. Trust me, I’ve tried. That day will come when you don’t have full control anymore- when someone throws a wretch in your plans. When you boyfriend calls to say y’all are going to eat with friends- during the time you are going to work out. When you go to a party and they have only have “junk” food to eat. When you go on vacation and you are out of your own routine. Control does not ease the pain of anxiety- with food, weight, or anything else in life. It might place a Band-Aid on it- but it does not give you true peace- only the illusion of it. This will quickly come to light when the inevitable happens and you are placed out of control. At this time, the anxiety will be amplified. The tighter your control, the bigger the fall. 

With food, control only leads to a “loss of control”. Has anyone else struggled with binge eating due to restriction? In this case, you have control until you don’t anymore. At the point of binge eating, not only have you lost control… but you are completely out of control. This is what control does- we forget how to cope with life when things are not exactly as we have them planned. When our calculations and lists to do not add up, we loose our minds. 

This is why in my opinion and experience, controlling methods like Weight Watchers and the MyFitnessPall app do.not.work. Yes, they may work, in that they allow you to have the tremendous illusion of control… but they only give you a dependence on something apart from yourself. They lead you to feel out of control without them. Is that really even true control? I submit it is not. Yes, you are using them to control… but you yourself are not in control. 

When is someone “in control” when it comes to food? I submit that it is when one eats intuitively. To be in control when it comes to food is to not control at all! You have to release your mind from the burden of manipulation and you must rekindle that beautiful relationship between body and soul. When you relinquish control of food, then you take away the appeal of the “forbidden foods”. When this happens, the appeal of all the “bad” foods goes away. They no longer have that forbidden allure. They no longer entice you to come hither and eat all the things. When this happens, your mind no longer has to practice self control… because your body intuitively does not always crave those things. If you take away the issue… then it is a non-issue. But get this: you first have to allow yourself to be “out of control” to be “in control” . This means you may over do it the first few or the first few hundred times… but eventually that “honeymoon” phase of food WILL go away. Without you having to practice self control. 

To put anxiety behind me… I had to learn to relinquish control. I had to learn that life was better lived without maintaining a constant death grip. Without living in fear of the future or the “what ifs”. Life is unpredictable and unexpected- that is the beauty of it! This is the nature of life. You have to choose to embrace it, or live in fear of it. 

I for one am done living in fear. I want to pursue what sets my soul on fire and what fulfills my inmost being. I may fail and run into road blocks along the way… but there is progress in the regression. 

By letting go of control, I have experienced more freedom than I ever have. To learn to be at peace with things outside of your control is one of the greatest life tools. My mom has always told me: “it is what it is”. That phrase has always sent me into a rage… I was always like “WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN?!” It implies that what happens happens… and we can’t do anything about it but accept it. As much as I hate it sometimes, that is true. Life is always going to throw curve balls but we cannot go on living in fear of them. They will happen… and we have to be flexible enough to dodge them or we have to be strong enough to heal from them. Either way, living in fear of them only cripples us and hinders us as we go through life. 

I know I'm not alone in this struggle. I know my story is not unique. I would love to get this conversation started, Are you struggling? Have you overcome? 

Practically speaking, things like morning routines, journaling, and meditation have all helped me in this learning process… but that is for another time.