21 July 2016
One Need for Control at a Time...
My eating disorder is primarily driven by the need for control. As my illness progressed, this became an absolute compulsion in all situations. Food products, meal preparation and timings were gradually manipulated, to ensure that I had control over all aspects of scenarios surrounding food. I have no idea where this stemmed from, but I presume it has a definitive link to my perfectionist traits, as well as feeling as though I had no control over other situations, such as my problems at university.
Initially, the control over products, meals and timings went seemingly unnoticed by my family and friends, as I had always taken an interest in cooking. However, I quickly began to divert from the meals that they were having and preparing my own. Family meals such as spaghetti bolognese and fishcakes were swiftly replaced by very plain meals, usually consisting of a protein source and vegetables. The idea of sauces and manufactured products, with potentially hidden ‘badness’ incorporated into them, absolutely petrified me. Worried that I was going to raise suspicions about my individual meal preparation, I started cooking ‘healthy’ meals for the whole family- without adding certain elements to my own plate. With time, I started to weigh everything that I was eating as well. Weighing all products when they were dry and again when they were cooked- just to make sure it was ‘exactly’ what was stated on the nutritional information label on the packaging. The measuring was incredibly precise- not a gram over. This was all feeding into my desire for control, and when I did not, this caused more distress, manifesting itself as very bizarre behaviours.
When I did eat a meal that was prepared by another person, whether that was a family member, a friend or at an eatery, my entire demeanor changed. I became a shell- controlled entirely by my Anorexia. Staring at the plate, I would completely zone out from my surroundings. I was unable to communicate- fundamentally focused on how I was going to eat what had been presented in front of me.
With no idea of the substances that have been used to prepare the meal, but knowing that I have to eat it, my desire for control revealed itself in the way that I ate it. Only now looking back I can see how extreme they must have looked, but at the time it felt completely normal and justified. I do not want to go into too much detail, as I do not want this to have a negative impact on sufferers that may be reading this. However, I do want to educate others about the severe behaviours that an eating disorder can display.
Initially I would separate everything on the plate, making sure that no foods touched each other. Particularly with sauces, this was very difficult, but I tried my absolute hardest to make sure that the liquid did not ‘contaminate’ another aspect of the meal. Once this part of the preparation was carried out, I would then begin to chop up each element. Again, as my illness became more severe I began to develop an obsession with numbers, and this meant that certain food items had to be cut into a certain amount of pieces before I would consider eating them. Squares- everything had to be cut into rows or squares, for example a slice of toast or even a jacket potato. These behaviours were heightened in hospital, as I had no knowledge about what I was eating, and in the beginning stages, I had no involvement in portion sizes. This was incredibly distressing for me, and more ritualistic actions surfaced, which even to this day I am struggling to shake off.
When I returned home from hospital we had to buy new cutlery and crockery. This was because I had become obsessed with a specific bowl, plate, knife, fork and spoon. My parents and I knew that the only way to overcome this would be to discard them and purchase a new set. I know that lots of people have favourite items that they like to eat with, but I was so fixated on them that my mood swings would become extremely turbulent if my routine was in anyway disrupted.
With the new utensils introduced and the weighing scales tucked away, I found it very difficult to maintain the control that my eating disorder desired. This caused havoc with the negative thoughts and feelings in my head, and my emotions became extremely varied. I found it very difficult to trust that what I was doing was ‘correct’. Not having a professional there to prompt me as to what was right or wrong, I felt an enormous amount of guilt, as the responsibility about what I was eating was ultimately mine again. There was also the agonising need to not display my emotions, or take them out on my family members, as I was incredibly upset about what I had already put them through, prior to my hospital admission. However, this helped me a lot during my transition from hospital, to Evolve, to home. Instead of channeling my frustration through behaviours I had developed whilst eating a meal, I managed to control my anorexia by eating the meal ‘normally’, including engaging in conversation, and then discussing my anxieties afterwards. It was this method of communication that I had not been able to carry out before, and being able to pinpoint that, with the support of my family, has helped me a lot during my recovery. I also want to stress that at this point I am also a lot healthier than what I was prior to my time in hospital. Consequently, I am able to rationalise situations a lot better, as my brain is not deprived of any vital substances that it needs to function properly. I noticed this dramatically when I started to reintroduce ‘old’ foods back into my diet at home, and I was able to talk myself through the reasons why I needed each aspect of the meal. This is a complete contrast to the way I would have approached it before- viewing it as a project that I had no choice but to finish.
Writing about the extent to which my eating disorder pushed me in order to gain control has been difficult to reflect on. Thinking back to the lifeless person my anorexia led me to become upsets me. I think of all of the valuable family time I have missed out on, purely because I could only eat a meal if I completely absorbed myself into my destructive behaviours. It has proven to me just how important nutrition is when making people think rationally about situations. It is this deprivation that I believe heightened my desires for control. Building on the perfectionism traits and inability to communicate problems, this was the only way I felt I could have stability in my life.