The tight grip of control (Part two)

This is part two of three posts I’m sharing in observance of the National Eating Disorder Association’s (NEDA) awareness week, February 21-27.  (Part one: Bumps in the road to RD)

We left off at the end of my freshman year, home for the summer a little lighter than when I left. My sister and I worked together that summer — my go-to “random fact” for a while was that I was certified to use a chainsaw, thanks to this job. (Didn’t know you could be certified, eh? Me neither. But now we’re all straight!) We spent eight hours a day removing dead wood to clean up parks in the city. We had pretty ridiculous t-shirt tans and if pedometers were a “thing” at the time, would probably have bragged that we got like 15,000 steps a day dragging branches around.

We also picked up a few shifts at the baseball field concession stands, just for fun, cash, and access to “free” candy of course. The most vivid memory I have of this concession stand is one night’s dinner: a microwaveable soft pretzel and a package of Reese’s peanut butter cups. Hey, I had only taken one Nutrition class at this point…but also, I KNOW. Short of pouring a package a Skittles into a cup of soda, I’m not sure the sugar load could have been much worse. But that’s not what my brain registered. I was definitely not thinking “carbs/protein/fat,” or “vegetables,” or “this isn’t real food.” My brain added “200 calories” for the pretzel to “220 calories” for the package of Reese’s (bonus: my favorite candy! and peanut butter(ish)!). So for 420 calories I had dinner, and if I’m hungry later I’ll just have a (calculated) snack.

For no specific reason I can conjure up now, that exact calculation and combination made me realize this: I needed a sense of control. It satisfied me to know that, assuming these packages were scientifically correct, I could always know exactly how many calories I was eating. Any given food’s nutrient profile was a second thought; if I knew how many calories it had, we were okay. That was my MO for a few years. 

I can only speak for my experiences, but an eating disorder isn’t always about food or weight, it’s mainly about control.

Fact: I am not a Type A person. I won’t jump up to lead a group project. I don’t always need a plan. I need someone to give me a deadline for tasks, and that someone needs to be okay with the fact that I’ll turn it in “on time” but probably at the eleventh hour. I can be impatient, sarcastic, quiet, and passive at times, but controlling? Not usually my thing. But that’s why I think it’s important to highlight: it’s not always the personality type you might expect, or for the reasons you might assume. During my first year of college I was homesick, I went through a few relationship transitions, and everything was new. As soon as my mind found one thing it could control, it held on so damn tightly. Even though I eventually recognized what was happening, I couldn’t just turn it off. 

I would gradually learn that when a few things in life straightened out, I cared less about that sense of control. When things were “good” — strong relationships, adapted to college life, finally getting what’s going on in those football games, etc. — my mind weakened the strength of its own grip without even trying.

Recovery becomes easier when you stop fighting it, but it’s not easy to get to that point. It’s a process that takes patience, mostly with yourself. It takes being okay with the limbo, crossing from point A to point B and knowing it will be imperfect. Two years out of college and one year into my career as a dietitian, there were a few things that flipped the switch for me…

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If any of this sounds familiar, let’s chat. My inbox door is always open. 

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