Wednesday, March 7, 2012

My Brain on a Plate

(Triggery warning: this post contains writing related to eating disorders and ED recovery. I don't think it's particularly triggery, but you know if you need to be careful.)

Still getting my weekly dose of self-inflicted rage from The Age's Sunday Life column: 'My Day on a Plate'. Occasionally there is the pleasure of reading someone like Sandra Reynold's frankly reassuring day (except for the Marmite. Outrageous! Love the Milo bit.)

But more often than not, it dishes up for us things like last Sunday's, which began:

5am: I have a coffee, a litre of naturally flavoured water, then I go to work.
9am: I enjoy some Chia seeds...

You get the idea.

Now, it may be that I'm just filled with naturally flavoured bitterness, and would like to deliver a kick to the Chia-seeds to these sorts of columns that try to normalise whatever the unrealistic eating-trend-of-the-moment is (not to mention implying that human eating habits are entirely uninfluenced by mood/tiredness/menstrual cycles/what you ate yesterday/weather/hangovers/toddler tantrums/stress/inclination).

I know space is an issue, but I really wish these sorts of columns could present some kind of brief note of the thoughts that go along with these lists of eats, like: "I've just got back from a relaxing weekend away, so I didn't end Monday with an entire box of BBQ Shapes on the bus like I usually do, instead I waited til I got home and had grilled salmon with quinoa." Because if I picked and chose my meals out of, say, a fortnight's worth of eating, I'd probably be able to piece together a pretty perfect My Day on a Plate too*. My rage-on-a-plate about this column stems from wanting to see more of a 'My Brain on a Plate' than 'My Day on a Plate'. (That was too many 'on-a-plate's for one sentence. Please accept my apologies on a plate.)

Even now at an (undisclosed yet respectably) healthy weight, for me every day with food is a struggle with anxiety and overthinking and second-guessing myself. Obviously, I can't be sure people who haven't ever been diagnosed with an eating disorder don't sometimes/often think like this too. It just goes round and round and round:

6am: 1.2 litres of tea. I love tea. Tea is the one thing I've never worried about. Tea tea tea tea tea.

8:30am: I bought some full-fat strawberry Jalna yoghurt for my 3 year old Luka, but he doesn't like it, so I've put 2 big spoonfuls on half a cup of raw oats in a container for myself to eat on the bus for breakfast. How much is a 200g serving of yoghurt? Like, a whole tub? Maybe these 2 spoonfuls are 200g. I'll have to look that up.

11am: Stupid oats and yoghurt, they've got more calories than my usual toast breakfast, and yet they've lasted only a couple of hours, whereas the toast usually keeps me sorted til 1pm. It's nowhere near lunch time. I'm hungry. Am I hungry? Maybe I'm just thirsty. How much water have I had this morning? 1.5 litres. Plus the tea. I'm probably not thirsty. I eat 2 big squares of Saladas. It makes my hands shake afterwards, I hate snacking, it always just feels like the prelude to a binge. What if now I'm not hungry for lunch, or I do get hungry for lunch, but too late to be hungry for dinner? Perhaps the Saladas should just count for lunch.

12pm: Birthday celebration at work. I refuse the cake on offer, saying I'm not a big fan of cake (which is true), but it's mainly because if I eat when I'm definitely not hungry, my anxiety levels will shoot through the fucking roof, and I won't get any work done for the rest of the day. Let alone lunch. I wonder if they all think I'm refusing because I'm relapsing. I'm not. Am I? I don't think I am.

3pm: Great, now I'm hungry for lunch. And I don't want the lunch I've brought from home, I want laksa. Laksa is enormous though, it's like treble what I'd normally eat for lunch, and then I won't be hungry for dinner. Maybe I just won't have dinner. People do that, right? They have a big late lunch and then don't have dinner because they're not hungry? That's not disordered, is it, if I'm truly not hungry? Oh for fuck's sake. This is ridiculous. I buy a laksa. I don't finish it all, but I still worry that I ate it too fast and as a result ate more of the noodle part than I would normally do. I'm clenching my teeth a lot. I have a lie down for the rest of my lunch break so that my breathing calms down a bit.

7pm: I get home from work, and assess my physical hunger as objectively as I can, about twenty times. Nope, I'm definitely not hungry. I feel guilty by default just saying this to my Newly-Corporeal Boyfriend, because the words are the same as when I was starving and lying to everyone: "I'm not hungry". Now they're true. I think. I hope he believes me. I've certainly gone over it enough times in my head to make sure I'm not lying. I think. Have I? Oh fucking hell, can I have a glass of wine now?

6am: Wake up. Absolutely ravenous because my last meal was now 15 hours ago. So today will be out of whack too. Should I start with a bigger breakfast? How long should it last me? Sigh...

And on it goes. Recovery is very tiring and very boring. I could be thinking about way better things, like buses that are also ATMs and have vending machines and mini-bars in them.

Still, my brain is much less plate-heavy than it was even a six months ago. And as tedious and anxiety-inducing as attempting recovery is, that's got to be a good thing.

*Aside: this is why overly rigid meal plans that eating disordered people are often given to follow (especially on hospital discharge) can be problematic - because when you look around in the real world it's obviously bullshit: not many 'normal' people eat exactly 3-meals-plus-2-snacks every single day. But this is rant for another time.


Cameron Mann said...

This is a grand contribution on a plate. Thanks.

Uninitiated, I wonder again about the 'trigger warning'...I found a lovely ED fact sheet from and some lists but nothing about the pact I imagined to "go back into your lives now but don't go setting each other off or else we'll never keep up".

Always a good day to read your voice, Anna.

Anna said...

Thanks Cam :)

Hm, I guess a lot of current/past ED sufferers find talk of ED thoughts triggering, and given my blog isn't always about eating disorders, I like to give a warning in case people want to avoid wandering into posts that involve that sort of thing.

Rita (mademoiselle délicieuse) said...


And, if you ever feel like cake with a dose of novelty, apparently there's an ATM somewhere that sells cake! Now, if we could only get it built into a bus...