A reader asked me this question in an email recently, and I thought it might be helpful to many of you who are struggling with similar issues.
"I am a weight restored anorexic (for 11months now) but occasionally struggle with self-harm, and more recently purging.
1. My psychologist who I see once a month (and cannot see any more frequently) is trying to help me expand my food repertoire as I've been stuck on a dietitian's meal plan for 2 years now. However, I have no idea what 'normal' meals are. There a million recipes on the internet but how do I know which one to choose? I do live with my mum, but I work in the evening and she works during the day so we miss each other at dinner. We never have a family meal together so I have no one to look to for ideas about what they eat.
2. I've been at a healthy weight for so long, but I still dislike the look of my body. Every day I look in the mirror to see if I've grown over weight overnight or not (as ridiculous as it seems). Do you personally like your body appearance or do you simply accept it as it is? (I've seen your 'comparison' video and that really helped me a lot to challenge the comparisons and I no longer compare myself to others).
3. I know your did a video on food rituals. I'm honest and say I still have some (food not touching on plate, order in which I eat my food, how I eat my sandwich, weighing most foods before eating them). However, I just wanted to ask whether it is OK to keep them? After all, they are not so bad that I cannot eat out with others (I regularly do) and I personally like them as they make me feel safe. They don't impact on my health, and I don't care if people will laugh at me.
4. I'm going to university next year. I believe you have got a degree/have studied in higher education and want to ask you whether you can give me advise on staying safe if you have a history of an ED? Obviously there are many changes: living away from home, being more independent, being with so many new faces etc. Any tips?"
1 - Expanding meal options is always difficult. You're not alone. It might take some time to get adjusted and feel comfortable. Don't give up if you feel uncomfortable with the expansion the first few times (or even the first several). Is your dietitian able to help you with expanding? If you no longer see the dietitian and have simply been following a meal plan for a while, I would suggest making a few more appointments with the intent to healthfully and comfortably expand what you have already been doing. A dietitian will be able to tailor some meals for you and with you that are not part of a strict plan. He or she can hopefully give you some sample ideas you can try to incorporate.
Don't get stuck on the word "normal." There is no "normal" meal. Normal is something different to everyone and we all have different needs and likes. Try to list 5 foods you enjoy and see what's out there recipe wise for them. Forgetting about portion/calories/nutrition for a moment, print a few that look good to you and bring them to your psychologist (or dietician) and discuss. Getting their opinions can help you see if they look sufficient meal wise and may help validate your opinion of whether or not they are good meals for you.
2 - Yes, I do in fact like my body. At first, years ago when I first was putting on weight, I was just accepting it. But in time, I grew to like it and even love it. I know this might sound unbelievable - the women in my group often shake their heads at me in disbelief - but it's true. There was a time I could never imagine weighing what I do, because I thought it 1) impossible 2) thought I wouldn't be "me" and 3) thought it was too much. I stand corrected. :) I'm very happy with myself but it does take time, so be patient. You will get there.
3 - As for food rituals. I don't know that I'm qualified to say whether it's okay to keep them or not. My personal opinion is that they hold a person back, as they are still technically a piece of their disorder. Try to examine WHY you are keeping them or want to keep them. WANTING to keep them indicates that they make you feel safe or comfortable and that is not necessarily a good thing, but ideally (to be truly recovered) you should be able to get more and more out of your comfort zone until you can eating "normally." If the food rituals are like a security blanket for you, eventually it will be time to let go and move beyond them. That time may not be now if you have other things to focus on first. It is all about progress, Diana. If your intent is to progress in recovery, do not intend to hold on to your food rituals. Realize that they are just coping mechanisms for feeling comfortable in situations. That said, don't get hung up on this issue - you are clearly doing well in your recovery and this does not seem like a priority at the moment.
4 - I did a video a long time ago about going away to university (college here): Coping with College
It's quite an old video (when my video camera still gave me a lisp and I was fairly new to the YouTube community). I think you'll find that it will answer what you are asking. I know there are differences between the school systems here and where you are, but the concepts I talk about are the same. I started college/university in 2002 and definitely understand where you are coming from. I graduated with a degree in 2006 so it's a bit in my past, but I well remember what it was like. :)