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Why Buying and Eating Ice Cream in Eating Disorder Recovery Is a Pretty Big Deal

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So here’s a little story. Last night, I had a craving for ice cream. So, I went to the store, picked out my favorite flavor (cookies ‘n cream, obviously), went home and ate a bowl of ice cream. Exciting story, right?

Well, for me, it really was a pretty big deal.

I am going to share some of the details of why with you, and maybe when I’m done, you’ll agree. If not, well, I can’t help you.

First, let’s talk about me having a craving for ice cream. For those of you who do not know the ins and outs of the physiological repercussions of having an eating disorder, it does a number on your body. And while the refeeding process can be accomplished within a relatively short amount of time, it takes a greater amount of time for your body to heal. One of those things that takes a while are your hunger and fullness cues. Basically, they get all screwed up in your body’s attempt to survive. Having denied these cues for such an extended period of time, my body really doesn’t trust me yet and I don’t necessarily always trust it. So, rarely do I ever feel hungry at typical, interval times of the day. I will sometimes feel it and sometimes not. It’s a bit…random.

I also don’t have much of an appetite. If someone asks me what I want to eat and even if I am actually feeling hungry, I will have no idea what it is I am hungry for, what sounds good or what I am craving. “What are you in the mood for?” is probably one of the most frustrating questions for me right now. Sometimes, I will be hungry and have a craving but have absolutely no idea what will satisfy it. Usually when I was in my eating disorder, I just ignored this. And on top of all that, if I determine what it is I am craving, one of the “rules” my eating disorder had for me was that I never voiced if I was hungry or what I actually wanted to eat. So, big deal #1: Not only was I having a craving for something, I identified what said craving was for and I made it known. I wanted ice cream and I went to the store to get some.

Next, I went to the store and without reading nutrition label after nutrition label to find the flavor and brand of ice cream with the least amount of calories per serving, I chose a flavor based solely on my taste preference (well, OK, I also looked at which ice cream was on sale). I chose my favorite, bought it and brought it home. Boom. Big deal #2: I didn’t ignore my craving or use excuses to ignore it. I gave in! Now, at this point, the eating disorder is screaming at me. I’ve already had ice cream in the past week, I didn’t work out “enough,” I’m feeling super self-conscious, etc.

When I got home, I considered putting the ice cream in the freezer and just forgetting about it. No one else was going to be having ice cream, why should I? That was another rule, if I was going to have dessert, it would only be with other people, never just on my own because I wanted it. That was never a good enough reason. Big deal #3: I ignored the hailstorm of reasons why not to eat the ice cream and I ate it.

There are times in the past, definitely distant past, where if I ignored all the “rules” up until this point, I would be so overcome with guilt and anxiety that I would feel immediately compelled to “correct” my behavior. This would take on different forms depending on where I was, who was around, what I had access to, etc. Very complicated, twisted, extremely disordered thinking. And even if I denied all of that in the moment, I knew the next day I would be battling myself at every meal with this feeling that because I ate ice cream the night before. Are you exhausted by all this yet? I am. So, big deal #4: I did nothing to compensate for my consumption of the ice cream. Though I did think about it a lot the following day, hence, why I am writing this blog post about me eating ice cream.

This is not my first ice cream experience in a long time. However, it is the first time I have done it all on my own initiation and it is the first time I am sharing something so seemingly trivial with people who may not have eating disorders. Those who have an eating disorder could have read the first three sentences and understood why this moment was so important to me. When it comes to sharing it with people who might not get it, I become extremely embarrassed that something so insignificant as buying and eating ice cream takes such importance in my mind.

Those who have spoken with me before about my eating disorder may be wondering, “But Megan, you said having an eating disorder was not about the food? All you talked about was the ice cream.” And you would be correct. I did not go into detail about the anxiety of the entire day leading up to the evening. I did not talk about my extremely negative self-image, both concerning my body image, my character and my “success” in life. I did not list out for you the repeating tapes of things like, “You’re fat and ugly and stupid and crazy and no one really loves you etc. etc. etc.,” that were running through my mind the whole time. Those all get attached to my ability or lack thereof to control if I eat, what I eat, how much I eat and if I do anything to compensate for eating.

And yes, if I deny the craving, I feel more in control of my life and I actually feel better about myself. Calmer. More focused. “On track.” It feels rewarding to deny myself something my body is craving. Just in case you’re not tracking with me, it’s not supposed to be this way…which is why it is an eating disorder. For me, i’s not the food, but the morality, self-worth and value I have come to associate with my food. That is the problem.

If you think this all sounds ridiculous, well, sorry to waste your time. But, for me, this is a big deal, and writing about it and sharing it is an even bigger deal. So, for those who read to the end, thank you. If you know someone who is struggling with an eating disorder, whether that is too much food or not enough, too much exercise, obsessing over fad diets or only eating certain food groups, etc… it’s probably not about the food. It is about someone who if struggling with their own self-worth and value, someone who is desperate to gain some kind of control in life, someone who is hurting and just doesn’t want to feel that way anymore. Don’t ask them why they aren’t eating or why they’re doing this or that. Tell them you love them, that you will always love them and that you will be there to listen when they need to talk and hold them when they need to cry. They may need professional help, but unless you are a healthcare professional, you only have your heart to offer. And trust me, in most cases, that’s better than any professional advice out there.

And F you eating disorder “rules.” That ice cream was fabulous.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

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Thinkstock photo via RossHelen

Originally published: July 10, 2017
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