Sometimes, the things that don't come so easy to us are really the things we need to work on.
This is a concept I've been thinking about since it was brought up in a yoga class (a place where things like this are often discussed).
To think about it from a yoga perspective, say you're very very flexible. I am very, very flexible. I can put my foot behind my head. I can do splits, oversplits, splits with my food behind my head. I love when teachers lead classes where we do lots of things like this.
But when it comes to strength, I'm not so advanced. I struggle with the yoga push-ups, and arm balances don't come easy to me. I'm also deathly afraid of doing headstands. I start to get a panicky feeling when I invert like that.
Interestingly, in my personal life, I'm almost the opposite. In terms of food and relationships, I have a steely "hold a pushup for 15 hours" sort of strength.
But often, that strength is rigid, methodical, and without flexibility. It means that if people don't meet my standards in a relationship, I can be very hard and unforgiving. It means that when a food situation isn't what I want, I can be unyielding. I can resist certain foods for weeks. I can count my calories 500 times a day and make detailed lists of what I should or should not have eaten. I can have a plan of what I will order at any restaurant 2 weeks in advance. Suffice it to say I'm not the easiest person to breezily say "hey, let's get thai food" to without it being pre-planned.
So in the case of yoga, I don't need a lot of help with flexibility. With food, I don't need a lot of help with strength.
The strength and resolve that I have with food can be helpful in certain situations. You'd never accuse me of being someone without willpower. But when it comes to what I need to work on with food, it's not strength, it's flexibility.
What is your "work"?
I consider myself mostly recovered from my eating disorder. I haven't had a bulimic or anorexic episode in years, at this point. But does that mean I'm the super cool recovered girl who eats intuitively and naturally, is completely at ease around food?
Not yet, because there is still work to do.
So here are some examples of what I consider my "work" with recovery. At a certain point in my disordered eating, these things probably would have seemed trivial and like a piece of cake compared to bulimic episodes or starving myself.
Because it's not just about not having episodes, at this point in my recovery. It's about working on the thinking that gets me to those places. And this work is vital in ensuring that I maintain the bigger and more glamorous work I've done (breaking free from anorexia; not vomiting as a bulimic anymore).
Things that I need to work on, and how I'm working on them.
1. More flexibility about eating with others.
The issue: I still get very anxious about eating with others, especially in small groups. If someone invites me over for dinner and I don't know exactly what they are serving, it creates an anxiety response. I will try to eat "safe" foods all day so that nothing will faze me at dinner.
How I can work on it: Eat with others more, plain and simple. Don't resist opportunities with others, or flake out at the last minute because I'm panicked about eating with them. Even when it feels difficult and scary. ESPECIALLY when it feels difficult and scary.
2. More flexibility about eating by myself.
The issue: When I am in control of what I eat for meals (which is often), I am pretty rigid. I can get in habits of eating the same combination of foods (or a very limited "palette") for weeks at a time. Bread with peanut butter for breakfast. An apple and a cupcake for lunch. A sweet potato with kale and veggie sausage for dinner. A beer or glass of wine every other day. The same foods, the same plates, the same cutlery, that I trust. For some reason, eating the same foods feels "safe" to me. I think that sometimes, there can be a comfort in this. But I recognize that it's a problem because when something happens to threaten my regularly scheduled eating, I feel panicky.
How I can work on it: Don't eat the same thing every day. I have been experimenting with widening my "palette" of safe and available foods, so that I can paint more interesting meals. I have started having a not-very-strict rule of not eating the same thing two days in a row. I also can't use the same plates every time. This helps me eat different things and not fall into a strict set of when, how, and what I eat. By doing this by myself, I feel that it is making me more able to reach out to be less strict and rule-based in other areas of my life.
3. Losing the fear of unfamiliar.
The issue: This ties in closely with #1 , but it extends beyond food. I tend to stick with the familiar. Whether it's the same foods, the same yoga class on the same day, the same walking path, the same brand of dish detergent. The unfamiliar seems annoying and weird, and like if I take a chance on something different, I might be disappointed or it might not work out. So what do I do? I don't do the new thing.
How I can work on it: Fairly similarly to the above. I try to do things a little differently. The changes don't have to be huge. Like, instead of the section of the walking path I always take, I start at a different point. Just to mix things up a little. Instead of buying my bread here, I try the bread from there.
4. Stop believing that people are secretly conspiring.
The issue: As it turns out, I am a bit of a conspiracy theorist! I can't order a fountain Diet Coke, because I secretly worry that the server won't listen and will bring me a highly caloric regular Coke. I order dressing on the side because I don't trust restaurants to not put too much dressing on (though maybe this worry is founded, because I find over-dressed salads gross, and not just because I'm scared of the dressing calories).
How I can work on it: I think that the work on #2 and #3 are really helpful in this regard. By expanding the circle of foods and things that are acceptable to me, it makes me less fearful of going "off-path". While I'm not sure if I will ever lose the Diet Coke fear, I think that maybe the idea of being delivered a regular coke might be less cataclysmic with time.
5. Exercise compulsion.
The issue: While I don't exercise for 6 hours a day, I do get a feeling that all is not right in the world if I don't have my usual yoga class on a daily basis. If something comes along that threatens that schedule, I really don't like it and I don't feel quite like myself until I am back on schedule. So while it's not necessarily the quantity, it's the need to have that exercise and a feeling like I have failed if I do not.
How I can work on it: If I feel like I have to go to yoga, sometimes I don't. I'm not going to disappoint a teacher or classmates to the point of head shaking if I miss a yoga class. Sometimes, it's exactly when I feel like I have to do something that this is the exact moment to take a break. Like right now, I am feeling like I should go to a yoga class instead of writing this. But I've resisted the urge and decided to go to yoga later instead of right now. And I think it will be OK.
6. Counting calories.
The issue: I'm still guilty of counting calories when I feel stressed. It's a go-to soothing activity to me. But it's really not soothing in the long run, because it often invokes even more stress in the long run, prompting me to count and recount, rethink what I ate and where I went "wrong", oh, did I have too much peanut butter on my bread today?
How I can work on it: By following my own advice, from this post. Counting calories isn't something that I can't do, but I can choose to do it in a less compulsive way, or to do it less.
7. Comparing myself to others.
The issue: I'm a huge compare-r. Oh my god. I compare myself to the person next to me in yoga, the person in front of me at the movie theater. On a food level, I compare myself to the people who live with me, the people I love. If my romantic partner hasn't eaten breakfast and I have, it just about kills me. I feel like I have "failed" because I have eaten, oh my god, x many more calories than him today. It doesn't help that he is one of those people who "forgets" to eat breakfast (WHO ARE YOU?). I'll compare what I've ordered at a restaurant compared to my companion(s), the emptiness of my plate to others at a dinner party. While I believe that some of this is common, what is not cool is basing how good I feel on how well I have performed compared to others.
How I can work on it: By focusing on the world at large, rather than putting myself and others under a microscope. Once again, I think that the work of #2 and #3 - basically, branching out and trying new things or breaking out of my rigid shell, is huge here.
8. Remember that my actions affect others.
The issue: This is hard to admit to myself, but: it's not all about me. Even while I live in my world and it feels like everything is swirling around me, it's not all about me. There are other people out there, and actually, my rigidity can affect them, too. It's not fun for my romantic partner, who has other things in his head, when I am being crazy because he hasn't eaten breakfast. I mean, he has other things going on too, right? When I am counting calories in my head and not being present while sharing a meal with someone, I am really not being fair to them or giving them my full attention.
How I can work on it: To give others respect, to listen to them, and to be good to them. To include others in my world. To not shut people out. To invite them to cook, walk, do things with me. To engage.
The issue: I can be hard on people, and on myself, especially. Tenderness, compassion, forgiveness. I could use a lot of work on all of these things. I need to be kinder and more forgiving of others, and more forgiving of myself.
How I can work on it: To just do it. To forgive without over-thinking the complications. To be kind without wondering when someone will upset or disappoint me. Without condition. To trust people, and really mean it. This is exquisitely hard for me, so I think that the "just do it" method is kind of the best one to take.