By: Danielle Michaud, Project HEAL Social Media Intern
While in the depths of my eating disorder, I carried around tremendous shame about needing to eat. I would go to great lengths to prevent others seeing me eat the meager bits I permitted myself to have. The secrecy served as a protector against a sense of vulnerability, even though this is clearly an irrational thought as everyone needs to eat. I did not want someone else to bear witness to my incredible sense of discomfort and embarrassment.
Likewise, for years I lamented why food is such a central part of most holidays and celebrations. Why does there need to be such a heavy emphasis on what and how much we are eating? I honestly still have not reconciled an answer to that question, but I have grown to appreciate sharing meals with others, over lunches with friends and dinners with family. I still feel incredibly self-conscious, but I try to remember: eating together is not just about consuming food, but it is a unique time in which we can break free from the constraints of the commitments that comprise life in today’s fast-paced, hectic world.
I have used my fair share of self-talk to contend with the anxiety that still drenches over me in these situations (and admittedly across the board). When I first started allowing myself to tackle a meal with someone else, I primarily used the setting as a distraction – laughter and conversation that deflected from the stress-inducing task at hand. I just needed a way to get the food down. Of course, I was incredibly grateful for the people who sat with me and helped prevent the onset of intense fear associated with the emotions that surfaced when I was faced with eating.
I have become more conscious of practicing mindfulness in everyday life and the ways it proves relevant in practically every aspect of life. Being more mindful helps me to fully experience the present moment (often difficult for me because my ever-present anxiety tends to either lead me to get too far ahead of myself, or to dwell on past events). Having moments of true presence is beautiful because I feel so much more aware and grounded. Thus, over the past several months, I have slowly come to appreciate sharing meals on another level.
Likewise, my younger sister and I tend to have conflicting schedules, but we found time to grab takeout together, enjoying an afternoon of laughter and conversation as we caught up on each other’s lives that afternoon. Instead of frantically counting and recounting calories, or panicking over my rules that constitute patterns and compositions of “permitted” foods, I was able to acknowledge these thoughts. However, the difference this time was that I could gently bat away the intrusive thoughts away instead of letting them dictate the focus of my lunch date.