18 Mar 2011

Do you restrict more than food?

In 'Goodbye Ed, Hello Me', Jenni Schaefer makes the point that eating disorders tend to be all about restriction, and this restriction isn't just about food. For her, Ed was like a destructive anti-superhero, who promised to give her superpowers, including 'not needeing food, sleep, people, or fun.' Even after treatment and after learning to let go of the food restriction, she tried to keep the other 'superpowers' and continued to restrict sleep, people and fun. But for full recovery she realised that this had to change: 'I wasn't even 30 and I was physically and emotionally exhausted most of the time [....]. I had found balance with food, and now I had to find it with life. I couldn't live like I had before only without Ed. Sooner or later, this type of inbalance in my life would have led me back to him'. Now, she says, 'I can finally say that I do have needs'.

I really relate to Jenni on this one. Restricting friends and fun is something I have really struggled with, since long before my eating disorder. From the age of 11 I can recall turning down invitations and writing-up strict homework schedules for myself that left little room for freedom or fun.

 I inherited the attitude from watching my father , a prestigious doctor (a Psychiatrist in fact but that’s a whole other ironic story) who not only runs his own world-renowned treatment centre but is also a Professor at a prestigious University and flies around the world giving conferences and lecture. When I was little, I remember him coming home from work late and then staying up all hours in his study writing the academic books or papers he churns out. He manages to survive on exceptionally little sleep and will often be in about 3 different time zones in a single month. Next to him, I have often felt lazy and inadequate and filled with guilt and self-disgust if I so much as lie-in on a weekend. I don’t really feel like he’s done much to counter this, as he can often be harsh and critical, and has always pushed me hard academically. My workaholism and restriction of fun, friendships and rest, was not exactly positively reinforced by him, but because it seemed ‘normal’ to him and to be expected as a minimum, but it was positively reinforced by teachers at school, which I think was unhelpful. I distinctly remember the maths teacher I had when I was just 11 years old, asking to see my homework schedule for the Christmas Holidays. I hadn’t given myself a single day off except Christmas and Boxing day, and was planning to work 4 hrs a day (I know that sounds like nothing now, but I think it’s a lot for an 11 year old who’s supposed to be having a well-earned break from school!). The maths teacher praised me and told the other students in the class they should be more like me.

Now, trying to unlearn habits of a lifetime sometimes seems impossible, but I know that I need to, otherwise, like Jenni Schaefer, I’ll be heading for burnout. I actually feel dangerously close to the edge at the moment, like the least thing could make me snap. The worst thing is it makes me angry and resentful of other people – my flatmates and my boyfriend especially – who live fuller, happier, healthier lives, who get to take holiday and sleep in. But I have to accept that, I’m the only one who’s stopping myself doing the same. They have a perfect right to rest and fun…..and so do I.


  1. I can relate to this so much! I actually recently wrote a post about how I used to restrict so much other than food: http://independencefromed.blogspot.com/2011/03/embracing-my-identity.html
    Skip to the 3rd paragraph and I talk about it, if you'd like to read it.
    It's really hard to unlearn these habits of a lifetime- I've just started doing so. You're right that you have a perfect right to rest and fun- for me, even if I didn't believe it completely, I had to "fake it until I made it", so to speak. Give myself time to rest and have fun, and eventually it started feeling more natural.
    Thinking of you!

  2. Thanks for the link. I'm so glad you're learning to stop restricting in all aspects of life. It's really inspiring to read and gives me hope that I can do the same. Keep up the good work!