The things you say and do can be triggering to me. No matter how recovered I may look – or feel – there are circumstances that instantly make the eating disorder voice natter in my ear. Incessantly. How I react to that voice, is dependent on my psychological and emotional well being, as well as the length and depth of my recovery. But regardless – I feel triggered to regress in certain situations and it’s an exhausting fight to stay on the recovery road.
For me, “triggered” means feeling a compulsion to succumb to the disorder. As a bulimic, that means compensatory eating behaviours. Binging, purging, or both. Finding any means possible to compensate for having eaten. Finding any means possible to reduce the size of my body so clothes hang loosely and my bones become visible. Feeling triggered means a huge risk of relapsing.
Any number related to diet or body size is highly problematic. When you share your weight, dress size or how many kilos you’ve lost or “need” to lose, it’s extremely distressing. My immediate reaction is a desire to stop eating. Completely. It doesn’t matter why the numbers are shared, or how high/low healthy/unhealthy they may be, my eating disorder will compel me to stop eating and drop weight.
Knowing the calorie content of food is triggering. It’s an immediate and obvious way to compare (judge) foods and the eating disorder raises its very ugly head and decides all food is off limits because of the calorie content.
Before and after photographs. Thinspiration. Photos of me. They all bring about a rapid spiral into misery. In this digital age where we take hundreds of photos then scroll through looking for the best shot, means judging every aspect of my being. Unflattering angle. Messy hair. Bags under my eyes. Enormous butt/boobs/belly. Photos are concrete evidence of my failure to live up to an impossible standard.
We have to eat. There’s no getting out of it. But the sight of food is triggering and the more there is to look at the harder it is to deal with. Buffets are a nightmare. The desire to eat it all or nothing whatsoever is overwhelming. Making food choices is exhausting. The chatter in my head is confusing – eat this, or that, don’t eat this or that. Be good. Be bad. The more choice, the harder the decision. And social eating becomes an unhealthy competition for one. I see what everyone else is eating and wonder whether I should eat differently – different foods, portion sizes, slower, faster. I don’t trust the choices I make.
Talking about your diet, compensatory behaviour (I’ll exercise tomorrow to burn off this dinner!) or your body (for better or worse) is triggering. My body isn’t good enough – it never has been. My food intake is a war zone. Part of my recovery is learning to think about other things so when conversation turns to diet and body image another bit of my carefully constructed armour is chipped away. Worse still, is conversation about my diet or body. Compliments are triggering. Criticism is triggering. Saying I look healthier than before or it’s good to see me eating well is triggering. It’s all triggering.
Anything that causes worry or distress, shame or embarrassment, becomes a trigger. My tolerance for stress is pitifully low – something I continue to work on. But the eating disorder has long been my preferred coping mechanism and old habits die hard. The higher the level of stress, the stronger the pull because it numbs emotional pain and stops the silent catastrophising.
The biggest trigger of all is myself. Seeing myself – in pictures, in person, in a reflection. Past or present. Putting clothes on – or taking them off. Misunderstanding someone’s comment. Or understanding them perfectly well… Eating. Not eating. Exercising. Not exercising. Discussing my eating disorder. Not discussing my eating disorder. Sharing my problems. Not sharing my problems. It is so incredibly easy to revert to a level of emotional comfort that results in physical discomfort and psychological pain.
These are situations unique to me, but will resonate with anyone who has experienced an eating disorder. In my opinion, unless you are a professional support person, it’s never appropriate to comment on anyone’s body, appearance, food intake or exercise habits. And if you’re talking about your own diet and body, consider who’s listening, how it might affect them, and why you need to talk about it at all. The people I know with the healthiest outlook on food and body image never feel a need to discuss it.