Sandwiches are SO good. If you have the perfect combination of bread, condiment and insides it can literally be insanely delicious. My personal favorite is a turkey, swiss cheese, lettuce and banana peppers with mayo/mustard on a yummy sub. I recently had a SERIOUSLY amazing sandwich at this place in Charlottesville called Take It Away Sandwich Shop. I mean WOW. It was SO good! I love sandwiches so much now, that it’s crazy to me that I went seven years without truly eating a sandwich….
I FEARED sandwiches. They were everything “bad.” Carbs. High calorie dressing/sauces. Cheese. All foods on the “do not eat” list and especially not eaten together in one sitting. It sounds funny to say that I feared sandwiches. Did I fear them like someone fears heights? Was it the same fear that I have when it comes to snakes? Was it the fear I have of being hurt by a relationship? Actually, yes. It was very much the same.
You might say, “Sara, how could you have honestly not eaten a sandwich? Didn’t you travel? What if you went to Subway? There is NO WAY you didn’t eat a sandwich for that long!” It’s amazing how you can find ways to avoid eating a sandwich. “I’ll have the burger, hold the bun.” “Can you take the insides and make that into a salad?” “I’ll make this into a lettuce wrap!” Look, where there is a will there is a way and when you are Anorexic you DEFINITELY have the will, so there is ALWAYS a way…and in the rare occasion there isn’t a way....you simply don’t eat.
There were a few times where I dis-obeyed my eating disorder and indulged in some sandwich craving. In a moment of weakness I would give in and find myself having half of a sandwich or eating one because it truly was the only option. Sometimes my husband would order a sandwich and it looked SO good compared to my lettuce with oil and vinegar on the side that I would ask for a bite or two, but this would never go without extreme punishment. Eating half of a sandwich meant miles of running. If I ate a 200 calorie sandwich I needed to work off 400 calories just to make sure. (This is Exercise Bulimia). If I ate even a few bites of my husbands sandwich I would immediately feel like I had gained weight. I KNOW I saw my stomach get bigger…I should NOT have tasted that sandwich. There was a deep sense of shame and regret that followed those few bites of a sandwich which led me to restrict more the following day to “make up” for my slip up. So, in the end, it was easier not to eat sandwiches period. This way I could punish myself less and keep to my strict diet.
So how did I become so afraid of a sandwich? Honestly, it’s hard to explain. I think it started out when I went on the South Beach Diet and cut out all carbs. (My two cents - this is SUCH a bad idea and honestly doesn’t work in the long run so I highly suggest not ever doing this diet or any diet that makes you cut out food groups unless you have a true medical reason to do so…It’s just not sustainable, it’s incredibly unhealthy and it typically overtakes your mind so you become that person that only talks about their diet and is obsessed with everything that enters your mouth…I know..I was that person..moderation and intuitive eating is key!) Of course these diets work in the beginning, but then your body slows down and you plateau..so then you have to cut out more calories or foods and exercise more for the desired effect and then the body slows down more, you plateau again and so on and so forth. Sometimes you even start to gain weight while doing this. Our bodies do NOT like when we keep food from them.
When I cut bread out of my diet it slowly became a moral thing as well. I was BAD if I slipped up and ate bread and didn’t stick strictly to the diet. I was a failure if I took a bite of a sandwich because, I AM NOT ALLOWED TO EAT BREAD. I didn’t like the guilt I felt and I’m a perfectionist (as most anorexics are) so I became more and more strict and obsessive about the diet. Mix this control with some very difficult life issues and WHALA, I have a problem. Before I knew it, I was deeply afraid of eating bread. Not because bread is itself bad, but because it made me feel bad when I ate it. Along with identity issues, perfectionism, body image issues, anxiety and my need to control the chaos, it became a real problem. I had a very strong fear of bread, therefore I had a very real fear of sandwiches. It also doesn’t help that my body truly had a hard time processing this food because I had cut it out. So when I did eat bread I not only felt like garbage mentally, but also physically, which further solidified the idea that bread was bad.
When I entered treatment and began the re-feeding process I was faced with a dilemma. I don’t eat bread/sandwiches, but I was being asked to eat bread/sandwiches, AND on top of that, exercise was strictly forbidden. Sedentary was my new normal. So what does any Anorexic and Exercise Bulimic who is asked to eat a sandwich in the beginning of recovery do? REFUSE! I refused to eat a sandwich. It took me FOUR months to eat a normal sandwich in a normal way and not purge it through exercise. I have to admit looking back at it I feel like I was truly insane, but then again, I was malnutritioned, consumed by an E.D. and scared out of my mind about what my body would do if I ate a sandwich. This fear was legit.
So how did I go about finally eating a sandwich? Well, it was a very slow and supported process. In the beginning of treatment I met with a dietician twice a week. At this point I still would not eat bread without purging through exercise or rebound restricting. Since you can’t eat a sandwich without eating bread (duh), I had to start with the bread issue first, and a big issues it was. Since I had cut out bread from my diet for so long (about 7 years), my body literally did not know how to process it any more. If I had a slice of toast I would have immediate reflux, bloat until I looked like a pregnant woman, have extreme constipation and feel grossly sick. During my Anorexia I thought I had a gluten intolerance because of the reaction any time I ate bread. I was tested for Celiac when I entered treatment and I am NOT gluten intolerant. The problem was my body had forgotten how to process this food and it had to re-learn. I'll also add, Eating Disorders will use ANYTHING to get you to cut out more food. So instead of realizing my body had a hard time processing bread because I was starving my gut, I believed I had a gluten intolerance and therefore stopped eating even more.
We started out with potato bread. It has less ruffage like nuts and whole grains so my body would process it better. Throw in enzymes, probiotics, and other wonderful pills and my stomach was all out of whack. I would eat one slice of bread a day. Eventually my dietician got me to eat the slice of bread with cheese and meat on it. (I still would not use any condiments). After a while I would challenge myself and add mustard. (Some condiments have 0-10 calories so it was “safe.”) Then my dietician would challenge the amount of meat and cheese I had on my slice of bread and ask me to introduce variety in my condiments. After about two months we upped it to two slices of bread. This was HARD. My E.D was SCREAMING and I had already started to gain weight quickly. This of course confirmed my fear that if I eat bread, I will be fat. (sidetone - this is not true, just my E.D. twisting recovery again) I eventually got to a point where I would eat two slices of bread with turkey, cheese, lettuce and mustard on them, but here is the thing…I REFUSED to put the two slices together to make a legitimate sandwich. I know I know…I was eating the same amount as a sandwich, two slices of bread, with all the insides, but I could not and would not put them together to make an actual sandwich. Why? Because this would mean that I was eating sandwiches and that was against the E.D. rules. It felt like I was giving up some MAJOR part of me. My identity was that I DO NOT eat bread or sandwiches. Giving that up felt like a huge loss of my actual self. It was as if eating a sandwich made me a failure at the one thing I was good at...not eating bread. It never ceases to amaze me the power of my eating disorder. It can take the smallest thing, like putting two slices of bread together that I am already eating, and twist it into something that makes me feel like I am losing control and gives me extreme anxiety. Eating disorders are STRONG and they are MEAN and they are CONTROLLING and they DO NOT MAKE SENSE.
I was in my fourth month of slowly re-feeding (Which was the pits by the way..), but I was excited because my Mom and I were about to jet off to Ireland for a vacation! I was scared out of my mind about the food, but my dietician said this was a great opportunity for me to challenge my eating disorder and eat a sandwich in a normal way. (Annoying) She told me to look at how my mom eats, and eat like her.- Quick side note - my Mom is one of those amazing people who eats really well. She doesn’t diet, she listens to her body, she eats pretty much anything in moderation. She is my eating model. - I wanted SO badly to eat like a normal person - aka my Mom- that I decided it was time to just take the leap and eat a dang sandwich. I will never, ever, forget that the first time I ate a sandwich, normally, without purging, was with my mom in Ireland. We were in an airport, super hungry, and that was it. I ate a sandwich. The two slices of bread with stuff in the middle, put together. Contrary to my ED’s insistence, I did not die. My Mom did not judge me. I did not immediately gain ten pounds (although the weight was piling on) and I wasn’t a terrible person because I ingested two slices of bread stuck together with insides. It was OK.
It was a MAJOR moment for me. On that trip I also ate a burger, french fries, a lot more bread and oddly enough, Thai food. That trip with my Mom was the first time I allowed myself to eat. Like TRULY eat and not exercise it off. I wanted so badly to participate in food with my Mom, I decided it was more important to go for it then allow my E.D. to hold me back. Don’t get me wrong, this did not come without consequence. There was a large sense of anxiety that came along with it and it was very hard, but it was also the perfect opportunity because when you are site seeing and connecting with your Mom it is easy to quickly push aside the anxiety and participate in what I was experiencing instead! It also helped that Irish people are amazing and wear coats and large sweaters all the time so the comparison game was at an all time low haha. Even though I was successful with eating, I still thought I was immediately bigger when I ate and my body didn't always accept the food well. I’m sure my Mom was annoyed by how many times I asked her if I looked bigger directly after eating. (Sorry for being annoying Mom!!)
Once I returned from my trip to Ireland I was all in and the re-feeding process sped up pretty quickly, but it was also TERRIBLE. I will get into the details of my re-feeding process in another blog, but for now I’ll simply say it was painful. My body was NOT accustomed to eating and it didn’t know what to do with the food I was giving it. I found myself laying in bed feeling sick, constipated, swollen and trying to keep myself from throwing up most of the time. I gained a LOT of weight in a very short amount of time. Seriously, within a month I went from my normal body to obese while still eating less then the average person. It was brutal….
After Ireland I continued to eat sandwiches. I also continued to gain weight. I honestly don’t know how I did it. I think back and wonder how I could continue to eat with such extreme and quick weight gain. I believe a few things are what made me allow this to happen. First and foremost, my desire to recover was and is SO deep and strong that I’m willing to trust the process. Once I decide to do something, I do it. It’s just who I am. Second, I have an AMAZING support team that keeps me going. One week goes by, and then another and slowly months go by and now I find myself about half way through recovery with the help of my doctors, therapist, support group and dietician. Third, my therapist has helped me get to the root of my eating disorder and given me ways to think differently about food and healthy ways to cope with the anxiety that surrounds it and my weight. Fourth, my dietician is honestly a complete and total bad A$$. (I’ve told myself I would’t swear in my blog, but this is simply the best way to describe her!) She got me to eat a sandwich! This is something I honestly never saw myself doing again. Fifth, God promises to renew me and deliver me so I put my hope and trust in those promises. Last, my husband and family are rooting for me 100%. They accept me every step of the way. (Also, to be honest, I am VERY VERY HUNGRY haha!)
Recovery doesn’t happen quickly. It takes a lot of very small steps to reach each goal. It took four months of small steps to slowly introduce bread and the other elements of a sandwich before I could eat a whole one without purging. It takes working with a therapist to overcome the extreme anxiety during each one of those small steps. I takes leaning heavily into my identity as a child of God. Even though I feel like a failure, he loves me anyway. It takes wanting health and freedom so strongly you are willing to sit with the pain, the fat and feel the fear, but eat a sandwich anyway.
Here I am, nineteen months into recovery, eating sandwiches! I can walk into a shop in Charlottesville and order a sandwich by myself and eat it by myself. I NEVER thought I would get this far. I honestly am emotional thinking about where I was and how far I’ve come. God gave me the opportunity to change and heal myself when I was close to death. I took it and ran with it. It has been brutal at times, but with commitment, support, faith and hope it IS possible to overcome an eating disorder. Step by step. Little by little. Plus, I FINALLY get to eat a delicious sandwich, and when I tell me ED to go you know where, I sometimes even enjoy it! :)
- Sara -