In this podcast, Tabitha talks to Drake, who is in recovery from an eating disorder and wanted to share some hope.
The Eating Disorder Recovery Podcast Transcript (With thanks to Marie)
Hello there, welcome to this weeks podcast. The week we’ve got another recovery story. A guy called Drake, I’ll let Drake tell you about himself. I hope you enjoy this week.
Drake: I had started out with some health issues happening throughout 2014. Thyroid issues and then some negative reactions to medications that caused a lot of weight gain above my set point. So I ended up seeing a doctor who helped with some of the thyroid issues and some of the underlying causes of the weight gain. So I started to see weight loss just through those changes and then mildly focusing on eating a more nutritious diet because I didn’t have a very nutritious diet before that. So as the weight loss started it really wasn’t problematic until it started to get out of control. As I continued losing weight I guess my eating disorder started with the othorexia tendencies so that was a huge factor in the eating disorder. Over time merged into just restriction and then compulsive exercise as well.
With respect to the OCD it’s something that I struggled with all my life. It manifested itself differently in different time periods but I had gotten off my anti anxiety medication because I thought that I was doing well which was probably right at the time of my life when I probably shouldn’t have gone off it. But within a month or so of going off of that, that was really when the eating disorder started. It started with obsessively counting calories or macro nutrients, I’d do that for 2 or 3 days and then I wouldn’t think about it much and then slowly it started to get worse and worse as I entered the energy deficit. Especially when I started purging through exercise, that was really when the OCD ramped up as well and every piece of food at one point had to be perfectly measured out and perfectly entered into the tracker. I remember one time when I was with my family, we were travelling and I had to put the salad dressing for my salad in a plastic bag to makes sure it was exactly two tablespoons.
The obsession with making thing just right had been something that has been consistent throughout my struggle with OCD and I didn’t really realise it around food because in our culture it’s so praised to be conscious of what you’re eating and being conscious of being healthy.
T: Do you think as a guy people expect that less of you or not?
D: With the being healthy part?
T: Yes and the kind of othorexia
D: I mean, I think it depends. There is a lot of othorexia in fitness and sports. I know that different athletes can often in engage in the exact same behaviours or exhibit extreme behaviours in a way they become socially praised where if a woman would do those things it would possible be considered problematic. So I think that there’s a little bit of a danger there because people are not as conscious of eating disorders in the male population. So when those behaviours start to occur people don’t really catch it.
D: Or they catch it later and it’s really really problematic.
T: Yeah and I think also there are lots of problems with guys being diagnosed. It’s just not caught early enough because of what you were saying, that people don’t expect or are looking for it as much. So you can be engaging in these restrictive behaviours or excessive exercise and it doesn’t hit anybody radar until it’s got really bad.
D: Right, yes. I was about to say something else about the healthy eating habits. I’m a blank about what I was going to say. Oh I know, I had previously been, I struggled with other addictions in the past. I had felt a lot of shame and guilt for engaging in those behaviours because society deems those as wrong or bad or whatever. But because I was clinically overweight or obese before, when you start in a society that praises thinness and you start to lose weight there is this praise and so with the eating disorder I felt this sense of empowerment and a sense of being in control while with the other compulsive behaviours it felt as if I was out of control and ashamed. All of the behaviours were problematic, it’s just the cultural response to restrictive dieting is praise when it really should be in case like mine, concern.
T: So what do you think was the main thing that really helped you?
D: In recovery? So I started to experience the post anorexia binges and I was in this place and I remember it like it was yesterday and I had ordered this pizza and I remember saying out loud to myself I give myself the unconditional permission to eat all foods. And when that started I sort of went on this 2-3 week long binge of just eating so much, milkshakes, pizza, doughnuts just everything in sight.
It sort of, my weight started to restore. And during t his time I was freaking out of course, your eating disorder is telling you, you’re binging, you’re binging, you’re binging, you have binge eating disorder, you’re going to gain every single pound that you lost back. You’re out of control, this is super problematic and as this is going on I just kept telling myself: You’re in recovery from this restrictive eating disorder and you can’t listen to that tyrant in your head.
So I started to do some research on the internet and that’s how I came across your work. Just sort of getting the permission to know that when a person is in recovery from a restrictive eating disorder, they are allowed to eat. And they are allowed to eat without any parameters or any guidelines and they are able to refeed after that period of starvation. Through working with an outpatient dietitian who was informed with not only eating disorders but also willing and able to accept the fact that those binges were occurring was just huge. I noticed that over time the desire to occur less and less.
That first week, it was like every day and then it was every other day and slowly as my weight climbed back to where my body was happy, they went away.
Of course immediately the intrusive thoughts to restrict, thoughts about weight and fat just started to not go away, but quiet down. Then I ended up through these binges, I was freaking out so that’s when I made the decision to seek higher level of care. So I went to a partial hospitalisation program in Texas and was there for 6 weeks. I had a lot of emotional baggage and struggles with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder that were really related to the eating disorder. There was the biological component that really set it off with the restriction through the weight loss but the obsessive compulsive disorder and the trauma just weaved their way in as well so I found a lot of relief through that therapeutic work that I did but still single-handedly the biggest thing that helped me recover from anorexia is nutritional rehabilitation.
T: Right, yes eating lots of food and enjoying them.
T: Yes, it sounds like you are in a pretty good place now?
D: Yes and now I sort of feel I’m in the place where this eating disorder has sort of left my life. I mean the thoughts are still there, the impulses are still there but they are much quieter and now it’s like, how do I cope with the anxiety? Cope with the depression and trauma, without the use of a negative coping skill like the eating disorder. For so me the eating disorder, as I let go of other unhealthy habits that sort of filled it’s place, which I think that happens to quite a few people in recovery from eating disorders. It sort of becomes their negative coping skill.
Now it like, what does life look like without an eating disorder but more than that, what does a life look like with healthy coping skills? So in some senses, it’s sounds strange but I’m sort of grieving a little bit because the anorexia and othorexia were so helpful in emotional regulation and distress tolerance and now I’m just sort of like in it but the freedom that I’ve found through allowing myself to nourish myself has given me the capacity to nourish myself in all aspects of my life, with respect to relationships and family and spirituality. I almost felt as if my anorexia was not just about food, it was like this anorexia that I applied to every corner of my life, restricting emotions and experiences.
T: I think that’s true for just about everybody. Of course, the food is the primary, food is the key to unravelling it and getting better. But I think that when our brains think that food is scarce, then our brains start to react to that thinking we are in this environment where food is scarce and most of us get kind of weird about all sorts of other resources, money being a key one, also I often felt like I was acting like an apocalypse was coming.
D: Yes totally, I totally relate and agree with everything you said. It’s almost like this weird social anxiety came over me that I hadn’t really experienced. I think it was just that fight or flight response to restriction that was telling me that everything around me was a danger. I’ve struggled with anxiety but not to the degree that I did through the restriction. And then similarly I saw in some ways the anorexia as a dramatisation, of acting out the restriction that I was feeling on the inside. So I think that there was some physical representation of my internal battle.
T: So what would you say to anyone else who is trying to recover today?
D: I would say start by giving yourself the unconditional permission to eat anything, in any amount at any point in time. If you’re experiencing a restrictive eating disorder by definition you can not have binge eating disorder. You are experiencing the physical, biologically necessary response to a period in time in which you deprived yourself of food and so you need to work your way out of that deficit. And I can promise you that the thoughts that you are struggling with right now will slowly start to fade away, if you just ignore those thoughts and choose to nourish yourself. Because it is a conscious choice and no one can make that for you.
If you go to a rehab facility or if you go and work with a therapist, even if you are eating in front of them, you are the person putting the fork to your mouth every single time. Whether that’s in treatment or whether that’s in your house. You have to just make that commitment to yourself and to your future to nourish yourself. But you really need support as well because it’s very difficult to recover on your own.
So I would look up all of the resources and just educate yourself, understand what’s happening to you on a biological and physiological level. And also reach out for that emotional support through maybe seeking an outpatient dietitian and or a therapist to work with you through theses struggles. You need people to be your healthy brain while yours is in recovery and you’re not always going to be able to make the right decision because of this anorexic genetic response. But if you willingly give yourself over to others in this process it can be a huge help.
T: Did you use your family at all for support?
D: Yes definitely. So I’m currently away, I attend a boarding school in North Carolina my family is in Texas. So when I sought a higher level of care I immediately knew I wanted to be in Texas near my family. Having them there, I actually lived with my aunt and uncle during that time, they were just huge and they’d had a daughter who’d recovered from anorexia as well. We have lots of people who struggle in our family with eating disorders. So they’d been through it and they were there with me and present. My immediate family was just available at any waking moment to just talk me through. They were really good about understanding what I was going through. They attended the Psycho-educational groups at the treatment centre and they were also just making sure I was continuing to recover.
T: So your family, it sounds like you were lucky, well not lucky because you’ve got those genetics in your family, but lucky in the sense that your family were relatively educated.
D: Yes definitely and super supportive during that process and were just immediately ready at the first moment that I called and expressed my concern at my eating disorder. They jumped on it as quickly that they knew how and got me the support that I needed to recover.
T: It sounds like you’re doing really well.
D: I’m going for it yes, I’m going to college next year in Dallas so I’ll be near my treatment team, near my family, I’m just going to continue to walk the walk and continue fighting for the freedom that I deserve so I’m excited. It’s not easy but it’s good!
T: It’s not easy but it’s so worth it.
D: So worth it and I hope everybody that listens can find some sort of hope and that it is worth it. I believe that full recovery from an eating disorder is possible and we just have to do the hard work.
T: Huge thank you to Drake for coming on and talking to me and being brave enough to email and saying, I have a story of hope that I want to share with people can I come on the podcast. I was thrilled to be able to talk to him and as you can hear from listening to him, he’s been through a lot and he’s learnt a lot he’s at that stage where he’s got that confidence that this is working and this is going to work, I’m on my way out. Which is thrilling and I’m just so excited for him. So thanks again Drake best of luck to you, keep us informed and updated in how you’re doing. Thank you for listening if you have a recovery story that you would like to share then you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and the same is true if you just have a topic that want covered or you have somebody you’d like me to talk to. Cheers and until next time cheerio.