The Building and Breaking of Habits

I spend a lot of time wondering about the human mind.  In particular, I find habits very intriguing- what makes us do the things we do?  Addictions, exercise patterns, even mundane tasks such as brushing ones teeth all interest me.  Where do our habits come from? Why do we keep doing our habits?  Why is breaking a habit so hard to do?

The sorts of habits I’ve been thinking about a lot lately are related to eating. I am passionate about healthy eating, I’ve been a vegetarian for six years and a vegan for five months, and I consider nutrition to be a key component to my training. However, I have struggled with a poor body image since I was seven years old and disordered eating since I was sixteen.

When I was sixteen, I received intense treatment for anorexia nervosa. I was hospitalized for about three weeks. After I was discharged, I saw psychologists on a regular basis. They immediately established themselves as figures of authority and I became afraid to open up to them, and they in turn became angry when I would refuse to disclose the contents of my mind.  They fixed my body, but left my mind even more damaged.

As soon as I had control over my life again, I snapped right back into restrictive dieting- a few times my weight would dip below the weight at which I was hospitalized.  After years of restriction, I began to struggle with binges, and my extreme fear of gaining weight drove me to put my finger down my throat and purge.

Finally, I looked in the mirror one night and decided enough was enough- I’m tired of being sick. I still struggle with restriction and binges now and again but I’m fighting to find the state of balanced nourishment between overeating and hardly eating anything at all. Simply “eating normally” is a lot harder than it sounds. It’s been years since I’ve ever really done so. I still binge. I still get scared and restrict my diet. I’m gaining weight and I’m absolutely terrified it’s never going to stop.  However, I’m determined to get better. I want to stop listening to dieting rules and start listening to the hunger cues my body gives me.

It’s going to be hard…it’s not easy trying to rewire your brain. At a month shy of turning twenty, my mind is slowly becoming less pliable as I grow older- putting off these changes will only make things harder and these are changes that need to happen. Obviously, I don’t have the willpower to maintain a state of starvation forever and overeating sends me into a state of emotional turmoil. My only hope is to recover from disordered eating once and for all.

It’s scary. What if it’s genetically impossible for me to have a good body? What if, after years of disordered eating, I’ve irreversibly upset my metabolism? What if I can’t clean up the mess in my mind? These are all chances I’ll need to take. Even if I can’t get “better” I want to get as close to “better” as I possibly can.

I often wonder how things would be if my treatment had been different when I was sixteen. What if my therapists had been sympathetic rather than righteous? Of course, I still probably wouldn’t be “better”. I didn’t want to be “better”, I wanted to be skinny. But maybe I wouldn’t be so afraid to open up to people. Maybe I wouldn’t have so many issues with trust. Maybe I wouldn’t be so afraid to seek out professional help again. However, you can’t change the past; you can only learn from it or let it go.

I just need to be mindful…mindful of hunger, mindful of fullness, and mindful of my emotions. I need to notice my thoughts and let go of the toxic things that cross my mind. I need to learn from my mistakes and let go of the guilt that accompanies them. I need to stay patient and positive until my body and mind are restored to the way Mother Nature designed them to work, because such a natural state will finally set me free.

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