Unfettered but still (a bit) fearful

A few things have been on my mind lately, regarding those oft-touched upon subjects here: food and weight.

As you may know, I have recently taken up road cycling with a heady enthusiasm. Yesterday I rode 71 miles with my cycling club; today I did a (briefer) 22 mile morning ride on the Jersey side of the Hudson. All these miles translate into a lot more food for this busy body, and I have to admit that it makes me somewhat uncomfortable to have to re-set my appestat yet another time.

What I mean is this: for the last four years or so, ever since I re-established "normal" eating habits, I have had a pretty good sense of how much food my body needs every day. (Disclaimer:
Such knowledge didn't come easy!) Sure, a run here or there could change the equation, but in general I knew how much to eat. Any deviation from that "normal" point for me was an indicator that other things were going on in my life -- non-food issues -- that were somehow getting translated into eating behaviors. Thus I knew, for example, that if I really really really wanted a third cookie, it probably wasn't about the cookie. I could have it anyway, but eventually I would have to deal with whatever issue was behind the cookie-longing in the first place.

Now, however, I'm not sure about that cookie. My rides are making me HUNGRY like I haven't felt in years. So when I come home and finish dinner and still want to eat, I am not sure what that is about. It may be just that I have had a really long ride, and my body is begging me for more food (most likely). But I am uncomfortable with my own hunger, and I am sure that this stems from how I dealt with hunger in the past: it could be that the hunger I feel after a ride is a reminder of how it used to feel when I forced hunger on myself and then chased it down with excess food and a large dose of regret.

Right now, I find it hard to "listen to my body" and distinguish between hunger-that-comes-from-hard-exercise and the memory of hunger-that-sets-up-a-binge. I find it difficult, but not impossible: I haven't slipped back into out-and-out binges, nor have I purposefully sought out hunger for its own sake. At the least, I feel that, by writing about this and admitting it, I am one step closer to getting a better handle on my hunger this time around.

Getting into cycling has reminded me that there are so many areas of my life that have been touched by -- and limited by -- my eating disorder. I would not dared have tried cycling even a few years ago, in fear of getting back into the old pattern of deprivation/binge. But now that I am doing it, and managing my fears as best I can, I can see other ways in which my eating disorder, and even my recovery from it, have constrained my behavior. As the fetters gradually come loose with this one new activity, I wonder where I'll find other sources of growth in my life.


Kim said...

Like you said, I think it's really great that you're thinking about it. My friend (who never had an eating disorder) trained for a marathon and one of the first things the coach told her was, "Don't even think about how much you're eating. If you're hungry, just eat. Your body needs it." Of course, it's not so easy with those of us who have had eating disorders. We have a strange relationship with hunger. Some days, I'm ravenous and I tried to "make sense" of it for a while, but quickly gave up on that. It just doesn't make sense. I'm finally getting to be fine with that. I hope you can find a peaceful place and trust your instincts. I'm sure it'll take a little experimentation, but I have no doubt you'll figure it out :)

ola said...

Your way of rational and sensitive dealing with ED-thoughts gives me hope!

I am thinking about hunger-post as well
Is hunger a sense? Well, it has afferent pathway, but the efferent pathway are we.
Is there some inborn "level" of hunger? (I was always hungry, during both my healthy and anorexic years most of the time)
Or is it rather an instinct? And rediscovering lost instincts is so hard! But I think this exposition (cycling, feeling hungry) is the most natural way to figure it out.

Emily said...

It's great that you are giving this so much thought. I just want to make a plug for giving your body what it needs (though I can't presume to know what YOUR body needs :)). I was doing some serious running last fall and, as a result of the last vestiges of my anorexia, not fueling my body nearly well enough. I remember once after a ten-mile race not eating anything except a peach for several hours afterward, when what my body really needed was protein and a lot more carbs. I've learned that it is especially important to eat protein RIGHT after a long run or ride, and that might help you feel more balanced later.

Ai Lu said...

Kim: I think I should take that coach's suggestion to heart, too, to not worry about how much I am eating, just to EAT! I recently read, in a cycling training book, that most serious female cyclists need about 3,000 calories a day, yet many try to get by on only 2,000 because they are afraid of weight gain. That kind of deficit frightens me these days -- if I'm using 3,000 calories a day, I hope that I am consuming that much!

Ola: Interesting point about the afferent/efferent pathways of hunger. I don't know if hunger is an instinct or a learned behavior, or a little of both -- but I definitely feel that there is a physiological component that goes beyond cultural training.

Emily: Thanks for the practical suggestion to eat protein. I have been eating a lot of carbohydrates and I think I need more protein -- it tends to have a grounding effect on my body, anyway. :)