Guilt Game

There was a time when I was incredibly unhappy. My husband would ask, “what’s wrong?” and my answer would always be “I just feel so fat” or “I’ve made myself throw up the past few days.” So often was this my response that my husband didn’t really need to ask, he already knew.

"One of the most frustrating things to anyone suffering from any kind of eating disorder is the inability to accurately describe the obsessive thoughts that continuously race through your head. There is not rest."

Summer 2001. When I was most unhappy.

That was, what feels like ages ago…a different-person-ago. Now when my husband asks “what’s wrong,” my response has more to do with parenting or friendships or family or running injuries.

Last week when my husband asked “what’s wrong,” I hesitated. I almost didn’t want to respond because the truth more than surprised me, it scared me. “Honestly,” I said. “My weight. I’ve been really preoccupied these last few days with my weight and the fit of my clothes and what I’m eating. I really don’t know why.” It wasn’t that I didn’t know why. It was almost that I didn’t want to acknowledge why.

Last week I found myself critical of my appearance in a way I haven’t been in years. It all stemmed from the fact that if the weather was really hot for Sunday’s race I wanted to wear just a sports bra and shorts, but I didn’t feel “lean enough” to do so. It’s the twisted vestiges of a once disordered mind. One of those last hang ups: I can’t because I’m not “enough.”

And that feeling of not being “enough” was starting to affect what I was putting in my body. I found myself trying to restrict my food, not in a drastic way as in the past, but putting rules in place: no carbs, no desserts, smaller portions, no snacks after dinner.

The preoccupation, the rules…that was the old me: the disordered, unhappy, obsessed, addicted and depressed me. It’s not a place I want to be.

“What’s the purpose?” my husband asked.

“What do you mean?”

“For what purpose are you thinking that way? What are you trying to accomplish?”

He had me thinking. Thinking to the source, not just the symptoms. Sometimes we focus on the symptoms of our unhappiness and we try to adjust the behavior, when what we really need is to ask the tough question. To get at the source. To figure out our true motives.

The more I thought about it the more I realized that the purpose was uglier than I thought. I was trying to guilt myself into action. My mind was taking the dissatisfaction I felt when looking in  the mirror along with the rules I had created surrounding food and twisted it into guilt. And that guilt was supposed to prompt me achieve the result I desired: loose weight, look leaner.

That kind of guilt, though a distant memory in some regard, is all to familiar. At the height of my eating disorder it became a powerful tool, one that I wielded with skill. So much skill that it took nine years to untie the twisted thinking that got me the results I desired.

The guilt and that feeling of not being “enough” as I am really have no place in my life now. There’s just not room for those lies. I don’t want there to be room. I have to be careful and aware and honest. It’s one of the things that keeps me from slipping back into my disordered past.

Do you ever feel “not enough?” Do you find you guilt yourself into action by setting up “rules” for yourself? Have you ever asked yourself “for what purpose?”

You can read more about my struggle with anorexia and bulimia and my recovery HERE.












  1. says

    I love your husbands response.

    I usually don’t have an issue with my food/weight (usually – but it still happen) my main ‘not enough’ stems from my work/professional life. I feel like with a MA people expect me to have a certain amount of money, or be working some fancy awesome job, and I’m not. I’m okay with that but it’s the one area of my life I feel the most pressure to be ‘more.’

    • scanney says

      Erica you’re so right, there are so many ares of life that we often feel pressure to be “more.” I think some are more socially acceptable than others, either way it can be hard to battle the guilt we heap on ourselves. Thanks for sharing!

  2. says

    First of all, this was a really brave and lovely post. Thank you for being honest and sharing it. I’ve never had an eating disorder, but I have absolutely had disordered thoughts. I’ve never felt “lean enough” to run without a shirt, and I have definitely had moments where I’ve thought, “That’s it! No more chocolate until I’m skinny!” I’ve gotten to a point where I can at least hear those thoughts and try to talk myself out of them. But I think your husband’s advice is so good and so true. It’s not about taking the symptoms away. It’s about digging deeper and finding the source, and then trying to do something positive and productive about that.

    • scanney says

      Thank you Alexis:) I think it’s hard not to have disordered thoughts, they seem to be ingrained in every form of media we consume and woven into the fabric of pop culture. I think what we do with them at the source is the difference between developing disordered behavior and simply moving on. I’m happy that I’m able to move on now. Thanks for commenting!

  3. says

    Oh Sarah, I actually know EXACTLY what you mean as I had the same thing yesterday. If you read tomorrows post, you will read about my meltdown on my workout, and it led me to criticize everything about myself, I ended up shouting that I couldn’t understand why I wasnt leaning down, and why was I still chubby? I know I am not, and it is a distortion in the mind, but in that moment, I blamed my eating for me not running well. I understand every word, and I would be more than happy to talk if you would be interested. Stay strong, you are beautiful just as you are :)

    • scanney says

      I think I’m generally feeling discouraged that I can’t train as I would like to because of the issue with my knee/calf. And so I’m just down on myself for everything especially my weight. It’s easy to blame those superficial things and not really look at the source of the dissatisfaction. Thanks for commenting.

  4. Sarah Hussey says

    Sarah- you are so beautiful, inside and out!!! I actually looked at the picture of you and I from the St. Paddy’s Day race and thought how I wished my body was more lean like yours! We all have someone (or more than one) who we wish we looked more like… But the fact is, not everyone can have a washboard stomach… Some of us can cut out all the “bad” foods, drink tons of water, workout like crazy, and yet still have chubbier thighs and abs than we would like. You look amazing! I think you are in the best shape you’ve ever been in!! And don’t forget- your body has given birth to two amazing children! I weigh about the same I did before I had Jonathan, but my stomach is still “flabby” compared to what it was, and don’t even get me started on the stretch marks 😛 Needless to say, we all have those areas we don’t like- but we need to focus on what we do like! For me, that’s my arms. I’ve been doing more planking lately and push ups, and I am so happy with the definition I’m getting in my arms… God gave you a wonderful gift to be able to run like you do- you are strong and beautiful, and someone I look up to! Thank you for being so open and honest.

    • scanney says

      Thank you Sarah. I think, like you said we all fall into that comparison trap. But we have to be able to get to the root cause and silence those lies and doubts about ourselves. I think that is one thing that running has taught me and made me much better at, is killing the doubt and realizing I have the power and strength to change what I’m thinking.

  5. says

    Sarah, I always feel this way. The other day I was doing a group ride and the guy running the group told me I was in really good athlete and in great shape. I said I don’t feel like it. The truth is I don’t feel like it is because of what I see in the mirror. All I see is a fat stomach( I’m a size 4, 125lbs). Why do we do this to ourselves?

    • scanney says

      I know! We are all so critical of ourselves and there’s no need to be. People don’t see us with the same critical eye as we view ourselves. It’s pretty sad when you think about it. But each of us has the power to change the way we are thinking and to stop the lies. It just takes a bit of practice and a lot of self-awareness.

  6. says

    It’s like you’re in my head! I have the exact same struggles, even almost 3 years post recovery. During times of stress, it sometimes seems like the ED voice just sneaks into my brain and I don’t notice the small changes until all of a sudden I realize that I am acting like my old self. I think the key is recognizing it, like you are. I love your husband asking, “why?”, because that sort of seems to cut through the lies and guilt that are so intertwined. It’s hard to say “I’m punishing myself for taking time to recover from an injurty” out loud and still believe it. I’m rambling, but thanks for being so honest and and making me feel less alone in these slips.

    • scanney says

      That ED voice is sometimes still there for kind of surprises me now, because it has gotten so quiet. But usually brining it into the light is what really helps and I get my head screwed back on. Ha!

  7. says

    Yes and this is a great post! It actually also makes me sad….why are we so critical of ourselves and like your husband asked…what purpose is this serving? I can relate a bit to this right now in that although I do not weigh myself all the time…I do every few days or so and for some reason that I can not figure out, I am weighing a bit heavier than I am comfortable with. I also have a past of disordered eating though and I have to keep reminding myself that it is not about the number and just keep telling myself I am so much more than a number. The biggest thing that helped get me out of my eating disorder was actually who I had become. I thought once I reached this weight that I would love myself and be so happy and in reality I kept lowering that number and becoming more miserable. I was weak and tired…I could not be the wife, the mom, the friend…the person that I wanted to be. The more I thought about it, the more I hated what I was becoming…I did not want to be the person who could never help or be a positive influence on others because of what I had done to myself. I just try to remember that and constantly remind myself of what really matters….I will not lie though, at times it is hard and we just have to be reminded to tell ourselves the truth! The truth is that God loves us and so do others (family, friends)…and they will not love us less if we do not have the perfect legs or thighs or stomach or weigh what we consider to be the perfect amount. Don’t get down on yourself! Think of how many people that you have in your life who love you for who you are and be proud of how far you have come :) Hugs :)

    • scanney says

      Thanks for sharing Jen. You’re right they are all lies and the truth of love is so refreshing and freeing! Sometimes when I feel myself slipping into the wrong thinking I try to combat it with thoughts of who I love, thoughts outside myself. That usually helps me to see how “off” my thinking really is.

  8. says

    oh girl. I can relate to those “not enough” feelings. I feel that way often just being at home with my kiddo’s. I didn’t clean enough, the house is a mess, I didn’t spend enough time with them, my husband’s going to be dissapointed I didn’t “accomplish” more today(such a lie…he’s never been critical, only supportive), but this goes to show how many thoughts can take off running if we let them. I was reminded this morning to take the thoughts captive before they run away and dictate my behavior. It’s so.. stinking..hard. I think everyone can relate on some level. I know every time I have struggled with an injury I have felt that start to make me feel just blah in so many different areas, body image included. Covering you with prayer today friend!! Thanks for being so open and honest.

    • scanney says

      Thanks so much Kelly! I really appreciate your prayers! I think the injury is a huge part of it (but maybe deep down its a loss of control??). I love. Love that verse about taking every thought captive. It’s really a pivotal part of my recovery: learning how to do that in a very practical sense. And I can totally relate to all the other feelings of “not enough” as wife mom friend etc. so many lies!!

  9. says

    Thank you for your honesty! As you can tell from all the comments – we all feel this way at times no matter what we actually look like. Just the other day I saw an unflattering photo of me and let it ruin my night. Knowing that someone as fit as you feels the same way helps! I need to ask myself what the good in dwelling on those things is, like your husband said!

    • scanney says

      I think honesty about these things is what helps me stay on track. So much of my eating disorder was lying and deception. The more I bring light to my struggle the better off I am:)

  10. says

    I love your honesty. It’s sad that body image issues affect so many women.

    I’ve never had an eating disorder as such but definitely struggled with disordered eating and ‘rules’. I’ve come a long way now – not weighing myself every day was a huge step forward for me. But it’s so easy to slip back into old habits. It actually happened earlier this year – all those ‘fitspo’ pictures started me thinking that I needed to get leaner. I ended up having to unfollow a couple of instagram and Facebook groups so that those pictures weren’t in my face all the time.

    This post came at a perfect time for me because I can feel that pull coming again, trying to suck me in.

    I’ve come a long way from the person I once was thanks to my husband and many hours spent with a psychologist. Now I try to focus on what my body can do rather than what it looks like.

    • scanney says

      THose fitspo pictures are really damaging in my opinion. They get that guilt reaction from us. Good for you for unfollowing:) I love that: focus on what your body can do.

  11. says

    I too love your husband’s response and that he got you to stop and look at the situation differently. I very often feel like I’m not enough – in what respect varies day to day. I do try to guilt myself into action – more than I do now but every once in a while it will come back. I’m glad though that you are able to come to a place and recognize that you don’t have a need for this in your life.

    • scanney says

      Thanks Christine. I think that we all feel that “not enough” sentiment a lot. I think what we do with it is what makes the difference. Thanks for commenting!

  12. says

    Sometimes it just takes one person (like your husband) to phase things in a way to make us pause, and actually think about why we’re doing something. The friend I ran with today and I were just talking about this! We agreed to be more thoughtful in training, in how critical we are on ourselves and just in general. Most of the time if you actually stop and think about WHY, you change your thoughts completely. This was a great and honest share! Now go rock that sports bra and that race woman!!!

    • scanney says

      Thanks! I totally should just go out and wear the sports bra and shorts. We are all so critical of ourselves it’s nice to have friends and family who will help us check our motives and ask why?

  13. Janette says

    Hi Sarah!
    I can’t even put into words how much I understand your fight against eating disorders. I read over your story and was just amazed at how similar my story is. I battled 5 years against anorexia and looked to running as a method of escape yet watched it become a tool of my eating disorder. I was(and still kinda am) a type a perfectionist obsessed with control. The ONLY thing that brought me off my knees was Jesus. It’s amazing and so wonderful to hear a similar story from an incredible woman like yourself.
    I just ran my first marathon(the rock and roll sd) and cried on and off the whole time. The fact that God brought me from a place of despair and pain and that he have me the strength to even finish it was a miracle. My goal is to qualify for Boston in 2016. I have a long way to go, but it’s women like you that give me hope that it’s possible.Thank you for loving on people like me by sharing your story. I would love to talk to you more! If you have time please feel free to shoot me an email :)

    • scanney says

      Janette, thanks so much for your comment. I feel so grateful that running is still part of my life, because for so long I used it as a destructive tool. I was so focused on the calories I burned…it was another way of purging. But now it is so much more than that to me and I am so grateful that I have a healthy relationship with it now. Yes, there are times when I am a bit neurotic about running (mostly when I’m injured and can’t run…therefor derailing goals) but the obsession/compulsion is gone. I’m so glad that you were able to run your marathon…I’ve done R&R SD too! But it was in the midst of a really rough time with Bulimia so I don’t have fond memories of it. Keep working towards that BQ!

  14. says

    I actually just recently went to my therapist and during my appointment she asked me what your husband asked you! I struggled to find the answer but those are the tough questions we need to be asked or ask ourselves to work through the root of the disordered thoughts. I can really relate to this post, ever since I started running and training I have been dealing with dissatisfaction with my body which can do SO much more than it used to but also weighs more. You are inspiring to me and I appreciate you sharing that there are still hard days!

    • scanney says

      I”m glad you found the post helpful! It can be tough to come to grips with the way “we used to look/weigh” compared to where we are now. But I always have to remind myself that mentally I am in such a better place and when it boils down to it, I wouldn’t trade the healthy mental place I am now for the body I had before.


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