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  • Writer's pictureRachael Yahne

Wedding Planning, Eating Disorders & Hungry Ghosts

Trigger warning: this post contains content about bulimia and anorexia. 

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They'll say I’m just trying to fit into the dress. What I’m actually doing is: learning not to use people-pleasing and food to cope with my greatest fears of worthiness. I'm inviting my eating disorders to my awareness, not to my wedding.

These days, I feel a growl. A hunger that can’t be fed by food. Yet at times I’m convinced it’s food I need, and at others that food is something to fear. Something that will hurt me, and sometimes does. I ping back and forth between the extremes, whenever the anxiety of wedding planning overhwhelms me.

This gnawing is the work of my ‘hungry ghost’. Clawing at anything to be soothed. Desperate to feel sweetness amidst the anxiety of asking people to travel for me, spend money on my event, celebrate me. I can’t quite find where the ghost lives - maybe it’s in my heart, or my soul, or the past, or just my head, but she needs and craves and will make a run for comfort in the form of food obsession, it’s absence or it’s presence. Food is distraction. Food is the proverbial and literal ‘little treat’. Food is making things worse, or food is making things all better. Obsession with or fear of eating is better than whatever we are doing right now: the highest stake decision-making I’ve ever been through.

Your eyes might have rolled over a wedding being ‘the highest stakes’. Let me make clear that I don’t over-value weddings nor the intangible ‘perfect day’. And I have made bigger decisions and larger transformations. I’ve moved to New York having never visited via one-way plane ticket to a sublet I had wired $1500 with no proof of being real (it was real, thankfully). I’ve traveled to India alone at 21 to stay in ashrams for a month and a half. And, obviously, I made the decision to be with one person for forever, which included deciding to trust that I will be loved no matter what my truth. This essay is another exercise of that trust within truth. A proclamation and my own form of processing that I will be still be loved even after admitting the truth that disordered eating struggles I faced as a teen have returned. And that I am grappling with their new tactics, needs, and manifestations all over again.

There are two parts of this vicious cycle, the first being: I am a people-pleaser, which makes wedding planning and making decisions for other people (even if it is our day) difficult. People-pleasing induces anxiety, which instructs the hungry ghost to cry out. People-pleasing is a deeply ingrained part of my character that I fight on a daily basis. I am afraid of disappointing others by doing too little for them, thus losing their love. If anyone were to feel uncared for, or not have absolutely every possible want and need taken care of without them having to ask and without it costing them a penny, will I lose our friendship and will they choose not to come at all? (Of course not, but this is how my ghost thinks). If I fail to hire a good caterer, or amply supply enough liquor, will everyone find out how truly terrible I am at planning things? Which, actually, is true. I’m not good at planning parties because it’s not a skill I developed. I didn’t think I needed it. The hungry ghost told me no one would want that from me.

She’s a ghost with a quite fowl way of speaking.

Planning any kind of celebration that revolves around me induces a small degree of panic and a large degree of inferiority complex. I don’t feel worthy, or deserving of all that attention. I don’t want to ask others to do for me, because I’ve programmed myself to think I must only do for others. It creates a black vacuous hole within me that pulls everything into it, until I am frantic and manically cost-analyzing every decision and over-thinking details to the point of exhaustion. 

That is where the second element of the cycle comes in: food. There are two camps on recovering from eating disorders: that one can fully recover and it is categorized as no longer a condition, and the opposite which is that it is never fully healed and one will always have the disorder (typical of 12-step programs, of which I am a fan and have used for codependency with profoundly life-changing results). I personally toggle between the two. I was diagnosed with bulimia and anorexia both around just before my 20’s. The disorders come and go in waves, and always walk hand-in-hand with stress and depression. Looking back I see them present in ways I didn’t at the time, phases when I would over-eat then punish myself for it with 6-mile runs in 90-degree heat, or simply starve myself the next day out of guilt and fear of my loss of control. I was too busy trying to keep my head above water in the midst of major life changes to see it happening. Once the dust settled from that and I was alone at night, staring up at the ceiling and analyzing all the steps that got me to wherever I was (single, or in a job I hate, you know those late-night-reckoning moments) that I was able to see how abusive I’d been to my body. It still took months to find balance again.

For the most part, I consider myself in ever-recovery. That my form of disordered eating will always be a part of me, even if not actively present, because it is a part that I have learned to hug and comfort when I’m able to, and love for what the hungry ghost thought it was doing for me. She thought she was protecting me, fixing me, cheering me up. She didn’t know that binging or purging or starving were harmful behaviors, she thought she was helping. I’m not mad at her. 

But we don’t get along. And we don’t always know each other is in the room. Right now, that looks like: stress from trying to over-predict every guests needs, while trying to be as the kind of person they’d be willing to fly thousands of miles to watch wed, and food showing up in my stomach that I have no idea how it got there and is now causing me pain. It looks like starving myself all morning because I’m too wound up to remember to eat. Both dichotomous sides (too much or not enough) feel almost mechanical, like a daze. Like my senses (certainly my enjoyment) turns off completely and eating or not is done blacked-out from presence. I don’t know how it happens till it’s over and then I’m ashamed, scared, and angry at myself. That is how the vicious cycle went before, anyway.

Now, in this season of my life, I’m greeting the ghosts and disorders with more compassion. I’m learning to slow down in the moment, and take the time to be present for what’s driving. It includes more forgiveness if I do eat without noticing, or forget to eat at all. And it includes admitting this is happening to my friends, family, fiance, and you. Because I am a person who tells the truth. I am a woman who knows she’s worth celebrating on her wedding day. I am a soul who understand she can struggle and this time instead of hiding it or saying she’s ok when she’s not, she allows others to be part of the journey and help. I refuse to go through these disorders the way I did in younger years: scared, ashamed and afraid. Lying and giving excuses of why my plate looks different. Not saying a word when I’m not sure right from wrong, up from down. The hungry ghost will not tremble alone inside any longer.

Most of all, this experience is grounded by gratitude. For the very first time, the disordered eating is my doorway out of the cage, rather than the cage itself. Before, it was what held me back and trapped me. It is the clue that lets me know: “Rachael, you’re putting too much on yourself. You need to slow down, rest, and try a different approach.” The compulsions to eat blindly when I’m not hungry, or not eat at all, are met with curiosity:

What is causing me to crave comfort and distraction?

What internal story is running that is pushing me to run to or away from food?

Is it my fear I’m not worthy if this much joy and attention and celebration? Is it my tendency to ‘earn’ love by taking care of other people first? Is it the false narrative that I have to do for others before I can be chosen, wanted, appreciated and be taken care of myself? 

The way out is through.

Telling the truth is difficult, especially knowing that under these circumstances it will look like obsession with thinness and vanity. It will appear it is instigated and all about me, when it is about other people. I already hear the concerned voices and the guilt I’ll feel when others meticulously watch every bite I take (or don’t) from now on. I know what admitting a problem does: it makes you trust yourself more, because you know you’ll be brave enough to own up to it, and make others trust you less. And that’s ok. Because I know I’m not the only person struggling with this today, bride or not. I choose to practice the bravery to release the ghost from within me so that she can find community - with yours? - than trap her any longer. 

I will use this experience to further heal her, my ghost. Whats happening is much more than planning a wedding. I am tending to the deepest wounds, gently picking out grains of salt that have for too long continued to sting but I have turned a blind eye in order to over-monitor the needs and approval of others. This experience is here to guide me into a more expansive and stable and whole version of myself. With my partner’s undying support and my willingness to practice courage however clumsily, together we are helping me become the wife and future mother we both know I’m capable of being. 

What I know for sure is that, ironically, when this is over it will be long from over. Not because the hungry ghost will continue to ping from bulimia to anorexia, but because evolving from this season of growth and awakening will lead only to another. After the vows have been said and the guests are tended to, there will be new struggles and triggers to bring about new and more profound places of healing and enlightening. And just like I am doing for the hungry ghost, I will embrace them with warm and open arms, and tell them: you are welcome here. It is safe to cry, to scream, to temper tantrum, to get it all out. To have needs. Together, we will get through this and come out the other side stronger, safer, and aware of how incredibly lovable we are, just as we are.


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