Saturday Morning Writing

I spent a long time talking about my eating disorder with my fiancé last night. It was real and raw and scary, but I felt so much better afterwards. I always do.

I admitted things I didn’t even realize I was hiding. Like the fact that I’ve been weighing myself every single day. Like the fact that I’ve been labeling food as “good” or “bad,” and the bad list continues to grow.

I haven’t been hiding these things from him; they have just been so unconscious to me, such embodiments of old behavior that I hadn’t even realized they embodied symptoms of sickness.

I’m committed to working recovery again. It’s been so sloppy over the past two years, and I forgive myself for that. I’ve been cocky and fake- I’ve been preaching recovery like it’s a miracle, and, at the same time, I’m measuring my progress via a number on the scale and the amount of mental calories I’ve consumed that day. My “behaviors” may be less frequent than they ever were, but we know the distorted mind speaks volumes, and, for me, the obsessive thoughts far outweigh the compulsive acts.

With that said, it’s time to go back to the basics. For me, that means writing- really writing about me. Not about my work, not about the external things in my life, but the real stuff. The stuff that scares me, the stuff that keeps me stuck and ashamed. It also means talking- for now, my safe person is my fiancé, and I have vowed to be open with him, as terrifying as it can be. It also means utilizing my actual coping skills: this means self-care in the form of hot showers, yoga, stretching just to feel good, nice walks, doing my nails and makeup, playing with the dog, reading a good book, scrapbooking, being in nature. It means introducing food back into my life- in a way that’s not diet-centered, macro-centered, calculated and rigid.

I’ve never been in a mental place where I can have ice cream in the freezer. Without obsessing, fantasizing, or bingeing on it. I’d like to get to that place.

Yesterday, I ate grilled cheese and left some on the plate and went home and enjoyed my night. Who knows what today will bring? I’m not going to pre-plan it. I’m not going to place expectations and rules on it. This is new terrain, but I’m committed. I believe in myself, I believe in the universe taking care of me, and goddamn, I believe in recovery.

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Let’s stop sugarcoating how to deal with holidays

Ah, Thanksgiving Eve.

There are always a million of pro-recovery, pro-love, pro-gratitude posts swarming around this time of year. These tend to include steadfast tips for enjoying the holidays, as if a 10-itemed list can accurately identify and provide you with all the answers to keep your eating disorder at bay at a time where your biggest vice- food- is what the entire day is all about.

I’m not knocking those lists. I’m not even knocking that advice. I dole it out to my clients on the regular. But here’s what we’re missing.

Yes, there’s family, and family is so important. Yes, there’s gratitude, and that’s even more important. We know this. I don’t have to tell you it.

While I appreciate the efforts to focus on what the holidays are really about, I find it dangerous and concerning to push down the reality of the food component, as if gratitude and connection with our loved ones will alleviate us from the stressors that come with our eating disorders.

Here’s the thing. Food is always going to be here to stay. Food is social glue. Food is there multiple times a day, in every setting, and is necessary for, you know, living. And I can rattle on and on about how we can’t change situations, how we just need to accept that fact, how we can’t let it defeat us. And while all that is true, we also cannot deny that Thanksgiving and the holidays alike can be kryptonite.

My piece.

I love my family. I fucking love gratitude. And for about ten years, I hated holidays surrounding food. I still struggle with them.  My point is, they are not mutually exclusive. Any holiday around food, no matter how actively I practice recovery, brings up some anxieties, desires to engage in old behaviors whether it be overeating or undereating, and general discomfort. I spent many dinners judging the plates of others, keeping score of how “good” I was doing until I inevitably “fucked up” and swore myself I’d start over again tomorrow. I can remember my weight on most Thanksgiving mornings, and most of the Fridays after. I can remember which Thanksgivings became full-pie, midnight binges and which ones entailed daylong fasts until I “allowed” myself a few bites.

This year, I’m doing two Thanksgivings. This year, like every year, there will be a lot of food. Food that “feels” scary and unsafe. Food that I don’t eat everyday. Food that has the capacity to create anxieties and stressors that, even when I know are irrational, suck to have.

I consider myself in a high phase of recovery. I am relatively happy with my body, the way I eat, and how I take care of myself. It’s not perfect. Far from it, but part of the recovery is also accepting the imperfections. With that said, the fall-winter season is still difficult.

I’m not here to write lengthy advice today. You’ve probably seen all the cliched suggestions, anyway. There is no right advice for navigating tomorrow, except for the notion that it’s one day, and one day never has and never will define us and our recoveries.

My only advice for you all tomorrrow? Don’t guilt yourself if you can’t fully stay present with your friends, family, and gratitude. It’s not always that easy, and I’m applying that same forgiveness to myself. Just do your best, reflect afterwards, and know that you’re chugging along, doing what needs to be done. There are no real mistakes, only lessons along the way.

 

 

making rules & breaking rules

Dear Bee,

As much living and wholeness as there is in my revitalized state of being, there are those times when I do feel like I’m just existing meal to meal. As if food is still the central force driving my thoughts and behaviors. It’s frustrating, right? Because surely, other people don’t live to eat. That whole motto, eat to live vs. live to eat runs through my mind.

One of my boyfriend’s colleagues, another young therapist in eating disorder recovery, has these grandiose plans to build a treatment center. She is interested in possibly teaming up with me. I don’t know the first thing about running a business nor do I even know if I want to specialize in eating disorders anymore. But I do know this. Inpatient and residential treatment out there is spotty. At best. Eating disorder therapy is also spotty. Recovery is so complex, relapse is so common, and most of the well-being gains consist of being able to really drill in the message, that yes, life can be lived in the gray, and, in fact, IT HAS TO BE LIVED IN THE GRAY.

Anyway, this won’t be for years. I don’t have to think about it much now. Something interesting to possibly look forward to though. While I don’t believe a professional needs first-hand knowledge to understand the complexity of a mental illness, eating disorders are slightly different. As in…they tend to be progressive, and rather than a marathon-style recovery, they represent more of a convoluted labyrinth-style maze. Also, people with eating disorders tend to have other co-morbid issues and character qualities including terrible self-esteem, lying and deceit, minimizing, and a total devoid or absence of feelings. 

I still have some voids left in me. I know this because I still have the eating disorder gnawing with certain meals and foods and clothes and numbers on the scale. I still want to fill it with food or the absence of food or exercise or weight loss. I am still wanting the perfect body, despite my absolute knowledge that a perfect body will not bring me anything. In fact, I can guarantee this so well that I have a feeling even if I got CLOSE to this so-called image of a perfect body that I have in my head, I would self-sabatoge it. Because then, what would I have to work on? I’ve always lived thinking that I’m this never-ending work-in-progress, but to be honest, I’m tired of that faulty logic. I am good enough. Just as I am. Not a work-in-progress, but more of a progressing soul! Work makes it sound tedious and negative. It makes me sound incomplete, which I am not.

The absence of disordered behaviors often just fuels the perfectionist side in me. I want to make bigger goals. Clean eating, X amount of calories, Y days of exercise, absolutely no Z. The rules are endless, and yet, I break them all the time. Absent rules makes for an absent eating disorder. I have learned that. I need to embrace it! Rules made me sick in the first place. Breaking them takes me on the stairway to freedom. 

diets suck.

To the world,

I don’t care about your diet.

I don’t care that today is low-carb and tomorrow is a cheat day.

I don’t care that sugar is your food version of the devil.

I don’t care that you eat every three hours, six hours, or twenty-four hours.

I don’t care that fruit is suddenly off-limits.

I don’t care that you are eating X amount of calories.

I don’t care that chicken and quinoa are now miracle foods.

I don’t care about your diet pills, supplements, or new vitamins.

Oh, and I also don’t care about your weight.

I am finally at a point WHERE I DON’T CARE. If you are happy with what you eat and what you look like, GREAT. We need more people like you. Diets used to be contagious for me. Just like the common cold, if someone was trying some new food plan, I had to jump on board, too. The difference is I jumped on board with an eating disordered mentality, whereas they jumped on because they decided to lose five pounds.

My boyfriend expresses concern when he hears “diet talk” around me, because he knows that it can be triggering. He always asks if I’m okay and listens to me talk if I need to vent. Last night, for instance, we were out, and “diet talk” became a main topic of conversation at the dinner table. At one point, while waiting for our dinner, I mentioned that I was incredibly hungry, as I hadn’t eaten in about six or seven hours, and one of his family members said, Honey, you can’t starve yourself! It slows down your metabolism. It took me everything I had to NOT laugh uncontrollably. Me? Starve myself? As if I didn’t know. I know more about nutrition that I will EVER NEED TO KNOW.

His family doesn’t know about my eating disorder yet, but we will likely tell them soon. I am not hiding it, but the topic just hasn’t come up. Besides, neither of us see his family very often. However, they are currently all on some new diet craze. While it’s great to see them pay attention to their health and incorporate nutritious foods, the obsession reminded me just how neurotic I used to get over an unplanned piece of bread or a meal out with friends. I remember when I used to live day-by-day, weight-by-weight, praying the scale would show AT LEAST a 0.2 lb decrease. I remember when every calorie used to count, and I used an app on my phone to track every bite that passed through my lips. I remember being “good” or being “bad.” It was brutal.

I no longer subscribe to the dieting mentality. I had to surrender that rigidity when I chose to surrender my sickness. As far as I am concerned, dieting with an eating disorder is like counting on the “family planning” method for birth control. Typically ineffective, dangerous, and often just leads you in a worse place than you anticipated. Diet-related thoughts take me right back to the preoccupation and obsession, and diet-related actions take me right back to maladaptive behaviors.

I do my best to eat when hungry, even if I think I’ve eaten “enough” for the day. I do my best to honor my body and give it either movement or rest, depending what it needs. I do my best to listen to my satiety cues and check in with my emotions.

Notice I did not use the word try. In recovery, there is no try. I am DOING. Doing my best most days I can. Some days, it’s easy, and other days, not so much.

Diets? They are just the word DIE with an extra letter.

Tell yourself: I AM A NORMAL EATER

Dear Bee,

 Today was a much better day in recovery. Although I obviously wanted to restrict as much as possible, I did my best to eat normally when I was hungry throughout the day. And not just safe or comfortable foods. Foods I liked. Foods that my body asked for. I wore a bikini at the beach. I had sex in the shower. I worked out at the gym. My body was on display everywhere, and it was okay. 

Clearly, I’ve been harsh on my body, but it’s the only one I have, and I like that I can now treasure it for its beauty, resilience, strength, and uniqueness. 

I don’t have an eating disorder anymore.

I’m in recovery. There are differences in the two. 

Yes, I slip into occasional behaviors from time to time, but I’ve realized that identifying myself with some diagnosis only perpetuates the self-fulfilling prophecy. Furthermore, it provides justification for believing distorted logic. For example, I can convince myself that it’s okay and acceptable to restrict/binge/exercise/weigh myself/keep this is a secret because I have an eating disorder, and that’s what you do when you have an eating disorder. This cycle induces feelings of helplessness and disempowerment. It makes me feel like I am essentially doomed to this disorder for a lifetime. 

So long as I want to hang onto you, my reality will mold itself to fit into the classification. Our actions are mere symptoms of our thoughts. If I think I have an eating disorder, I engage in actions that prove my hypothesis. On the other hand, if I just assume I am “recovered,” I act in more sane, healthy ways. 

This is a new paradigm of thinking, a shift from victim to warrior, a sense of empowerment. 

By telling myself, I am a normal eater, I let go of the rigidity, rules, obsessions and compulsions and trust my intuition. If I keep telling myself that, I start to believe it. So far it’s worked. I just need to keep reminding myself. Day after day, meal after meal, until it becomes permanently embedded into my mind. I am a normal eater.

Normal eaters just eat. When they’re hungry. What they like. With enjoyment, pleasure, and happiness. They sometimes eat too much or too little, but it doesn’t affect their functioning or overall mood. They eat without attaching the destructive emotions to the food. They eat when they have to and when they want to, and both are okay. 

I am allowed to feel the full spectrum of emotions. I am allowed to love myself just as much as I love others. I am allowed to release the need for control. I am allowed to trust the universe. 

I am allowed to be a normal eater. 

When FEAR FOODS are everywhere!

Dear Bee,

I’m watching my parents’ house this week. My brother is probably the most “normal” eater I’ve ever met, and sometimes, I watch him, amazed at his simultaneous passion for food and complete disconnect from the emotional intensity that comes with the act of eating. Similar to those “foodies” I once admired, he will research, salivate, and devour his meals, able to absolutely eat what he loves, leave the rest, and move on with his day. He is thin as a rail and has never had a weight problem. He likes “food challenges.” He will try just about anything deep-fried and not think twice about it. Or he can nibble on random things all day, because he’s hungry for them. My brother has Type 1 Diabetes, which is a chronic disease, so he has to be cautious in what he eats to maintain his blood sugar. This could be a detrimental sentence, but he stays incredibly healthy, maintains his physical fitness, and takes care of himself. I admire him. I always have, not just because of the way he eats, but because he knows how to make himself feel good and he chases that feeling.

I used to hate having junk food in the house.  I honestly believed it was the reason for my eating disorder. I thought I had broken willpower, and I assumed that if the items were not there to trigger me, I would eat normally and all would be okay. I could not comprehend that life itself can be triggering, and it’s not about the food.

However, because of this thinking, I bought all my own groceries, under the pretense that I needed my “safe foods.” I still go grocery shopping for myself, but it’s not with the same, frantic I-need-to-buy-these-foods-or-I-will-be-unable-to-function mindset. The strange thing is, despite the abundance of my former, standard binge foods in my family’s kitchen, I don’t feel either triggered or tempted. I’m not thinking about them. In fact, most of these packages and boxes remain unopened. I think of it kind of as exposure therapy–put the most anxiety-provoking items all in one place and learn how to manage the emotions that accompany the situation. One year ago, and I would have been an utter mess under these kinds of circumstances.

I am learning how to equalize all foods and eat normally again. So far, my progress has been tremendous. I don’t discount that for one second. But despite this growth and strength, there are still some foods that carry high emotional turmoil and nearly induce mild trauma to me. I don’t believe in using the word trauma lightly, but any form of harm and threat, even when it is self-induced, can invoke high-intensity emotions that may last for years…to me, that is what bingeing has done.

Pop-tarts, almond butter, those pink and white sprinkle cookies (I forget the brand name), frozen waffles, Famous Amos cookies, tortilla chips, Oreos…these are foods I typically either avoid with fierce rigor or binge on. In other words, I have not been able to eat them in an appropriate quantity. At least not often. For years, they were my drugs of choice. They are all currently in the kitchen right now.

But, I may challenge myself to try and work through some of these “fear foods” this week. Because, why not? Because, I like recovery challenges. Because, I like beating Bee with every opportunity that arises. Because, I don’t need to fear food, and I can learn how to eat them without obsessing, dwelling, regretting, restricting, or bingeing. In fact, I’ve already started doing so with almond butter, and so far, so good. All it takes is the realization that, at the end of the day, it’s just food. Food can be enjoyed, savored, and all foods can be eaten in healthy moderation. Even my self-pronounced trigger foods. Even foods that may lack nutritional benefits.I don’t have to eat it all in one sitting. I don’t have to abuse my body. I don’t have to fall prey to the black-and-white, I’ve already fucked up my whole day, logic. This is why I love the principles of intuitive eating in working eating disorder recovery. Primal eating, listening and honoring the body and ignoring societal rules and letting go of any and all dieting measures. Structure and rigidity maintained my sickness; dismantling that and working towards liberation and freedom of such bondage is the best medicine for me. 

It is a gloomy Sunday morning out here in Southern California. The boyfriend and I were planning on going to the beach this afternoon, but it looks like it’s going to rain, so we may change our plans. Things between us are going so well. It just keeps getting better and better. Euphoria has not faded. He’s on my mind all the time. I’ll be working all week, but we’re going away next weekend for a mini vacation.

I’m disgustingly happy and have to pinch and remind myself nearly everyday that this is my reality now 🙂

Eating disorders make bad situations turn into worse situations.

Dear Bee, 

How is harming yourself going to make the situation better? 

Simple question, but a tricky one to wrap my head around, especially when my eating disorder was my coping mechanism for so many years. At one point, certain emotions became too unmanageable and certain distorted thoughts became too succinct, and I needed to binge, starve, or exercise to take myself to a more familiar place. 

Food (or the absence of it) does not alleviate pain. It does not bring happiness. It does not inherently do anything beyond nourish and provide our bodies with fuel. And yet, when we develop an eating disorder, we contort food into this almighty force that we somehow turn to when the world seems too difficult to face. 

I am still upset about my neighbor, and I felt triggered enough to want to binge over it the other day. Talk about ironic. From a clinical standpoint, I find my triggers fascinating. Why would mourning over someone who died over an eating disorder trigger me into wanting to engage in mine? The human mind is an insane vortex. 

 It was a bad urge, one of those ones where it feels like nothing is going to get in the way of me and the food. But I’m stronger now. I’m healthier now. Stronger and healthier in my recovery than I’ve ever been. So, I recognized the distorted thought. I recognized that my eating was not going to bring her back. I called my therapist, because she lets me call her when I’m in a triggering situation, and I explained all this to her. And that was the question she posed to me: how is harming yourself going to make this situation better? It’s not. In my rational head, I know it’s not. In every fiber of my being, I know it’s not. You, my eating disorder voice, were the only one talking me into it. You were the only one who wants me to harm myself: nobody else wants that. Nobody else believes I deserve it. 

I didn’t binge, because that would do nothing to remedy the situation. It takes so much awareness in recovery to even get to that point. To realize that I don’t have control over certain things in life. To realize that there is no good reason to harm myself. I’ve been eating normally for a long time now, and every so often, the rumination of leading such a rigid lifestyle makes me panic. I occasionally will get trapped into thinking I can get away with skipping a meal. I will sometimes chew gum to ward off a craving or find myself eating the “healthiest” choice on the menu, simply for the lowered caloric content. I still get caught into thinking life will be better when I lose ten pounds, as if an arbitrary weight embodies a new sense of positive emotions. But these habits and thoughts are not my norm anymore. I am now able to mostly eat anything in moderation–at least when I’m out. I still don’t feel very comfortable having my trigger foods around me at home, but then again, most normal eaters struggle with that as well. It’s gotten better. Even though I don’t particularly gravitate towards processed foods, I’m no longer afraid of them the way I once was. I listen to my body more. I’m okay with leaving food on the plate. I’m okay with eating at different times and following my internal hunger cues. 

Normal eating isn’t glamorous or secretive. It isn’t as seductive or enticing as it once was. I savor and enjoy food now, but I don’t sit around thinking about it all day. If this is how true recovery feels, with its subtle ups and downs, with the occasional trigger and the coping skills to manage it, with its healthy medium of vegetables and sugar, with a body that I can feel good in, I can take this. This is peace. This is happiness.