vacations be like…

I was on a brief family cruise the past week. It was nice to just spend quality time with my brother and parents; these days, we rarely have the opportunity to spend time all together. And so…cruising. I’ve mentioned it before, but they can be like the achilles hell of eating disorder recovery. Food everywhere. Buffets and chocolate extravaganzas and fruity drinks and room service and 24 hour pizza.

I just ate. What a miracle, right? But, of course, I dutifully observed and analyzed the contents on my family members’ plates. I watched how they decided which entrees to select; who ordered desserts; how many rolls they selected from the bread basket. I made judgment. I can’t help it. My mom is on an eternal health kick who is now on the “lower” side of weight after battling with dieting swings for years; my brother is (annoyingly) the most intuitive eater I’ve ever met and has an awesome metabolism to boot; my dad is a grazer and junk-food lover who has a slight stomach and seemingly bottomless pit of an appetite. So, mom ate a bunch of salads and fruits. Dad ate a bunch of pizza and bread and chocolate desserts. Brother ate a bunch of whatever seemed appealing to him. I tried to embody my brother; I tried to practice moderation.

It went well. I beat myself up too much. But overall, I think I did well. The voice in my head, Bee, she’s telling me that I could have done better. She’s calling me a gluttonous pig, but then again, she likes to shame me. She thinks it will somehow motivate me to “cure myself,” as if the answer to any healing was through shame and hatred.

Whenever I come back from a vacation, I have the desire to restrict, to “cleanse,” to magically “detox” myself from all the supposed poison in my system. It’s hard, you know, living in a thin-obsessed, obesity-epidemic society, and struggling to find a balance between wanting to be healthy and wanting to feed into a mental illness.

If it wasn’t an eating disorder, though, it’d be something else. We humans have the tendency to make chaos out of life–calmness bores us; calmness makes us think terror is just around the corner.

It’s a messy life, the one I live. But I wouldn’t call it flawed, and I wouldn’t call it imperfect. Because it’s the way it damn well needs to be. And I’m doing what I damn well need to do.

I feel good right now. I’m lucky to be alive.

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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. 

A recount of my fascinating day

My Friday.

1. Wake up in the boyfriend’s arms and didn’t want to move. His bed is like the SINGLE. MOST. COMFORTABLE. THING. I. HAVE. EVER. BEEN. ON.

2. Boyfriend makes us breakfast because he’s amazing. Egg white omelette with a bunch of spinach and some mozzarella cheese. He eats this every single day. Sometimes multiple times a day. He makes them so well! I miss coffee. I’m on antibiotics for the UTI and am avoiding caffeine for the week…but I miss it!

3. Attempt to “study.” He reads some material for his couples counseling and community health class, and I yell at the laptop because my research methods assignment is stupid and pointless to my life. Panic slightly about the fact that I’ll have my OWN caseload of clients within the next week or two.

4. Go to the gym. I don’t usually workout with the boyfriend, because we have different gym memberships, and our schedules tend to clash. But I really do like working out with him. We did weights for an hour. My arms will be screaming tomorrow…I haven’t done strength training in awhile, seeing as I was halfway across the world! He’s a beast in the gym. It’s fantastic to watch.

5. Shower together and promptly pass out in the world’s best bed. It’s a scorching hot day in the lovely Southern California. Sleep feels good. Everything with this boy feels good.

6. Eat a makeshift lunch of almonds, cashews, and blueberries around 3:30pm. Not enough food, but I’m not very hungry, and we need to go grocery shopping. Boyfriend feels bad that he doesn’t have more for me to eat. I assure him it’s okay.

7. Leave for work. Surprisingly, there is no traffic. Hit up grocery store because i have some time. Notice that I still stick to relatively “safe” foods when I shop. Internally analyze this. I’m able to eat intuitively in most other cases, but I still haven’t been able to buy foods I deem unhealthy (ex: cookies, ice cream, chips, etc.). I just don’t like having them around. Yes, I realize this is disordered, but I also recognize that most people avoid buying certain foods so they don’t eat the whole bag or box in one sitting. I don’t know if I’m being smart by avoiding a binge or simply afraid because I am engaging in the disordered thoughts. I decide maybe it’s a combination of both. If I’m really craving a particular food, I’d rather go out and get it. Recovery is my top priority, but I don’t want to overwhelm myself. Being able to spontaneously go out to dinner or drink liquid calories or eat frozen yogurt on the whim is HUGE progress. Baby steps. Eventually, my goal is to equalize EVERYTHING, but I know I won’t reach that point overnight, and that’s absolutely okay.

8. At work. Obviously working hard 🙂

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. 

What it felt like to be recovered today.

Dear Bee,

Today, as I committed to last night, I acted “as if.” As if you didn’t exist. As if I didn’t have an eating disorder. As if food was just food, eating was just eating, and my body was just a body.

As if I were recovered. 

I normally avoid listing specific foods and portions on here, but for today’s purposes, I believe my “results.” may be beneficial to my lovely and beautiful readers 🙂 I know that when I read recovery stories, one of my first questions is, well, what DO they eat?

So, for an entirely meticulous, detailed explanation of my day, here goes: 

I woke up around 7 and promptly went back to sleep for about another hour. I felt kind of hungry, but not starving. Maybe a 5. Waited a little bit to eat some breakfast. Asked myself what I wanted. Waited a few minutes to let myself reach an answer. Made some toast (the bread was this low-calorie, somewhat tasteless cardboard-y brand, but it was all I had on hand) and some eggs. Two REAL eggs and ONE egg white (usually, it’s the opposite or just ALL egg whites).  Melted some REAL (i.e not low-fat, low-calorie, low-whatever) cheese on the bread. Spread some artichoke tapenade from Trader Joe’s (to any of my international readers, it’s an American grocery store) and cracked pepper also onto the bread. Egg sandwich. It was delicious and I savored every bite. Made some coffee with cream and sugar (still use artificial sweeteners, because I actually prefer that taste over raw sugar) and drank that. The only “disordered” thought that ran through my mind during breakfast concerned cholesterol, because I did glance at the cholesterol section in the nutrition facts listed on the egg carton (it’s 55% apparently for one). Being a vegetarian who only consumes dairy on occasion, I’ve NEVER had a cholesterol problem whatsoever. So, this was strange. Oh well. At least, I wasn’t counting calories/fat grams/protein/sodium, like I usually do.

Afterwards, I took a Pilates Level 1-2 class. I was the youngest one there and was surrounded by very SLIM yoga-type bodies. I felt somewhat triggered, but once entering my workout mojo, I stopped caring or comparing. The workout felt great. I loved stretching my body and revitalizing my strength after a somewhat inactive weekend 🙂 

Lunch with some friends from school at this Asian-fusion-type restaurant around 1:30-2pm. Worked up my appetite by then. I know the menu because I’ve been there a few times, but I assured myself I would eat whatever appealed to me in the moment. I did not want to plan it out.  I ordered a vegetarian entree plate consisting of orange tofu, white (NOT BROWN) rice, salad, and corn. I actually put soy sauce on my food…another “unsafe” ingredient.

I also ordered a medium-sized hot honey milk green tea…because they make awesome drinks. Liquid calories are typically “unsafe” for me. I cannot recall the last time I willingly drank a regular soda, unless it was being used as either a chaser or mixer with alcohol. When I see people drink those canned iced teas or Vitamin Waters, I practically shudder. 

During lunch, I ate about 1/3 of my portion. Their servings run large. To be honest, I barely focused on the food, and for anyone with an eating disorder, this lack of an obsession is a miracle. I was consumed in conversation with my friends! I packed up the rest of my food and took it to class with me.

Yep. Summer session has begun. I have a (five-hour) class once a week for seven weeks (supposedly the most intense course of this program) and another seminar class taken over three consecutive weekends. As much as I love summer, I also love learning, and I am excited to expand my knowledge even more. I literally cannot get enough of this field 🙂

Around 5:45pm, I felt hungry again. I normally don’t eat dinner this early (I like my rigid mealtimes), but my body was evidently signaling that it wanted food. I listened. I ate slowly. I was in class, after all, and busy paying attention to the lecture. I did notice that part of my rice tasted bland, and I actually put some more soy sauce on it, which is something I would never allow myself to do (THE SODIUM WILL DESTROY ME, AFTER ALL). At one point, I put my food away and did not return to it for another half hour. Eating this “dinner” took a good 45 minutes!

At around seven, my professor offered these chocolate malt balls. They looked good, and I had two. I didn’t feel any regret. Nope. Moreover, I wasn’t in my head counting the calories, craving to binge, or beating myself on my “lack of willpower.” I had simply enjoyed some chocolate. Revolutionary, right? I love chocolate, but with the progression of my eating disorder, I began attaching serious emotion to it, believing it held this powerful hold over me. I felt guilty for liking it, as if I “shouldn’t.” As I was a terrible person. Of course, with that mindset, chocolate morphed into this intense fear food (among so many other sugary foods), which subsequently meant that when I “cracked” and caved in, I usually binged or compulsively ate it. Therefore, I rarely allowed myself to enjoy these foods the way such indulgences were MEANT to be enjoyed. Instead, I deprived and punished myself, and once I did allow for a slight indulgence, I had to “make up” for all the times I had abstained. 

 Yeah, I like chocolate, and I am no longer ashamed to say what I fucking like to eat. 

So, there’s the blueprint of my food.  I didn’t die. Didn’t gain fifty pounds in one day. I didn’t feel any urge to binge, restrict, or engage in any disordered behavior whatsoever. 

In fact, it went so well that I think it’s time for ROUND TWO tomorrow.