Survivor Sunday: The Answers Lie Within Me

Does anyone else hear Destiny’s Child when they read the word “survivor”?

Mmmmmmm. Yep, I totally just did a sassy dance on my chair.  The sad thing is that this is so 1990 to 2006 (I googled (y) ).  The youth of today are probably seeing the word survivor and thinking this:

It’s a travesty.  I mean the chicken pahm and tuna fish…

But really, my boyfriend and I were talking the other day about the things that kids are totally missing out on nowadays.  Like ET!  I mean, I wasn’t a huge fan, but it blows my mind when I make an ET reference to someone and they’re all crickets.  Or fortune tellers, dunkaroos (which apparently you can still buy but they’re hard to find), MASH (the game), hackey sacks, gel pens, wall-mounted pencil sharpeners, and actually renting VHS’s at the video store (or really just having a video store).  Does anyone else remember buying a new CD and actually getting angry when the leaflet inside the front cover didn’t have the lyrics printed out?  It made it so much more work to sing along with it on my boombox to my hairbrush microphone, under the watchful eyes of my O-Town poster!

 

#thathairtho

I’m gonna put my dentures in now and move on with life…

Okay, back to where this started: survivor… STOP music, STOP… or specifically Survivor Sunday.  It’s a concept I’ve wanted to start up for quite some time, and have thrown around without too much pullback, but I finally decided to bite the bullet after getting a few positive responses!

One of the major issues with eating disorders is the feeling of isolation, or an inability to relate.  Either we’re stuck because the people around us in our immediate environment do not share our issues, or we feel trapped in a cycle of avoidance because we don’t trust ourselves to be around food, or not be exercising.  And while it helps to read other’s stories, and we can usually find something that resonates with us, sometimes one person’s musings just don’t fit with us.  That can leave us feeling even more alone, even more “freakish”, and even more imperfect.  The common line:

“Man, I can’t even have an eating disorder right!  I’m not doing x, y, or z, like so and so!  I don’t struggle with that, but I do struggle with ___.  Obviously I’m just stupid thought because NO ONE seems to have the same issue, even in the ED community.”

Reality: You’re still struggling, your problems are no less problematic, you are not “failing” at having an eating disorder/being in recovery, and chances are, someone somewhere has the exact same issue.

AKA: You’re not alone.

And as much as I enjoy the positive feedback I get on my words, I know that the reality is, I don’t resonate with everyone.  What has worked for me, may not work for you.  What I struggle/have struggled with, might be completely different.  What is scary for me, could be a piece of cake for you, or vice versa.  And that’s why I wanted to start this (ideally) weekly post: Survivor Sunday.

Let me start here: if you’re pursuing recovery in some way, if you’re contemplating a change, or if you’re simply just opening your mind to the possibility of another way of life, you ARE a survivor.  Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, and anorexia nervosa specifically has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric illness – it is estimated that 10% of individuals with AN will die within 10 years of the onset of the disorder.¹  Bulimia Nervosa has an average lifetime duration of about 8.3 years.²  With numbers like that, with realities like that, it’s important to value the tremendous achievement it is to rally against it.  A choice like that literally can make a life or death difference.  It doesn’t matter if you “weren’t that sick”, or were only “kind of anorexic”, whatever that even means.  You never know what the other road travelled could have lead to, and it’s not a road that I suggest you go back and try out.  You’re a survivor.

You’re a survivor as much as someone who enters remission from cancer is a survivor.

You’re a survivor as much as someone who lived through third degree burns is a survivor.

Just because the wounds aren’t visible, doesn’t mean they’re not there.

So now that we’ve determined this, what is this whole Survivor Sunday shenanigan?

Sunday, for many, is a day of reflection, rest, replenishing, rejuvenation, and readiness for the week ahead.  It’s about examining both where you’ve been in the last seven days, and where you’re going in the next seven.  And that can get you down.  If you’ve been struggling, you might feel like you haven’t accomplished much.  If you’re nervous about something coming up, you might be more vulnerable to triggers in the days leading up to it.  And Survivor Sunday is about both of those things: where you are, and where you’re going, as well as how you’re going to get there.

Every (again, ideally!) Sunday, I’m going to be posting a contribution from another Survivor.  It brings in the other points of view that I might not reach, and a breath of fresh air to the blog space.  Plus, if you decide to contribute (hint, hint), it’s a great way to connect with others, share experiences, and promote your own blog, if you have one, a bit!

It’s a great way to show everyone how diverse eating disorders are and that we are not alone even though so often it feels as though we are. Plus, as everyone’s disorder is different, everyone has different rules, everyone has had a different experience, etc, this gives the opportunity for you to connect with someone that I potentially can’t! I hope that you’re just as excited as I am!

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So how’s it going to work?

Firstly:  There is no “I don’t know how to write… I’m not good enough… It won’t be very good… etc etc….” ED beats us up enough. Don’t do it to yourself too! This is our individual experiences, and it’s the story and the thoughts and the stuff you put into it that counts. I have no rubric… I’m not going to send it back to you and say, redo it, it’s not up to standard! I welcome everything and everyone. However there are a few ground rules. And bear with me, I’ve never done this before so whilst I get it working there may be add ins or whatever to this list as I figure out what works and what doesn’t:

RULES:

  • No numbers related specifically to you- i.e., weights, distances ran, amount of times purging, calories eaten etc, etc you get the idea.  No need to feed the comparison monster.
  • In general, keep the language clean. I can do a swear word here or there, if it’s emphasizing something in a way that no other word really can, but if it’s littered with them, it doesn’t work for me.
  • I’m not pro ana, or mia, and while this should be evident, I’ll iterate it. We’re not glorifying the ED here. I’m pro recovery.
  • Be respectful of other’s privacy. If you’re telling a story, don’t use other’s real names etc etc, because they might not want their story broadcast.

I’m blanking. It’s common sense stuff really. That being said, note I will require the submission to be sent to me no later than the Friday before the post. I will be reading over all submissions before they are posted just to check that we’re all jiving but I’m sure we will be 🙂 If things come up that pose a concern, I’ll bring it back and we’ll work it out (hence needing at least a day in between so we can edit if need be 🙂 ) . Similarly to respecting other’s privacy, I will at all times respect yours. It is an honour to have you write for the blog, and I value your opens and honesty. If you do not want to have your name posted with your submission, let me know. If you want the name changed, either do so directly in the post (but let me know too obviously so I don’t give you a byline), or tell me, and I can change the name for you. Similarly, if you want some self promo for one of your projects, note a link to your page etc, and I’ll for sure work it in!

SO WHAT TO WRITE ABOUT?

Answer: Anything your little heart desires! It could be recipes, it could be aspects of recovery, it could be your ED story, how it developed, things you learned, relapse, triggers, treatment, how you’ve grown, your hopes for recovery and life beyond an ED, etc etc etc… ANYTHING. I’m all ears, as long as it is pro recovery. Traveling with an eating disorder, how to cope with stress, being in university and having an eating disorder… I don’t know. I could go on and on!!

WHAT IS THE COMMITMENT?

None. There’s no commitment… although if you want to be a regular contributor I would not object!! You can test the waters. Maybe you only write once, maybe more than once. Maybe you write once now, and then are inspired again in 2 months, and decide to write again. Feel it out. I’m feeling it out with you too!

Also, I’m toying with the idea of starting a fb group or page or something so that all of those who contribute to survivor sunday can get updates to this or whatever all in one place, and talk about ideas etc too, but obviously as anonymity could be a factor, am not sure whether or not this would be helpful. Let me know your thoughts!

Furthermore, if you know of anyone who might like to contribute to this, feel free to pass this along! Looking for as many people as possible 🙂

So, let me know your thoughts, ideas, when you’d like to write, etc and we can go from there. Feel free to leave a comment, or email me, or instagram… You can reach me at:

cookiecrumbsandcarrottops@gmail.com
https://www.instagram.com/cookiecrumbsandcarrottops/

Note: when emailing, make sure you attach a subject line, or you’ll probably get deleted without me reading it if I don’t know you 🙂

AND WITHOUT FURTHER ADO… THE FIRST CONTRIBUTION!!

Our first contributor is Emily of Em Recovers.  She is a beautiful soul that I have had the pleasure to follow on wordpress for a while, and I am totally honoured that she would take the time to write and share her unique perspective on things.  Be sure to pop by her site and give some of her awesome posts a read… with a latte, or some peanut butter and oats in hand, because you might just get hooked for a bit :).

The Answers Lie Within Me

The end “food goal” when it comes to my recovery is to be able to feed myself intuitively. Your end goal may be different, but I do not feel like being held back through the rigid barriers of a meal plan is healthy for me in the long term. Many others have this same goal and “intuitive eating” is a phrase thrown around left and right in the recovery community.

If you suffer from an eating disorder, I am sure that you know that it is “not all about the food”. It’s a coping mechanism that affects so many parts of our lives. Intuitive eating is not something that I am actively trying right now, but I am still able to practice being more intuitive in other aspects of my life. Being more intuitive and trusting my gut has helped me reconnect with my hunger/fullness cues, and I believe is putting me in a closer spot to being able to escape into the freedom from ED rules that I so strongly desire.

In IOP, on my blog, and on Instagram I see these beautiful souls asking questions right and left about what others think they “should” be doing. I’m sure you’ve seen these: How many calories did you eat to restore weight? Is it disordered it I count macros? Would it be a behavior if I went to yoga tonight? And maybe you’ve asked some of these questions too. I know I have, especially early on in my recovery. I still do ask them. I’m starting to learn, however, that the answers lie within me. Only I know if eating Arctic Zero is a behavior. Only I know if meal planning ahead of time is disordered. Because everyone’s eating disorder is different. Eating disorder rules vary SO much person to person, so naturally everyone’s recovery looks different.

The best part that I have found in trusting my intuition, is that I no longer feel like I have to worry about everyone else: I am taking care of me. Or at least, I’m trying to, because I do give into my eating disorder sometimes. And I know that when I do give in, I get this sick/guilty feeling that I went against what I know is healthy for me right now. As long as I focus on what my gut is telling me, it doesn’t matter if so-and-so is running 4 miles 6 days a week or if what’s-his-name is eating amount of macros. Regardless, I do get so jealous when I see people doing things that I know are behaviors for me.

But at the end of the day, I trust that I know what is healthy for me. I can choose to go against that, too. And I still mess up every day. I have an intuition, and I am also human.

Everyone has an intuition. It may be quiet, it may be hard to trust right now. But it is there. And it is beautiful. The next time you find yourself wanting to seek advice from others, I challenge you to stop and ask yourself first. Because chances are, you probably already know the answer.

¹: Sullivan, P. (2002). Course and outcome of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. In Fairburn, C. G. & Brownell, K. D. (Eds.). Eating Disorders and Obesity (pp. 226-232). New York, New York: Guilford.
²:Hudson, J. I., Hiripi, E., Pope, H. G. & Kessler, R. C. (2007). The Prevalence and Correlates of Eating Disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Biological Psychiatry, 61(3), 348-358.

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A Cliff Notes Version of Escaping Rock Bottom

So what happens when you get stuck?  We’ve all had those moments of feeling completely defeated.  It doesn’t matter whether you’re suffering from an eating disorder, or whether you simply feel lost and directionless in your life.  Whether you’re struggling to get back on track after a relapse, or whether you’re simply just drained- emotionally, physically, mentally, whatever it may be.  You feel, for one reason or another, like you’ve hit rock bottom.  You’re at the foot of a wall, and you can’t figure out quite how to scale it.

It sucks.

And we’ve all been there.

One of the things you notice, especially in an ED recovery world, is that many times people fall.  A recovery that is relapse free is a rarity, not a norm.  It’s normal to struggle.  The defining part is what you decide to do when you find yourself once again back at the bottom of the Totem pole.  The amount of times I’ve seen cries out into the blogosphere, after extended periods of inactivity, saying, “I don’t know what to do!  I feel so defeated, so enchained once again in the ED grasp!  Therapy isn’t working for me, I’m scared to start eating normally again, and all I can see when I look at myself is huge.”… yeah, it’s more than I can count.  And my heart bleeds every time I see this.  I’ve been there.  I know what it’s like.

For me, relapse was worse, or at least harder MENTALLY, than the first time around.  When you enter recovery for the first time, it’s kind of a Chucky version of sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows.  Yes, you’re terrified, but you don’t know what comes out of recovery because you’ve never been through it.  You get to the point where the professionals take everything out of your hands, and you have this obscure promise of normalcy.  Something like, “Oh thank God, they’re going to show me how to eat, exercise, AND be normal, AND maintain my weight, AND not go through this hell ever again.  And then I’ll be able to leave it all behind me.”

And that hope pushes you through.  But when you go through it, you realize it’s its own kind of hell.  And when you climb so far up the ladder, only to find yourself once again at the bottom in the depths of a relapse, it is 100 times harder to find the oomph and the drive to try to climb back out again.  You’ve seen part of the other side, and it wasn’t as sunny as you thought.  The grass wasn’t necessarily greener, but rather just a different species of grass.  When I got down to the bottom again, I didn’t know if I wanted to climb back out again.  I didn’t know if it was worth it.

But if you send out that plea into the blogosphere, that cry for help, it’s because you haven’t completely given up hope.  You acknowledge that it might not be perfect, but it has to be better than what current is.  You just don’t know where to start.

It’s been years.  YEARS for me.  And I still struggle, on a day to day, minute to minute basis.  But as I have read these cries for help, I find I’m often asking myself:

If I was there again, what are the most important things I wish I would have known? When it all comes down to it, what are the bare essentials that would have really and truly helped me to get out on the right foot?  What would have made that wall a little easier to scale?  Where would I have liked to have started?

Hence, I decided to make this list.  This list is for anyone.  Of course, it is tailored for someone who struggles with self acceptance, anxiety, and an eating disorder, but really I believe it’s a list that anyone who feels defeated could use from time to time.  The points in it are things we all should bear in mind.

So here we go:

Drumroll please…

THE CLIFF NOTES VERSION OF ESCAPING ROCK BOTTOM

1) TAKE CHARGE OF YOUR OWN SANITY.

This one is a huge one for me.  I truly believe that every situation can be a learning experience, but sometimes the learning is brief and to the point.  How many times have you made a mistake, quit, or “failed” at something, and then been asked by someone else (in a condescending “I know better” way, or a truly compassionate loving way) “What did you learn from this experience?”.  Stop looking at all those things that didn’t work out perfectly as mistakes, or failures.  Realize that it served a purpose, and sometimes that purpose wasn’t to teach you what you WANTED, but rather to show you what you DIDN’T WANT.  I choose to look at recovery the same way.  Relapse is a chance to let you know what doesn’t work for you, and show you that whatever process you were following before doesn’t click with you in one way or another.

I’ve worked with a number of therapists, a number of doctors, and a number of dieticians.  Some of those meetings and sessions were complete and total busts.  Some of them caused more problems than they solved.  And some of them worked for a bit, but then they didn’t work anymore.  And all of that is okay.  All of them taught me one thing or another… either a skill set, or a mindset, or simply showed me what I DIDN’T want my recovery to look like.  They key thing was, I refused to settle for something that only kind of worked, or for something that didn’t work at all.  I didn’t look at the passing of another dietitian or doctor as a failure on my part, or a sign that there was something inherently wrong with ME.  There is nothing WRONG with ME.

What’s your drink of choice?  Mine’s a grande Starbucks iced coffee frappuccino, half sweet with cinnamon dolce flavouring, soy milk, no whip, and a sprinkle of cinnamon dolce spice mix on top.  Say it five times fast, and try to get all components of that right when you’re ordering it (or rather when they’re making it).  My mom’s is a grande half-caf americano, non sweet, with just a bit of room for a a touch of cream.  My boyfriend doesn’t even like coffee, save Tim’s iced caps, but you’ll often see him with a Dad’s Rootbeer.  None of us are the same, and we all have our own unique brews.  If we’re allowed to have our own unique favourite drinks, we’re also allowed to have our own unique mixture of treatments that work for us.  And you’re worth enough to keep looking and looking until you find what works for you.  Play around, and don’t look at another ended session as a failure… look at it as an opportunity to identify the things you don’t want.  Look online, find in person sessions, but also find other’s who are willing to work via Skype from all parts of the world.  Look for discounted rates, and don’t be afraid to ask questions.  A lot of people are willing to work with you and work around you.  You do you.

2) COME TO TERMS WITH YOUR CATALYST.

This is a mixed one, because everyone’s experience is different.  I’ve met so many people through my recovery, and no two descents into the diet/self hatred mentality look the same.  Some people have had a messed up relationship with food, exercise, and/or their body for as long as they can remember.  Some people can’t actually remember a time when they weren’t trying to look different than they naturally did, were dieting, or actually felt comfortable in their own skin.  I feel like I can relate in some way, shape, or form, to this, as I grew up always thinking I wasn’t good enough, or that I could do and be better.  This wasn’t always food or body related for me however, but I was never comfortable in my own skin.  From the moment we had to start changing for PE class in school, somewhere around grade 2 or 3 I’m guessing, I remember consciously sucking my stomach in so that I would have the illusion of being slimmer than I was.  I don’t know what spurred this, I honestly don’t.  But even then, it never really impacted my eating, or my exercise.  My love of food, and hatred of exercise still trumped that.  Regardless of what you can or can’t remember, I’d venture to say that everyone does have a definitive moment that sticks out in their mind as the time a “switch” went off.  It might not be the first moment, but it’s a moment that took you from being somewhat okay, or functioning, to NOT functioning, NOT being okay, and being DESPERATE to change.

For me, this was when my best friend in high school came over to my house a year or so after graduation with a Christmas present.  We’d always been the same size (minus my D cups to her I’m guessing B’s), and the whole time I knew her, I always thought she was the most beautiful woman I’d ever known, inside and out.  I opened the present alone in my room later, and it was a gorgeous red dress.  I hastily took off my clothes and tried to shimmy into the little number, and suddenly it didn’t fit anymore.  We were no longer the same size.  I couldn’t wear the same size dress as her.  At the time I was already feeling low, depressed, and down on myself for other, non body related reasons, but for me, this event sticks out in my mind as the catalyst, the “switch flipped” moment where I decided to actively instead of passively loathe myself, my body, and do everything in my power to change it.

After YEARS of work, and YEARS of struggles, I am now starting to come to terms with my body.  I’m starting to be okay with it.  I’m not yet at the point of loving it, and at times I’m far from it, but I’m now at a point where I can look back on that catalyst, that moment in time, with something other than anxiety, guilt, shame, and regret.  For once in my life, I can look back on that moment and not wish to change it, but rather I can feel sorrow and compassion for 20 year old me.  I look back, I accept that it happened, I don’t long that it went differently, but I want to wrap my arms around my former self, hug her, and tell her that it sucks that you feel this way, but it’s okay.  You’re okay.  You’re fine.  You are worth more than this moment and this dress.

I have finally made peace with this moment, and most of the other moments in my life that I blamed, or looked back on with guilt, shame, and regret for where they got me.  I’ve made peace with the people that have impacted my life in a negative way.  I’ve made peace with my mom’s alcoholism, my dad’s dementia, the family members that told me I wasn’t good enough, the people that made me believe that my only value was my smarts, or my body.  I don’t love those moments.  I don’t necessarily forgive them.  I just accept them, and leave them where they are.  They shaped me, in good ways and bad, but they don’t need to be rehashed any more.  They don’t need to be a part of my current or my future.

Clean the slate.  Feel the pain, grieve a little, then find acceptance and compassion for that moment, or those moment(s) that stick out in your mind.  The catalysts.  The memories.  And then leave them behind.

3) SEPARATE YOUR FEELINGS FROM YOUR FLAB.

Anyone who knows me, knows that I’m not much for fluff.  I gag at “You can do it!” type mantras, and things that fall along the lines of sunshine, lollipops, rainbows, and perfect realities.  So the idea of writing an acrostic of feelings was a little too Hello Kitty, Minnie Mouse for my liking…

Side note: To all those I offended by insulting either Hello Kitty or Minnie Mouse, I apologize.  I assure you no bobble-heads, keychains, or stuffed animals were harmed in the making of this post.

BUT, I reluctantly listened to my dietitian because she and my ideologies of what recovery should look like are THE SAME, and I have massive amounts of gratitude and respect for her.  I did the acrostic.  And I instantly shed my diet mentality, loved my body, and have a new lease on life.

Burst! 

Peanut butter brownie points for anyone who can pinpoint what awesome book that’s from!

Okay, no.  It didn’t work like that.  No sunshine and rainbows remember.  BUT, it did remind me that when I claim, like many others, “I feel FAT!” or “All I see is CELLULITE”, I am quite possibly and probably equating my feelings with my physique and flab.  FAT and CELLULITE, are NOUNS, not adjectives.  You feel EMOTIONS, which are ADJECTIVES.  You don’t feel fat.  You feel something else, which is making you SEE fat, cellulite, or whatever else makes you feel uncomfortable.  Take a few minutes out of your day, ideally when you are in the midst of a triggering/stressful situation, and check out what emotions are actually coming up for you.  A neat way to do this is to use your “word of choice” which for many is FAT, or CELLULITE, as the basis of an emotional acrostic.  It’ll remind you of reality as opposed to the probably screwed perspective of yourself you’re experiencing.  Mine turned up something like this:

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4) FORGET THE BURN.  FIND THE FUN.

A list of sayings I once felt guilty to hate, but now unapologetically loathe:

  • Just do it.
  • No pain, no gain.
  • If you’re not first, you’re last.
  • Strong is the new skinny.
  • Sweat like a pig to look like a fox.
  • That’s not sweat on your face, it’s fat crying.
  • What you eat in private, you wear in public.
  • Sweat once a day.
  • You’re not going to get the butt you want by sitting on the one you have.
  • Everyone has to do things they don’t want to do.

Don’t get me wrong, moving your body is important.  Using the muscles you were born with, giving them the chance to engage and disengage, and literally carry you through your life, is something we all need to do.  BUT, there is a difference between moving your body because it’s important TO YOU and because you FIND JOY IN IT, and moving your body out of a sense of DUTY, GUILT, and OBLIGATION.  Because believe it or not, if you’re doing something that causes you mental and physical anguish and stress, you’re probably overriding the health benefits of it.

Take me for example.  When I was in the depths of anorexia my heart rate was predictably and expectedly low.  Too low.  I went through the process of weight restoration and once I was, from a strict weight and BMI standpoint “healthy”, my heart rate was no longer low… in fact, at times it was quite high.  Higher than it should be at a resting state.  Many doctors said that it was a complication from a strain on my heart because the muscle had been so weakened.  I’m not negating this possibility, but I will say that their solution, exercising the muscle to strengthen it, was UNPREDICTABLY unhelpful.  I got to the point where I weighed more than I had ever in my life (still a “healthy” weight by all generic means), and I was exercising for at least an hour or two a day, plenty of cardio AND strength training, yet my heart rate was still higher than you would expect given my level of consumption and muscle at times.

What was going on?

The prescribed solution?  Keep up the sweat.  What solution actually worked for me?  Relapse.

Haha.  Kidding. But that is what eventually happened.  The “healthy” lifestyle I had cultivated was completely UNSUSTAINABLE.  Why?  Because I LOATHED every minute.  I spent my time obsessing over getting the food I needed to prevent a relapse, struggling to cultivate a body shape that I was not meant to have, and exercising for ultimate “health”, all while waking up in the morning anticipant of bedtime in 16 hours when I would again have reprieve from the hell I was in.  I laced up my gym shoes for hours a day, sweated it out, pushed myself harder and harder, all while staying under the quoted “13 hour a week” maximum for “health”, but I wasn’t experiencing any of the health benefits I was striving for.  Mentally, mind mind was constantly racing, and I wasn’t present or in the moment with my life.  Physically, my muscles were toned and strong, but they also ached and at times spasmed when I got up from a resting position to the point where I almost/did fall over.  Emotionally, I was drained and dreading every minute.  And my heart rate spent a good chunk of time higher than it should have been.  Why?  STRESS!

And then I gave up.  I gave in.  Anorexia was easier.  Deprivation caused pain, and anguish, and suffering, but so did this.  And what I found, upon relapse, and then recovery again, was that when I was relaxed… mentally and physically, my actual level of health and wellness was far better than it was when I was “sweating it out, and making the fat cry”.

The truth is:  you don’t have to have sweat, feel the “burn”, or put yourself in aerobic states and pain to achieve HEALTH.  Your mental AND physical health depend greatly on your level of psychological wellness, and if your “exercise” is impeding that, you’re probably doing yourself a vast disservice.

But like I said, movement is still important.  I’m not calling out here saying that it’s perfectly healthy and fine to lay around on the couch all day.  No.  You were gifted with the muscles you have, and you owe it to them to allow them to do their jobs.  BUT, that doesn’t mean you have to go through hell.  If exercise is HELL, then STOP.

Take a breath.

Pain DOES NOT ALWAYS EQUAL gain.  Sweat DOESN’T NEED TO HAPPEN for exercise to be worthwhile.  Sitting on your butt DOES NOT MEAN you’ll store fat there.  Exercise IS NOT WORTH your quality of life and mental wellness.  AND if you’re exercising, to achieve a certain body type, weight, or shape, realize that your goal is thinness, not health or wellness.

So what should you do?

  • Change your vocabulary.  Remove the word EXERCISE and replace it with MOVEMENT.  Think about it… what emotions do you feel when you hear the word exercise?  What emotions do you feel when you hear the word movement?  Is there a difference?
  • Set yourself parameters.  Are you a paid athlete?  Do you do this for a living?  If not, you don’t need to exist at the gym, or spend hours pounding the pavement.  You have more important shit to do.  Believe it or not, even ten minutes of activity still has a positive affect on your body.  I’m sick of those people that state you MUST do x amount of activity for it to be worth it.  If you do two minutes of yoga and feel like a rockstar, then I’d say you’re two minutes richer than you were before.
  • AND THE MOST IMPORTANT:  FIND THE JOY.  I have spent… hang on, I’m… 24. Okay, 23.9999999 years of my life thinking that this was a sort of pot of gold at the end of the rainbow kind of concept.  A fantastical ideal that doesn’t actually exist for me.  I was CONVINCED beyond a shadow of a doubt, and ashamed to admit, I FRICKEN LOATHED ACTIVITY.  I could not find anything that was movement that I could do that I didn’t feel obligation in doing.  Everything I did, I did because I felt like I SHOULD do it, and the activity that I have gravitated to in this second attempt at recovery was those things that I didn’t hate as much, or that in a moment of inexplicable clarity found a sense of calmness doing, even though it was only for like 2 minutes out of 30.  AND THEN… about a month ago my boyfriend decided he was going to help me learn how to ride a bike.  Yes, laugh.  24 and I had no idea… even I laughed at that.   But I’d tried stationary bikes and that was just as much, if not more hell, than a treadmill… so I hadn’t exactly been chomping at the bit.  My expectations were low.  The first two weeks of constant start-stops and bails, complete right leg bruises, and one internal contusion on my ribs later that I apparently still have to wait another 4 weeks more to heal and be severe pain free… yeah they were disgruntling.  They were hellish.  They were frustrating.  BUT one day… I flew.  That’s the best word I have for it… I felt like I was flying.  I felt overcome with legitimate joy as I sped down the street.  And now not a day goes by that I don’t want to get on the bike… and while ED likes to try to stick his claws in, the initial desire is 100% me.  I couldn’t go yesterday and I actually MISSED it.  It’s possible to find JOY IN MOVEMENT! And that’s the movement you want to stick to.

5) TEMPORARILY REMOVE THE WORD “BUT” FROM YOUR VOCABULARY.

A little act of self care for yourself.  This kind of goes along the lines of the “Just Do it” mentality.  How many times have you had someone say to you, “You did a great job, but if you just worked a little harder you’d be perfect!”?  How many times have you received a compliment, and said, “Thanks, but I could have done better.”?  How many times did you get second place, BUT instead of rejoicing in that followed it up with, “But it wasn’t first.” ? It’s important to not be arrogant, self righteous or conceited, but a lot of the time the so called “positive” quality of “being humble” is a breeding ground for self depreciation, shame, and negativity.  This step is all about being grateful for the good things, and allowing yourself to take credit for the positives and things you have achieved.  Remove the word “but” from your vocabulary.  It works in so many situations!

  • I made it three days without restricting/binging but then I ate half a cheesecake
  • A coworker gives you a compliment on how well you did training a new employee. Your response: “Thank you, but it’s no big deal.”  Just say thank you.
  • I exercised for twenty minutes, but it wasn’t enough.
  • I had Ben and Jerry’s ice cream for the first time in years, but it had way too many calories.

You get the idea.  Stop discounting the positives.

6) BE REAL, GET ANGRY, AND SWEAR A BIT.

I’d have to argue that perhaps the number one way to guarantee your own unhappiness and lack of fulfilment is to pretend to be different, or be apologetic, for who you inherently are.  This is about all those times that you said to yourself, I have to dress a certain way, act a certain way, or think a certain way, to be accepted/not mocked by others.  It’s about all those times that you forced yourself into a mold to “fit in”, and all the times you felt ashamed to be different than others. Why? Because it’s unsustainable, and eventually something is going to give- either it’s you deciding it’s not worth it anymore, or it’s your mental and emotional wellbeing.  It’s like asking a cat to be a dog, although cats are not that stupid as to even try.  It just doesn’t work.

Speaking of cats, if you asked a cat to be a dog, chances are the cat would look at you in that way that you are 100% sure says, “Screw you.”  Cats are good at getting testy.  Whatever struggles you are going through, be it an eating disorder, depression, anxiety, addiction, or simply not feeling good enough, it is important to get testy yourself sometimes.  Get angry at your struggles rather than be consumed and defeated by them.  Your mind is you, and therefore you are the master of your own mind.  It kind of goes along with the idea of my last post.  Screw you.  Do you feel like a brownie?  Did you eat a big dinner, but are still hungry?  Does the eating disorder want you to eat an apple instead, or stop eating?  If it does, get angry.  Say, screw you!  Did someone tell you you should lose a few pounds?  Screw you!  Did someone try to give you “advice” because they care about you, that instead made you feel unworthy, unloved, or not good enough?  Screw them!  Are you tired of listening to all these external rules about how you should look, or who you should be?  Screw the rules!  YOU are in charge of YOU.  No one else is, and nothing else matters.  If people can’t accept you for who you are, YOU deserve better.

And that last one… nope, I’m not joking.  I am 100% literal here.  I come from a religious family, and I grew up with my grandmother who, if she heard you utter a foul word, was not hesitant to stick a bar of soap in your mouth with a vengeance.  And I still don’t swear as a general rule in most situations, but sometimes the best way to release things is to utter some choice expletives.  Now, I don’t necessarily mean go up to everyone that has ever said something hurtful to you and wail on them.  No.  I also don’t mean forget all sense of public decency and start rattling off the expletives willy-nilly.  Be sensitive to others, and respectful that not everyone wants to HEAR that kind of language.  However, a well placed curse word, often if only uttered to yourself, has the potential to trigger a great sense of release and empowerment.  And it also helps with that, get angry, bit. 🙂

7) STOP SEARCHING FOR LOVE.

This is an odd one, especially since we’re in the age of online dating, blind dates, and Dr. Phil.  Stop jumping from relationship to relationship.  Stop basing your worth and value as a person on whether you have a significant other.  Realize the power, and liberation, of being alone.  Realize that you don’t need to be WITH someone, in order to BE someone.  And most importantly, don’t let the fear of never finding someone keep you from being your true self, or keep you stuck in toxic relationships, be it friendships or romantic relationships.

When you’re seeing someone, be you.  Don’t be the person you THINK they want you to be.  It might work in the short term, but a relationship based in smoke and mirrors isn’t sustainable and will eventually have negative ramifications.  When you are you, when you are unapologetically real, the right person will find you.  I truly believe that love finds you when you stop looking and start living.  And if you’re not in a relationship at the moment, it means it’s not your time to be in one.  You find love in unexpected places, at unexpected times, and if you’re being real and true, you’ll be rewarded.  Stop searching, start living.

8) DETOXIFY YOUR LIFE.

Seriously though, I hesitated to tell you about this because it kind of goes against everything I said about food freedom… but I found this miracle detox plan that literally is the bee’s knees.  No I’m not kidding!  It’s a relatively new detox program that helps you shed pounds and cleanse your organs from all those evil little carbohydrate and fat monkeys that are wreaking havoc internally from your unhealthy food and lifestyle choices.  It’s an extract that they’ve taken from the knees of bees, specifically a species of bee indigenous to South America… see I said literally!  They’ve put these extracts into these smoothie-like drinks that you consume for one week straight.  Nothing else!  Just these smoothies, breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  They’re a miracle cure, with relatively low incidences of complications, and only 3/10 chance of fatality!

… Yeah.  Screw that.

Did I have you going there?

NO!  I will NEVER recommend a detox cleanse, unless it is MEDICALLY PRESCRIBED by a doctor on an individual basis.  BUT, I’ll definitely speak volumes on social media detox and cleansing!  It sounds corny, but I swear to you it works.  Detoxify your social media, and remove all accounts that you follow related to “Thinspo”, “Fitspo”, unrealistic (AKA typical) body ideals, specific diets (yes paleo, yes gluten-free, yes vegan, yes raw- unless you are medically required to eat this way, you don’t need this), and any other feeds that cause you shame, guilt, anxiety, or a desire to manipulate or control your weight, shape, size, or personality.   You don’t need that shit.  Instead, fill your feed with images of REAL women/men, REAL people…

Side note: Some people are NATURALLY slim, toned or what have you. I’m not implying they’re not real. I’m simply saying don’t buy into those things that are completely digitally altered and airbrushed.

And fill your feed with other ideas- places you want to see, things you want to do, inspiring quotes, balanced food and exercise examples (i.e. everything, no rules), HAES (Health at Every Size), etc. The more you expose yourself to the things that matter, and to health and wellness ideas, the less the other stuff will matter. It really does work.

The same goes for your relationships. Go through your Facebook friends, and delete people you haven’t talked to in twenty years, or those people who make you feel like crap about yourself. Stop spending time with those who are negatively impacting you, and who don’t value you for who you are. It’s not a contest. No one has 700 actual friends, online or in real life.

 

9) GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION TO TAKE UP SPACE

In all manners of the word.  Being smaller doesn’t make you worth more, any more than being larger makes you worth less.  I know for me, there’s a sense of unworthiness, a lack of value, and it makes me feel like I need to be smaller.  I don’t feel like I deserve to take up emotional space- I don’t want to share my fears, my problems, my worries, and take up others time.  I don’t feel like I deserve to take up airspace.  Another one of those toted “positive” qualities of ALWAYS putting others before oneself… yeah, at times, it’s bull.  You deserve airspace.  You deserve to be listened to, to sometimes get to pick the activity, to have wants, desires, cravings.  You deserve to come first at times.  You deserve to have a day to yourself where you do exactly what YOU want and need to do for your own health and wellbeing.  If you don’t allow yourself to take up space, if you constantly squash yourself for others, or allow others to squash you, you will eventually crumble.  And perhaps, this sense of being small, this sense of being not worth anything and being half a person, will translate to you literally starving yourself to be ACTUALLY half a person.  Who knows.  Just a thought.

You’re allowed to take up space, emotionally, mentally, and physically.  Your curves are allowed to exist, your cellulite is allowed to exist, and your mind is allowed to exist.  Allow yourself to take your rightful place in the world.

Screw it. Let’s do it.

So, it’s raining outside, and life sucks.

How many times have you heard that?

It’s something I could never understand, because, shock of shocks, I love the rain.  I am the happiest person ever when it is raining.  Like this morning, I was lying in bed I had the most amazingly restful sleep.  I didn’t wake up until 5:30, so I was dead to the world, and when I did wake up to roll over, the first sound that greeted my ears was the sound of gentle rainfall.  And the biggest smile came over my face.

Then I took a big breath in, and I could smell it.  That fresh, clean, spring-type smell that comes along with the rain… gosh I love it! I rolled over, and before going back to sleep for a couple hours, I hoped to myself that it would still be raining when I got up.

AND IT WAS!

Cue my happy dance as I prepped my oatmeal in the kitchen this morning, clad in my favourite sweatshirt (seriously, buy it and you will never be more comfortable in your whole life!), and pyjama shorts, spoon of peanut butter in hand.  Then sitting there with this delicious monstrosity:

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And a cup of tea, right by the window, listening to it pour down = bliss.

But this bliss was quickly replaced by the most nagging, annoying anger and frustration that I’ve experienced in quite some time.  I was finishing the last couple bites of oatmeal, and thinking about what I wanted to do next, and all I could think of was how much I wanted to be outside, soaking up all that glorious rain in a walk to the coffee shop to do some writing.  I mean how satisfying would that be:

A day off, that had been preceded by a restful sleep that results in waking up full of energy.  Then commenced with a delicious breakfast involving blueberries (the best berry), followed by a walk in spring rain (the second best rain to summer rain- which is so refreshing because it’s so hot!- because it’s not too cold to walk in), breathing in all those smells!  Then, THEN, a nice, warm latte in a cozy cafe while I get down to creative expressionism.

Can you beat that?!  I think not.

Except… ugh, I have an eating disorder.  But not just an eating disorder: an eating disorder with an exercise obsession. And my dietitian set goals in our session yesterday for me to do different types of movement this week instead of walking, so that I break rigidity and don’t get repetitive and obsessive.  In theory, all practical, and solid plans… except then it had to go and rain!

Part of this is a me problem.  I never learned to ride a bike when I was little.  Plus, now I have my license (finally… stop smirking boyfriend), but I don’t yet know how to drive, and even if I did, I would have to drive WITH someone.  And the dietitian would totally support me going to the cafe to write, but then I’d have to get a ride… not that easy when the other person in your house sleeps till noon.  I don’t want to go at noon.  I want to go now.  I like to write in the morning.

Plus it’s raining, and my favourite time to to walk is when it’s raining!  Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not in denial here.  For once, this is not an eating disordered behavior!  I don’t enjoy walking in the rain if it’s pouring so hard it’s bouncing off the streets, or if it’s raining in the middle of fall or winter and the water is actually freezing cold.  And I hate being wet… so if it’s going to involve me coming out on the other side looking like a drowned rodent, I’m out.  HOWEVER, if it’s above 14ºC, not bouncing off the pavement, smells like fresh heaven, and I have access to flip-flops and an umbrella, GET ME OUTSIDE AND ON THE SIDEWALK!  AKA: if it’s like this morning.

So you have the healthy version of me, throwing a hissy fit, because for once, FOR ONCE, it’s me wanting to be on that pavement, not ED, and I’m not feeling motivated by ED in the slightest (something that hasn’t happened in YEARS), and I CAN’T GO!  I can’t go, because I’m supposed to be trying out different forms of activity.  I can’t go because, once again, my eating disorder is in my way of me being my healthy self.

Cue the Googles:

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Note the search term: Ways to get around NOT walking

And what does it come up with?  Helping my baby learn to walk, how to walk around the world, and a science article that promotes walking to work.

The Googles be mocking me…

Cue more frustration.  I’m in a small town, there’s no bus, no train, ridiculously priced taxis that you’re insane to take, I’m stranded, and the cafe is a measly 20 minutes away. My creative expressions are pushing at the inside of my brain to find an outlet, which is just more annoying, and the longer I sit here, the closer the rain is to ending because I live in a desert and it only ever lasts so long and then I might not see it again for months.

Cue my brilliant idea to do lunges to the cafe.  It’s not walking!

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Then I remembered the whole point is to find different activities to do that I ACTUALLY enjoy.  I hate lunges.  I hate lunges more than I hate potatoes, which is saying something.  My hatred for lunges and the pain they bring to my crappy genetically-weak knees, is second only to my hatred for burpees and the elliptical, which also hate my knees.  It is possible that I hate my knees more than I hate lunges, but I have to live with my crappy knees.  I don’t have to live with crappy lunges.

Scratch that idea.

Idea number 2: Skipping to the cafe.

This one was more so amusing than practical.  It actually came from my conversation with the dietitian yesterday, who suggested skipping around my yard instead of walking, followed by a weights session.  But the impracticality arose from how on earth I was going to manage to skip with a laptop.  Cue the idea that someone should invent some sort of laptop transport system that literally straps it to you so it can’t bounce up and down… does this system exist?  I’m envisioning something similar to a baby carrier… although I think that if we created that we’d have some ridiculous activist group claiming that it was a comment on how screwed up our society is that we value our computers as much as we value our babies.  Kind of like the whole Starbucks red cup epidemic, or the suing of Starbucks over ice in their drinks relative to the price…

Man, Starbucks has had a rough year…

Either way, it would have been interesting.  I think people might have thought I was insane skipping up the sidewalk… the things you can get away with when you’re a kid that you definitely cannot when you’re an adult.  But then again, I really loved skipping as a kid, so maybe in the future I should just say, screw what everyone else thinks about my skipping and do it anyways.  But I have to find this laptop carrier first…

Moving on.

Frustration, anger, and annoyance all reaching a climactic level by this point, now coupled with a sense of urgency.  It was after nine, usually the point by which I have already gone, and I was feeling nervous and anxious because I didn’t want to miss the rain and I knew it was only a matter of time.  It never rains all day.  MAKE A DECISION.

My decision can be summed up in precisely two words:

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This is five words… but I was literally referring to the first two.  It was those two that I literally said to myself in that instant as I pushed myself off the chair by the window, slammed by laptop closed, and grabbed my book bag.

Now, of course, while I was walking I had a plethora of time to think.  Being the perfectionist, and non-rule-breaking-type that I am, this can backfire on me, resulting in over analysis, guilt, and anxiety.  It’s the same sort of thing that happens when I’m at work and I don’t wipe down the cupboard doors (a relatively minor thing) because I don’t have time to do them.  It’s on the closing checklist, so if I don’t do it a cornucopia of negative self talk comes up: lazy, not trying hard enough, don’t work hard enough, slacker, etc etc.  Followed by the catastrophizing (what are they going to think of me?  Will they think I take my job for granted? Will they think I don’t care? Will they fire me? Will they cut my hours?)… Needless to say the emphasis of this scenario is exactly this:  I don’t have time.  So realistically, there are many other things that it is MORE IMPORTANT to get done for closing, such as stocking, cleaning windows, etc etc, and if wiping cupboard doors doesn’t get done one day it IS NOT the end of the world, and honestly, if it’s not smattered with stuff it would probably go unnoticed.  But it’s me; chances are, I’m more likely to stay late on my own time to wipe the cupboards than to miss it for one night.

Same thing goes on here:  the rule and assignment was to find alternative ways of movement so that I’m not rigid and ruled with walking and thus redeveloping old obsessive habits.  Here I am, walking to the cafe, when I’m not supposed to, even though it is me NOT ED that is wanting to do it.  This key emphasis is important, but like the cupboards it is considered irrelevant in my mind.  The negative self talk begins as early as the point when I step outside the door: irresponsible, cheating, guilty, unimaginative, stubborn to a fault…

Followed by the catastrophizing:  What is the dietitian going to think?  Is she going to be mad (or worse, disappointed) in me for disobeying the rules?  Is she going to take some activity away (again!-this is an on and off thing, as I push limits too far or let the ED take over)?  AND MORE IMPORTANTLY:  Am I just fooling myself?  Do I only think that it’s me that wants this, but in reality it’s all ED?  Am I jeopardizing my own recovery process by doing this?  I’m walking a fine line, and is it possible I’m letting it go too much?  Is this the beginning of the end again?  I just started to let go of some of the exercise obsession, did I just ruin all I’ve achieved and put myself 10 steps back?

Let’s be honest:  These are all good questions.  Well, actually I take it back… they’re good questions if they’re relevant and possible.  They’re not so good if they make you feel unjustifiably guilty and ashamed of yourself, or create more useless anxiety.  It’s good, especially in recovery, to think about your reasoning and motives for doing things, and the possible complications that can arise from making a particular decision.  In a sense, this is mindfulness in practice: actually being in the moment enough to think about what you’re doing in that moment, rather than mindlessly jumping into something without a second thought.  It is this differentiation that can save you from engaging in disordered behaviour without even realizing this is happening.  It’s your opportunity to interrupt the cycle of thought-emotion-behaviour, and choose what to do.

It’s a good thing.

Where it becomes mindless, is when you’re overanalyzing it.  When you step too far away from the present, and it becomes a cascade of what-if’s resulting in your ultimate destruction and the realization of the worst possible scenario.

So you have me, walking up the street, and then eventually sitting at the cafe, feeling glorious: liberated, fulfilled, satisfied, happy, and completely anger and frustration dissipated… but now shadowed by this nagging guilt and uncertainty of myself and the ramifications of my decisions.  Did I make the “right” choice?

How do we know when it’s “okay” to break the rules?

How do we know whether we’ve made the “right” decision?

Is it ever okay to go against the advice of seasoned professionals, especially in an eating disorder recovery sense, and change the plans?

Did you notice the resounding theme in all these questions?  Let’s examine again:

Okay.  Right. Wrong. Black. White.

Do you see the pattern?  In therapy, a universal practice in the management of anxiety, depression, addiction, and the like, is using knowledge of cognitive distortions to recognize and interrupt toxic thinking patterns.  I’ve mentioned some of these in previous posts, and a few in this one (catastrophizing and overgeneralization, labelling, as well as filtering [I did one thing, and therefore it ruined everything], plus mind reading [she will think/do x]), and now to all be lumped together resulting in one of the patriarchal distortions: all-or-nothing/black-and-white thinking.

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Once again, even in the pursuit of recovery, we become wrapped up in the idea of good vs bad, right vs wrong, success vs failure.  We try so hard to achieve a “perfect” recovery, or if not “perfect” at least striving to always be in pursuit of recovery, that we don’t even realize that we’re putting the same limitations and boundaries on ourselves that got ourselves into this mess in the first place.

It’s something I, as well as many others, come up against on a daily basis.  We become hyper-vigilant, and we transfer our food related anxieties to other aspects, just as when the other aspects of our life became too difficult to handle we transferred the anxiety to food.  I remember when I was in the hospital, the doctor had me hooked up to a heart monitor constantly because they were so terrified that my heart that was going down to 20 something beats per minute in my sleep, and 30-40 something when I was awake,  was just going to give up.  One day I had a scare.

I woke up early in the morning, and went to the bathroom to pee before my weigh in.  I had just sat down on the toilet when suddenly a frantic beating on the door was heard.  It was the head nurse, her voice in a panic, calling my name.

“Tiffany!  What are you doing?”

“I’m… peeing?” I answered, uncomfortable and bewildered.

“Peeing?  That’s it?”

“Yes… would you like me to unlock the door so you can see?”

I guess the calmness of my voice, as well as my bewilderment was enough to convince her, and she told me to just finish and get back to bed.  I finished, opened the door, and she watched me walk back and climb in, at which point she grabbed my wrist checking my pulse.  Worry was evident on her face, but after hanging on for some time, she seemed to calm, and reminded me to stay in bed before she left again.

It was only days after the fact that I found out my heart rate upon standing had skyrocketed to 180 beats per minute, AKA danger zone, and TOTALLY NOT NORMAL for someone just standing up at a toilet.  The minute I laid back down in bed it climbed down to a low 50-ish.

Later that afternoon, I was playing a dice game with a friend that came to visit when suddenly a nurse popped her head in the room and told my friend in a worried voice she had to leave.  The panic in her voice was enough to get me scared.  What was happening?  Why was she making her leave?  What was going on?

Not even two minutes later, people were rushing in with a portable ECG machine, and I was suddenly surrounded by people stripping off my clothes and poking me with electrodes.  They were quick moving, serious, and answered none of my questions when I asked what was going on.  They just told me to lay still, relax, and keep quiet.  “Breathe, they said, “Slowly, calmly, in and out.  Relax.”

Now I don’t know about you, but I found it incredibly difficult to relax in this scenario!

And without more than the reminder to lay still, keep calm, and DON’T get out of bed, they ran off.  And I was left, alone, terrified, unsure what was going on, struggling to breathe because my panic had escalated to a point of terror, in a hospital bed.  At least half an hour passed, and I remember calling my mom on my phone, sobbing, begging her to come up, telling her I was so scared, that I didn’t know what was going on, and that I thought I was dying or something.

It was only after my mom made the half hour drive to the hospital and badgered the nurses for a solid twenty minutes that someone finally told us what was going on.  The heart monitor was showing irregular beats at 216 BPM, and they were scared my heart was stopping and I was having a heart attack, so they had to do an ECG.  Turned out that the machine was glitching, which apparently was common, because the ECG came back totally fine.  They just forgot to come and tell me that everything was good.

Thank you for leaving me alone in a bed panicking for two hours.

Moral of this story: As a result of this day, this episode, I have since developed horrible white coat syndrome.  I PANIC when someone has to take my pulse.  Blood pressure, fine, needles, fine, sew up my gaping hole I made when I sliced my hand at work, totally fine.  But you try to take those two fingers and press them to my wrist or throat… NOT OKAY!  PANIC.  TERROR. Fear that they’re going to find 180, or 216 again, and we’ll have a repeat, except this time it won’t be a false alarm.  It has taken years, literally years, to get a little better.  I don’t turn into a complete basket case.  But I still freak out.

Anyways, the day after that episode, the heart rate monitor that had caused me so much torment, the thing I’d been begging to get taken off for weeks because I was allergic to the tape and it was giving me the most painful welts, became my best friend.  His name was Herbie, and I was chained to him.  I was so scared I was going to have a heart attack and die, that I wanted to keep it on forever, so someone could always be monitoring me.  So I wouldn’t die without anyone realizing I was going before it was too late.  A few days before I was transferred to a bigger specialized center in Vancouver, my doctor wanted to remove the monitor.  He was convinced I was now eating enough and had passed the risk point for refeeding syndrome and that my heart would no longer stop.

Side note: A wikipedia definition for those of you who don’t know about refeeding:

Refeeding syndrome is a syndrome consisting of metabolic disturbances that occur as a result of reinstitution of nutrition to patients who are starved or severely malnourished…Patients can develop fluid and electrolyte disorders, especially hypophosphatemia, along with neurologic, pulmonary, cardiac, neuromuscular, and hematologic complications…

Refeeding increases the basal metabolic rate. Intracellular movement of electrolytes occurs along with a fall in the serum electrolytes, including calcium and magnesium. Levels of serum glucose may rise and the B1 vitamin thiamine may fall. Cardiac arrhythmias are the most common cause of death from refeeding syndrome, with other significant risks including confusion, coma and convulsions and cardiac failure.[citation needed]

This syndrome can occur at the beginning of treatment for anorexia nervosa when patients have an increase in calorie intake and can be lethal.[3] The shifting of electrolytes and fluid balance increases cardiac workload and heart rate. This can lead to acute heart failure. Oxygen consumption is also decreased which strains the respiratory system and can make weaning from ventilation more difficult.

And I freaked out!  I begged and pleaded with him to leave it on.  My anxiety over it being gone when he insisted that it be removed was so high I compulsively checked my pulse almost every minute for almost a whole year, and they had to medicate me with benzodiazepines.  And then I was left on them, became addicted, and then had to eventually wean off of them and go through med withdrawals.  But that’s another story.

“There’s a reason why it has to come off,” he said to me while I was shaking and begging in my bed, “You don’t need it any more.  This is a transference.  You are transferring your anxiety about food, which you can no longer control, to something else.  You have to cope with your anxiety, not just move it around.”

And (tada, roundabout point!  I bet you were wondering where I was going with this!), this less lethal, but anxiety and guilt provoking situation is the same thing.  In the pursuit of recovery, we become just as hyper-vigilant of doing the “right” thing, as I was with monitoring my heart rate, or as we all were when we were vigilantly monitoring /restricting our caloric intake.  We still feel the need to be perfect, so we try to have a perfect recovery.  We over-analyze things, and apply black and white thinking to our recovery mindset too.

I made the choice this morning to ignore the plan, set by a professional, and do an activity that for me has in the past been a known ED behaviour.  Does this mean I did the “wrong” thing?

I don’t think so.

How do we know we did the “right” thing?

First, acknowledge/admit that there is the vast possibility that there is no such thing as a “right” or “wrong” choice.  You didn’t do the “right” thing, anymore than you did the “wrong” thing.  Recovery, just like the rest of life, is not black and white.  In therapy we are taught to stop thinking in ultimatums.  The same thing applies to this process.

Second, is it “okay” to go against the advice of a professional?

Of course.  It’s your life.  Your life, your rules.  HOWEVER, this comes at a cost.  I would say you can ONLY go against the advice of a professional if you are solid in your frame of mind and are completely aware of what your motivations and reasonings are for making a different choice.  Stop making rules for yourself.  You don’t have rules about brownies or burgers anymore, so stop telling yourself you need to make rules about everything.  Everything we are told in recovery is a CHOICE.  No one can force you to do anything.  But you need to be aware of the choices you’re making, and you have to be just as aware of where they’re coming from, as you are of where they’re going to lead you as a result of making it.

There is a point in recovery where you are not aware of where your motives are coming from.  You’re not yet at the point where you can separate that ED voice from your own.  AND sometimes even those who usually can separate it, can’t.  You need to be honest with yourself there.  If you can differentiate, you can choose.  If you can’t differentiate, it’s probably a better idea to stick to the plan.

For me, I knew this morning that it was me, and I was 100% sure of it.  I made a choice, and it was one based on a message that my body was sending me from my HEALTHY SELF.  This was even more evident to me when it was over, because I felt HAPPY, LIBERATED, and STRONG.  Not guilty, conniving, anxious, or ashamed.

Did I question it?  Of course.  Did that questioning result in anxiety and second guessing?  Yes.  And this is where we need to draw the line.  No ruminating.  You made a choice, stick to it.  Don’t rehash it if it doesn’t need to be rehashed.  Chances are, what you’re rehashing is distorted.

What will they think?

Why does it matter?  Screw it, let’s do it.

If you were solid in your decision making, there’s nothing to question.

Screw it, let’s do it.

Will it appease the ED?  Maybe.  But that’s not black and white either.  Just because the eating disorder is happy, doesn’t necessarily mean it was the wrong choice.  It just means that you have to be extra (but not hyper) vigilant in the decisions you make in the near future, because chances are ED will try to needle its way in because it’s active.  You have to be able to once again analyze your motives before you make future choices.

Jenni Schaefer writes in her book Life Without ED that we have three selves: ED, anti-ED (always rebelling against ED), and our intelligent self.  You could also look at this as black, white, and grey.  Sometimes you got extremes, but almost always it’s some kind of mix (AKA, your intelligent self).  Chances are a choice you make will have a ramification, and often times that choice will impact ED, but the more choices you make, and just because that happens doesn’t mean it’s wrong.  We don’t want ED, and we don’t ALWAYS want anti-ED, sometimes we need the grey.

So if you find yourself questioning, if you need to make a decision, if you’re finding yourself frustrated, unsure, and trapped, sometimes you need to take a step out of the box.  And sometimes, that step is unconventional.  Sometimes, that choice breaks the “rules”, and sometimes it doesn’t.  You do you.

And when it all comes down to it, sometimes you just gotta say:

“Screw it.  Let’s do it.”

Eating to Live, AND Loving to Eat

I’m going a little crazy at the moment…

The cafe I’m sitting in is baking something, and the air is full of the enticing aroma of toasted coconut.  I go through coconut phases, as in I’ll have three or four days of being like, “I MUST HAVE EVERYTHING WITH COCONUT IN MY VICINITY, MAKE A PLETHORA OF ALMOND JOY MACAROONS/COOKIES, AND ADD IN SOME COCONUT MILK INTO SAVOURY ENTREES”, and then I won’t touch it for a month or more.  But there’s still that serious love.  I don’t get it.

Anyways, I actually can’t remember the last time I had a coconut rush… probably at least two months ago… but the smell of this coconut is awakening the almond joy aficionado inside of me.  I suddenly have the desire to run home and break out my jumbo Costco sized kilo bag of shredded coconut.

The power of suggestion.

Just like how the elderly couple at the table next to me are drinking steaming cups of tea and two slices of freshly baked carrot cake, slathered in the thickest layer of cream cheese frosting… and now I want carrot cake.

Actually I just want the icing.  Cream cheese frosting… yes.  Ooh, coconut carrot loaf, with a cream cheese frosting centre!  Picture it:  You see a loaf, nice and golden brown on the outside, with flecks of orange- just enough to tell you it’s either carrot-y or orange-y. It’s all normal, but then, THEN, you take a knife and slice in….

AND BAM!

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All is right in the world…. because there’s cream cheese frosting.

And coconut… just enough to give a hint of coconut flavour and that awesome texture that’s kind of crunchy, kind of creamy.  Because the texture is the best part of coconut.  I mean, what other fat out there has that luxury of being both crispy crunchy, and creamy AT THE SAME TIME?

I think that loaf would be killer.  Although I wonder if you were to bake a loaf with cream cheese frosting inside, whether the heat would melt the frosting and you’d be left with a gaping hole in the centre, and a really dense bottom half of a loaf?  Has someone tried this?

I like those surprise foods… those things with a little unexpected twist that sends it into an art nouveau category.  Kind of like the pie I made when my sister was here a few weeks ago:

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It’s banana cream… with an oreo crust, chocolate shell and peanuts.  PEANUTS!  Mind blown.  And it was delicious.  You can find the recipe here (I did add sliced bananas to mine too, but you know the banana paradox: if you add them too early they turn brown, so it was later that evening when lighting for photos sucks but we were on schedule to devour.  The struggle of a food photographer’s life.)

Or inside out apple pie a la mode.  Yeah, that sounds delicious too.

Food is great.

ckmbicd

Yes, I did just say that.  Is your mind blown?

I like to be a walking dialectic, and a walking oxymoron.  Like, I adore food and I’m terrified of it at the same time.  Or an anorexic chef.  See, dialectic oxymoron.

Actually, in the world of eating disorders it’s really not all that uncommon.  It is, and it isn’t.  Particularly, you find a lot of anorexics that actually love food… they just can’t eat it.  Hence, you got one of the key warning signs, or characteristics that are often noted in diagnostics.  Shows food obsession, and has a tendency to bake or cook a lot of things- extravagant things- for other people, but will not eat what they make.

For me, this was very much the case when I first was descending into my eating disorder.  I always made two dinners:  one for my parents, and one for me.  And the further I got into it, the more extreme the differences were between them, and the more extravagant the meals that I made for others became.  I remember two weeks before I was hospitalized one of the last meals I cooked for my parents.  It was mid August, and roasting hot outside for everyone else.  For me, with my extremely low body fat percentage and horrible body temperature regulation, I was still clad in a sweatshirt.  Thanks to that extreme heat, I was comfortable.

Anyways, the meals:

Parents:  Grilled corn on the cob with cilantro lime butter, bacon salt, and bacon crumbles, a harvest green bean and tomato salad with tarragon and a dijon vinaigrette… and I can’t totally remember the protein.  I want to say it was a grilled chicken with a shwarama style marinade, but I’m not 100% sure.

Me:  An egg white, three plain beans, and a slice of a plum.  No seasoning because “I like things plain” (AKA:  I’m terrified of the potential calories in salt or herbs or seasoning, not to mention potential water retention and weight gain from the sodium.  I mean come on, I couldn’t even take the vitamins that the doctor at least wanted me to have to try and keep my organs functioning because I was convinced there had to be calories in them).  Trust me, I don’t actually like things plain… and chances are, if you’re with someone that you believe could have an eating disorder, they probably don’t like things plain either, regardless of what they say.

Relapse?  Not as much.  I was educated enough in nutrition and through working with dietitians that I at least ate the food that I made… I just only really made one or two meals a day.  No snacks, that’s it.  So my meal (if it was particularly gourmet it was meal singular) was delicious, and not plain.  But still, the foodie mentality was there, as well as the obsession.

Often times “food love” is considered synonymous with “food obsession” in the eating disorder spectrum.  And it’s regarded as a symptom, and by extension a phase.  For many people this is true.  You’ll find a lot of people that vow, while completely entrenched in their disorder, that they’re going to become a chef.  They seek out jobs working with food, go to school to become a pastry chef, or a baker, or, dare I say it, a dietitian.  It really does make sense:  you’re starving, and all your body wants, and needs, is nourishment.  So what is your brain going to make you focus on, in an attempt to get what it needs?  Food.

So, by extension, when this process is reversed, when the patient or sufferer begins to eat normally again, recover, and get closer to their set point weight, the obsession lessens.  Food thoughts move more to the side the further you get in the process, and room is made for you to focus on the things that bring you joy.  Relationships, true passions, hobbies, friends, family, animals, school, whatever it may be.

I’ve definitely seen this, particularly in inpatient hospital settings, and residential treatment. It’s interesting to see the change in people, as well as the differences between people.

Inpatient hospital setting (aka, medically unstable, we’re forcing this food in you and confining you to bare minimal movement to keep you alive):  95% of patients sit down at the table, a tray of food in front of them, and lament their existence and the food on their plate.  This isn’t to say that they hate food, or didn’t fall into the food loving category, but rather that they’re being forced to eat the food they love yet need to avoid.  So they’re terrified and it’s easier to focus on that and by extension spread the hate instead of the jelly.

“I can’t stand cream sauces!”

“This chicken isn’t cooked, I can’t eat that when I can see a vein!”

“Butter makes me want to gag!”

“This is hell!”

“Why is my plate so much bigger?! We’re supposed to be on the same meal plan!”

“The dietitian hates me!  She’s got a plan to make me fat for her own twisted pleasure because she hates me!  This food is disgusting!”

“Muffins are fat food!”

“I purposely pick carrot sticks for my snack instead of the animal crackers because they’re healthy!  Plus I hate cookies…”

You get the picture.

And then there was me… the other patients didn’t get me.  Once again the walking dialectic oxymoron:

“The veggie burger is the tastiest thing on this menu, and if you have a burger you need mayo!  Ooh they’re having apple crumble as a dessert option on Tuesday!  If you have to gain weight, wouldn’t you rather do it by eating delicious things rather than BOOST or ENSURE?!  I hate celery, why would I have it for snack (not to mention I’d eaten enough of it, and rice cakes, before hospitalization to last me a lifetime)?  GIVE ME ALL THE BANANAS! (No one voluntarily ate bananas due to their high calorie content compared to other fruits…. I had 3 or 4 a day.  I couldn’t get enough!)”

And then you move on to residential.  People here are medically stable, so it’s working more on weight gain if necessary, but more so the mental side, and the behaviours surrounding the food.  Here is where you start to see the differences between people.  Sure you see a lot of the above, particularly if the patient is new to treatment in general, or just beginning recovery and living in total fear.  But with those who have gotten past the initial terror and indignation, you start to see the symptomatology emerge, and two distinct groups of people.  AKA, my body is being nourished enough so that I realize that food is not actually my passion, versus… the me’s.  The conversation is different.  Cue the check in after every meal:

“Ugh.  I’m tired of eating!  I’m full.  I’m fat.  I don’t want this at all!”

“Why was her plate so much smaller than mine?!  Why doesn’t the dietitian listen to me?! I don’t need this much food!”

“Can we just get this over with already?”

“I don’t care.  I hate grilled cheese.  I hate that we have to eat food we don’t like.  But I guess I can’t do anything about it, so whatever.”

“My Crazy Obsession is on tonight!”

“I want a cigarette…”

And then there’s me:

“Well, I really liked that meal!  I love couscous day! There’s something about the texture that’s just awesome!  I’m nervous, but that was sooooooo good!  I secretly love cheese and cheese surprise (a mac and cheese creamy dish that terrifies everyone and everyone loves to hate)!  Oooh it’s Sunday/Wednesday/Friday, and that means dessert tonight, I hope it’s peanut chocolate clusters, PB&J tart, ice cream sandwiches, carrot cake cupcakes, or fudgey brownies!  If there’s energy balls for snack, Imma be so excited!”

Don’t get me wrong:  I was still terrified.  I was still needing to run to justify eating all the things I love.  It was still easier to skip a meal or snack than to eat it.  I still freaked out after eating the dessert.  I still spent time in front of the mirror, pinching the flab I could see.  BUT, my excitement for the food, the joy, the satisfaction and fun I had when I got to experience it all… textures, tastes, smells, consistencies, everything… it was GREATER.  It was so much better than the fear.  It was worth the fear.  It was worth the turmoil.  Because for that half hour while I was experiencing the food, I was truly experiencing it.  I was comparing it, contrasting it, savouring it.  Imagining what spices I could add to it to make it better, and what flavours I’d like to take away.

I remember this one night at residential… oh man, I’d say 95% of the patients hated that night!  And I had so much fun, I wished they would have made it a recurring weekly thing.  Have you ever heard of O.NOIR restaurant in Montreal?  A complete sensory eating experience, you literally eat your meal in the pitch black dark, allowing the smell and taste to be heightened when you can no longer see.

Totally on my bucket list!

Anyways, the dietitian at residential decided to recreate the experience of O.NOIR for us in the hopes of encouraging us to be more mindful with our food and really experience it when we didn’t know what it was.  We were totally blindfolded, and had no idea what they were setting in front of us for dinner, or for dessert that followed.  It was the one meal where we were permitted to talk about the food whilst we were eating it.  And there were MAXIMUM freak outs going on!  I mean, you can’t count the calories or lament the fats and oils when you have no idea what you’re having.  You can’t purposely eat less, when you don’t know how much they put on your plate to begin with.  You just have to trust.  You have to put all your faith in the dietitian and the cooking staff that everything will be okay.

I was in heaven.

I was finally allowed to talk about the food while I was eating it!  I was allowed to guess out loud whether I was tasting cilantro or parsley, dill or fennel, panko or regular bread crumbs.  AND, I couldn’t control it at all, so there was no point in feeling guilty, or stressing out because I had absolutely NO IDEA what or how much I was having.  It was my free pass to be a foodie in treatment for an eating disorder, and to not stifle the creative juices.

And I remember the debriefing later, the tears, the screams, the attempted running in bedrooms at all hours of the night that followed.  The claims of cruel injustice and vows that they will NEVER do this again, from my fellow patients.

A couple of days later I had a session with the dietitian and she asked me how the experience was for me.  I remember raving and telling her how freeing it was, how much I wish I could do that regularly, and how great it was to experience the flavours, the smells, the textures, the consistencies of everything.  And I remember the look on her face, happy and pleased that I had a positive experience, but with a shadow behind it all.

“Well, it’s important to enjoy what you eat, and I’m glad you could.  I’m glad you could let it all go.  But don’t forget, there’s more to life.   And don’t forget, the fascination will fade.  And it’s important you let it.  Don’t hang on to it.  Fill your life with other things, not food.    Satisfy your mind, not just your palate.  Food isn’t your purpose, it’s simply your fuel.”

I’ve heard this type of thing numerous times.  I’ve heard the generalizations, the worry, and the fear.

“Enjoy your food, but don’t enjoy it TOO much.”

“Food is fuel, not fun.”

“Eat dessert, but only eat it once a week.”

“Eat food, not too much, mostly plants…”

“Be careful, you don’t want to go from one extreme to another.”

See, when you’re dying, when you’re literally skin and bones, people can’t stuff you fast enough.  But when you’re a normal weight, or close to it, the fat phobia kicks in and the food they once glorified suddenly becomes something that you must monitor, must eat with restraint, and something that you must be wary of.  Where they once tried so hard to get us to find a minuscule amount of pleasure, they now flip the theory and say it’s no longer normal to enjoy.

And for those recovering from an eating disorder, it is EXPECTED that you actually don’t enjoy food as much as you do in the initial stages of recovery.  The symptomatology dictates that you’re no longer supposed to think about it, to read recipes, to pour over food blogs, to make extravagant or fancy dishes.  And while this might be true for a large percentage of sufferers, this overgeneralization puts those who actually get enjoyment from food regardless of their affliction in an awkward and potentially shameful situation.

I remember the conversations with various dieticians, doctors, therapists:

“I think I really do belong in food.  I mean, I’m the happiest when I’m creating something in the kitchen.  I’m the calmest when I’m combining flavours and textures, and watching art come together in edible form on a plate.  I love putting it all together on a plate, and making it look beautiful.  And then tasting, trying, sampling, and seeing others enjoy what I make too… it’s the best!”

“That will pass. It always does. You don’t belong in food, you should be far from it. Your life has been consumed by it enough, and it’s not healthy. You only think that you enjoy it to that extent. Give it time. You’re not meant to be there, and you’ll be happier when you let it go.”

But what happens when it doesn’t lessen?  I mean, just like I mentioned in my last post, I spent a chunk of my life believing that there was something wrong with me, for one reason or another.  I believed that I wasn’t okay just being me, liking what I liked, having the personality and the body that I was born with.  So now, coming out of treatment, pursuing outpatient, and loving food as much as I do, once again I am bombarded by the same message.  If you’re an eating disorder survivor, and you love food, or think about food a lot, or actually enjoy cooking, eating, and/or reading recipes, then you’re not letting go.  You’re not actually recovering, because if you were, you wouldn’t love it any more.

And it gets old.  It makes therapy and dietitian appointments depressing.  It makes it tedious and a drag, especially when something that is supposed to make you feel better and less anxious only worsens the problem.  When you’re encouraged to find your passions and discuss them, but if you’re truly passionate about food, you’re discouraged and told that you’re not trying hard enough.

And as much as it sucks for those who suffer, this generalization is not limited to eating disorder sufferers.  We live in one big contradiction.  Mindfulness and the yoga movement is all the rage right now, and that concept is seeping into food as well.  This is not a bad thing.  Mindfulness and intuitive eating are things that we all should strive for: listening to our bodies rather than a calorie count or diet plan to tell us what and how much we need.

However, the current trend seems to be more along the lines of:

“Be intuitive, within limits”.

Or rather, “Eat what you want, up to a certain amount.”

“Enjoy your food, but only if it’s certain types of food.”

“Don’t control your food, but control your calories.”

“Enjoy your food, but not TOO much.”

It’s kind of like when I was in residential, and I was supposedly on “mindful/intuitive” eating, but I still had to fill out a meal plan with specific amounts of carbs, proteins, veggies, dairy, etc.

HINT: this is not intuitive, or mindful.

And along those lines, we’re kind of boxed into a corner.  Shame be on you if you say, “I love donuts.”, without adding in “once a month” or “after a 5 k run”.

Are we not allowed to simply enjoy a donut?  Is there something wrong with finding pleasure and fulfillment in an alfredo sauce?

Is it always, “Eat to live, not live to eat.”?

Answer: NO.

You’re not a failure if you love food.  You’re not broken if you get more than just vitamins and energy from a plate.  Food is meant to be enjoyed, regardless of your shape, size, weight, or whether its a salad or a burger.  And guess what?  That’s normal.  Why bother eating if you don’t enjoy eating, or rather, if you’re eating something you don’t enjoy?  If no one was passionate about food, we wouldn’t have restaurants, recipe books, blogs, or culinary schools.

And to all the me’s out there:  If you’ve survived a restrictive or other eating disorder, and still feel like you come alive when you’re in your kitchen, THAT’S OKAY.  If you enjoy reading recipe blogs and cookbooks long after you’ve reached your set point weight, go ahead and read them!  If it’s more than the calories, if there’s more to it than the feeling of need due to deprivation and food rules, then allow yourself to gain pleasure and satisfaction from food.  I truly believe you can have a life that allows you to enjoy food without limitation, restraint, and still be healthy and happy, and in recovery.  And I’m tired of being scared that loving food will push me towards the other end of the spectrum, like if I allow myself to unleash my passions, build the best cookie, and devour a burger, I’ll suddenly be a binge eater.  It’s not that simple or that extreme.  Passion doesn’t create disorder, but resistance and denial does.  Remember:

Be a walking dialectic, and an oxymoron.  It fits better with your unicorn horn anyways.