The Face of Functional Anxiety

I remember when I was first hospitalized, my favourite high school teacher came to visit me.  She came several times over the months that I was in there, but I remember that first visit specifically.

She hadn’t seen me in years.  Not decades, but it had been a solid two years.  And two years before, I was graduating high school, and looking towards a bright future.  I was heading off to university for the first time, and I had enough scholarships to cover my expenses for first year for sure, with the possibility of a good number renewing the next year, so long as I kept my grades up.  I had a 96% average (stupid physical education just kept bringing me down!), and was looking towards a science degree in veterinary medicine.  I was the class valedictorian.  I had a plethora of extra curricular activities. The skies were nothing but bright for me.

Except for that dark cloud… the one that no one ever noticed.  The one that had been there for so long that it was simply a part of my normal, when in reality it was anything but.

When she turned the corner into my room and laid eyes on me for the first time, I remember the shock.  I remember the look of dismay and fear in her eyes.  The look that was initially there, but quickly covered up by professionalism and compassion.

She wasn’t expecting to see a human skeleton.  She wasn’t expecting to see a shell.  She wasn’t expecting to see a broken person, whose future had once been so bright, now just scrambling to hold it together and stay alive long enough to put together all the pieces.

I remember talking to her.  I was too sick to retain a lot of memories at that point.  There are large chunks of my life that I to this day don’t remember…  I can pinpoint a moment, usually an ingrained memory of this time period that is only recognizable by the emotion I was feeling at the time: terror.

I remember that I went to my Grandma’s right before I was hospitalized, but I don’t remember being there.  It’s a black chunk of space.  It’s like I can remember up to a certain point, and then it’s as if someone just used a ____________ and wiped the slate clean.  The only thing I remember is the terror that struck me when I stared at the menu selection of split pea soup.  I remember I was there because I remember reading split pea soup on the dinner menu at the retirement home.  And I remember the terror I felt because she didn’t have wifi for me to calorie count.  That’s it.

I remember staying at my aunt and uncle’s just before that because I was too scared to be home.  I have photo evidence I was there from a selfie I took, although I don’t remember taking the selfie at all.  But I do remember the breakfast before they drove me to Grandma’s.  I remember 5 cheerios, a peach, and a handful of almonds.  I can picture the plate perfectly in my mind, and the terror I felt while staring at it.  Just as perfectly as I can remember myself scraping the whole thing into the trash can and covering it up with tissues (save 3 cheerios.  I ate three cheerios), when no one was looking.

So I don’t remember everything.  But I remember the terror on her face when she saw me.  And the shock.  And I know that I told her everything.  I know I told her how difficult it had been, all the crap I faced growing up, the late nights staying up till 4 in the morning when I had to get up again at 7.  The fact that school was my sanctuary because I dreaded going home at the end of the day at 3:30.  The fact that the only thing that got me through some nights was some intense prayer, and the reality that I got to escape again for 7 hours the next morning.

I don’t remember telling her, but I know I did.  Because I remember her response:

“I had no idea.  You always seemed to have it all together.  You had everything figured out.  You were so together and collected.  I had no idea all the stuff you were dealing with.  I had no idea you eventually weren’t even living at home for the last couple years of high school.  I guess it proves, you can’t judge a book by its cover… I just can’t believe that underneath the exterior, the inside was so torn up.”

The amount of times I’ve heard it:  I had no idea.  You never told me.  You had everything so together.

It’s the face I deal with every day.  It’s the untold story that lies beneath.  It’s that dark cloud that seems invisible to everyone else.  That dark cloud that only I can see, but is so normal that I forget, it’s not supposed to be there.

Functional Anxiety… or rather High-Functioning Anxiety.

I read an article that explains it all so much better than I ever could, but regardless I’m going to try.  I do however, urge you all to give the article a read, because it is SO enlightening, and so relatable to so many people, if you struggle with any kind of mental illness.

I’ve had so many conversations, in which when I finally let down the wall a little bit, it’s perceived as a relapse.  It’s perceived as a greater amount of struggling, or like the therapy and recovery process is not going well.  It’s perceived as not working.  The reality is, perhaps it IS working, because I’m finally getting too tired to hold the wall up.  My shell is cracking, and I’m allowing myself to trust you enough to let you in.

It’s like in Harry Potter ( 🤓🙌🙌), when unless you’ve witnessed death, you can’t see the threstrals.  Well, up until now you haven’t seen my head, so you can’t see my cloud.  But if I remove the veil, you can see just how dark of a place it is.

What is functional anxiety?

It’s a mask.  It’s an illness that is so pervasive and sneaky.  It’s a shroud of diligence that keeps you alive and moving in your life, treading water, not sinking but not swimming.  In limbo… but limbo appears normal.

What does it look like?

It’s in my movements.  You see it as productivity and energy, a strong sense of drive and priority.  You see it as high standards, and dedication to getting jobs done to the T.

What you don’t notice is those subtle movements that give it all away.  The shifting of my feet as I stand.  The wiggling of a foot as I’m sitting down.  The plethora of scars that litter my legs from picking at nicks and scabs.  The amount of times my hands wander up to my hair, and how often I have to wash it because the constant swiping makes it oily.

It looks like me holing myself up in my room when working on coursework and staying up until all hours of the night to study or get a project done.  It’s reading and rereading every page, every note, and trying to commit it all to memory.  It looks like studiousness.  In reality I remember nothing, because all I can see in those moments of trying to learn it all, is my inevitable failure.

You can see it in my words… in my frequency of using “…” to end a thought.  Unwilling to commit to a period (“.”) because of the finality of it, the inability to change your mind.  Because, what if that thought was wrong?  The amount of times I say, “I don’t know.”  The amount of times I commit to something with, “maybe”.  My initial excitement over something spontaneous, the invigoration in my whole body and soul, shrouded by a flash of panic in my eyes when something out of the ordinary changes my plans.

It looks like me standing in front of a coffee shop or ice cream parlour menu for inordinate amounts of time, because for these two things that I enjoy so much it isn’t a simple decision.  My brain is confusing choosing an ice cream with buying a car.  The commitment is unequal, but it must be just as perfect.  Every decision I makes dictates my fate, not my moment.

It looks like busyness.  Always doing something.  Refusing to rest.  It looks like a lot of yawns, covered up by diet coke, from a 4 or 5 hour sleep.  It looks like a bike ride, or four.  Racing, running.

What does it feel like?

Filling my life with breaths of fresh air as my feet or my wheels pound the pavement, and feeling the rejuvenation that each blast of air circulating through my body brings.  Racing, running, flying, always moving because it feels that by moving I can outrun my thoughts.  I can leave them behind me in the dust.

It feels like a progressively worsening throb right between my eyebrows. Like shackles and chains holding me down, pinning my arms and legs to the place I’m in, both mentally and physically.  It’s the claws of a lion digging into my shoulders and neck, slicing further and further into my muscles and nerves while I try vigorously to free myself.  Constant rotation of my head, rolling of my shoulders, massaging them with one arm, or both.

It’s a sinking rock suddenly falling into my stomach, and subsequent trembling of my arms and hands when something changes the plans.  When I’m put on the spot.  When I’m surprised.

What does it sound like?

A sudden shift, a dramatic outburst.  A cloying frustration with a simple question.  A nasty sneer, with an occasional swear word.  As if I’m arguing, but with an unknown person.  A calm conversation that suddenly becomes heated.  As if you’re interrupting a conversation, but I’m not talking to anyone you can see.

You are interrupting me.  You’re interrupting the train of thought in my cloud.

It sounds like nothing.  The world is quiet.  I am quiet.  I am silent and non communicative.  You hear nothing.

I hear:

You are nothing.  You are worthless.  You are pathetic.  You are lazy.  You are a pig.  You are a terrible friend.  You’re a terrible girlfriend.  You’re selfish.  You don’t deserve to be loved.  You are unloveable.  You are going to mess it all up.  You’re going to fail.  You’re a mistake.  You’re a waste of space.  You’re a waste of time.  Why did you say that?  Why did you do that?  You’re so stupid!  They’re going to hate you.  What if they hate you?  He’s going to leave.  Why should he stay?  Why would he want to?  You’re boring.  You’re ugly.  You’re fat.  You should be ashamed.  You should feel guilty.  What if it hurts them?  You’re going to get anxious… and then you’re going to quit.  You let everyone down.  No one loves you.  No one likes you.  You bore everyone.  You ruin everything.  You deserve to be alone.  No one wants you around.  They’re just saying that.  They feel sorry for you.  You’re too needy!  You’re immature.  You’re useless.

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It’s a run to the mailbox.  It’s two trips to the basement instead of one.  It’s a way to channel your thoughts and energy and try to burn them out.  To wear yourself out so much that you don’t have the energy to think.  To wear yourself out so much that the cloud will turn foggy and the thoughts will be quiet.  They’ll turn to a mush instead of such distinct statements about yourself and your worth.  It’s a constant attempt to be better and do better to try and prove them wrong, but their volume never lessens, and their requirements just get higher.

It’s running the line between being productive and procrastinating.  The unimportant things get done because they don’t matter, and it doesn’t matter if they’re done wrong.  The important things don’t get done because you can’t risk doing them wrong or making a mistake.  It’s one extreme or another.

It’s waking up in the middle of the night with your thoughts racing, your chest constricting, and if you’re going through something particularly stressful, feeling your heart racing and wondering if you’re having a heart attack (but it’s just a panic attack).

It’s never admitting to being overwhelmed because it’s a sign of weakness.  It’s never allowing them to see you sweat because it ruins the exterior appearance of control and dedication.  It’s not being able to communicate what is wrong for fear of judgement, and for fear of proving the judgements of yourself to be true.  It’s not being able to admit to how you’re feeling because you don’t want them to see you crack.  And if you voice your feelings out loud, and own them, they become so all consuming and real that you can’t cope with them.

It’s avoiding discussions and arguments because you don’t want to be put on the spot.  You want to have all the answers, and maybe, just maybe, you won’t have one.  You don’t want to seem foolish.  You don’t want to appear uneducated.  You don’t want them to see you fumble.

It’s either telling yourself, “You’re a complete mess!” or to “Suck it up, whiny baby!”

It’s constantly invalidating your struggles by telling yourself to, “Get off your high horse! So many people have it worse off!”

It’s being in a crowd of people but not feeling connected to anyone.  Feeling like everyone would be happier if you weren’t at the party, or at the event, or that they only asked you to come because they felt obligated to.  It’s not answering a text message because you don’t know what to say, and you don’t want to appear boring, because you don’t want to lose one of the few people that you feel like you have on your side.  And then feeling like you’re a terrible person for not replying.

And it’s when things that are insignificant everyday occurrences to many, are the world’s biggest victories to you:

1:  Drinking a latte, and allowing yourself to enjoy it.

2: Saying that you’re frustrated.

3: Taking a break from exercise when you’re sick.

4: Taking on a new responsibility at work, even if it’s just to carry rags to the back room.  It doesn’t matter how small.

5: Only biking for 10 minutes instead of 20.

6: Sitting down for your lunch instead of standing in your kitchen.

7: Laughing instead of crying.

8: Talking instead of isolating.

9: Admitting you made a mistake.

10: Moving on after making a mistake.

11: Eating an ice cream cone instead of a peach.

12: Going out with someone new.

13:  Talking to someone on your lunch break.

14: Admitting when you want to eat out, not waiting for someone else to want to.

15: Showing up for something, regardless of how much you’re shaking at the time, or how much terror you’re feeling.

16: Watching a movie.  And actually WATCHING it, not just going through the motions while your head is elsewhere.

17: Deciding your remote control is more friendly than your tennis shoes.  Or that your tennis shoes are more friendly than your remote control.  It depends on the day.

18: Only skimming the pages instead of reading them.

19: Going out on a Friday night instead of studying all weekend.

20: Allowing yourself to cry on another’s shoulder.

And it’s functioning.  It’s appearing okay, to have it all together.  To be at peace on the outside when the tornado rages within.  It’s not productive.  It’s not powering through.  It’s not MANAGING your struggles.  It’s not even coping.

It’s surviving.  It’s not living.

It’s not being happy.

It’s not being content.

It’s not being at peace.

It’s grasping at moments, at split seconds when the tornado dies down, when the winds aren’t quite as gale-like, and then realizing you can hear the birds chirping.  And taking that moment, that second to exhale.  And to smile.

Because you, unlike those around you, realize:

You’re not at a safe harbour.  You’re just in the eye of the storm.

 

 

 

 

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Normal is Disordered: Reframing the Size Bias

Hello all!  How have you been?

My week has been crazy.  It’s the middle of summer, and we’re approaching a long weekend where I live, which is typically the busiest two weeks of the year here.  It’s great for our economy, as I live in a tourist town that relies on the sizzling hot summer months to survive, but it makes work a gong show! Plus, we’ve been having so many issues with people calling in sick, breaking ribs, altering schedules, etc in my department, that that just adds to the hectic nature of summer, and not in a positive way.

I’m one of those people that, when I decide to do a job or am employed to do a job, I do it to the best of my ability… call it my perfectionist/fear of making a mistake or failing bias, but it works quite well in the workplace.  I mean minus the fact that it usually stresses me out more than it should.  The boyfriend always says to me, “You did what you could, and honestly they don’t pay you enough to care the amount that you do.  The way you worry about things is the equivalent that the manager worries about things… and they certainly don’t pay you the same.  It’s not your job to worry about all these things, and it’s not worth the amount that it stresses you out.”

True.  So true.  But I have such a perfectionistic bias!

AND, it translates to my mood, because I’ve been like that for as long as I can remember.  The idea that you only half-assed do things just doesn’t compute in my brain, so when I go to work and see people putting in minimal effort, calling in sick when they are NOT SICK, and/or just not giving a shit or dogging it, it pisses me off.  Like, ridiculously so.  You can ask the boyfriend about this… he’s experienced it personally.  And in his oh-so-logical mind, he says to me, “You can’t let other’s emotions, actions, or sentiments influence you so much.  Just because they’re not doing something doesn’t mean that it needs to impact you.  No one will come back and attack you for not getting something done… it’s their head on the line, not yours.  THIS is why you are so stressed all the time!”

Oh, rational brain, why do you not function so simply!  These things logically make sense, but they still do not compute.  I have a bias… and it is a blessing and a curse.  I find myself SO OFTEN lately playing this game:

Okay, rant over.

At least on that guy… but I’m here today to talk about another bias that’s been getting on my nerves lately.

Yeah… you know the one I’m talking about.  That whole size bias thing.

Side note:  This movie is the best!! I mentioned in my last post how this was and still is my favourite movie of all time.  I’ve seen it a million times and I never hesitate to see it again.  And it’s just so great for those moments where you just need a good quote 😉.

See, I’ve started this new body image/self esteem coaching program, and while I’ve been so reluctant to do MORE therapy, I new I’d hit a wall.  You can’t be okay with listening to your body to tell you what you need in terms of food and exercise unless you trust your body.  And you can’t trust your body until you believe your body is worth trusting.  And you can’t believe in your body’s own worth until you believe in your own self worth.  And you can’t have a sense of self worth until you start to have some self esteem and respect for yourself emotionally and mentally.  And you can’t do that until you believe in yourself enough that you give yourself permission to take up literal/physical and mental/emotional space in your own life.

Long story short:  You can’t hope to be intuitive and move past an eating disorder until you believe you are enough, emotionally, mentally, and physically.  You have to accept your existence not as a hindrance to the world but rather as an asset.

Anyways… it’s pretty intense.  I’m spending more than an hour every day actively writing and working through my thought patterns and body image issues.  And while I’m still trying to get the hang of putting new neural pathways into action and remembering to do things differently than my current rut, at least this delving into exploration gets my brain going and thinking about things both in my past and in my present in ways I haven’t really examined before.

I’m basically one step away from growing out my armpit hair and living in a tree, one with nature…

Actually not really.

But it’s gotten me thinking.  A lot of this work has to do with reframing the way you look at things.  Not stopping thoughts, not judging yourself for having thoughts, but also not giving your thoughts the power to shape who you are and how you live your life in a day to day fashion.  I don’t remember the context, but in my first therapy session I was asked a question to which I responded quite simply, “because normal, nowadays in modern society, is disordered.”

How true is this?  And how screwed up is that?

And by taking a step back from my own life, and my own head, I’m able to observe this more objectively and see this truth in action:

  1. A non-eating-disordered woman I know, talking to my boyfriend who was frustrated with my obsession with thigh gaps, said simply, “I don’t blame her.  I’d love to have a thigh gap.”

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    image source (side note: it’s actually brilliant!)

  2. They build strollers SPECIFICALLY for running with your baby… as if running around looking after your baby was not enough activity for a woman.

    bugaboo-ad-main

    image source (side note: who the HELL dresses like that to go for a run, much less with your baby?!)

  3. Recipes are no longer focussed on flavour but rather on numbers:
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    Before —-> After

     

  4. An Oreo is no longer a mid-afternoon treat, but rather a workout guideline:

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    image source (Side note: Who, in their RIGHT, RATIONAL state of mind, eats only one oreo? Unless you’re pairing the oreo with a golden oreo…)

  5. Witnessed personally: A starving hospitalized non-eating disordered woman who hasn’t eaten in over 24 hours refuses to eat food unless it is one of her packaged diet foods from the current crash diet plan being followed.

  6. You can’t walk into a restaurant without being blatantly greeted by nutritional information, that was unsolicited by you in the first place:
    gtres66

    image source (Starbucks… it wasn’t even on the leaflet, but displayed instead)

    breakfast_sandwich_board-490

    image source (Side Note:  This was Panera… and the funny thing was the website the image came from titled it “I’m on a diet and I can’t have a bowl of soup!”.  #modernlifeinanutshell)

Man I could think of so many more options, but this just gets too lengthy.  The funny thing is modern society is screwed.  This is DISORDERED!  I gave you six plus examples of these things that are considered “acceptable” if not “healthful” practices in modern society, WHICH, if I personally engaged in any one of them, would be told I was engaging in eating disordered behaviour.

I’m sorry, but if it’s DISORDERED for me, is it not DISORDERED for everyone?

And where do all these things come from?  It is often lumped under the assumption that you are engaging in these behaviours in an attempt to be “healthier”, but then what is your definition of “healthy”?

If a person who is naturally built larger, whose body wants to be what society would normally deem “overweight”, engages in all of these behaviours, chances are eventually, their weight would still be “overweight”.  Because that is where their body naturally wants to be according to set-point theory! And that person goes to the doctor, for a bladder infection… and the first thing the doctor says is, you need to lose weight if you want to be healthy.

Excuse me, but how is this related to the problem at hand, a bladder infection?  The person didn’t even come there for weight loss advice!

The person says, “Look, I run every day.  I eat lower calorie foods, whole grains, low sugar, and vegetables.  I count everything and make sure that my calories in equal my calories out, but I can’t seem to lose weight.”

Without even running blood tests, or cardio tests, or what have you to determine the actual “health” of the body, we’ve already determined that the person needs to lose weight.

When you yourself go to the coffee shop and order a skinny, or fat-free latte, and claim that you’re doing it for “health”, ask yourself, what does “health” mean?

If you can close your eyes and picture yourself at your healthy self goal, what does that self look like?

Does your “healthy self” equal ripped abs, and a long and lean physique? Do your thighs not touch?  Is your cellulite gone?

Yep.  So let’s stop the delusion.  The issue is not “health”… the issue is SIZE, WEIGHT, and the associated bias that goes along with it.  The idea is that you are worth more if you take up less space.  The idea is that skinny > fat, that skinny people are happier, healthier, stronger, more driven, more desireable, more attractive, more loved, more accepted… basically they’re just more.

They are more, because they are less.

What an oxymoron?!

I remember when I was little, I always had a large appetite, but I was never overweight.  I was always pretty lean.  I used to eat the same amount as the hockey jocks in high school, and one slice of pizza was never enough to satisfy me, even when I was 6 or 7.  People would joke that I eat SO MUCH, and I used to feel pride and joke right along with them.

I used to be a size 0 or 2, and then when I became a 4 or 6, I was actually proud that I was growing and becoming less of a child and more of a woman.

Somewhere along the line, this changed.

Somewhere along the line, whenever I ate as much, or more of than my boyfriend it became less of a joke, and more of a source of guilt, shame, and anxiety, because a rule was created that girls should not eat as much as guys.

Somewhere along the line, if I ate 2 or 3 slices of pizza, it became not about satisfying my hunger and cravings, but rather about eating the lesser amount because a rule was created that girls should (based on observation of others) only eat one slice of pizza, and pair it with a salad.

Somewhere along the line, advertising and the bandwagon taught me that a latte had to be skinny, and that I should feel guilty for enjoying my coffee with a non-sugar-free flavour shot and actual milk.

Somewhere along the line, I learned that cake and cookies should be enjoyed in secret, and that the 8th deadly sin was a love of peanut butter cups.

Somewhere along the line, I learned that “healthy” people swapped their pasta for zoodles, and their rice for cauliflower.

Somewhere along the line, I no longer felt proud of my size 4, or more often 6 frame that was curvy and womanly, but ashamed because it wasn’t closer to a negative number.  Somewhere along the line, I threw out the notion of womanly curves in favour of the teenage boy gangly look that accompanies a restrictive diet and the loss of body shape and boobs… all because somewhere along the line I accepted the notion that two became the new four, and zero became the new two, and six became the new fourteen.

 

We’re a generation that is expected to be able to DO more, while running on LESS.  We’re supposed to get more in touch with our “hunter gatherer roots”, and serve it with an aspartame filled fizzy drink.  We’re confused.  We have too much knowledge, and too little perspective.

Because if we stopped with the high powered craziness for ten seconds, and stopped running a mile a minute, accepting ideas willy-nilly because we don’t have the time to stop and think about it before internalizing, we would realize that none of this makes sense!

You cannot do more while taking in less.  I cannot be on my feet at my job, for 8 plus hours, come home and make dinner, and go for a bike ride afterwards while eating zoodles and diet coke.

You cannot compare the amount of satisfaction you get from a real chocolate fudge brownie, with the “healthy” plant-based black bean, Splenda sweetened 56 calories a piece one.  Yep… one pan later, and I’m just as lethargic as before and my chocolate craving is still there.

An oreo is not equal to 1200 jumping jacks any more than a romance novel is equal to a llama, or my left butt cheek is equal to my elbow.  You can’t equate two totally different things!  Plus, imma enjoy my oreo, but I’m not gonna enjoy 1200 jumping jacks.  That pleasure factor is significant!

You’re going to make more memories playing peek-a-boo with your baby and hearing him/her laugh, than you will jogging with them in a bikini. AND if you’re like me you’ll be much less likely to end up with road rash from tripping over something… although, you might accidentally poke yourself in the eye.

We talk about health in terms of weight… but we seem to not notice that the size bias that is running rampant through all our heads, and the associated disordered notions that accompany it, is making us the most miserable and habitually depressed and unsatisfied generation ever.

We have less patience/tolerance of others, less connection to our hunger/fullness cues, less connection to other people (because we’re too obsessed with diet/exercise/technology), less sense of belonging, drive, motivation, contentment… all because we’re HUNGRY.  And I don’t mean hungry just for food, but hungry for balance and a sense of calm that you can only get when you stop trying to be MORE, and do MORE all the time.  Hungry for all the connection with others and relationships that you’re missing out on because you are never stopping.

And it gets us into a vicious cycle… because we’re bombarded by this size bias and are convinced that we would be happier by being thinner.  We’d be more accepted, more loved, more driven, more motivated.  But trust me, if thinness made you happier when I was literally lying in the hospital on my death bed I should have been the happiest person on earth.  Needless to say, I’ve never been more miserable in my life… except when I was trying to RUN while in this deathly ill state.  I was more miserable then because I was in more physical pain than you could ever believe.

It’s time to address the real issue, which is not your weight, shape, or size.  It is your relationship with yourself, and the world around you.  It is your need to fill only one facet of your life (diet/food, body shape/fitness), and ignoring all the rest.  It is a lack of balance.  It’s the acceptance of all of these DISORDERED notions, as NORMAL.

It’s the fact that you’re allowing zero to be the new two, two to be the new four, and six to be the new  fourteen.  It’s the fact that you’re allowing the calorie count to be the deciding factor rather than your tastebuds, and the treadmill to dictate whether you can spend time with your friends at a coffee shop later.  It’s not make you healthier, and it’s not improving your value or worth.

It’s time to stop buying it.

It’s time to go back to your roots and reframe the bias that you’ve been trained to accept.

It’s time to look in the mirror and instead of condemning your love handles, appreciating your womanly curves.

It’s about making the choice when buying new clothes and having to go up a size, to allow it to be the beginning of a new relationship with another stage of your life instead of the beginning of another crash diet.

It’s about eating an oreo for a snack without reading the label, and then eating another if you weren’t satisfied.  And trusting that eventually you will be, and your body will let you know when you are.

It’s about going for coffee with a friend and ordering a cookie to share, even if you’ve already eaten, because it ADDS to the experience and the memories, not to you your hips.

It’s about changing your vocabulary when it comes to food, taking out all the “skinnys”, “cleans”, “cheats”, or whatever other judgements you make, and allowing only flavours, textures, and cravings to make your decisions.

AND it’s about doing all these things and not thinking you’re being LAZY, LACKING WILLPOWER, or being a GLUTTON for doing them.  

Because normal is disordered… but who ever wanted to be normal anyways?

Currently: Our Thoughts are Not Our Stories

Hello everyone!

Guess what else says hello?

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Yep… my breakfast.  You guys, it was so good.  So good that I had to include it in this post.  I did something totally different today and decided to bike to the cafe and have my weekly Skype session with my dietitian over breakfast.  I’ve never done that before and I kinda really loved it.  I’m one of those people who dreams of breakfast… it’s the best meal.  I mean nine times out of ten if you asked me at the end of the day what was the most satisfying thing I ate that day, it would be whatever I decided to have for breakfast that day.  My boyfriend, as well as a plethora of people in my family, are not breakfast people.  Or rather, they simply can’t eat right away when they get up.  I don’t get it.  It kind of makes me sad because I can never share my oatmeal love with people.  Or pancake love.  Or various “for one” crumbles, muffins, and latte loves.  See, the moment my feet hit the floor I’m starving… so waiting more than 45 minutes to eat is SO not happening!

Anyways, I dream of breakfast.  I was lying in bed watching “The Revenant” last night, and my thoughts were drifting to the breakfast I knew I’d be eating in nine hours, and trying to figure out what I felt like making.  It’s actually not disordered… it’s me being super excited about breakfast!  And I mean, you have to plan ahead sometimes because if you have a feeling like you’re going to want overnight oats, or a soaked oat and chia smoothie, you gotta get those goodies in the fridge ahead of time!  And I knew, I KNEW, that I felt like an iced latte and a fresh blueberry muffin.

You remember my muffin issues?  Yeah… it’s not as much of a struggle anymore, but I still really really suck at having them for snacks without a breakdown.  But I also discovered that if I truly honour my cravings, I generally only ever want muffins once.  MAYBE twice, if you’re super lucky.  I’m seriously the most diverse person you’ll ever meet… I hate eating things more than once, or twice in a two or three day period and CRAVE that variety.  Like this week we made pulled pork… yeah, it’s good, but that always makes a TON, and after eating it twice it was like, “GIVE ME ANYTHING ELSE!”

So I live off A LOT of single serving recipes, or rather a combination of recipes and creations I make myself.  It totally feeds my diversity and allows me to eat whatever I truly want in a given moment.  But muffins are one of those really tough ones… there honestly are not that many single serving muffin recipes out there!  I mean, unless you count microwave mug cakes… but those are NOT the same as a freshly baked muffin from the OVEN!

Admit it.  You know it’s true.

And sometimes you want a blueberry buttermilk muffin, but if you’re me you DON’T want to eat twelve of them!  It was super easy when my Dad was around… he was the quintessential normal intuitive eater.  He had absolutely no food rules (🙆🏻!!) and had the metabolism of like a hummingbird.

Side note: Hummingbirds apparently have the highest metabolism of any animal… it kind of makes sense with their speed and ridiculously high heart rate. #gottalovegoogle.

Anyways, I think I get my breakfast love from him.  The first thing he did when he got up was walk into the kitchen and put two slices of bread in the toaster.  He was also a morning person like me… A couple of genetic tics that I’m not hating!

Double side note: Do you even know how many toasters we went through when he was around?  No joke, I swear we went through one every year, or maybe every two years.  SO MUCH TOAST!

Moving along… it was easy with him around.  He ADORED baked goods, and still does.  Give him anything with a bit of sugar and some fluffy floury substance, and he was all over it like white on rice (which by the way is a really odd expression…). So if I felt like muffins, I could make 12 and know that if I had one, or two, he’d easily take care of the rest.  Same with cakes, pies, cookies… actually when it came to cookies, you were lucky if you even got one of those before they were gone.

Now it’s not so easy… if I bake 12 muffins, chances are we’ll only go through three, maybe four before they’re all mouldy, and that’s only if I have help eating some of them.  And don’t give me the whole freeze the rest thing… there was a time when I made like 4 dozen muffins because I felt like having different kinds available.  And then a whole shelf of our freezer was taken up for over a year.  At the moment I have some banana walnut ones in there that I think I made 4 months ago… I’m pretty sure there’s still 10 of them.  The only exception to this was my grandma’s banana bran muffins… man I could easily pound through 3 of those a day.  Once again, just like her cinnamon buns, we’ll never know exactly how she made her little paper-lined cups of heaven.

Long story short:  it just doesn’t work.  So when I felt like a blueberry muffin for breakfast today, I knew the only logical plan was to go to the cafe and buy one.

So I hopped on the bike.  Usually I walk there, but I’ve been craving a bike ride recently because I haven’t had the chance to go, and I FINALLY bought a bike lock, so I can chain it up.  And being relatively new to the biking game, I am of course super nervous about biking to somewhere busy simply because I haven’t done it before.

It went fine though!  And it was WAY faster… like ten minutes and that was a leisurely pace, AND with walking across crosswalks (because I’m not comfortable biking across them, and lets be honest: you ARE supposed to walk your bike across anyways), AND going the longer scenic way that takes like 25-30 minutes to walk as opposed to 15-20.  AND, I managed to figure out the bike lock… I think.

Have you ever had that sinking feeling like you did something wrong, because you weren’t totally confident in what you were doing?

I have this urge to check but I don’t want to pack everything up… so I’ll hope for the best.

Moving along… so I walked into the cafe, first thing when it opened, and you could smell the fresh baked goods!  And I’ve been in a “I’M SO HUNGRY I COULD EAT EVERYTHING!” phase constantly the past few days (so scary!) so I was more than ready for my muffin.  And I walked up to the counter hoping for a blueberry filled fluffy pillow of muffin top joy… and was greeted by raspberry chocolate chip.

Really, I can DO any kind of muffin (I may not be craving it, but I can eat it) EXCEPT one with chocolate chips.  NO.

 

Chocolate chips do not belong in breakfast, and they DEFINITELY do not belong in muffins.  They have made me gag for as long as I can remember.  Not an ED thing either.

So… disappointment.  Because there was no way I was getting a muffin today to attempt to assuage my muffin craving.  But, you can always go back to old faithful: date squares.  I LOVE date squares…. like LOVE, LOVE, LOVE!  And ED hates them… but that’s a moot point.  I haven’t had one probably since September or October, so I was long overdue, and while it was no blueberry muffin it was just as good because I love, love, love them.

Side note: Is this a Canadian thing?  When I was talking to my dietitian, she mentioned that she loved them too, but that they’re near IMPOSSIBLE to find other than at their Whole Foods.  Around here, you’re actually more hard pressed to find a cafe that DOESN’T sell them, thank heavens, because once again, it’s really hard to find a single serve date square recipe too.

So my breakfast was delicious, especially the date square, which I hadn’t tried at this particular cafe before.  I think it’s the best one in town, and it will be a thing again for sure.  And, as far as I know, my bike is still tied up outside.

Win.

Man I get on tangents.  I haven’t written in so long because I’ve had this MASSIVE case of writer’s block… and while I really had an aim at the start of this post, I’ve long since gotten derailed and I’m already 1500 words in and have reached a point where going into ED stuff might make this WAY too long. I guess we’ll just see where we end up at this point…

So guess what!!! It’s my man’s graduation today!

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And while he’s all nonchalant about it, I’m super duper proud of him because I know what he’s gone through to get to this point, and how long he’s been waiting to be able to say, “DONE!”  Plus, yesterday we went to an awards ceremony (which he is also all nonchalant and humble about), where he won three amazing awards that he totally deserved.  And yes, I’m gushing, but it’s totally true and while it might not be a big deal to him, I get to celebrate it and totally brag because that is my job.

#girlfriendrights.

In addition, he’s starting a new job today that is totally more in line with his interests, passions, and hobbies, and while I’m kind of down because I won’t see him as much as a result, I’m also so happy for him and excited for his new opportunities.  Dialectics at its finest.  Truly, the feelings are mostly happy ones.

So the past few days have been pretty full, with today being the fullest I’m guessing.  And it’s funny because you’d think that with all the hubbub and ado, I wouldn’t have time for ED crap.  And yes, this is true, but only partially.  See, I have less time to OVERANALYZE, and limited time to ENGAGE in harmful behaviours, but as a result, or perhaps as a side effect, I have more of an urge to?

It is a well known fact that stress is one of the biggest eating disorder footholds:  the eating disorder thrives on higher levels of anxiety, as well as tensions regardless of whether they are internally or externally driven.  It bases itself on that sense of a lack of control that one has when there is stress in life.

So when my man is stressed because he is struggling with work-related issues, and I can’t do anything about it, I feel powerless, and out of control.  I internalize it, and grasp at strings to try to find something that I can be in charge of and take the reigns on: my weight, shape, and food.

When I have less time to fit in exercise, still have a meal plan, and still want to fully engage in other aspects of my life, I feel like I’m bound and chained to complete the time allotment by any means possible.  I internalize, and I plan.  I set my alarm an hour earlier and sacrifice sleep to “get it all in”.  I eat my lunch super fast at work to maximize time so I have an extra fifteen minutes during a break to shave off of my walking time.

When I have goals to honour my hunger and my cravings from the dietitian for the week, but I’m unexpectedly blindsided by incessant unrelenting hunger for a few days, I panic.  I should jump for joy because, hello, I’m actually getting a clear message from my body, a rarity in a skeleton that has gotten all too used to hunger silence.  On days when your physical hunger signals are ACTUALLY there, it makes identifying cravings so much easier, so this “assignment” would have technically been a piece of kale (I meant to write cake, but I was going fast and that is actually what my fingers typed… I kind of liked it, so I left it 😋). If it involves eating MORE than the meal plan, my brain does not compute.  I internalize, I try to calculate, I make external rules (“If I allow myself to eat now, I cannot have a snackor y, later”, or, “If I have 3 snacks in a day, that’s the same amount I have on an exercise day, so I have to go and do exercise at some point”).

When I honour my hunger and cravings, and it results in me eating scary foods, AND I’m feeling stressed because I’m busy, I experience MORE body dysmorphia and MORE intense body hatred, as well as even HIGHER levels of urgency to engage in old behaviours.  I find myself comparing my plate with those around me, leafing through the paper shredder to find the nutritional info for the Rice Krispie’s, and in my head trying to validate my own consumption based on what those around me eat- regardless of the fact that we are incomparable having different bodies, genders (at times), metabolisms, activity levels, and never being entirely sure what someone else eats as you’re never with someone for a full 24 hours.

I feel as though I am losing “willpower” and as if I am out of control, and by extension gaining weight and fat.  Not that this is would be the end of the world, remember.  But the reality is, I am not losing control and/or gaining weight:  the only thing I am LOSING is ED’s grasp on my reigns and connection to the diet mentality, and the only thing I am GAINING is freedom to make my own decisions and a greater sense of intuition.

But in the heat of the moment, it’s hard to remember this.  It seems like a moot, if not ludicrous point.

And if you’re bombarded by all these things, and your “feelers” are going crazy, you grasp at straws.  You try to maintain composure and stay on the recovery track, you try to appear okay, when a large chunk of you is desperate to go back to that sense of control, to the unsafe place that felt so secure.  You get confused.  You get complacent.  You find yourself at an awards ceremony, bombarded by memories, some good, and others not so much so.  Celebrating someone else’s successes, reminds you of your own, when you sat in a similar situation.  But it also reminds you of all of the times things didn’t go as you thought they would.  It reminds you of where you thought you’d be at this point in your life, versus where you actually are.  And while you’re happy, and while you wouldn’t trade your path or current situation, you play the “what if” game:

What if I’d stayed on?

What if those who know me are disappointed in me?

What if I have climbed as high as I will ever go?

What if I knew then what I would become?  Would it have made a difference?

And all too quickly, these “what if’s” give way to other, even more dangerous ones:

What if I’m not good enough?

What if I’m destined to never recover?

What if I’m too stupid to know how to feed myself “properly”?

What if I’m too lazy?

What if I’m too fat?

What if I should add in more exercise?  You know… tone up, be healthy…

What if I really do need to lose a few pounds?  Five?  Ten? Twenty?

Would I feel better if I did?

And suddenly you’ve lost touch with the reason you’re there.  Suddenly, you are no longer rejoicing in the successes of those around you receiving awards, but instead waiting eagerly for the next woman to be called to the stage, so you can scrutinize.

Is she more put together than me?

Is she prettier than me?

Is she thinner than me?

Does she have less cellulite than me?

If yes, the anxiety and urges climb.  If no, phew… but she’s still probably smarter, has her sh** in order, and will amount to more… to “better”…

I don’t know about you, but last time I checked we were at an event that celebrates academic achievements, not at a bikini contest.

And in this whirlwind you find yourself planning your next opportunity to run a mile, or sneak out for a 15 minute walking session.  Or figuring out which item on your meal plan you can “conveniently” and “uncontrollably” skip.  Or planning your next late night McDonald’s run, or what brownie recipe you will make to stuff your face with at 2 am in a dark corner when no one is watching.

You do you.

Only, not your best you.

Not your real you.

Your ED you.

The difference is, as much as you’re an old hand at slipping into eating disordered behaviours, you’re also dealing with a growing arsenal of tools in your toolkit.  Did you notice that I wrote PLANNING, as opposed to ACTING?

There’s a difference.  And it’s significant.

How many of you were reading this and as it got further along thought, “Damn, that’s it.  It’s the beginning of the end again.  Another struggle, another forced meal, another skipped meal, another relapse.”?  How many of you were foreshadowing my demise?  How many of you were getting anxious thinking, “NO!  But you were doing so well!”?  How many of you were getting anxious thinking, “This was me last night!  You hit the nail on the head!”?

Yeah, you’re right.  It’s a fine line, and a dangerous one.  And it’s one that I’ve been headbutting against a bit more often than I’d like the past week or two, or three.  BUT, remember I mentioned those tools I was talking about?  Yeah, see I’ve been stressed and busy.  Yeah, some days I’ve slipped into old routines, but 98% of the time I haven’t.  Because you can read this and see all the negatives, all the toxic thinking patterns, all the loss of direction, all the steps backwards that take me farther away from recovery as opposed to closer to it… OR you can look at all the amazing positives that have equally come out of the past few weeks:

  1. I have honoured my cravings more in the past two weeks than I have in the past six years.
  2. I took an exercise slip, BUT I admitted it promptly to my dietitian and didn’t hide it.  I lost privileges, BUT have subsequently slowly gained them back.
  3. I have stopped counting my crackers.  It was always 9 or 10 depending on size, or 5 if they were huge… but now it’s a solid reach in the box handful take it or leave it.
  4. I have had three snacks a day some days, even if it almost killed me because I didn’t do exercise that day.
  5. I have been more spontaneous in my free time than I have been in years, and have as such had so much more fun in my relationships with people rather than being in my own head.
  6. I’ve actually drank drinks with calories… a lot of them.  And allowed myself enjoy them.
  7. Although I set my alarm for earlier to exercise… I hit the snooze button.  More than once.
  8. Last night, after all that comparison at the awards ceremony, I built up an ice cream craving, felt really physically hungry again, honoured it even though it killed me to do so-

Side note:  Anyone who knows me well knows that if I have a craving for a restaurant/not make at home food, I NEVER bring it up to others.  I always feel like a glutton and a failure when I crave restaurant or take out food.

  -and ended up buying celebratory DQ Blizzards for myself and my loved ones:

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AND I was hungry so I got a larger size than ED wanted me to… and I ate it.  And it was perfect and delicious.

See, therein lies the difference.  Someone very close to me said, “I just don’t want you to get triggered.”  What she meant was, “I don’t want you to get triggered INTO a relapse.”

See, it’s not about if you’re triggered, or if you have these thoughts.  It’s not about if you really had a difficult time, were under a lot of stress, or even if you goof up a couple times.  We HAVE to be triggered, because being triggered lets us know where our boundaries and limitations are, and give us insight into where the happy medium lies.

For me, the happy medium lies somewhere in between my first bite of my peanut butter baked oatmeal, and the last.  Man, the last bite sucks… until 24 hours later when you can do it all over again!

The difference is, now I can be triggered, but I can act independent of the trigger.  Or at least most of the time.  Our thoughts are not our stories.  They’re not mine, and they’re not yours either.  They’re not who or what or where you really are.

So the next time you find yourself in a whirlwind, ask yourself, “What tool in my toolkit will be the best for me in this situation?”

Sometimes the tool will be a DQ Blizzard.  Sometimes it will be a walk in nature.  Sometimes it will be a spew of verbal diarrhea to get it all out of your head.  Sometimes it will be a list of all the amazing things you’ve done despite being caught in a whirlwind.

Or you can be like me and combine all of them!  You can get a DQ Blizzard, watch a movie, go to bed, wake up, go for a cycle, spew some verbal diarrhea with a dietitian/therapist, and then dispel some more in a ridiculously scattered blog post.

You do you.

The real you.

And now, the real me is hungry… Again.

So imma go find a snack.  Peace.

*PS:  My bike was totally still there! #nailedit. *

**Double PS: Not really… I apparently broke the little thumb lever that releases the lock from the bike frame.  But I just did that to make boyfriend laugh… totally planned it.  And the lock itself still works. So I stand by my #nailedit. **

 

 

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.

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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.

 

 

Guilt vs Shame Pt 2: Shame-A Lethal Apology For Existence

Happy birthday to all you people born on April 24th! If I could,  I would make you all cake.  I’d say cupcakes so you can be all individual and have your own personal sized cake with exactly one candle because it’s super cute, but apparently those don’t count as cakes ::rolls eyes at recent argument had over a lack of birthday “cake”::…

How was your week?  Mine was pretty stellar… do people say stellar anymore?  Did I just date myself?

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Moving on…

Yeah, I had a pretty amazing weekend last weekend…Two weekends ago?  You know what I mean.  My sister came to town, who I see like once a year, and we got to spend some time together which was really nice.  This also meant a pretty hefty dose of eating out and eating well, which is on one hand the funnest thing ever, and on the other super challenging.  But, I made it through, with only mild panic attacks, and purposely limited body checking.  All in all, a success.  And I went to a bar, and I got ID’d which is a nice little morale boost because it doesn’t always happen anymore.

It’s funny, because when you first start going to bars and you’re ID’d before you make it two steps in the door every time, it is such a drag, but then when that starts to happen less and less and less, you kind of miss it.  It’s like, man, do I have to start dying my grey hairs yet?

Then again, with that current fashion trend of dying your hair grey, that might not be a solution to any problem.  Or did that trend pass already?  I’m not sure.  I never understood that one anyways…

So you all remember my last post?  You know, the one where I found out that my guilt is a blessing if I choose to look at it in the right light?  Easier said than done, but a good reminder that there’s always a silver lining.  Anyways, it actually said Part 1 on it… as in therefore there’s a part 2, or Part II, or el numero dos, or whatever you please.  Point is, something is supposed to follow it.

I’m like the worst for these types of things.  I even hesitated to title the post “Part 1” because I know myself… I get all gung-ho for something, and I’m über inspired in the moment (because I’m mindful like that), and I’m all like, “Pssshaw, of course I’ll make the next part that logically follows!  Of course I’ll finish my thoughts!  This is like, my current maxim and my level of inspiration and expression will continue to abound for weeks to come!”

Yeah, okay.

I know myself, hence my hesitation.  Some people take lessons from their parents, and learn through the wisdom of age… I don’t do that.  Apparently, I take lessons from this guy:

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And to quote my boyfriend, this guy is “a special kind of stupid”.  So while he can teach me some valuable things, like loving unconditionally (man’s best friend literally), or living in the moment and for the moment (hence the stolen ice cream cone from the coffee table), or life without regret (he had no regret for the ice cream cone, or for the piece of parchment paper that had lined the cheeseburger pan that he stole from the garbage and tore up during the night), he can teach me an infinite number of unnecessary ones as well.  Those are the ones I seem to follow:

  1.  How to do the same thing multiple times, and expect a different result (AKA the definition of insanity, most demonstrated by his persistence of begging for food from me when he never gets any).  My argument is that this could also fall in line with being eternally optimistic… maybe.
  2. How to walk into things that are so blatantly obvious that you never should have walked into them (doors, cupboards, other people).
  3. How to have a remarkably short attention span, get bored easily, and have an inability to focus.

Yeah, that third one.  You know when you throw a ball for a dog, and he’s all excited, but then you bring out a frisbee, or a treat or something, and then the ball that was the best thing in the world is forgotten?  Yeah.  Either that or something like this:

 

See unconditional love, and completely distract-able all at the same time.  Story of my life.

So, I knew I’d get distracted, hence my reluctance to post a Part 1 and commit to a Part 2… and here I am, distracted.  But sometimes, you can turn distraction into a roundabout point, so we’re going to try.

I had a Skype session with my dietician the other day, and we were talking about my levels of guilt.  I had a few challenges for the week last week, and while I met them (mostly), there was incredible levels of anxiety, shame, guilt, fear, and an overall sense of FML that can be surmised in the phrase: “I just wanted to crawl out of my skin constantly.”  Anyone with an ED knows that phrase all too well.

Anyways, we were talking and she said something along the lines of “Well, you gotta ask yourself why that guilt is there.  Why are the food rules still there after so long?  Why do you have the guilt, fear, and need to keep those rules in place?  What are you afraid of?”

“Of becoming huge… and it’s ridiculous, stupid, and pointless. It shouldn’t matter to me!  I mean, WHY does it matter to me?”

And the infamous psychological technique response she gave- a classic answer-a-question-with-a-question.

“Why DOES it matter to you?”

And it’s those annoying questions that frustrate me to no end…  Because I have no freaking idea!  It’s funny how you possess your brain, you’ve lived with it for 24 years, you’ve gone through moments of sadness, moments of joy, birthdays, deaths, weddings, parties, everything, and you’ve done everything in your life with the same brain… and yet a large chunk of the time you still have no idea how it works.  There’s still 3 million crevices left unexplored, places where you’ve stored ideas, beliefs, values, memories that shape you but are enigmas to your conscience and comprehension.  Sometimes your own head is as much a stranger to you as the guy sitting at the next table in a coffee shop.

Why do I have the guilt, the fear, the rules?  Why am I scared to become huge?  Why do I think this is important?

Well, we ended up at the same point as I came to in my last post, which was kind of ironic. The conversation kind of went, “Hey Tiffany, maybe you should write a blog post or something on guilt and how it connects to your values?” To which I responded,”…Um, I kind of already did last week…”

Awkward silence.

Actually no, our conversations are like never filled with awkward silences.  Usually we’re laughing about something ridiculous that happened related to food, like driving backwards  through a DQ drive through, taking an open flame to a nutrition label, or making a YOLO pizza and topping it with rice.

Then we get serious(ish), and back to business.  Such as her next point, “Okay, great! Part II then (haha, it’s a roundabout pun), define your values.  I mean if you value thinness, like you realize you do, look at why, and decide what you’re missing out on if you make it that important.  Hopefully you realize that you don’t have time for that shit.”

I attached a link for her related blog post, because why not explore it with me right?

So, why do I value being thin?

Do it with me: loooooooooong sigh.

I don’t know.  I wish I didn’t.  I think it’s a plethora of things:

It’s that kid that went to family get togethers, and felt isolated because she wasn’t an athlete, or sports-minded.  Whose coordination sucked so much that it wasn’t fun to play baseball, or basketball, or tennis, because really, yes you can have fun sucking if the people you play with aren’t too serious but sometimes you just get tired of not being able to do things.  You just want to make a basket, you just want to rally a ball.  And also being a kid with a ridiculously different body type, but not realizing that it was because of this difference in body type that she looked different from the rest of the people in the family.  I mean, I have a DD cup, and I have curves.  Compare that to an A or B, long and lean. You can’t.

So when the other girls my age could trade clothes, or fit into a size 2, I couldn’t.  I couldn’t because my breasts wouldn’t fit into a small shirt, or a medium sometimes.  and my curves in my thighs ad hips wouldn’t fit into a size 2 pant, or often a size 4.  Usually it was a six.  And when you’re young, things are simple and you don’t understand the complexities of body type, of genetics, of all the fine print.  So if my cousins could fit into a 2 or a small shirt and I couldn’t, there must be something wrong with me.  Just like if they could hit a tennis ball and I couldn’t, there must be something wrong with me.

I didn’t know how to ride a bike, or swim,  but they did.  There was something wrong with me.

I was the quietest.  The shyest.  The most introverted.  A lot of them were extroverted… they were comedians, they made people laugh.  They thrived being with others, and had lots of friends.  They were social and always on the go.  I wasn’t.  There was something wrong with me.

I ate what I wanted, when I wanted, and oftentimes ate more than the rest of them (hello fast metabolism I now know I have thanks to my Dad).  But they thought about sugar grams, and ate smaller portions.  If I didn’t do these things, there was something wrong with me.

From a young age in our family we were told of the importance of exercise, of getting outside on a daily basis.  Of not drinking juice until we had at least one glass of water.  And many family activities during our get togethers were focussed around hiking, or walking, or running, or biking, and if we didn’t participate in these things, we were guilt tripped.  We were told how it was “good for us”, how we were “being lazy” if we didn’t.  We were shamed.

My parents didn’t have rules like this.  My parents didn’t withhold food from me until I ate something “healthier” or drank some “clean water”.  They encouraged me to follow my own passions, decide for myself what I wanted to do.  They were okay with me being the artist always scribbling in her sketchbook.  They were fine with me being the academic, with her nose in a book.  And they were equally fine if I decided I wanted an ice cream cone in the afternoon, or a soda with my dinner.  They allow me to decide.

And let me be clear.  I was never “overweight” because of it.

But my cousins were everything I wanted to be, and they were my role models.  They were happy, beautiful inside and out, had tons of friends, and were coordinated.  They were confident.  That was a big one for me.  Confident.  That’s all I really ever wanted to be.  Happy and confident in who I was.  And I was bombarded by messages.  And in between hearing the food rules that they had set out for them, in between watching them eat smaller portions, and only eat certain things at certain times, in between watching them thrive at sports, and obey their parents/aunts/uncles with the “get outside and get moving” mantra, and then see them in their long and lean body types, the solution seemed clear.  Somehow their external appearance and their driven, always keep busy attitudes, were the key to happiness, confidence, and love both inside and out.

There was something wrong with me, and this was the way to “fix” it.

Add to it the rest of the environment.  The environment that all of us face every time we set a foot outside our front doors:

The NIKE labels branded across thin, muscular people, coupled with their slogan, “Just do it.”  Like, it doesn’t matter if you’re tired, or sick, or not happy.  Do it anyways.

The distorted yoga movement that is meant to encourage mindfulness and self acceptance, but is now branded with ridiculously hot rooms, a hierarchy of praise and respect for those who practice the more intense power and vinyasa styles, and an average calorie burn next to videos and course descriptions.

The amount of times you go out for lunch with people and see thin people overeat or eat a “unclean/yolo/cheat” food (brownie, burger, pizza, ice cream, etc) and be praised or appreciated for “not being anorexic” or for “being normal”, for eating for enjoyment, or for being indulgent because they “deserve” it.  Meanwhile, a fat person orders the same thing and is condemned for eating past full, or for just eating for enjoyment… because they DON’T “deserve” it.  They, controversly, are expected to be constantly proving to the world that they are actively trying to be “normal” by working as hard as they can to not be fat.

I’m sorry,  not sorry, but that is fucked up.

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Image Source Recovery Warriors

In what world is it okay for one person to eat a cookie, but another not, based on the amount of adipose tissue strapped across their midsection or thighs?

In what world is it acceptable to have a second slice of pizza based not on hunger or enjoyment, but rather on whether or not you hit 5k on your morning run this morning?

In what world have we replaced the unacceptable racism, sexism, and ageism, with an apparently “healthy” and acceptable size-ism and shape-ism?

Why do I value thinness? Because I am disposed to believe that just as I am, there is something wrong with me.

Or rather, because I grew up believing that there is something wrong with me, as a result of values others hold. I may have contorted them in my own head, but they are a result of nature and nurture, things seen and heard. Because I have never felt like enough, and I just want to feel okay. Because I am ashamed of myself, and I don’t want to add any more shame to the equation. And because in this day and age, the ultimate shame is to be fat.

Which brings me to Part 2! YAY FOR ROUNDABOUT POINTS!

Part 2 of that duo, and that Brené Brown quote:

I believe that there is a profound difference between shame and guilt. I believe that guilt is adaptive and helpful – it’s holding something we’ve done or failed to do up against our values and feeling psychological discomfort.

I define shame as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.

I don’t believe shame is helpful or productive. In fact, I think shame is much more likely to be the source of destructive, hurtful behavior than the solution or cure. I think the fear of disconnection can make us dangerous.

Shame is the partner in crime to guilt, but whereas guilt is kind of like a nagging mother (a pain in the butt, and you don’t want her to be right, but her goal is to protect and to help you know what is really important), shame is just the grade 2 bully, or the devil on your shoulder.

The, “I made a mistake” (guilt), versus the “I am a mistake” (shame), if you will.

The reality is that shame does nothing helpful.  It doesn’t encourage you to make amends or point you toward your values.  More often than not, shame just encourages you to give up, leads to despair, and is, as Brené pointed out, “more likely to be the source of destructive, hurtful behaviour, than the solution or cure.”

If someone believes they are not enough, they are unworthy, or unloveable, it is hard to remain connected to others.  It is hard to remain connected to others because it is actually PAINFUL to remain connected.  The constant reminder of your own inadequacy is one of the greatest emotional pains you can experience.

One of the biggest problems that comes with shame is that the “I am a mistake” mentality is usually related to something about yourself that is unchangeable.  I can’t change my body type, my personality, my introverted nature, or my natural talents.  So if I’m ashamed of any one of those aspects, I can attempt to do something about it (diet/plastic surgery, be false, throw myself into an extroverted group/club/etc, try over and over again to be good at something else) and while it might work for a bit, eventually I’m doomed.   You can’t change the type of person you are.  You can’t change your natural talent for English, or your quiet personality any more than you can change your skin color.  It’s a part of you and you will naturally always fall back towards what is uniquely and inherently yours.  This is the same thing with your body shape and set point weight, and the reason why when you diet eventually you gain the weight back.  It could be slower or faster but your body has amazing control mechanisms to keep you where it is designed to be.

So when you’re shamed by something that is unchangeable, when you can’t change it no matter how hard you try, you just feel like a failure.  You feel unworthy of love, connection, and belonging.  And as those are the basic emotional human necessities, you suffer.

Nowadays, as a society in general we are more bombarded than ever by messaging and fat shaming.  A greater and greater emphasis is being placed on external appearances and physicality, and now that medical professionals and governments have waged a “war on fat”, those who naturally have more voluptuous frames are facing a greater pressure to fit into a mould that only a small percentage of the population is designed to fit in.  Larger women who go to the doctor for an ear infection are told to lose weight.  If a thin woman went to the doctor for the same thing, they would be given antibiotics.  Does the larger woman not deserve the same courtesy minus the extra shame pill thrown in?  Shame isn’t a vitamin, and it doesn’t enhance the antibiotic’s effectiveness.

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Image Source BuzzFeedLife

Here’s the reality:  Just because you’re thinner, DOES NOT mean you are healthier.  Likewise, just because you’re fatter, DOES NOT mean you are UNhealthier.

Just because my thighs have cellulite, DOESN’T mean I’m less deserving of a third slice of pizza than my thinner cousin.

Just because my stomach rolls when I bend over, DOESN’T mean I can’t enjoy a latte with my scone instead of black coffee.

Just because my hips don’t fit in a size 4 half the time, DOESN’T mean that I should walk more, or add in a 5k run to my exercise regime.

AND, if I lost weight, if I changed my body’s natural shame, it DOESN’T mean I would be happier.  I think we’ve beat that one to the bush enough times.  Or does another relapse need to happen?

Just because we’re fat phobic, doesn’t mean we need to fat shame.

Just because shape-ism and size-ism is different than racism or sexism, doesn’t make it right.  Why is my adipose tissue any different than my skin color?

Just because we’re all different, doesn’t mean we’re wrong.  Stop being ashamed.  You are not a mistake.

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Image Source Recovery Warriors

 

Guilt vs Shame Pt 1: Guilt-The Blessing in Disguise

Ciao!  I woke up this morning, and I was feeling super awesome.  Hence this selfie (I don’t do selfies…):

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This tends to happen when I know I’m going out for a morning at the cafe to write… I can’t help but get excited and bubbly.  Then I walk there whilst I listen to some solid beats on my phone, and because I’m feeling awesome I have some upbeat tunes (my walking groove that always makes its way onto the “feeling awesome” playlist) on that I can strut to.  And I coordinate my footsteps with the beat… And then I realize that I’m singing outloud and getting entirely too physical with my movements and have to tone it down because people are looking at me as if I’m having a spasm…

Uncoordination at its finest.

So I got to the cafe, and it just so happens that the best seat in the cafe is open!  Right by the open sunny window, view up the street, and in the corner so it’s private.  The awesomeness continues, and my face be like:

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AND then… my boyfriend shows up by surprise and he’s like my favourite person.  The awesomeness continues, and my face be like:

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After a visit, I get down to business, start writing, feeling good, on a roll… so on a roll that lunchtime creeps up on me, and I don’t want to stop writing so I decide to finally try that roasted mushroom sandwich with hummus that has sounded so good…

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And in making that decision, in two seconds my awesomeness went to anxiousness. Anxiousness, guilt, and shame, for being seated, in a cafe, ordering lunch when I could be up moving, or making something less intimidating for lunch at home.  All that awesomeness, shot down in an instant.  Bummer.

It’s funny how quickly emotions can shift.  How one day you can look in a mirror and see huge, and the next day it suddenly doesn’t seem so bad.  How one second you can be feeling amazing, and then next second you can feel like crap.  And it’s not just those who suffer from eating disorders that experience this.  Its one of those side effects of being human: having somewhat unpredictable emotions.

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Two overriding emotions in eating disorder recovery, as well as a vast majority of mental illnesses are guilt and shame.  They act as a wall that puts an invisible, but solid barrier between us and the rest of the world.  They separate us, segregate us, and silence us.  And they take the awesomeness out of your morning in one smear of hummus…

I was listening to a podcast the other day, during one of my more anxious moments, and they were discussing one of the most talked about names in the world of self help and discovery: Brené Brown.

Undoubtably, you’ve heard of her.  Author, scholar, and speaker, she is well known for her renowned TEDtalks, and her growing collection of self-help books, among which are the bestsellers Daring Greatly and The Gifts of Imperfection.  While I can’t personally attest to their brilliance, as they’re both still on my reading list, I know many people personally who have claimed their ability to impact and change how you view the world and your place in it.

Anyways, in this podcast, they were discussing the difference between guilt and shame, and how both emotions play in when it comes to eating disorders and eating disorder recovery.  I know for me, it is difficult to tell the difference between the two, as they are distinct but often intertwined.  They mentioned a quote from Brené’s book, Daring Greatly, that struck a note for me:

I believe that there is a profound difference between shame and guilt. I believe that guilt is adaptive and helpful – it’s holding something we’ve done or failed to do up against our values and feeling psychological discomfort.

I define shame as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.

I don’t believe shame is helpful or productive. In fact, I think shame is much more likely to be the source of destructive, hurtful behavior than the solution or cure. I think the fear of disconnection can make us dangerous.

At first glance, I didn’t agree with this at all, but mostly because of the guilt portion of the quote.  In my own experience, guilt has rarely been helpful, but rather harmful in my day to day life.

I mean, after all,  I feel guilty about eating a piece of cake, so I go for a 3 hour run the next day.  I feel guilty about eating three meals a day, so I skip my snacks.  I feel guilty about leaving university, and so I hole myself up and don’t go to family gatherings.  I feel guilty about choosing the easier yoga video instead of the longer more strenuous one, so I do an extra hour the next day, or miss another meal.

Whichever one you pick, it all leads/has lead me to the same place:  alone, lonely, sad, depressed, anxious, on my death bed…

How can an emotion that has produced so much heartache and emotion, mental, and physical deterioration possibly be adaptive or helpful?  Clearly guilt is a negative emotion, and one to be avoided at all costs!

Yeah, it appears that way at first glance.  And it’s a much easier way to look at things:  my situation is a result of my emotions.  I can blame the things that have held me back and shoved me down on my feelings.  And since we’re supposed to feel our feelings, and not stifle them, I’m completely justified in my behaviours.  Or, if I’m not completely justified in my behaviours, I am at least completely justified in why it’s taking so long and is so impossible to change them.

Except it’s not entirely true… because the emotion itself doesn’t control the behaviour.  An emotion is simply a cue as to what is going on in your internal experience.  The reality is that your situation is not a result of your emotion, but a result of your REACTION to your emotion.

So what is guilt then?  Brené kind of hit the nail on the head here:

…it’s holding something we’ve done or failed to do up against our values and feeling psychological discomfort.

Key: Something we’ve DONE or FAILED TO DO up against our VALUES and feeling PSYCHOLOGICAL DISCOMFORT.

Hence, this is why a most classic example of guilt shows its helpfulness and healthfulness:  You lie to your best friend, you feel guilty because it goes against your value of honesty, and the psychological discomfort you feel (AKA your conscience) pushes you to “right the wrong” in order to realign with your values.

BUT when the experience of guilt results in a harmful behaviour, such as restriction, overexercise, purging, binging, self harm, or the like, does this mean that it’s no longer helpful, healthful, or fitting with its definition?

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No.  Not at all.

I know, shocking.  But remember what guilt does: it points to how we’ve gone against or neglected our values.  So guilt in this scenario, the scenario of feeling guilty over a brownie or a hamburger, or a slice of pizza, points to a value that we must be brushing up against.  If nothing else, guilt is a great little tool to use to tell you what it is that you truly value in your life.

Now for me, the realization of guilt being helpful in this way is a new one.  And as awesome as it is that an emotion I feel a bisquillion times a day is secretly an ally of mine, it is also incredibly humbling and more than a little depressing.  Here’s the crux:

What on earth do I value so incredibly that it results in me feeling guilty about eating these “forbidden/cheat/unhealthy” foods?

Now, in my mind, there’s only a couple possible things that could actually result in food guilt:

  1. I feel guilty about the food because I fear being unhealthy.  I value having a healthy, strong, body and treating my body in the best possible way.
  2. I feel guilty about the food because I fear what the food could do to my outward appearance. I value having a beautiful/thin/fat-free/slim/toned/whatever-adjective-fits-for-you appearance.

And because the guilt is so pervasive, so all-consuming, so strong that I’m willing to push other things aside such as meaningful relationships, spending time with those who matter to me, doing the daily activities that need to get done, just to “right the wrong” and attone for my “gluttonous sins”, it really points that I value one of these things incredibly highly.  As in whatever I value takes priority as one of my chief values in life.

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And that’s where the depressing and humbling part comes in, as well as sadness and anger.  Regardless of whichever element it is (and for me I think it’s both: perfectionism and orthorexia valuing having a perfectly healthy and clean body on the inside, and the having a fat-free, slim, toned, and beautiful outward appearance), I think it’s absolutely ridiculous that I clearly value that so much more than some of the other things in my life.  Like, if it was my funeral, would I really want to be remembered as the “girl who had the perfect/healthiest body” or the “girl who took every opportunity possible to laugh”.  “The girl who put others before herself”.  “The girl who was always up for some quality time with her friends and family.”  “The girl who was not afraid to be completely real, and totally herself”.

I don’t know about you, but for me, every option sounds better than the first one.

But this realization, as sad as it is, and as infuriating as it might be, isn’t a pointer that you’re conceited, self-absorbed, trivial, or whatever other adjective that puts you down says.  The fact that you might value your physical appearance or your fat-free body quite(too) highly isn’t a death sentence.  It isn’t yet another redline through your despicable character that you’re convinced (by the eating disorder) that you have.  Because, there’s always a silver lining…

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YAY!

Okay.  So realization, confession, acceptance:

My name is Tiffany.  I hold no grudge against people who are larger.  I hold no misgivings over someone who has fat, or cellulite, and I think no less of them as a human being.  I do not believe that anyone’s outward appearance has an impact on their worthiness, worth, or value as a person, or their worthiness of love, care, compassion, or happiness.  And I would NEVER, EVER, say that I am better than anyone else based on my outward appearance.  However, for some reason, I do not hold myself up to the same standards.  I value my outward appearance highly.  I value what I physically look like too highly.  And as much as I do not judge others for how they appear, I am terrified of appearing larger, or with more fat, or less tone.  This value interferes with my life.  It gets in my way because it results in me missing opportunities and not being present in my relationships in the ways that I want to be present in them.  And because I value this so highly, it often results in me putting my outward appearance ahead of a lot of other things in my life that it should not, that I do not want it to be ahead of.

Phew.

And it angers me.  And I’m working on the acceptance part.

HOWEVER, here’s that part where I luck out at having guilt as my ally!  Guilt has helped me by pointing out what I value… let’s add to the Brené Brown quote:

I believe that guilt is adaptive and helpful – it’s holding something we’ve done or failed to do up against our values and feeling psychological discomfort.  Guilt acts as a lighthouse guiding you home to both your true values AND your MISPLACED values.  And as a result, you can work on changing them for the better.

Mind blown.

Yes, just because you hold something as a value, doesn’t mean it needs to stay a value.  Just because it’s engrained into your psyche as something of critical importance, doesn’t mean that it’s a part of you.  Your values are not your genes: they’re not a special CATGGATC (isn’t that the four nucleotides?) sequence that can’t be altered without some fancy GMO.  If you change your values, you won’t create cancer or suddenly grow 12 arms or bananas with breasts…

I don’t even know where that came from.  Moving on…

It takes work, it takes conscious effort, and it takes immersing yourself completely in new ideas and ideals to change your values.  But it can be done.  And you’ll know when you’ve achieved it:

You’ll eat that brownie without a second thought.

You’ll go out for pizza with your friends and then eat breakfast the next day. And snack.  And lunch. And dinner.

Your burger will come with a side of fries instead of a side of guilt.

Your blessing in disguise will be your guide.