Closet Cleanse

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By: Marlee

I purged my wardrobe. Literally, I had clothes scattered across my bed and floor. Why you may ask? Well I was running sprints one morning, and I noticed how my shorts were bunching up on my thighs. I had been noticing it a lot lately and I was kinda beating myself up about it. Why? Because my shorts fit just fine in the summer. All my shorts fit. I knew that I had gained weight but the fact that stuff that was fitting over the summer wasn’t fitting now was making me self conscious.

But before that self discriminating voice got louder I thought “Why am I trying to wear clothes that don’t make me feel comfortable and confident?”

Some of my clothes were ones that I got back in high school or during my first two years of college. As I thought about it more, I wondered if I was trying to hold on to some old part of me. Why was I trying to hold on to a person that I no longer am?

As soon as I got back to my apartment, I started tearing my closet and dresser apart. I created two piles of clothes: one for clothes to sell and one for clothes to donate. I didn’t hold back. I didn’t think twice about getting rid of something that was cute but no longer fits me.

Its still a hard concept for me to wrap my head around. Most people don’t realize, that ED survivors may recover, but we still deal with the side effects on a daily basis. Becoming comfortable with yourself is a process and a struggle. I felt like these clothes were holding me back from embracing my body even more than I already have. We should wear clothes that make us feel comfortable and confident. We shouldn’t be wearing clothes that make us feel insecure or uncomfortable.

I don’t want to wear shorts that bunch up on my thighs. I want shorts that hug my thighs and show off their strength. I don’t want shirts that make me feel self conscious about my ab-less belly. I want shirts that flaunt my curves and make me feel confident. I want dresses that make me want to twirl (an indication that I like something btw) and a swim suit that makes me want to do a cannon ball into a pool (I promise I’m 21 years old).

I’m not the size I was during my ED. I’ve gained weight since last year. I realized though that a number is so meaningless in defining my self worth. Some stores I wear one certain size in jeans, and in others I wear a different one. But you know what? WHO GIVES A DAMN?! It’s a stupid number and sizing in the clothing industry is SO screwed up. I’m gonna pick clothes that fit me and make me feel confident. And I’m sure as hell not gonna stress over the size, because really what does a number or letter mean? ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.

Purging my closet and dresser was refreshing and invigorating. You should have seen me. It was like something out of a movie. I had music blasting in my room, throwing clothes out on the floor, singing and dancing the whole time. Doing that instantly made my day SO much better.

So the moral of this whole story: meaningless material objects should not define you. If something makes you feel uncomfortable or self-conscious, DON’T WEAR IT. Hell, GET RID OF IT. It’s not worth it to keep wearing something that makes you feel horrible about yourself. You deserve to feel confident, strong, and beautiful in whatever you’re wearing. And when you feel good about yourself, that confidence radiates around you. And that is the most important thing you can wear.

This post originally appeared on lifteatlife.wordpress.com


About the Author: 21, going on 22-year-old recent college graduate. Loves lifting heavy weights, blogging, french bulldogs, dancing, singing, and peanut butter. Aspires to help people find their inner fighter and embrace every part of themselves.

Letting Myself Be a Part of Body Positive, Even When I Don’t Feel Great About My Body

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By: Melena Steffes

Seeing body positive posts pouring in over the internet has had its positives, but at first it gave me some unreasonable expectations of myself during recovery. You can’t go from loathing your appearance to loving it overnight. It’s hard to make that transition in one thought process, in one snap decision. But I wanted it to be that quick of a change. I didn’t fully understand everything at first, but I believed that in order to be a part of a body positive culture, it meant I had to love my body all of the time. Doing that while in eating disorder recovery just isn’t that easy. It can’t be one of those “snap decisions”.

Seeing people in their underwear or swimsuits posting these long Instagram captions of how they found acceptance did motivate me, and it was also a reminder that I too have been in that spot, but at times it just seemed discouraging. Logging into other social media platforms like Tumblr and Facebook had similar effects on me too. Seeing before and after pictures wasn’t always something that made me smile. If my body wasn’t like theirs, I felt like maybe I wasn’t able to be part of that culture of body-love just yet and that I needed to ‘wait’ until I fit some sort of criteria. But loving yourself doesn’t have entry requirements, it’s an invitation and it’s always there for you, welcoming you.

Reading how people found this new love for their bodies was like a breath of fresh air, but since I was still trying to find it myself, I felt behind. I thought I just couldn’t do recovery ‘right’, I felt like I would always only be halfway in recovery, and halfway in eating disorder land.

But, I was wrong. I need to allow myself to accept my body, whether I believe I deserve it or feel a bit behind, etc. I’ve come to find that being ‘body positive’ doesn’t mean that I have to love my body 100% of the time. Rather, that I promise to work with it- not against it, and to always try my best to accept myself in whatever form I’m in.

There’s a quote I love that I repeat to myself often:

“Accepting this body did not mean convincing myself that it was beautiful, it meant giving myself permission to exist regardless.”

– Trista Mateer

The size of my thighs or the width of my hips doesn’t get to determine how much fun I have at the party, or how often I use my smile. I am not wrong for having this body. I am allowed to eat the rest of the ice cream and wear my favorite high waisted shorts instead of hiding away in my leggings and baggy sweatshirt. And while I still may struggle with this, and some days it feels further away from me, trying to love and accept myself is always more worthwhile than any time dwelling on ways I ‘need’ to change myself.

I don’t need to love my body every second of the day, but that doesn’t then give me permission to withhold things from it that it deserves, being nutrition, or going out with friends. My body doesn’t need to be punished for simply existing and neither does yours. If you’re looking for permission to find body positivity or self-love, this is it. You have all the permission in the world to accept yourself in the form you’re in.


MelenaAbout the Author:Melena Steffes is 21 years old, studying journalism with a minor in psychology at the University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee. She is passionate about mental health advocacy and eating disorder awareness and therefore writes majority of her pieces around those topics. Being in recovery herself, she has been personally impacted by the power of words from some of her favorite authors. She wants to give back to the recovery community herself through writing. She believes that Project HEAL is an organization that has a profound impact, and strong mission which is one of many reasons why she wants to be involved and volunteer. As of 2017 she is also one of Project HEAL’s blog managers. If she’s not writing, you can catch her playing fetch with her new kitten or drinking coffee at a nearby coffee shop.

My Wish for My Girls: Radical Self-Love & Acceptance…and Anger, Placed Appropriately

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By: Lisa Tieglman-Koepp, M.S.Ed., LPC, NCC

I wish for you the courage to see the world, the fashion industry and magazines, health food stores and weight loss companies, network marketers and independent distributors of nutritional products, as entities dependent upon your hatred of yourself.

I wish for you the trust to see this diet industry as predatory, with ill-intent to prey on your insecurities, hoping you’ll buy into a product or service, which fails 95% of the time. I wish these industries would simply leave you alone, but they won’t. And I won’t give up on you.

I wish for you the ability to celebrate your beauty just the way you are, your entire being, the whole of you! I wish you would have trusted that if you’d have eaten normally, intuitively and enjoyably, your weight and size would not be an issue. It’s not too late! I want you to move for the health of it and the simple enjoyment of being alive. I wish you would trust that if you do these things, you’ll be just fine.

I want to teach you to be “informed consumers”, so that you do not waste another single penny on products and services that fail 95% of the time. I wish you accepted that these companies do not care about you! They care about your money, period! I wish I could help you bust through the pressure to look like models in fashion magazines and the media and teach you to trust your bodies, to live fully in them and most of all, to befriend and trust your hunger.

I wish that you’d believe that you are already programmed to be a certain size, shape and weight by your ancestry genetics and DNA, so you could take a deep breath and start accepting yourself and allow your body to do what it will. I wish you the beauty in seeing the lineage in which you come from.

I wish you the ability to salvage your metabolism. History misunderstood repeats itself, which is why the weight loss industry is so successful as you continue to fail time and time again. I hope that after years of yo-yo dieting, when your metabolism decreases and your gastrointestinal system slows down, and your body goes into starvation mode in order to protect you, you will understand that the problem all along was your attempt to lose weight, not your willpower or motivation.

I wish more people were mad enough to raise more hell about this. I wish for you the chance to celebrate the diversity of your body and love the vehicle that carries your soul, instead of trying to manipulate your weight and size. The answer to improved self-esteem is not found in this route. I wish that you take the leap of faith and love and live to the fullest potential, and start redirecting your energy towards making your unique thumb-print on the world!


About the Author: Lisa A. Tieglman-Koepp, M.S.Ed., LPC, NCC, is a therapist in private practice and the Lead IOP Therapist in the Eating Disorder Services at Aurora Psychiatric Hospital. She is the proud mom of three amazing girls.

A Mom’s Candid View on Body Image

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By: Kristin Brawn

Since I joined the “Mom Club” two years ago, I have considered blogging about a number of experiences related to body, weight and societal expectations. I have struggled with where to start, what to share, but mostly I struggled with finding the motivation to tackle this topic in a way that felt true to myself and the work that I’ve done for the past decade.

Then this happened over the weekend…

“Mommy, mommy, I am growing. See I am growing!”

A young girl twirled around the local department store, pleased that she could reach the top of the shopping cart.

Her mother turned around and smiled. She had a beautiful, warm smile.

The young girl’s voice got louder as she exclaimed excitedly, “Mommy, mommy are you growing?”

My ears perked up as I awaited to hear how her mother responded.

“Oh honey, yes! Mommy is growing in the wrong direction though! She needs to shrink!”

The young girl’s mother laughed as she answered and went on to emphasize how she had grown rounder rather than taller. I watched the little girl’s face change as she took in these words from her mother.

My heart broke. It broke for the young girl’s mother. It broke for the young girl. It broke for my son sitting in the shopping cart overhearing this conversation. It broke for all the women who have or will struggle with body image so much that they feel the need to express it to their children.

There has been a lot of talk recently about the impact of a mother’s body image on her female offspring. It’s an important topic to address but it isn’t just young girls we need to worry about. It impacts boys too.

My son is only 2. He was singing the “Itsy Bitsy Spider” while I overheard the conversation mentioned above. We can learn a lot from our children about nourishing and appreciating our bodies appropriately. My son eats intuitively telling me when he is hungry (his belly goes “roar”) or when he is full (his belly says “no more, no more”). He doesn’t seem to notice or care that people come in all shapes, colors and sizes.

He recently rediscovered how amazing his belly button is. He likes to lift up his shirt and tell me, “I love my belly and my belly button.” We talk about the amazing things that our bodies can do. We need strong legs to help us climb the ladder to go down the slide. We need our arms to give big hugs to the people we love. Our bellies have important jobs; they help us have deep laughs when we do something funny.

The truth is, as a mother and as a woman, there are days when it is easy to find myself drawn into the trap of negative body talk. While I fall victim to this trap once in a while, I feel fortunate. Working in the eating disorders field has provided me with a front row seat to what chronic poor body image, extreme weight fluctuations and decreased sense of self can do to a person. I have seen the impact of seemingly innocent comments and how they can wreak havoc on a person’s psyche. Because of this, I feel it is my duty to continue focusing on feeling admiration and love for the body that I have been blessed with. I do it for me, but I also do it for my son and my nieces and my nephews because they deserve to grow up in a world where their self-worth is not defined by their waist size.

It’s not always easy. But it certainly isn’t impossible.

I hope the young girl’s mother knows that her beautiful smile is what her daughter will remember, not her clothing size.

Sometimes my son asks, “Mommy do you love your belly?” And without hesitation I lift my shirt to reveal my belly button and say with a huge smile, “I love my belly.”

Originally posted at waldeneatingdisorders.com


Kristin Brawn is the assistant vice president of marketing and community relations at Walden Behavioral Care. She is responsible for developing and executing proactive community relations strategies that raise awareness of the programs and services that Walden offers. To achieve this, Ms. Brawn works closely with Walden staff including executives, program directors and marketing and community relations associates to promote programs, events and new initiatives. She also maintains close relationships with crisis centers, mental health providers, dietitians and doctors in New England and leverages regional and national partnerships with key eating disorder organizations. Prior to joining Walden, Ms. Brawn spent a decade working for the nonprofit Multi-service Eating Disorders Association (MEDA) in Newton, Mass. She began her career at MEDA as an office coordinator, but was quickly promoted to roles of increasing responsibility including director of project management, chief operating officer and executive director. As executive director, she worked closely with the board of directors to manage finances and raise funds to help elevate the organization. She was also responsible for coordinating MEDA’s national conference which included selecting speakers, overseeing conference advertising and marketing and coordinating volunteers. Ms. Brawn earned her bachelor’s from the College of the Holy Cross and her master’s from Boston University School of Public Health.

Wrapping My Head Around the Concept of Health at Every Size

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By: Melena Steffes

Walking into group that day, I didn’t know that I was going to leave it with a whole new concept that would permanently implant itself in my brain. Health at Every Size (HAES) was the complete opposite of what my mind thought it had to believe in. At that time, all I heard playing in my ears every day was BMI, BMI, BMI.

But when the dietitian walked into group that day, she explained something that took me a long time to grasp. She told us about HAES and how it explains that different bodies can be healthy at different weights/different sizes, and that BMI isn’t always an accurate depiction of that health. Health at Every Size focuses on developing healthy eating habits for your overall health, not as a goal for weight loss.

I remember being taught about BMI in so many classes throughout my life. In gym, in health class; it even has come up in a math course in college last year. In my sophomore year of high school, a height/weight chart was passed around the room, and everyone was asked to figure out where they fell on it. The whole class filled with anxiety, people’s around me voices began to crack when they spoke. Everyone’s sentences were cut short. Nobody wanted to talk anymore.

Who could blame them?

After growing up with charts being put in front of me, hearing about one single method that was supposed to tell you if you’re healthy or not, I didn’t even know how to begin to listen to anything else. I brushed it off, rolled my eyes, and just thought it was another thing the dietitians were telling us to make us eat. But after I sat through the class another time, I was ready to open my ears. I first thought that HAES was just preaching about being okay with weight gain. And, while that is okay too, that is not their overarching mission.

Health at Every Size states that they “celebrate body diversity.” They’re not focusing on one specific body type like I first thought. I remember getting the chills after realizing that. I remember, in that moment, realizing that those bodies they’re celebrating and those bodies they’re accepting, that mine is included in those.

After years of being truly invested in BMI, after only ever giving myself permission to exist in that narrow range of numbers, HAES provided me with a big sigh of relief. I felt like I was an animal being let out of its cage at the end of the day; I felt free to just run. And that’s kind of what I did. I ran with that concept; I ran with the belief that my body was also deserving of acceptance. Or at least I tried my hardest to.

There are still days where I find myself getting caught back up in that narrow range of BMI numbers. There are still days where I don’t believe my body will ever be good enough or worthy enough to love. Some days, even when I may not find myself 100% believing in HAES, I still have the concept there in the back of my head. Like I said, Health at Every Size has permanently implanted itself in my brain. And I’m forever grateful that it has.

Closet Cleanse

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By: Marlee

I purged my wardrobe. Literally, I had clothes scattered across my bed and floor. Why you may ask? Well I was running sprints one morning, and I noticed how my shorts were bunching up on my thighs. I had been noticing it a lot lately and I was kinda beating myself up about it. Why? Because my shorts fit just fine in the summer. All my shorts fit. I knew that I had gained weight but the fact that stuff that was fitting over the summer wasn’t fitting now was making me self conscious.

But before that self discriminating voice got louder I thought, “Why am I trying to wear clothes that don’t make me feel comfortable and confident?”

Some of my clothes were ones that I got back in high school or during my first two years of college. As I thought about it more, I wondered if I was trying to hold on to some old part of me. Why was I trying to hold on to a person that I no longer am?

As soon as I got back to my apartment, I started tearing my closet and dresser apart. I created two piles of clothes: one for clothes to sell and one for clothes to donate. I didn’t hold back. I didn’t think twice about getting rid of something that was cute but no longer fits me.

17264912_1610148245662335_1314233306996292564_n

Literally my favorite workout outfit at the moment 😀

Its still a hard concept for me to wrap my head around. Most people don’t realize, that ED survivors may recover, but we still deal with the side effects on a daily basis. Becoming comfortable with yourself is a process and a struggle. I felt like these clothes were holding me back from embracing my body even more than I already have. We should wear clothes that make us feel comfortable and confident. We shouldn’t be wearing clothes that make us feel insecure or uncomfortable.

17309484_10206813012838734_8993426946974188112_n

From my epic migration back to my childhood home in The Plains 🙂

I don’t want to wear shorts that bunch up on my thighs. I want shorts that hug my thighs and show off their strength. I don’t want shirts that make me feel self conscious about my ab-less belly. I want shirts that flaunt my curves and make me feel confident. I want dresses that make me want to twirl (an indication that I like something btw) and a swim suit that makes me want to do a cannon ball into a pool (I promise I’m 21 years old).

I’m not the size I was during my ED. I’ve gained weight since last year. I realized though that a number is so meaningless in defining my self worth. It’s a stupid number and sizing in the clothing industry is SO screwed up. I’m gonna pick clothes that fit me and make me feel confident. And I’m sure as hell not gonna stress over the size, because really what does a number or letter mean? ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.

Purging my closet and dresser was refreshing and invigorating. You should have seen me. It was like something out of a movie. I had music blasting in my room, throwing clothes out on the floor, singing and dancing the whole time. Doing that instantly made my day SOOOO much better.

So the moral of this whole story: meaningless material objects should not define you. If something makes you feel uncomfortable or self-conscious, DON’T WEAR IT. Hell, GET RID OF IT. It’s not worth it to keep wearing something that makes you feel horrible about yourself. You deserve to feel confident, strong, and beautiful in what ever you’re wearing. And when you feel good about yourself, that confidence radiates around you. And that is the most important thing you can wear.

Screen Shot 2017-03-25 at 4.03.38 PM

WORD via Belle & Bell

 

Love,

Marls

Originally published at https://lifteatlife.wordpress.com/2017/03/30/closet-cleanse/


About the Author: 21 going on 22 year old recent college graduate. Loves lifting heavy weights, blogging, french bulldogs, dancing, singing, and peanut butter. Aspires to help people find their inner fighter and embrace every part of themselves.

Notes To My Younger Self

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By: Kat Reinhert

Dear 13 year old self,

Being on the gymnastics team might feel like you need to look good in a tight, ill-fitting leotard as people watch you jump up and twirl around or swing from bar to bar – but really, what you need to be is strong. Even though it’s hard, try to focus on the work and the joy in learning new tricks instead of whether or not people are looking at you. I promise, whether or not you get a good score or if you fall down and fail, show up the next day for you. You don’t need to purge your dinner because you think you are fat. You don’t need to overeat because you’re stressed. You are enough.

Dear 19 year old self,

Well, now, you’re in college. And you’ve decided to pursue music. Specifically, jazz singing. And you’ve moved to NYC.   I know it feels like you’re not good enough to hang with all these amazing musicians you are meeting. I know you’re working really hard to understand complicated musical ideas like improvisation and tri-tone substitutions. I know you cut off all your hair and a bum on the street mistook you for a boy. But you are beautiful. You are smart. You are driven. Don’t use your femininity to define your art. And don’t think that people are only working with you – and will only work with you – if you are thin and all put together perfectly. You don’t need to be perfect. Don’t date people who manipulate you. Date the kid who sees you for who you are. He doesn’t care that you’re almost a foot taller than he is. Don’t have so much pride that you can’t ask your parents for money because you’re hungry. Being skinny isn’t the answer. And when you go home, you don’t need to overeat and purge because your home life is stressful. Weight is transitive. It doesn’t define who you are or what you are worth. And purging really isn’t good for singing. And you’re a singer, so just stop.

You are enough.

Dear 27 year old self,

You’re engaged now. And I know he has the body of someone in a magazine. But that doesn’t mean you need to have the same image. You don’t need to be perfect even though it feels like you do. I see you looking at yourself every night wondering how you can lose weight. I see you hating your body. But I also see you letting go of some of that. You’re back in school now and about to embark on a new adventure. You’re going to learn so much and you’re going to walk away from something very important. And it will be the best decision you make. Because you’ll start making music. You’ll go on tour. But it doesn’t have to be perfect. Even though you think it does, and everyone around you for the next ten years will make it seem like it does. But it doesn’t. Perfection is an illusion. It ruins experiences and lives. It stops you from doing what you love.

You are enough.

Dear 37 year old self,

You’re divorced. And you’ve finally decided to figure out who you are. Because you almost lost yourself. You will write some truly heart-wrenching songs (well, they are heart-wrenching for you). You will finally see a therapist. Together, with some friends, you will heal your heart and your soul and start down the road to becoming your authentic self. You will still struggle with your body image but it will no longer control or define you. You will have bad days and good days. But you will never go back. Because you have learned to love yourself. You will change your love of exercise to a love of being healthy. You will wear clothes you never thought you could. You will find joy and self-expression through style. Regardless of whether your pants fit easy or tight. You will fall in love with someone who loves you for who you are inside. Who sees you. Who celebrates all that you are – in both your struggles and your triumphs. Who holds up a mirror, but doesn’t judge you. And you will love him in the same way because you love yourself in the same way.

You are enough.

Hello, 40 year old self!

unnamedYou’re still having days where you don’t feel good about how you look, but they are few and far between. There are so much more important things to worry about. You have a PhD, you got a job at a major university teaching voice and songwriting. You have become and continue to work on being the authentic self you seek. And it matters. Oh it matters. You have become that which you sought. You have a finance. Your family loves you. Your students threw you a graduation party and wrote you the most amazing letters that brought you to tears. You have a wedding to plan. You have music to write and venues to play. You have someone in your life that you are going to walk alongside for a very long time. You’ve healed most of the wounds, although sometimes they re-open and you need to stitch them back up, but that’s ok. You’re ok. There are just so many more important things to work with in your life that have nothing to do with the size of your thighs. No one cares. Will you have days where you look in the mirror and hate what you see? Of course? Will you always strive to be healthy? Of course. Will you cringe when you get yourself weighed at the doctor and the number just feels like failure? Of course. Will you forever have days where it feels like you’re not enough? Of course. Will you doubt your purpose? Of course. Will you wonder when enough is enough? Of course. Are there still a million questions you don’t have answers to? Yup. But that’s awesome. Because it means you have a whole lot more to live for and figure out!

Besides, these things no longer define you. They are simply part of life and you can see them for what they are and let go. Because YOU ARE ENOUGH.


About the Author:

unnamedAn intriguing singer with a vision toward the future, Kat Reinhert enchants listeners with her original songs, signature style and insightful storytelling. Kat is passionate about teaching voice and educating students in the craft of songwriting and creative original music and is a sought after voice pedagogue, clinician and educator.

Road to Recovery: Liza Kulimanova

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By TJ Spencer

Project HEAL provides grant funding for people with eating disorders who cannot afford treatment. For many, this treatment has gone beyond saving their lives – it helps them save others’ lives as well.

Such is the case for Liza Kulimanova, a 2014 Project HEAl grant recipient who currently runs a website, educational YouTube channel and a blog dedicated to helping others overcome their struggles with bulimia.

For Liza, her 13-year struggle with bulimia began in her home country of Russia. She remembers being happy until around age 11, when she began dedicating more and more of her time to her studies and striving for perfection. After trying different weight loss centers and Chinese acupuncture to help cope with her struggles, she was prescribed Fluoxetine to help with depression – but it just wasn’t working.

Her days before treatment were filled with a routine of “dwelling on negative thoughts, zoning out, restricting, binging, purging…being extremely busy and ‘productive,’” Liza explains.

This routine was further perpetuated with she immigrated to the United States in 2010.

“I had no support in the USA and I was extremely isolated,” she says.

She then began searching online for scholarships for eating disorder treatment and discovered Project HEAL. With the grant, she was able to attend treatment at The New Beginning in Scottsdale, AZ.

“Treatment was hard and painful, but at the same time giving me relief and making me feel so much better. I am so grateful for treatment and I see bulimia as a gift now. It really allowed me to become a healthier and better person and grow tremendously from the inside,” she explains.

Today, Liza’s routine is filled with smiling, being more present and aware, checking in on herself, creating time for herself and being open to people, along with blogging and bodybuilding.

“I am very determined and disciplined, and willing to grow consistently,” she says.

This determination and discipline has allowed her to become an ambassador for bulimia treatment through her website, blog and YouTube channel.

“Believe that recovery is possible, because it is. Love yourself enough to get better — just take the first step and see where this journey will lead you. Let your life to unfold and let go of the control,” she advises.


headshotAbout the Author: Second-year journalism and French double major at Seattle University, TJ Spencer is originally from a small town in California, but Seattle stole her heart. In her free time, she enjoys writing, reading and showing off her embarrassing dance moves at cardio dance class. You can find her around Seattle photographing anything and everything, or in her bedroom practicing her French by talking to her roommate’s rabbit.

Trying Again

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By Kelsey Ognibene

I, like many eating disorder sufferers, am a chronic perfectionist. Growing up, I always wanted the best grades, to win the most awards, and to be everyone’s favorite student. As an adult, these urges are still there: be the best employee, the most liked by the boss, have the most friends. This constant strive toward the unattainable, to be perfect in all aspects of life, is something that I know, logically, is impossible. And yet, I still strive toward it, and it in part fueled my eating disorder.

Recovering from an eating disorder is not perfect. There are no clean parts of it—it is all messy, time consuming, difficult, emotional work, and none of that is part of anyone’s five-year plan. When I left treatment, though, that perfectionist mentality manifested itself again, this time about my recovery: You can be that person that never relapses. You can do recovery perfectly from now on, never needing help again. I told myself these lies for weeks, until I realized that I was wrong.

I, and many others, wrongly assumed that once you leave a treatment center, that’s it. You have all the coping skills you’ll need, you’ve dealt with all the emotional work that needs dealt with, and you will reintegrate into society seamlessly. I realized, of course, that I was wrong pretty quickly. Leaving the relative comfort and controlled environment of a treatment center is terrifying, and realizing that decisions that were once made for you and were not options are now your decisions to make is harrowing. As soon as you leave the center, everything is essentially exactly as it was before—except for you.

I had to understand that perfection in recovery, just like perfection in life, does not exist. I had to relearn how to make food choices, and how to do so in a way that seemed healthier and also like a normal part of life. I had to realize that no recovery is perfect and that no one never has another eating disorder thought ever again. There have been numerous periods of relapse, ruining my image of “perfection” that I assumed would be my life post-eating disorder center.

It has been two years this month since I entered residential treatment. During that time, I have worked to lose the attitude that perfection is possible and have tried to realize that all of the messiness and ups and downs of eating disorder recovery are what makes it so difficult and so rewarding. If recovery was perfect, why would we do it? Why fight for something that you don’t have to work for and that doesn’t make you better?

board-786119_640There are days that I wish I could go back to believing I have the power and control to make my life perfect and my eating disorder tells me often that life was better that way. But then I look at my life now, a life where I accept that I have flaws, and that everyone does. Today I live a life where I live authentically, tell people when I need help, and allow myself to be told when I need improvement. It is not an easier life in that respect, but it is a real life and one that I wouldn’t trade.

Your eating disorder lies to you constantly. You cannot be perfect, and you cannot control everything in your life. What you can do, though, is learn to accept yourself just as you are now, not at a magical weight that you think will make things perfect. Life is so much better when we give up the illusion of perfection—breaking free from the eating disorder is the first step in a long journey, one that ends with acceptance, self-love, and a love of flaws. We are not perfect—but if we strive to love ourselves, our life can become somewhat more rewarding and happier, the goal that perfection and control can never give us.


About the Author: IMG_4353Kelsey Ognibene is a social worker living in New Orleans, Louisiana who graduated with her masters in social work in 2016. She received a Project HEAL grant in 2015 and has been working to help others with addictions and mental health issues since. She also has a dog, Daisy, who is a pretty cool canine. Follow her on Twitter.

Cave Person Brain (Part 1)

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by Jennifer L. Gaudiani, MD, CEDS, Founder & Medical Director of the Gaudiani Clinic

There are so many medical complications that can occur in eating disorders and in the caloric restriction that can come with disordered eating. Let’s simplify our understanding and take a 30,000-foot view. To illustrate this concept, I’m going to use the concept of the “cave person brain.”

From a not-very-neuroanatomical perspective, the “cave person brain” is the part of your brain that manages all the aspects of your body that you’re not consciously aware of. I call it the “cave person brain,” because it has kept us alive as a species through millennia of evolution. This first of two posts will review how the cave person brain affects certain vital signs.

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When you don’t take in enough calories, your cave person brain recognizes this as a “famine situation” and kicks into gear to keep you alive. First, it slows your metabolism. What exactly is the famed metabolism? Essentially, it’s the amount of energy your body needs neither to lose nor gain weight…to keep all your organs working, your body temperature normal, and sustain daily needs. So when you restrict calories—whether it’s on a diet (they don’t work!), or on a fast or cleanse (unscientific! And they don’t work!), or in the service of an eating disorder—your cave person brain thinks, “Famine! Slow the metabolism so we get through it safely!”

Your cave person brain slows your metabolism in several key ways, all intended to make each calorie count and reduce needless energy (caloric) expenditure. For one, your body temperature drops. Keep in mind that maintaining the body temperature at almost exactly 98.6 degrees F (37 C) is one of the key physiologic mandates of the body. Our enzymes work perfectly at 98.6 degrees, and the body works hard usually to keep our temperatures exactly there. However, when your metabolism slows from caloric restriction, the body finds energy efficiency in the same way you do in winter: it shuts off heat to non-essential areas. That is, just like you might shut off the heat in a little-used room to decrease your energy bill, your cave person brain clamps down on the circulation of your hands and feet, so that calorie-warmed blood isn’t “wasted” in keeping those non-life-saving appendages warm. Patients who restrict calories can thus end up with cold hands and feet all the time, with fingers and toes even becoming blueish in color, a condition known as acrocyanosis (literally “blue color pertaining to the end” of digits). As restriction becomes more extreme, you might develop fine hair on your face. This is called lanugo, and your cave person brain grows this to try and hold heat in, like a very fine pelt. In addition, you might feel cold all the time, as your furnace cools in the setting of lacking fuel. In extreme cases, the core body temperature actually falls. These are signs that your metabolism is getting really slow…that you’ve starved yourself to the point where you need very few calories a day just to maintain your body weight.

Second, your heart rate drops when you restrict calories. Your cave person brain literally doesn’t want to spend an extra calorie on an extra beat of your heart. Bradycardia refers to a heart rate less than 60 beats per minute. Something that can confuse patients and providers alike is that fine athletes also develop bradycardia, as the strong heart muscle becomes efficient with athletic training, and beats more slowly. Since many patients with eating disorders continue to exercise (either compulsively or excessively) despite calorie restriction, how does one tell whether a resting pulse of 45 is due to metabolic slowing from starvation, or from athletic efficiency? The key is what I like to call the “walk across the room test.” After checking a resting heart rate for a minute, walk across the room and back. A fine athlete’s heart will not so much as budge in rate with that minimal exertion. However, after extended caloric restriction and weight loss (regardless of current body weight), the restrictor’s muscle mass will have wasted away, possibly including cardiac mass. Even if they continue to push themselves to exercise daily, the exertion of walking across the room will cause the heart rate to increase by anywhere from 50% to 300%. That is, after walking across the room, their pulse might go from 45 to 70 (or 90 or 125). That cardioacceleration is the hallmark of a starved person’s heart. Metabolic slowing is achieved through increase of what’s called vagal tone, or firing of parasympathetic nervous system. This is what bears use when they slow their metabolisms to hibernate all winter. They drop their body temperature, slow their heart rate, and conserve calories during a period of prolonged caloric deprivation. PS: Bears sleep during hibernation. They do not work out, maintain an active job, do homework, or “get their steps in!”

No one wants a slow metabolism. It means that your body might need only 500-700 calories a day just to maintain weight. From my perspective, anything less than 1500 calories a day represents a deprivation diet, and your body will respond as described above. This explains why those who diet stop losing weight. Their metabolisms slow to equal their intake.

It can explain, in certain cases, why caloric restriction stops causing weight loss in those with eating disorders, to the individual’s profound dismay. Their cave person brain defends that body weight fiercely, bravely saving a life.

The key to jumpstarting the metabolism again, to warming up that body and resolving heart rate extremes is … eating again. Nutritional rehabilitation fixes all these problems, and often results in a hypermetabolic state! I like to remind my patients with anorexia nervosa that, amazingly, when they really eat enough (under the care of a dietitian), their metabolism can speed up so much that it’s like that of a 12-year-old boy playing three sports!

In part two, I’ll talk about some of the other ways that the cave person brain responds to the challenge of starvation. In the meantime, if any of this is happening to you, seek help. Be brave and get into good care. Your cave person brain will thank you.


About the Author:

ckgaudianiclinic-094-copy-300x300Dr. Jennifer LGaudiani is the Founder and Medical Director of the Gaudiani Clinic, a unique outpatient medical clinic for adolescents and adults with eating disorders. She is one of very few internal medicine physicians in the country who hold the Certified Eating Disorder Specialist credential from the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals. Check out the Gaudiani clinic on Facebook and Twitter.