Open Letter to the Online Recovery Community

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To All of My Online Recovery Warriors-

Can I just start out by saying you guys are incredible? Seriously. When I was recovering from my eating disorder, this type of recovery kinship simply did not exist. From what I can recall, during that time period, the world-wide-web appeared to be dominated by pro-ana culture. The internet was a place for people with eating disorders to give each other tips on how to become sicker, and to feel safe from judgment when doing so. Instagram wasn’t a thing yet, and I had never even heard of the term “prorecovery” until well after I recovered.

 

Since that time, it seems like we have seriously taken back the internet. It’s amazing. Not since Alcoholics Anonymous has there been such a powerful, self-run, self-monitored community of like-minded individuals committed to a singular cause of bettering themselves and overcoming a specific mental illness. From Facebook support groups, to instagram recovery accounts, to blogs where individuals dispense recovery tips, we have really come into our own.

 

But just like AA, we have our issues. The online community isn’t regulated which, in and of itself, invites a slew of potential problems. And while, more often than not, I am uplifted and inspired by how well we do supporting ourselves and one another regardless of monitoring, there are a few nagging issues that keep popping up for me. Read on, and tell me if you agree warriors:

 

  1. Instagram bios- Specifically, listing number of inpatient stays in bios. This, to me, is unnecessary at best, and harmful at worst. I understand that, having been through hell and back, there is sometimes a pull to shout, “I’ve been though hell and back! I am worthy!” This is human. The problem is, it feeds the eating disorder mindset of “sick enough.” In a community of individuals who are trying to recover, lets just put our cards on the table and say that we all actively struggle not to engage in comparison with one another. Right? Right. But our ED voice tells us to do so daily. So when your number of inpatient stays is higher than her number of inpatient stays, her ED voice may just get a little bit stronger for that moment. And hey, I get that we are not in a trigger-less world. It is not our job to make sure that everyone around us feels free from triggers all the time. But if you are making the choice to actively engage in a community of individuals who are striving towards recovery, why not make an attempt to scream “I am worthy” louder than ED screams you are not, EVEN in the bio?

 

 

  1. Bios again!- Specifically, listing lowest weight, highest weight, current, weight, goal weight, you get the picture. Grrrr numbers. Come on now. See above. I’ve learned a long time ago that numbers are never helpful to the discussion of recovery and eating disorders. When ya’ll put that in your bios you are directly participating in eating disorder sensationalism. Even if you don’t mean to. You contribute to societal ignorance and misconception that eating disorders have to do with being underweight, AND, you charge up other people’s competitive ED voices. And your own, without realizing it. Because who are you really trying to prove something to by putting your lowest weight in there? In the end, when you really stop and think about it, it’s probably just your eating disorder.

 

  1. Food pictures. I LOVE food pictures. Love them. And contrary to a lot of other people’s opinions, I love the food pictures that look gorgeous. Why not make your pancakes look like art girl? If that helps you in your recovery then more power to ya. I just think that sometimes it is important for us to take a step back from the food pics and make sure that we are communicating/noticing all the other aspects of our lives. Recovery is about food. Definitely. But it is about so much more than that. And if you spend your time arranging your food and then taking picture after picture of it and then posting them all you might not get to share those other cool parts of yourself with the online community. So keep on keeping on with the food pics. But every once in while write a blog post about your favorite hobby. Or post a make-up free #fearlesslyme selfie. Recovery is about living life again, which can be expanded into so many directions-the possibilities are endless!

 

 

  1. Hashtags-I’ll make this short and sweet. We need to be more responsible with the hashtags. Hashtags are a way to be found. They are a way to make yourself vulnerable, but they are also a way for the vulnerable to find. Please PLEASE stop posting things that are intentionally triggering and hashtagging them with #edwarrior, #prorecovery, #bopo, #everybodyisbeautiful, etc. It’s toxic and counterproductive.

 

  1. Reaching out – So the online community is a supportive forum. I get that. I get that people want to post things that they are dealing with and reach out for support. I think that it can be a great recovery tool! My only advice would be to use caution. Instagam, Facebook, or even your blog can be great, but they are not you, in a room, alone with your best friend or therapist. As I previously stated, these are self-regulated, as in you are not sending an SOS out into a group of professionals. Hence, especially if the forum that you are using is completely public, you may not always receive the most healthy or kind feedback. When you are feeling your most down, or vulnerable, I would say to use caution and make sure to ask yourself- do I post about it, or is this a “call a friend/therapist/family member” moment?

 

 

So there you have it online warriors! We are a force to be reckoned with, that’s for sure. Despite the issues listed above, I feel an immense amount of pride towards the online prorecovery community, and everything that we are doing together, everyday. But what are your thoughts? Do you agree or disagree? Are there issues that I didn’t list that you have noticed? Comment! Your thoughts matter!

 

Sincerely,

 

C, PHEAL Blog Manager

Prorecovery Enthusiast

Why the Jeans Struggle is (Still) Real (And Why This Gives Me Hope)

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Ask me what my top ten likes and dislikes are. Go on. Ask me. If you did, I might tell you all about my love for coffee, memoirs, bangs, and dogs. I might tell you about my distaste for traffic and slapstick comedy. I know I would tell you about jeans. Yup. Jeans.

This seemingly innocent article of clothing has crested the top of my “dislike” list for years and years. Why? I’m not so sure that there is a simple answer. But let me try to explain:

I struggled with an eating disorder for over ten years of my life. When I think about my late teen and early adult years, my most stark memories are not falling in love, getting into college, or landing that great job. Rather, I recall me-obsessively calorie counting, me-running in rain/snow/excessive heat, me-losing friends as I slipped more and more into my own little world- you get the picture. My eating disorder happened gradually and then all at once. What started out as a simple diet slowly but surely became an all-consuming illness, one that would take me years to disentangle myself from. And while much treatment has brought me to the realization that this was about a lot more than weight, poor body image was and continued to be a decidedly strong symptom of my illness for quite some time.

Flash forward to present day. I am recovered. I am a wife. I am a friend to many. I am an advocate for those who struggle with eating disorders. I am a psychologist. Meaning I not only pulled myself out of my own personal hell and demise, but I kicked ED’s ass long enough and hard enough for me to feel comfortable pursuing a career empowering others to do the same. And while I do not disclose my history of an eating disorder to all of my patients, the times that I choose to, I inevitably get asked the same question: Are you completely recovered and how did you do it?

I feel comfortable answering that yes, I am completely recovered, because I can be authentic and genuine when saying so. I am and have been behavior free, I accept my emotions, and the thoughts that once dominated every second of my day now come so infrequently that I can spot them a mile away. This is what full recovery means for me.

In terms of body image, I have worked long and hard to accept and cherish my body. Now does that mean that I LOVE everything that I see in the mirror every day? No. I’m human, and I was born and raised in a society that celebrates the thin ideal and promotes diet culture aggressively. Enter-Jeans.

Jeans are my Achilles Heel. Try as I may, I despise shopping for them. They just never feel like they were created with my body-type in mind. They are always too tight or too loose. I always find myself irritated when shopping for them, muttering to myself like a cantankerous old man- “Why are there so many damn washes? What even are jeggings? High waisted or low? How the hell should I know?”

This happened recently, and it got me to thinking- why do these stubborn feelings persist about this stupid article of clothing when I left my eating disorder in the dust long ago? After much contemplation- this is what I came up with:

I’M HUMAN! A recovered human, yes. But also a highly sensitive, introspective, and perfectionistic human. These are some of the personality attributes that made me vulnerable to the development of an ED in the first place. These things don’t just go away. I just learn how to work them. Years of progress in recovery allowed me to understand how to make my personality work for me, rather than against me. Like I previously stated, to me, full recovery doesn’t necessarily mean that you never have a disordered thought. It just means that they have no power over you anymore. A fully-recovered individual becomes a ninja at challenging and deflecting those thoughts. Yet even ninjas have Achilles Heels.

So rather than let this terrify me or make me question myself, I celebrate the fact that I still have a bit of work to do. Why? Because it is a great opportunity to catch myself getting a little too sure, or compliant. My jeans light-bulb moment allows me to continue to work on my own progress. I hope the day never comes when I decide I have done enough self-reflection and stop striving for more progress. Because there is always room for more. And the more progress that I make, the more personal mountains that I move, the more I can help to empower others to do the same. How great is it that I have such a clear understanding of what still gets under my skin?

So jeans, consider yourself my next Everest. I am comin for ya.

 

 

 

Third Wheelin’ It With ED

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Scene opens to women sitting in restaurant with a man

 

Man: What are you going to order?

 

Woman: looks up from the menu with palpable alarm I’m not sure. There- I don’t see anything that I am in the mood for.

 

Man Come on, why don’t you get the chicken? You were just saying how you were in the mood for it the other day.

 

Woman: looks away I’m not in the mood for it anymore. (thinks to herself ‘Cant he back off already? Geez’) Maybe I’ll just get the salad.

 

Man: Come one. You haven’t had enough protein today. begins to look mildly irritated

 

Waiter: Are you two ready to orde-

 

Woman: No! So sorry but we just need a few more minutes.

 

Woman: to man in a harsh whisper I’m sorry but there isn’t anything on here with protein that I’m into.

 

Man: Stop letting your eating disorder win. Get what you want. Come on, we can share it if you want.

 

Woman: UGH Please don’t play therapist with me. I’m not even hungry anymore. Come on lets just leave.

 

Waiter: Ok, ready to order now you two?

 

Woman and man glare at each other in heavy, heated silence

 

END SCENE

 

Relationships are complicated. Throw an eating disorder in there and it really gets complicated. While the above-mentioned scene no longer occurs with anything close to that amount of panic or intensity, this is a more than accurate play-by-play of most meals out that I had with my husband when we were dating, and the eating disorder was in full swing. As you can see, it was a difficult time for both of us.

 

The thing about being in a relationship with someone who has an eating disorder is that, despite the sufferer’s best intentions and efforts, you are not a dyad. The eating disorder is always there, the annoying third wheel that seems to pop up everywhere from dates, to family gatherings, to the bedroom. When my husband and I were dating, I will admit that my ED ruined more days than not. I was constantly preoccupied and obsessed with food, weight, and physical activity. In short, I was not a great partner. I didn’t have the ability to be at that time. If I am being honest, my eating disorder was probably more my partner than he was. I loved him. I don’t really buy that saying that you cant love someone until you love yourself because I did. I loved him more than anything. I think the saying would be more accurately worded if it said “You cannot properly show someone that you love them until you love yourself.” Because at that time, while I swear I loved him with all of my heart, when it came down to the wire I put my eating disorder first every.single.time. And I hated myself for doing so. I just didn’t feel that I had any control over it. Every time he asked me out to dinner I had to choose between turning him down and feeling guilty about that, or going and feeling guilty about the food. In reality the wrath of my ED voice was 1000 times worse than the guilt that I could ever have about anything else.

 

Luckily, with much time and treatment, I got well. It was a conscious choice, over and over again, every single day. And he stuck with me. I still have trouble understanding how he endured this, and why he decided to put faith in my ability to recover and become a real person again in our relationship, but he did. And here we are, years later, married, happy, and a true dyad. ED no longer has a place in our home.

 

The emotional toll that my ED took on my husband both during the phase when I was actively disordered, as well as when I was going through recovery, was huge. Eating disorders are incredibly insidious and all-encompassing. Though I tried my hardest to play the magician, to keep a front of being perfectly fine and perky on the outside, while falling apart on the inside, it just didn’t work this way. The ED had tentacles, and I had no idea at the time how much the effects radiated out and rippled into those around me. I was consumed by ED, so I couldn’t and didn’t see the pain that others were experiencing. During the hardest times, I was drowning, and, because he cared enough about me to stick around, I was pulling him down with me. But don’t take my word for it. Best if you can hear it from him:

 

*I like calling it ED. I was so happy when the therapist explained it this way to me because it showed me that I wasn’t crazy. She was totally different when ED was in control. I don’t want to call her a monster or anything, but when ED was around, she seriously become a different, hardened person- she became cold, calculating, and distant. She did bad things, like steal money from me for laxatives. At the worst of it she seemed to almost consciously change her outside appearance to reflect her inside experience- she wore huge black shirts with tights and, of course, her body changed and became completely foreign to me. Gone was the beautiful, athletic, fun-loving brunette. Here instead, was this frighteningly angular cold little person who rarely smiled. I think that was the worst of it actually- the way her smile changed. It became a “not-smile.” She smiled without her eyes. Now you should know, my wife is beautiful. She is smart as hell, and she cares more about people than anyone that I have ever met in my life. She is compassionate, funny, ridiculously sarcastic, and her smile lights up my day. Her eyes crinkle at the edges when she does and I swear that smile could pull me out of a coma. But like I said, when her eating disorder took over, her entire personality changed. She was a shell. Very sad, very angry, and very lost.

 

But you know what? I stuck around. I went to interventions for her with her family. I held her hands while she cried and cried before going to treatment. I attended the therapy sessions and I learned about the meal plans. I encouraged her to eat (You take a bite I take a bite). The whole thing was a test of my patience, and I learned more about what I was capable of at that time than I have at any other point in my life because it was the most difficult thing that I ever experienced. When she wasn’t eating, I was obsessed with getting her to eat. I begged. I got angry. We fought constantly. There were periods of feeling hopeless. “You look nice” was triggering, but not saying anything at all seemed to be triggering too. Sometimes it just felt like my hands were tied. Some days I felt like I had to recover with her. The hard thing was that when she got out of treatment, she had been through months of intensive therapy, whereas I hadn’t had any. So I kind of had to play catch up. But in the end it was all worth it, because slowly, day by day, week by week, I got my girlfriend back. And being the support for her through that has only made us stronger. Storms and trees with roots and all that, you know? *

 

So for the partner of someone struggling- Remind yourself that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. It can be an exhausting experience, but don’t give up on your person. Their eating disorder likely has them convinced that they are not worth fighting for, so keep that in mind when you find yourself falling into the trap of feeling like your partner is intentionally trying to be difficult. Make sure that you take time for your own personal self-care. Remind your partner constantly that you wont give up if they do not. Strive to be a pillar of support as they work towards recovery, because if you do, their chances of being able to recover completely will be even stronger. And always remember- ED tires of consistent effort, vulnerability, and support from others, so keep up the fight! Recovery will happen, and with it will come healing for both of you.

Not Sick Enough

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“Can I ask you something? Would you ever consider going inpatient?” My therapist implored me, her eyes heavy with concern. Truthfully I had been spacing out until that moment, but the term “inpatient” pulled me out of my head quickly. “No way. I’m not sick enough for that.”

 

This just about sums up the endless cycle between myself and various family members, friends, dietitians and therapists for longer than I would like to admit. They approached the topic of a higher level of care- I brushed off the concern, laughed even, and told them I was not nearly sick enough. And they subsequentially found themselves speaking directly to my eating disorder and not me.

 

If you can relate, if you ever find yourself thinking “I’m not sick enough” take comfort in the fact that you are not alone in this thought. I can honestly say that I have never met anyone who has suffered from an eating disorder, including myself (see above) that has not had this thought at one point or another. But next time you find yourself thinking this, remember: this thought itself suggests that you are, in fact, “sick enough,” because this is an unhealthy thought to have. People who are well do not tend to wish to be ill.

 

According to the DSM-5, the most telling diagnostic factor for an eating disorder is a negative impact on social, emotional or physical functioning. This updated diagnostic classification system takes into account that an eating disorder will present itself in a unique way- a specific constellation of symptoms, behaviors, emotions, and thoughts that cause distress and dysfunction in different arenas of one’s life. Hence there is no actual operational definition for “sick enough.” It is an ED thought and one that stems directly back to the biological and chemical roots of the disorder itself. For example, research conducted among ED samples demonstrates that there is an altered response to pain, emotion intensity, hunger and satiety, and assessment of body shape/body image. This suggests that part of the brain that senses pain related to physical and psychological experiences does not function properly (which may, in part, account for the “numbing effect that many people with eating disorders report). Hence an individual suffering from an eating disorder may be physically or psychologically compromised, but their brain does not sense this. As a result, patients can actually be quite ill but their brain (and specifically the eating disorder part of their brain chemistry) is still feeding them thoughts of “not sick enough.”

To put it plainly-You will never be sick enough, because there is no sick enough. The sick enough that the eating disorder is promising you is a disappearing goal post, a mirage. I’ve had frank conversations with the very people who my eating disorder used to compare me against- the people that I thought fit my idea of “sick enough”-and guess what? They all reiterated some version of the very same thought- “I just never saw myself as sick enough.”

This is why, when the “not sick enough” thought comes to mind, it is important to consciously process and acknowledge the fact that this is your eating disorder speaking. If you want recovery, you must challenge this thought immediately. Ask yourself, “What does sick enough mean? And why do I want to be sick? What will I get out of being sick enough? What will I achieve from being the most sick?” Challenge your eating disorder voice on this every.single.time. Do not let your ED voice bully you into thinking that being sick = happiness.

 

So: A quick reminder that your eating disorder is a real and valid experience even if…

  • You have never been underweight
  • You have never been inpatient
  • You are weight-restored
  • Your labs look fine
  • You have never been on an NG tube/never drank ensure/never been near death
  • You’ve been told you don’t “look like” you have an ED
  • You’ve never been to a therapist
  • You don’t have a strikingly alarming “rock bottom story” about your ED
  • You don’t restrict food groups/count calories
  • You don’t feel triggered by the media or diet culture
  • Your friends or family don’t know
  • Your friends or family don’t believe you
  • You like to eat certain things/look forward to meals
  • You don’t have fear foods
  • You don’t fear foods that others seem to
  • You don’t use the behaviors that people most commonly speak about when they discuss EDs
  • You don’t exercise
  • Your recovery is going smoothly
  • Your journey/gender/ethnicity/identity does not match the most common portrayal of eating disorders in the media or the memoirs

Summarily- ban/obliterate/kick out “not sick enough.” Argue relentlessly with your ED when the thought comes to mind. As a past therapist told me “Let go of the idea of not being sick enough. You are sick. You are also enough. The relationship ends there.”

 

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Five Mistakes I Made After Getting Out of Treatment

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They’re always saying that relapse is part of the process. That recovery is never a straight up-and-forward trajectory. They say don’t view relapse as a failure. Well when I was getting ready to leave my treatment center, I didn’t quite see things this way. I saw recovery as black and white- you are either moving towards recovery or you are moving towards an eating disorder. I ignored the warnings and told myself I would take recovery by the horns, that I would do things the way I thought was best. This proved to be a flawed approach to say the least.

 

First things first- lets not call them mistakes. I prefer, learning opportunities. Or better yet, growth edges. Yes that’s it- growth edges. After being discharged from treatment for an eating disorder, I had many growth edges to be learned from. It’s not surprising looking back- I felt like I had just gotten off of one of those tilt-a-whirls at the carnival, and was trying to stand up straight while my world spun wildly around me. I was both stubborn and ill prepared for what was to come. My hope is that putting this down in writing may help others in avoiding the same growth edges. So here goes: My top five missteps that I experienced after getting out of treatment:

 

  1. I ditched my dietician- I always had beef-no pun intended- with the whole dietician thing. I hated having someone try to steer my every food choice. I hated reporting back about challenges. I hated having someone see my weight when I wasn’t supposed to see it. So, after being discharged, one of the first things I did was call and cancel the appointment that they had made for me with an outpatient dietician. Keep in mind, I was still recovery focused at that point. I wanted to recover. Like I said, I just wanted to do it on my own terms. This meant a little less chaperoning with the food stuff. What I didn’t realize at the time was that recovery “on my own terms” really meant recovery on ED’s terms.

 

  1. I didn’t ask my friends to curb the diet talk- I actively participated in groups in which we discussed how we shouldn’t be ashamed of our illnesses. I spearheaded discussions with others about how to be proactive in our recoveries by addressing triggers with family and friends. Yet I failed to follow my own advice. Talking about how to ask friends not to bring up their most current juice cleanses in group therapy is pretty different from actually talking to them. I told myself not to bother them. I told myself that they would become annoyed by me, and that I would have to be the forever identified patient if I discussed my triggers with them. This definitely hurt my recovery. My friends didn’t have eating disorders. So they didn’t intuitively know what was triggering and what wasn’t. Who could expect them to? After all, a lot of the things that triggered me were things that your average college girl would love to hear. (“You look so good!”) Looking back, if I had simply talked to them, I know they would have been receptive. My tensions would have been diffused, the lines of communication would have been opened up, and I would have had one less challenge to work through in my recovery process (I know this because I did end up listened to my own advice and addressing things with them after my relapse. Hindsight hu?)

 

  1. I tried on my old clothing- Everyone said not to do this. I said not to do this! I sat in group and earnestly looked others in the eyes and implored them to just throw out their sick clothes. Who needs em, I said. Why would you ever put yourself through that? What good will come out of it? Eating disorders are weird aren’t they? Most of us can more than eloquently talk the talk, but the walk is another story. I, for example, was actively plotting in my own mind (read: my eating disorder was plotting) how I would be trying on those jeans as soon as I got home, while I was telling my fellow group members to avoid doing just that. “I just need to check” I told myself. “It’s actually more recovery focused in my case to try them on to see how far I’ve come!” Clearly I was being fooled into listening to my ED voice. That actually proved to be a great learning experience- After treatment, my ED became even trickier, using staying recovery focused as a cover up to actually engage in certain behaviors. This realization was helpful to me, after I relapsed, in becoming that much stronger in the fight against ED.

 

  1. I didn’t feng shui- We talked about triggering places together in groups. I talked about it with my therapist. We made a plan together for my college housing- It was pretty simple actually. I associated my college room and bathroom with engaging in ED behaviors, so I needed to break those associations. The plan was to paint my bedroom-cheery yellow instead of the blue that was currently on the walls, and buy a new shower curtain/rug/sink stuff for the bathroom. But did I follow through? Nah. I got home and decided that I could handle it without all of that hassle. I told myself that it wouldn’t help anyway. Spoiler alert- it does and did help. I found this out when I actually did it the next time around.

 

  1. I stopped journaling- Journaling was one of the little pieces of the puzzle that saved my life. I was emotionally immature, stunted by years of retreating into an eating disorder, and consequentially, I struggled with discussing all and any feelings. Then I began to journal. This outlet allowed me to tap into all the tough stuff in a different way. I used it to track my thoughts and feelings, and quickly began to notice links in the environment. I brought it into therapy and had my therapist read it out loud for both of us to process. It was incredibly eye opening, so naturally, when I got out, I stopped doing it. I say naturally because I still had ED in one ear at this point, and he was extremely threatened by this shiny new coping skill. So he yelled back. And I listened. “I don’t have time.” “I had a good day- what is there to even write about?” “It’s too hard, and it doesn’t even help.” “You feel the same, so why bother?” Recognizing that feeling one way in the morning doesn’t mean that I will feel that way four hours later, was important in my recovery process later on. This allowed me to confront those nasty ED thoughts- “I feel like journaling doesn’t help me, but feelings aren’t facts. I had a rough morning, so my motivation is down. But think about how much journaling has actually helped so far. Think about the real conversations I have had with therapists about how this is not only helpful but necessary for my recovery. Listen to yourself, not ED.”

 

Recovery is never a straight trajectory. There will always be ups and downs. But, as I discovered through my own process of trial and error, you either succeed, or you learn. Yes, I relapsed, but you can bet I learned from it. One of the main lessons was this: it doesn’t matter how many times you fall down- keep trying. The more you try, the more likely it is that, in spite of the ups and downs, the general direction will be up. Besides, ED hates perseverance.

On Recovery

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They say eating disorders are not about food. That food and weight control are simply symptoms of an underlying issue. So it seems reasonable to assume that recovery from an eating disorder is not all about food.

 

However…

 

It is.

 

It’s about sitting up at night with your roommates, eating pizza and laughing. It’s about early afternoon brunch fests with the girls. It’s about egg and cheese omelets, and chocolate chip pancakes. It’s getting that Frappuccino that looks yummy at Starbucks. It’s about stopping randomly at Rita’s for that ice cream cone, and eating it without remorse. It’s about buying a bag of gummy bears and sharing them at the movie theater with friends. It’s about eating an apple because you feel like it, not because it is “low cal.” It’s about getting rid of the diet food- the sugar free mints, the skim milk, the soda with the weird aftertaste. It’s about going out to sushi and getting the rainbow roll, because it looks good. It’s trying something new when you’re out to dinner because you feel adventurous, and not calculating the calories in your head. It’s about eating the next meal, even if you felt like you ate a lot earlier. It’s eating regardless of if you are having a bad day. It is donuts and chocolate chip cookies and vanilla cream frosting. It’s scheduling time in for lunch even when you are bogged down during a busy workday. It’s going out to dinner with your family and not frantically looking up the menu beforehand. It’s drinking juice instead of water because you are craving the juice dammit. It’s eating a salad when you feel like it, and a burger the next day, when you feel like that. It’s nourishing your body not because you need to, but because you want to. Recovery is about enjoying food again, eating to nourish and fuel you body, and eating because the food tastes good.

 

But ok. Lets be real. It’s about much more than food.

 

It’s about taking back control of your life. It’s about letting go of rituals and numbers. It’s about finally stepping off the food-bondage carousel ride from hell, and working to stand up straight while the worlds feels like it is reeling underneath your shaky feet.

 

It’s about letting yourself be “perfectly imperfect.” It’s reading that paper that is due tomorrow two times, and then going to sleep. It’s about letting yourself get a full nights sleep. It’s about dreaming of things other than food. It’s about taking naps when your body needs a rest. It’s about going to bed when the floor isn’t vacuumed and the laundry isn’t done.

 

It’s about staying home from the gym when you are sick and honoring your body. It’s about jumping off the treadmill gerbil wheel, and jumping into that yoga class instead, because you are now exercising for fun! It’s about giving up the guilt of not exercising and letting yourself relax.

 

It’s about rejecting diet culture, though it may seem as everyone else in the world subscribes to it. It’s about living at your set point and finding peace with it. It’s about walking away from the mirror, the scale, the measuring tape, and walking into the real parts of life. It’s about fully participating in those real parts of life.

 

 

Recovery is coming home to yourself. It is about learning who you are, and being proud of it. It’s calling the ED out on the smokescreen and trickery. It’s about talking back to that ED voice, telling him to shut the hell up, telling him to f-off, telling him that you have a life to live, and one that he no longer dictates. It’s about letting go of the pseudo-control that comes along with counting calories, and stepping into taking true control of your life.

 

Recovery is vulnerability. It is about letting yourself feel the feelings. Even the messy ones. It is about learning how to surf those urges, instead of succumbing immediately to them. It is about recognizing that feelings are not facts. It is about honoring your emotions. It is about living in the present moment. It is about screaming, sobbing, hitting a pillow on the bad days. It is about recognizing that all of that is preferable to being numbed out from the world. It is about taking risks and making mistakes. It is about crying when you need to, and laughing too loudly without a second thought. It is about snorting while you laugh and smiling the smiles that make your eyes crinkle. It’s about asking for a hug when you need one. Recovery is about believing the fact that they will accept you regardless of your weight, that you don’t have to punish your body to earn their love.

 

It’s about hanging out with friends. It’s about being worried about judgment, but doing it anyway. It’s about wearing pretty clothes, getting dolled up, and going out on the damn town. Recovery is going out with people that you don’t know as well. It’s about having a spontaneous cup of coffee with that co-worker that seems like she would be cool to hang out with. It is going out to do something when you feel like staying home and isolating. Recovery is about connection. It is about love.

 

Recovery is acknowledging the eating disorder, without making it your identity. Is about respecting your journey, letting yourself recognize that you walked through hell, also reminding yourself that that part of your life is over. It is reminding yourself that their diet is your eating disorder, and holding yourself accountable to your Achilles hell, while simultaneously not letting this fact paralyze you with fear. It is learning how to think your own thoughts, and becoming independent from ED.

 

Recovery is a process. It is going for it even when you are not ready. It is trusting your journey. It is a series of leaps of faith. It is not comparing your middle to someone else’s end. It is planning for the relapse, then eating lunch anyway. It is actually relapsing, then getting up again. It is recognizing that the most inspirtational of all people are not those who never fell, but who fell once, twice, ten times and kept getting back up. It is being terrified but showing up anyway. It is courage. It is never giving up hope that you will break free of this eating disorder.

 

Recovery. It is the hardest, most rewarding journey that you will ever take. So come on, take the step forward. I promise you wont regret it.

C

Finding my way Through Recovery

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Author Bio: Ayanna Bates is from New York, and 19 years old. She writes about her battle with disordered eating to spread more awareness of this mental health issue.

 

As a mental health advocate, I love sharing my story; I think being open about your struggles is such a powerful tool and it could save lives. So today I share with you my recovery from disordered eating.
First off, what is disordered eating and how does it differ from a full blown eating disorder? The main difference between an eating disorder and disordered eating is the severity and the frequency of symptoms. Here are some of the symptoms described on psychologytoday.com:
Symptoms of disordered eating may include behavior commonly associated with eating disorders, such as food restriction, binge eating, purging (via self-induced vomiting or excessive exercise, and use of diet pills and/ or laxatives).

However, disordered eating might also include:
Self-worth or self-esteem based highly or even exclusively on body shape and weight
A disturbance in the way one experiences their body i.e. a person who falls in a healthy weight range but continues to feel that they are overweight
Excessive or rigid exercise routine
Obsessive calorie counting
Anxiety about certain foods or food groups
A rigid approach to eating, such as only eating certain foods, inflexible meal times, refusal to eat in restaurants or outside of one’s own home.

 
I started exhibiting symptoms of disordered eating my senior year of high school. It was my self-destructive way of dealing with depression and anxiety. I would restrict all day and every day, avoiding as many meals as possible. I would eat my dinner quickly because it was the only meal I ate with my family and I did not want them to suspect anything. The hardest part about disordered eating is being able to talk about it. As a black woman struggling with disordered eating, people don’t really want to hear about it. Some people refused to take the time to understand what I was going through.

 
This made it easier to hide my disordered eating from all of loved ones. It wasn’t until I had a major break down at school, crying my eyes out, mumbling through my tears, “I just don’t want to be here anymore,” that I sought help. In my head, I thought I could just starve myself until I disappeared but in reality I was just killing myself and hurting those who loved me.

 
I made a choice; I chose recovery. That meant talking about it, seeking out a therapist, a psychiatrist, a nutritionist, and being open with my family and friends. That meant making the decision every day to eat, to fuel my body, to take care of my soul. There is no such thing as “not sick enough.” You can get help now before it turns into something severe. Early prevention is possible. Recovery is possible. I do see being “recovered” as my new reality. I still have a lot of work to do and as of now recovery will remain my friend. But one day I will be able to say that disordered eating is in the past and that is where it will stay.

A Letter to My Daughter on My Recovery Anniversary

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Dear Emma,

I hope you can feel inside your perfect little home inside my belly how much you are loved. Your grandparents, aunts, and uncles are anxiously waiting your arrival, one of them usually in tears. But mostly it is your dad and me. We are so very much in love with you and think about holding you all day, every day. Even at approximately 18 inches and 4 pounds, you already fill our lives so close to the brim we might burst! You are completing a part of us we didn’t even know was missing and you will do this your whole life. We are so very lucky to be your parents.

And then there is just me. I have wanted you since the first day I ever held a baby doll. Being a mother has always been my ultimate dream. I’ve held you in my heart for a lot longer than I will hold you in my belly. But there was a time when something so insidious grabbed my life that I couldn’t think of how badly I wanted you anymore. I was lost and confused; no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t get to you. Eight years ago I was sitting in a therapist’s office who offered me a question, “Would you rather be a mom or be skinny?” Painfully, I admit choosing being skinny. This was the lowest of my life, when my eating disorder ruled me like a marionette. Know that if I ever face that question again, I would choose you over and over and over again.

There will be so much I will provide you with during your life. I promise to love you through every high and low. I promise that you will not date until you are 30. I promised that we will laugh until our stomachs hurt more times than we can count. But out of all of the things I will give you, my sweet girl, my eating disorder mindset will not be one of them. I will be praising your body and you will hear me praising mine. Frequently. We will live our lives grateful for the parts of our body that society tells us to hate. We will never speak negatively about others’ bodies or knock them down based on any quality; instead, we will learn how to build them up and help them be the best people they can be.

One day, I will talk to you about my eating disorder. I will tell you the terrible things I did to my body to be “perfect.” I will tell you how brutal and exhausting my thoughts were every day. But until then, you will hear about how amazing your mother’s body is. How despite the odds, this body made you, sustained you until you were born, and will spend forever hugging you, kissing you, and cuddling you.

Each year during May, I think about all that I have done to be actively recovered and I like to thank all of the people that helped me to the place I am today. This year recovered is especially important to me because pregnancy was a time when some of those thoughts about my body came back. This year, I dedicate my recovery to you. I dedicate every wonderful pound, every beautiful stretchmark, every change my body went through to make you. Thank you for reminding me with every roll, kick, or punch that my body is an incredible, sacred, perfectly imperfect body. And I will spend the rest of my recovered years helping you believe the same about yours.

 

With all of my love,

Mom

 

Author: Jen Buckwash

Sideways Saunter: What I Learned From My Body Tracing

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When I was in college, I lived in a house built in the early 1800’s with low ceilings and narrow doorways. The doorway that opened into my bedroom was particularly narrow. So narrow that I used to turn sideways to enter the room, to avoid getting stuck or, ya know, dislocating a shoulder. Did I mention that I was suffering from an eating disorder while I was in college? Ah,- important fact that I left out there hu? My sideways entry makes a little more sense given that my entire body image was grossly distorted (to the point that one therapist even referred to my perception of my physique as “on the brink of psychosis.”) This was a very impactful part of my eating disorder. Cognitively, I knew that it was just a small doorway, that my roommates walked through just fine, but it always made me feel like I was literally filling the entire doorway. I had visions of my hips getting caught between the sides with a solid “thunk” as I tried to saunter through.

In order to fit ourselves through openings like doors, we need to have a basic estimate of the size of our bodies. Most non-eating disorder individuals have a somewhat accurate idea of their general shape and size, and consequentially do not find themselves trying to contort their bodies to fit into doorways that they can clearly walk clean through. This basic body image awareness can often be impaired in individual suffering from eating disorder. As a result, body schema, which relates to how we actually move through the physical world, can become extremely distorted.

As you can probably imagine, the sideways saunter was not the only way my distorted body schema affected how I maneuvered around my world. I refused to sit in certain chairs, nixed standing next to specific people, and contorted my body into odd positions when I sat, desperate to take up less space and positive that I was taking up far more than I should. This symptom of my eating disorder was both anxiety provoking and attention-drawing. That is why, when I finally got help for my eating disorder, I was recruited for a body tracing almost immediately.

Body tracings are a common component of ED treatment, where you draw out what you think the outline of your body is and then the therapist traces your actual body. You then process if and how your perceived outline of your body is different from the therapist’s tracing.

I remember being downright terrified that my drawing would be bigger or even the same as the real tracing. I remember thinking, “What it it’s accurate and there is no explanation for how I feel about my body size except that’s the way it really looks and they are all trying to make me feel better?” Tensions ran sky high as I stood against that wall and watched my therapist trace an outline around me. I remember watching her like a hawk, sure she was going to try to fake something. I remember sweating and clenching my muscles, then unclenching them thinking, “What does that prove?” I remember getting into a near yelling match with my therapist over the fact that the two drawings were so vastly different from one another. “But there’s just no way! How can this be?” And “Who cares if my true body looks one way if I feel like it looks another? Doesn’t how I FEEL MATTER TO ANYONE HERE?”

After the battlefield cleared (read: my 10/10 anxiety dissipated a bit) and I got some time away from the dreaded tracing, I was able to think a little more clearly. My therapist even brought it into our next session, and we were able to process the distortion together. Talking out how much pain this distortion had caused me, and how it had actually gotten in the way of my day-to-day functioning was one of the few “light bulb moments” that I have had in my years of therapy.

So post body image tracing, post treatment, post body-scheme light bulb moment, where am I now? I live behavior free. The ED thoughts come and go, and I am getting better and better at challenging them every day. My body schema has slowly gotten more accurate, but I wont lie to you- I had to put my trust and faith in the fact that I did not see my body clearly for a long time during my recovery (which sounds odd, but for me and my constellation of symptoms, it was just what I needed). I’m not perfect, but each day gets a teeny bit easier. And no, I no longer do the sideways saunter 😉

 

To the One Who is in a Relapse

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One of the darkest feelings in the world is when you come to the realization that yes, you are in a relapse. Maybe you just came upon this realization last night. Maybe you have known this for the past few months. Whatever the circumstances, whoever you are, I want you to know, I see you.

 

I mean I see you. I see your struggle. I see your tears. I see the hopelessness in your eyes. I hear you. I hear your excuses to yourself, to your loved ones. I hear your lies. I hear your heart beating faster with fear. I feel you. I feel how angry you are. I feel how sad you have become. I feel your disappointment, I feel your guilt, I feel your frustration. I feel you.

 

I write this because I feel it is important to speak to you. For you. I am the first person to write about my own recovery, the moment I began to feel hopeful, my thoughts on being able to make it to fully recovered. Those pieces are so very important. Spreading hope and light is much needed among the eating disordered community. But so is acknowledging the hopelessness that comes along with being in a relapse. It’s important to acknowledge how hard a relapse is, hell it’s important to acknowledge the fact that so many of us do relapse! No one’s recovery is perfect, and so many of our recovery trajectories are sprinkled with relapses before we reach the point of strong recovery.

 

What may be even more important is to realize that you’re not alone in it. Eating disorders can be incredibly lonely illnesses. They are isolating and shame-inducing by their very nature, but when you start engaging in the comparison game, or beating up on yourself for having a setback, they only become more powerful. That’s why we all have to work together to fight those thoughts. When you begin to go down the path of beating yourself up for this relapse, or comparing yourself to the friend that has achieved full recovery, remind yourself of this: You are still here, you still have the option to keep fighting. And those people who are in strong recovery and singing the body positive praises? They’ve been right where you have before. They know your struggle. They have felt the hopeless feeling.

 

So here’s my final message- Let the distance between where you are and where you hope to be inspire you, rather than empower your eating disorder. It is ok to not be ok. It is not ok to give up. In fact, that is the only rule. Never give up and never lose hope. (Ok there are two rules). So whether you are at the very beginning of your journey, or in the middle, whether you are at the end putting the period on it, or haven’t started yet, or whether you have no idea where you are, just know that you are not alone. Keep the hope alive, keep your spirit alive, and keep moving forward. Now pick up your sword and fight warrior.

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-c