A few weeks ago I got an email from a far away friend that asked a very plain and honest question:
“Do you really think you’re recovered enough to tell people how to eat?”
There was no malice in the question, but quickly my friend tried to tell me in a million different ways that she didn’t mean it to come off as mean, offensive, or off-putting. I wasn’t offended in any way, though.
A) I am not that sensitive
B) I don’t have a lot of reason to feel defensive about the topic and
C) I’m sure other people have wondered the same thing. I think it makes perfect sense to discuss this, considering where I’ve been, and where I am now.
So. I have had eating disorders, all of them. I have emotionally eaten, stress eaten, restricted. I have compulsively exercised. I have been decidedly anorexic and completely bulimic. Negative food, exercise, and body image obsession completely ran my life. It took me just as many years as I was in my eating disorder to claw my way out of it. I have made absolutely no secret about the battle.
In a sense, I am absolutely still obsessed with my eating and my exercise. I highly prioritize the consumption of high quality foods and make really damn sure I am eating enough food to support my activity levels. It is extremely important to me to not ignore hunger signals or live by food rules that make my actual life no fucking fun.
Unfortunately, no fucking fun isn’t cut and dry. It can mean a lot of things. It means I don’t turn down restaurant invites from far away friends just because the food isn’t ideal, but it also means I don’t eat things that are going to make me feel physically bad. Fried shit makes me feel bad. Gluten makes me feel bad. A lot of sugar makes me feel bad. We are talking about my body here, not my brain.
I don’t tell people how to eat that don’t ask me to. I am often asked what I eat, and I share because I think it is valuable. I am a woman who exercises hard, and eats a lot of nutrient dense food. I don’t count macronutrients. I don’t weigh or measure my food. I eat enough. I don’t let myself go hungry. Once a client asked me how many calories I eat per day, and I counted and the number was about 2400. That’s right, – I eat double what those women’s magazines say is appropriate to consume. I think it is VITAL that more people offer alternative perspectives. (And no, I don’t regularly count calories. I counted once.)
I will always be an obsessor. I am obsessed with my creative practice. I am obsessed with feminist art. I am obsessed with writing, and reading, and my friends, and rollercoasters, and my partner. I am absolutely 100% enthralled and obsessed with my business. And yeah, I am obsessed with my food, my body, and my strength. I am PROUD of what I’ve done with what I was given, because at a point I let the obsession turn dark, and it almost killed me. My obsession these days is an example of me thriving WITH my OCD brain, (yep! That’s my official diagnosis) not in spite of it.
I think my eating disorder is exactly what makes me qualified to set an example of how to eat. Because I know, really intimately, what it’s like to restrict, and I know I’m not doing it. I know what it’s like to skip out on plans because I feel I have to eat at a certain time that doesn’t fit in that schedule, or exercise in a certain way. I know what it’s like to make myself exercise when I’m sick. I am willing to bet that these things that I mention will always be my instinct, in fact. But every single day, time and time and time again, I watch unhealthy thoughts arise, and I choose to do something different.
My consistent daily choice to be well does not come without work. I think someone who’s never known this struggle couldn’t possibly tell you how wonderful it is to defeat it.
I consider the entirety of my content on Super Strength Health to be a love letter to my audience and my recovery. I am still obsessed with food, but now because it fuels me. I am obsessed with exercise, because it strengthens me. Every chance I get, I let myself be publicly astonished and on-my-knees grateful for my positive body image. Because, THAT, my friend, is hope.
And really, if you don’t like how I eat, that’s okay. How I eat is for me and my fuel. How you eat will be for you and yours.
Illustration by the amazing Joanna S. Quigley
Q: I am struggling with taking days off of exercise. Do you take regular rest days? If you do take rest days, do you eat less when you do? How do you deal with the lack of endorphins and get through the day?
A: First and foremost:
Now that we have that out of the way, let’s move forward.
There is a very special slice of the population that actually struggles with taking days off from exercise, as opposed to getting in the gym and working up a good sweat. I am TOTALLY, 100%, COMPLETELY one of these people, and I am here to tell you that, YES, I take 1-2 days of rest per week, but that has definitely not always been the case.
Let’s flash back to the year 2009. I only took two days off of exercise for that entire year. Those two days were because 1) it was Christmas and 2) I had food poisoning. In that year I lied to exercise, I skipped out on hang-outs with friends to exercise, I did crunches on bathroom floors, I prioritized exercise over adequate sleep. (I also exclusively exercised for one hour exactly, on the elliptical only. FUN TIMES). I can count that year as the most isolated and miserable time of my life, as well as the year that my quads were always cramped in a claw of tight pain and my arms were like string beans. I was basically having no fucking fun whatsoever because of my obsession with exercise, and I let the belief that I “had” to exercise in my very specific way EVERY SINGLE DAY govern the structure of my life.
At first, my struggle was simply to get off the elliptical because I hated it with a firey passion that could not be paralleled. Spin classes helped, running helped, hiking helped, the Insanity workout helped. Just getting out of my routine and discovering ways to use my body joyfully snapped me out of the elliptical hell that had become so normal. That was the first step toward waking up.
Slowly, from there, I took baby steps toward rest days. Sometimes the spin classes I wanted to take didn’t fit into my school schedule (It wasn’t until I entered graduate school that I made myself a promise that I would not, under any circumstances, ditch class to exercise. Sorry undergrad!). The Insanity workout (which I eventually followed religiously) had a chill yoga day and a rest day built right in to the program, which admittedly horrified me.
In the beginning, these days that I was forced to rest kicked up my mental calculator. I would try to dwindle down my eating, I would make myself food plans that included a whole lot of r-e-s-t-r-i-c-t-i-o-n. My rest days would totally freak me out. I would cry, and I would snap at my loved ones. That was probably the worst thing of all.
Eventually, I figured out that actually, what I had going on was a serious problem and it had a name. I was an exercise addict, and I wasn’t okay with that. I had seen addiction unravel my family (alcohol and drugs with my father, chronic negative body image and dieting with my grandmother) and I didn’t want to be another cog in that wheel. Once I categorized my obsession with exercise as an addiction, I could take steps to replace the compulsion with more positive, self serving expressions of my self. The shift in my mindset was huge.
At first my rest days were all about walks and yoga, which is still, you know, exercise. I considered that time to be my weaning off period, knowing that I didn’t want to quit my daily habit cold turkey, but that I wanted to start building a path away from my addictive behavior. I started to ask myself “what would I do if I wasn’t an exercise addict?” and surprisingly, I had a ton of things that could be taking up my time. As a person who identified almost primarily as a person who exercises, this was a revelation.
Through trial and error I discovered that I could take days off of exercise without much physical change. Bodies are smart and bodies are also resilient, not to mention that if the body I had (which I chronically hated, by the way) meant that I had to do something I despised every single day, than I supposed I didn’t want that body. Huh. Go figure.
Today, I still walk or do yoga on rest days sometimes, but now only if it feels nourishing to my body and my mind. (It has to be both. If I think yoga will just soothe my mind’s anxiety about not exercising, but my body is exhausted, then I don’t get to do it. Thems the rules.) Eventually, my rest days became all about devoting myself completely to my projects, so much so that I don’t even remember that at one point I thought I absolutely had to exercise daily. I was never able to lose myself in writing or making things when exercise was running my life. Finding the ability today is a generous gift that I gave myself through doing some seriously hard work. I do not take it for granted.
In addition to making things, I try to see people I care about, make phone calls to people who I can’t easily see, smooch my dude, or scheme something cool. If I am feeling particularly antsy, I try to help someone else. Sometimes just offering a listening ear to a friend takes me out of an impulse to sprint (or lift, or backbend, or bike). Quitting it with the exercise addiction made me a significantly better friend.
On rest days, I sleep in. I get massages. I smell my neighbors roses. I play in my garden.
My body consistently thanks me for rest days. Once I got to the schedule of taking a couple of them per week inflammation went down all over my body. I wasn’t hobbeling around all the time, crippled by soreness. I looked more toned, and my body fat percentage went down. Exercise is stress on your body, and when you’re doing it constantly without giving it the ability to recover, your body will inevitably get pissed off and confused. Everything will work better when you chill, even aesthetically.
Lastly, I no longer feel the need to forcibly change the way I eat on rest days. I consistently eat in a way that I am proud of (delicious, nutritious, nourishing, calorically-dense-enough food that is often grown right in my neighborhood) and by golly, any time is a good time to eat those foods. If I take a more extended time off of exercise, I am less hungry without needing to try to be, and I eat less naturally. The idea of restricting yourself after one day of rest won’t be helpful and is kind of like flipping your body the bird. Your body will tell you what it needs, I promise. Just trust it!
Exercise addiction is seriously scary and painful. Obviously, I still exercise, and I still consider it an important part of my life. The difference is, I don’t exercise because I’m scared not to anymore- and seriously, you don’t have to either. Life is chock full of amazing shit to see and do, and anything keeping you from experiencing these things fully is not worth keeping around. Now get out there into the world, and own it. Your life is worth significantly more than how much you sweat.
I am in a great mood. Why? Because social health, that’s why. My friends are great and I love when I see them.
This week was my good friend Brian’s birthday. His awesome partner pulled together a little surprise party for him and asked me to make him a vegan, gluten free, healthy-ish cake. “SURE!” I said. “Of course!”
As I have mentioned in other forms of social media (Facebook, Instagram), Brian has been working with Super Strength Health for awhile now and he has been positively CRUSHING it with his results. A year ago he regularly drank almost a fifth of whiskey in a night, smoked at least a pack a day, and didn’t care what he ate. Now he runs a 6 minute mile, is aware of what he puts in his body, and is seeing his abs come in. He is working out most days, eating green smoothies and salads and his attitude is significantly more stoked. He credits Super Strength Health with this, which is about the biggest honor I could ask for.
I wanted to mark these stellar accomplishments with the most awesome cake I could think of. Then I found this:
This recipe was positively fantastic. It was on the healthier side (beets! avocados! hand milled flours! No refined sugar!) and was moist, fudgey and decadent. A lot of the time I make things that I think taste A-mazing, and others find them to be more health flavored, but that was not the case with this cake. It was 100% party approved!
After filling my belly with both a huge slice of this cake and a giant vat of salad, I joined in on a party wide-game of basketball. I was BAD people, very bad. And it was so, so fun. I found myself saying “Night time hangouts! So fun! I’d like to do this more often!” We shall see if that proclamation comes true. Like I said in my links list last week, it takes a damn special thing to get me out of the house post 7:00PM.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY BRIANNNNN!
Yeah, I am including in interview with myself on my Sunday Links List, because YOLO, you know? I am a total Fit and Feminist fangirl, and I love that Caitlin took time out of her busy schedule to interview me. This interview discusses health coaching, my eating disorder recovery, veganism, weight lifting, etc. (You know-the usual!) Check it out!
When I was 13 years old I asked my mom for 75 cents to take the bus and she called me a “never ending money vacuum”. This is one of my most prominent memories of adolescence, and is a perfect metaphor for my entire relationship with money, which is to say I don’t actually want very much in the scheme of things, but I have a deep rooted belief that it is too much to ask for. HELLO! That’s a vulnerable thing to admit in a light and funny Sunday links list.
So, I have been doing some affirmation work around money (I am worth what I ask for, I am worth what I ask for) and also trying to let money flow in and out a little more freely. (My car’s breaks have squeaked for oh, I dunno, three years or so. This morning I woke up and decided I am going to pay to fix them). I have been letting those who are close to me know about the work I am doing around money and my friend Kelly sent me this article in response. DAMN, money stuff is intense. Just reading this made me tear up, made me afraid, gave me hope. Definitely worth checking out.
In case you didn’t know, when you are vegan anyone and everyone suddenly wants to know where you get your protein. It’s a part of the diet I have learned to live with (A flippant answer like “I get it from all the dirt I eat!” always works) but this article is actually an excellent, articulate, sources-sited piece that comprehensively explains why vegans are not dying from lack of Protein. An excellent resource!
This mix included some old favorite artists, some stuff I have never heard, and about 1000% fist pumping excitement. Listen and smile.