From where I sit, years into my recovery, I remain astonished at the shifty nature of my eating disorder. It was anorexia. It was bulimia. It was compulsive exercise. It was obsessively weighing and measuring my food and body, chewing and spitting, refusing certain things unless I’d done “enough” activity, getting on an elliptical at midnight if I had made what my ED considered a poor food decision. It didn’t go away in the fleeting moments when I felt determined to squash it. It just changed form.
The good news is that just like my ED, my recovery shifts, grows, and blossoms with time spent in it, too. It pleases me to note that every year during this week, I sit down to write a list of ways to recover, and every year I have something new to say.
Here are my tips for recovery this year:
Recognize that there is no such thing as “cured”. Once you’ve had an eating disorder, you can always have one again. Chances are, you cultivated some food and exercise freakiness because it made you feel like you could handle the shit that felt un-handle-able. You used it to control or to rebel or to change your body or to please someone who you felt needed you to change. You cultivated your eating disorder because the world we live in is fat phobic and cruel. Maybe it was something you learned from a parent or a trusted friend, or maybe it was a survival mechanism when you didn’t know how else to keep on living. Maybe your eating disorder provided you with some semblance of safety.
No one gets an eating disorder because they feel awesome in their skin or in this world. Unfortunately this means that when shit gets wacky for those in recovery, one of the first thoughts we might have-perhaps forever- is that maybe THIS EXACT MOMENT when things are very much NOT GOOD is the perfect time to relapse to old behaviors. “Just one more time” we might think. “What could it hurt?”
The great thing about knowing that a cure for disordered eating and body image doesn’t exist, is that we can be extra careful with ourselves, and treat ourselves with kid gloves when the going gets tough. For me, I know when I am anxious or depressed, it is not a great idea to read food blogs, research diets, or go on a long and winding solo run. I don’t believe that those are appropriate tools to calm myself, despite the fact that for some people- NON disordered people- they might be great. I am careful not to trigger my ED, and to acknowledge when the thoughts come up.
Eat regularly. When you up your activity, up your food to meet your output. For so long, I had shame about the amount of food that I needed to eat to keep my body running. If I got hungry at a time I designated a non meal time, I would sit in hunger-anger and white knuckle my way through the rumble of my stomach. During those hours I vacillated between hating myself and obsessing about snacks. Nothing got done in the hours that I tried to ignore my hunger, and ultimately it wasted my time and my energy. I am fucking busy! Now when I’m hungry, I eat. My days are a lot more pleasurable when I regularly meet my own needs.
When negative thoughts about food or body pop up, have a plan of how to handle them. I find that one of two things works best for me. When a shitty thought pops into my brain I either A) try to figure out the root by writing about it, talking about it with my therapist, or texting someone who gets it or B) I think “DON’T TALK THAT WAY ABOUT MY FRIEND” to myself, and move the fuck on. If I don’t have time to uncover roots, I actively choose to not marinate in negativity.
Challenge yourself to relinquish control. I need a lot to keep sane. I need to do active shit, like meditate, write lists of things I appreciate, regularly eat food, and exercise moderately. All of this comes relatively easily at this point, but the big challenges are the things that your average person might find pleasurable. I challenge myself to take more rest days from exercise. I challenge myself to take vacations without micromanaging or packing my meals. I challenge myself to eat a vegan donut now and again, because I like them and I think pleasure can and should be an important part of eating. I challenge myself to listen more instead of calculating calories in my head when I meet friends for lunch. I challenge myself to sit still, for no reason at all.
Basically, I challenge myself to relinquish control. I never feel like doing it, and I do it on a regular basis anyway. It is a cornerstone of my recovery.
Realize that even when you’re letting go of control, you are still the one in charge. Unfortunately, a lot of people try to recover from eating disorders and they don’t succeed (either initially or at all). I truly believe that people don’t generally recover until they realize that they are the bosses of their own lives. You can choose to push yourself. You can choose to do the work to try to think more positively about your choices. You can choose to rewrite the story you’ve had going down in your brain.
To quote an email I recently sent to a client… “There is no reason for me to have accepted that I needed to hate my body and there is no reason that you do either. I really think you are in charge of your reality and if someone is being a dick to you (yourself included) it is within your right to put your foot down and say no. You don’t get to say these mean things to yourself that keep you stuck. You don’t get to have a dialogue with yourself that says you’re unmotivated, lazy, flawed, powerless, bad, etc.”
Just five short years ago, I wanted to recover but I felt like I couldn’t. The eating disorder was too loud, too persistent. It felt like an intrinsic part of my personality, and I didn’t know how to just let it go. It wasn’t until I asserted that I was the boss of what goes down with me and my life and my food and my fitness that I got well. It was a LONG process of recovery, but I decided that I was going to be better no matter what (even if I felt out of control, even if it was uncomfortable, even if I gained weight), and eventually- through a whole lot of not giving up- I did.
I chose not to settle for my eating disorder. I am certain that you can totally do the same.
(Image drawn by the ever-talented Jim Kettner, and is from my upcoming memoir, due out from New Harbinger Publications in Summer 2017. How to recover from an Eating Disorder Part 1 and 2 can be found here and here.)
Every week I meet with my friend, Holly, on Monday afternoons to record Rise and Resist podcast. Each week we talk about what we’ve been up to, what we are eating, answer some listener questions, and then usually we meander our way to a topic. Nine times out of ten, we talk about fitness, of course, because that’s what we do on R+R. Deadlifts, burpees, gear. You know- just your average thing 30(ish) year old women obsess over, right?
This week we talked about something a little deeper than our squat (SEE WHAT I DID THERE?) We talked about how to be ally to a friend with a (confirmed or suspected) eating disorder. When we finally hit stop on the recorder, I felt something I hadn’t felt in a really long time. Raw. A little scared. And like I knew this was a topic that both needed more attention and needed to be out in the world. I also felt unsure that everything I said was right, and like our opinions were just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what could be a larger conversation.
Here are a few tips Holly and I came up with for how to be an ally to a struggling friend.
If you notice someone’s body has gotten smaller, try not to shower them with compliments. This is perhaps a given if someone already has a confirmed eating disorder, but I want to talk about before that happens.
When I first started restricting my food, it wasn’t because I was necessarily aware that I was about to have an ED. I was heartbroken and unable to eat or sleep, I was a crying mess, and weight was literally falling off of my body. MANY people (doctors, people I was close to, strangers) told me I looked great, and that seed planted in my head and was really hard to get rid of.
I believe we can be an ally to people with eating disorders everywhere by not thin praising, or bringing up someone’s weight loss as if it were their paramount achievement in life. I know a lot of people work really hard to lose weight, but I stand by the assertion that in general, unsolicited body comments run the gamut between downright tacky to just plain damaging. We can do better!
If you see something, say something. This may seem contrary to my previous suggestion, but I truly believe it isn’t, because asking someone what’s up when you notice a change isn’t the same as blindly praising it. I suggest being gentle with your approach, but also using logic around whom you’re speaking with. (IE make sure the level of friendship that you’re at with the person can hold the weight of such a complicated conversation.)
If someone seems to have increased anxiety around food, social eating, or body image, a “hey, how are you doing lately? I’ve noticed XYZ behavior” may be a good idea. Physical changes can be really sensitive to approach, and I often tend to steer clear of them, but my experience has shown me that usually eating disorders can be identified by far more than how a body looks. When asking someone if they are having an okay relationship with food and body, try to be open, honest, and forgiving. Accept that they might not want to talk to you about this thing, but also that they might be waiting for an opportunity to open up to a trusted confidant. When you ask someone about this subject, don’t have expectations around their response.
If someone does indeed have an eating disorder, its time to decide your boundaries. Supporting someone through an ED is an incredible thing to do, and can also be incredibly draining. It is okay to offer support in some ways, and know that you can’t do so in all ways. In my recovery I had friends that would offer to eat with me, but were not willing to listen to me trash my body. That is a perfectly acceptable, reasonable, and okay boundary. We all have to take care of ourselves and our hearts, and having boundaries is a great way to do just that.
Direct communication works best. No one likes to hear that they’re looking sickly through a long and winding game of telephone. If you have concern about someone’s health and well-being, it really is best to talk with them about it directly instead of talking to someone else. (an exception to this would be talking to someone with a confidentiality agreement, like a therapist!) It can totally be difficult to not discuss someone’s situation with others, especially if there is a drastic change in appearance, but I swear that no matter how good your intentions are, its very painful to hear that someone has something to say about your body or your behavior that they haven’t said to your face.
Be prepared for rough days, and be prepared to be forgiving. Eating disorders are physical, sure, but they are also mental illnesses. They trigger depression, anxiety, and PTSD and, alternately, depression, anxiety, and PTSD can also trigger eating disorders. Often, the last behavior to leave someone with an eating disorder is obsessive thoughts about food, numbers, and calories. Those obsessive thoughts can make it really hard to always have good days.
Even when we look fine, ED thoughts can continue to plague us, which sounds scary, but is mostly just something that those in recovery eventually learn to work with. When your beloved eating-disorder-havin’ friend has an off day, it is your responsibility to treat them with the same tender kindness that you would someone struggling with other mental illnesses. You’re friend will get through this, and if you let them know you have their back, it will be all-the-easier (though, still not easy of course.)
Eating disorders thrive on both guilt and shame, so if possible, do your best not to contribute to that. Confronting someone about having an eating disorder may very well trigger shame, and that’s not anyone’s fault. But I think stressing that you are approaching the scenario with love and support and that guilt is not the aim is important.
Openness, honesty, forgiveness and understanding…if your actions fit into at least a couple of those categories, they are likely to help in some way. Sometimes the way that supporting someone with eating disorder helps them is not immediately apparent, but that’s okay. Recovery takes time, and for all the brilliant, amazing, and incredible people I’ve met who’ve also struggled with food, I can almost guarantee the investment will be worth it.
I’ve had a lot of people in life during my recovery, that have used a lot of tactics to help support me. Just as eating disorders are entirely uncomfortable and complicated, allyship can be too. These suggestions are merely from my experience, and as everyone is different, they might not work for all people.
What did I forget? What would you like to add? What’s the best way you support or have been supported?
So. Sometimes you intend to take a little break, and it ends up being an actually kind of large one.
I never meant to take so many weeks off of blogging, but life happened, and it was really big, and I kind of just had to participate. I have so many things to tell you about (I love my readers intensely, and truly missed writing here) but the abridged version is this:
I got married.
I went to Kauai for a glorious two week vacation.
I got my first book deal, a little something you will see on the shelves in the Summer of 2017.
I left my beloved Oakland. I am now an official, for-real Portland resident. There is a ton to say about ALL of these things, but first, I want to tell you about my wedding. I have some AMAZING pictures, from what truly was the best day of my life, and I am beyond stoked just thinking about the time we had. This post is long and picture heavy, but I promise, we will hop right back into fitness, feminism, vegan food, and all the other good stuff you have come to expect from my little corner of the blog-o-sphere really soon. I just had to share this first.
So first, let’s talk about getting ready. I am not a makeup girl. Like, at all. My face is generally bare, and half the time I sort of think I wanna be all fancy in the face and then I try to go about imagining how that would fit into my life and I feel a tremendous wave of overwhelm. For this reason I was STOKED to have a little help from my very talented friend, Lauren. I’m gonna be real, I felt really pretty on my wedding day, which is not a thing I have in my life a whole lot. (I usually feel more cute-goofy-tough-funny) It was nice to feel like the belle of the ball while people were celebrating my partnership around me. Although makeup can’t be an all-the-time thing for me, it is a definitely wonderful sometimes-accent. This is my friend Meg. She was my very first friend in college, and one of the first people to truly see the depths of my personality through very thick and very thin and still come out loving me. This is my crying my eyes out and saying “I am just so glad you’re here!”. I love my friends so much. If there are any wedding-day regrets I have, it is not getting a chance to talk to more of them more.
This is basically just a gratuitous calf picture. I work hard for my gunz and it shows mostly in the lower half of my legs. I’ll take it!
So, have you ever tried to put a dress on with a beehive and a full face of makeup? That shit is HARD. This is my mom and my sister helping me try to weasel my way into my wedding dress, and it very much not working. Laughs were had all around and finally I just kneeled down like a pauper being knighted while they lowered the dress down to the ground. Very classy.Like I said, more than ever in my life, on this day I felt really fucking pretty. It’s a good feeling!
Now, onto the wedding site!Kett and I were told we were supposed to do a “first look” to officially reveal ourselves in all of our wedding finery. Both him and I had a hard time wrapping our minds around having to conjure up emotions for the camera so early in the day, and decided that the only right way to do such a thing would be to have it take place in the matrimonial bounce house. I rolled up to the wedding site, waited a bit, and when I was given the okay, climbed my way into the bounciest carousel in all of Oakland. Where a very fly dude awaited my arrival. In case you couldn’t tell by the carousel, our wedding was super duper fun/carnival/block party themed. We had a bounce off, croquet, cornhole, a strongman high striker, bocce ball, horseshoes, and a potato sack race. Custom trophies were made. Table favors were red sun glasses, a button with our emblem (a flag with three hearts containing a barbell and a kale leaf, a cup of coffee, and a pencil and a paintbrush), old McDonald’s toys from the early 90’s, and a comic. Instead of flowers we had hollowed out dinosaurs with succulents.I immediately ripped my dress, of course, and strategically used my button to remedy the situation. You can paint a lady’s face and put her in a fancy dress, but that’s no guarantee that she’ll keep it clean and rip free!Costumes were very encouraged , and thus we had such esteemed guests as Boba Fett….Kamala Khan….…And a fantastically revealed Superman.Everyone basically looked amazing nailing the high striker.The bounce-off was so intense it was kind of hard to watch.
But nothing beats the potato sack race. NOTHING.This dude managed a double somersault and STILL came out victorious.Have I mentioned how amazing my friends are?Okay, so here’s the deal.
Kett and I didn’t know the exact moment we were to be wed. We entrusted our best friend with a wedding horn and asked her to give it a long and loud toot when she felt it was time for some sweet words and legally binding contracts. An hour or two into the ceremony, Monica blew the horn and Kett and I darted to the vista where we were to be officially wed.While Kett and I got a head start, our MC, Nishat, waved the flag and assembled the troops.A parade was lead up a little hill….where we waited, trying not to cry. Then, maybe the best part of the whole day, I got to talk about Kett.I love this man.
I love that he is patient, and has integrity and makes me laugh. I love that he supports me, and calls me on my shit, and let’s me cry when I need to. I love that we make art together. I love that I plan to become an old ass lady by his side, and that we can seal the deal with a tremendous high five.And a smooch, of course.HUZZAHHHH!Neither Kett nor I drinks or really likes cake, so the whole dessert thing was kind of a conundrum. After trying multiple non-cake dessert ideas, we came to what seemed like an obvious answer: coffee and donuts. Nothing says “love” more than donuts, especially when they are vegan and gluten-free.
Thank you so much for sticking with me through the long break, and the immediate schmoopy love fest. I am very much ready to be back in action around these parts, and can’t wait to write all the things that have been swimming around in my head for the past 8+ weeks.
Until next time!
(All photos by Holly Feral )