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.)
2015 is coming to a close and I am kind of amazed. It has been a BIG, tremendous year for me personally, and also for both of my businesses. (This blog and my health and wellness coaching practice, of course- but also my podcast and personal training business, Rise and Resist). 2015 has easily been the best year of my life, and as it draws to a close I am feeling loved, full, satisfied, and, well…tired. Very very tired! This wonderful and tremendous ride has not come without effort.
I am thinking a lot about my public responsibility as a blogger, a writer, a coach, and a positive body image advocate. Super Strength Health and Rise and Resist have both been cathartic for me, in the way that they have offered me platforms to engage in honest dialogues around my life, my food and exercise choices, my eating disorder recovery, and my politics. In working with Super Strength Health and Rise and Resist, I have gained communication with those who say my recovery has inspired them to go after theirs. I have gained relationships with people I would not otherwise know. I have gained self-confidence from watching the direct impact my words have had on others.
Most of all, through these platforms I have gained a slew of people that I feel deeply accountable to. Of course I never wish to engage in any of the destructive eating disorder behaviors that I held so dear in the past again, but I would be lying if I said that I never had body image days. That negative thoughts don’t creep into my head and that sometimes giving into diet culture doesn’t look easier than fighting to both love my body AND nourish my mind. Once you have an eating disorder, it is very easy to fall back into negative thought patterns, actions, and habits. Scarily easy, really, because the longer ED bullshit sticks around, the more embedded it is as something almost comfortable to return to. The communities I have built by blogging and podcasting have given me an army of others to aid in telling those ED urges to fuck right off. I believe I have gleaned more out of writing this blog than any single person could gain from reading it. This little community here is a gift and I don’t take it for granted. Not for one single day.
All this said, I am also thinking about boundaries.
I have shared everything on this blog, and that has invited a whole slew of who-knows-who into my inner workings. I am actually fairly comfortable with this (I always liked diary style books as a kid and dreamed of having people give enough of a shit about my thoughts to want to read my journals, too). What I am less comfortable with, is the weight of expectation I have for myself in regards to my output.
You may have noticed things are a little quieter here than they used to be. When I started Super Strength Health I was DILIGENT about blogging three times a week (personal post on Monday, recipe on Tuesday, link round up on Fridays!) and I held myself to a high standard of keeping in touch because a lot of the time my blog was the little light that kept me going. I was working a job that I hated full time and commuting about 15 hours a week. I was deeply entrenched in starting up crossfit and loving to lift but HATING the way my body was changing as a result. I was dealing with anxiety and depression and writing and hoping and dreaming and building Super Strength Health was what kept me feeling sane, connected, and productive when there was little else I looked forward to.
As I said, 2015 was like a domino effect of awesome. In January, I got engaged to Kett, who just so happens to be my best friend in the whole world. In February I fell in love with olympic lifting and learned to check my ego at the door. (It is pretty hard to insist on heavy lifts every time you enter the gym when you’re working with something so technical that it is absolutely necessary to start out light.) As a result of less working myself into the ground day in and day out, my body changed. It started to look how I’d always wanted it to look, and I started to change my perception of what exercise means to me. I took more rest days and my body thrived.
In March Kett and I started re-tooling a book proposal we’d had in the works in 2013, with a little more direction and a little more aim. In April I passed my personal trainer certification and started Rise and Resist Podcast with Holly, who I’d known forever and always wanted to be friends with. Not only was our podcast well received, I gained an amazing new friend and confidant in Holly, someone I have learned to trust completely in and out of the gym.
In May, I spoke at Vida Vegan Con, and met so many people I idolized that it actually made my head spin. During my talk I felt strong and confidant and happy. Like speaking about my experience could be liberating and not nerve wracking.
In August, Kett and I got married and went to Kauai for two glorious weeks of beauty and wonder. There are no words for Kauai and the impact that it had on my life. For the first time in years, I didn’t work every single day of the week. In fact, I worked NOT AT ALL. Not on Super Strength Health, not on Rise and Resist, not on our book or anything else. Instead I spent the weeks hiking, swimming, making out with my forever dude, and thinking about lifetime commitments.
In September, Kett and I were handed our very first book deal and moved from my beloved Oakland to a less beloved, but still well-liked Portland, OR. I struggled with anxiety, and depression, and feeling adrift in Oregon. I didn’t know where to work out and I didn’t know which of the new people I’d met were going to be my friends. I wanted to use blogging to fight this depression as I had in the past, but I was struck with a new guilty thought: I just didn’t feel like I had anything to say. I wasn’t struggling in eating-disorder-low-self-esteem ways, I was struggling with homesickness and listlessness, and that was nothing I thought to be harrowing or even interesting. The sadness I felt was compounded by the guilt I felt for the emptyness of my blog space.
In November this article was published in Portland Monthly, and my business exploded in literally the best way possible. Just one little write up supplied me with the kind of clients I’d always wanted to work with. Fun people. Vegan people. Queer people. Body positive people. Those who’d struggled with eating disorders in the past, and those who’d always wanted to try fitness but were too afraid. Between this and actually working on my book, something shifted in me and I grew to have moments of love for my new city. It isn’t always perfect, and it’ll never be my love for the bay, but its getting more solid each day. Portland has some great people that really do a lot to combat the cold and the rain and the grey.
So back to boundaries.
Ever since the beginning of the year when my actual life picked up speed, I have consistently had a lot of feels about my lack of complete devotion to the blog. I felt an immense gratitude and responsibility to this space, and I felt like my readers deserved regular, well thought-out, specific content. And I also felt that due to my investment in my coaching clients, my book, and my podcast, I couldn’t give it all the love it deserved. Every time I came to this conclusion, two very distinct feelings came up: guilt and shame.
Guilt and shame have been driving forces in my life in the past. Some might say that guilt and shame inspired, propagated, and prolonged my eating disorder. It has certainly instigated a shit load of depression.
Super Strength Health started out as a space to help me become a person that doesn’t live according to their guilts and their shames. I am starting to cross my own personal boundaries when it becomes a tool that puts me back in the shame space, and so, just in time for the New Year, I am starting to let go.
This space will likely always have life. For reals, this is NOT a so long or a farewell! You don’t have to worry about that.
In 2015, I spent much of my time cultivating my drive to achieve. In 2016, my primary goals are around intuition, mindfulness, and ease. That will go into effect here by way of some less frequent posting, with hopefully more inspired content. I am liberating Super Strength Health from the shackles of “shoulds”, and because my readers are cool AF, I know its gonna be okay.
Sometimes, health can be more about loosening the reigns than tightening them! I know that will always be my eternal struggle, so shifting my expectations right here right now seems like a great place to start.
So! That’s what I’ve been thinking about lately. What are your 2016 goals?
“The truth was, I was a food addict. My relationship with food was unhealthy and unsafe, regardless of how it looked on my frame. This was not an issue of size.”
I am super honored to bring you a guest post this morning, from the extremely awesome, Jessica DeMarra of Sprouts and Chocolate. I had the pleasure of meeting Jessica at the very last Vida Vegan Con (single tear) after the talk I gave on body image, self-esteem, veganism, and blogging. When I spoke to Jessica, she told me about her struggles with food, and talked to me about how she’d always wanted to share her story, but wasn’t sure where it would fit in on her recipe blog. I was struck by Jessica’s vulnerability and honesty, and decided right then and there that if I didn’t see something on S+C within six months, I would invite her to share here.
It is such an honor and a gift every time someone talks about eating disorders and recovery without shame. I invite you to grab a cup of coffee or tea, get cozy, and sink into Jessica’s tale. This is a story of working through the mental bullshit that eating disorders bring, finding a glimmer of hope, and going at self-respect like it’s a full time job. Let’s get to it!
Hello! My name is Jessica DeMarra, and I run the plant-based blog, Sprouts and Chocolate.
I had the pleasure of meeting Lacy at Vida Vegan Con, where she did a seminar on positive self-image. After we met, she emailed me about doing a guest post discussing my story and my struggles with food. I replied to her email with excitement and then I realized I would have to be honest about my eating, which was frightening. I have never shared my story in such detail before and I was concerned people would take it the wrong way.
But then I reminded myself: this is my story and some people will relate and others won’t. It is honest, real, and yes, actually happened. No bullshit here.
Before VVC, I had never met Lacy, but her story stirred something inside of me that I had been repressing for years- my own troubles with food. For most of my life, I was compulsively overeating, emotionally dependent on food, and a food addict. After Lacy’s seminar, she welcomed the audience to introduce themselves and I headed for the back of the line, holding in my tears in hopes that no one would see me. I said hello to her, she shook my hand, and then I broke down sobbing; we are not talking about a glistening tear or two slowly rolling down my cheek- it was an open mouthed, gut-wrenching, couldn’t speak, couldn’t breathe, full on weeping. She was kind about it, let me catch my breath, and listened to my story between sobs. I told her that I was a food blogger that was so addicted to food that I barely thought of anything else. I told her that worst of all, people around me didn’t believe me about my anxieties. They had just summed it up to me being self-critical or worse, humble about my size. After pulling myself together, I left the seminar room feeling exhausted, yet energized at the same time.
Finally, someone heard my voice and understood my words.
Previously, when I confided in someone about my struggles with food, they would respond with “You are not fat, Jess,” or an eye roll perhaps, thinking I read one too many Cosmo magazines. Funny thing, I never said I was fat. I always said I was having a hard time with food and anxiety. They were looking at my body instead of hearing my words, like someone’s body is an accurate reflection of their thoughts.
I didn’t tell people that I thought I was fat, because that was not the issue. The truth was, I was a food addict. My relationship with food was unhealthy and unsafe, regardless of how it looked on my frame. This was not an issue of size.
I realized I was addicted to food when I went to college, where I had a fully loaded meal card and the privacy of my own dorm room. After my classes, I would prepare for my nightly ritual of heading down to the local shawarma place, getting a lamb shish kabob plate and a Diet Coke, and popping into the store for two king sized chocolate bars, one for eating on the walk back to my dorm and one for having after dinner. Each night I could feel the excitement of my indulgence- my skin literally buzzed. I could not walk fast enough back to my dorm room to get started. When I arrived to my dorm, I immediately changed into sweats, got my marathon of television ready to go, and ate in bed, consuming everything as fast as I could. I always discarded the evidence of my binge right away. I was never full and never satisfied.
I didn’t do these things because I wanted to- I did them because I needed to. If something disturbed my binge, I would be in an awful mood until I could do it again the next night. I said no to plans and outings to keep this ritual ongoing.
There was a time when I glamorized anorexia over compulsively overeating from food addiction. I assumed that it meant that I could at least be skinny even if I was still self- destructive. I even tried on the eating disorder, lasting no more than a day of eating as little as possible. I realize now that that is insensitive to those who are struggling with this disease but feelings about eating disorders are never rational. I was so in my fog that I couldn’t see actual recovery as a way out.
Since not eating at all wasn’t an option for me, I decided to do the next “best” thing and took up diet pills and cigarettes. All my smoker friends were skinny! I did this for a few years and yeah, I, too, was skinny. The unfortunate reality is that people complimented me. It seemed that people found me more attractive. Clothes shopping was easier. This was all the motivation I needed to continue the destructive behavior.
On the surface I seemed happy. Meanwhile, I was suffering insomnia, obsessive eating + exercise, heart palpations, cold sweats, blurred vision, chronic fatigue, and digestive problems from the mixture of nicotine, over the counter diet pills, and a very restrictive diet. I would run my hands over my body, feeling my hipbones protruding out, my flat stomach, and the deep caves I had created around my collarbone. I assumed that, despite all terrible symptoms I had, this is what happiness felt like. That is, until I went to the doctor’s office and he told me my resting heart rate was abnormally high for a person at the age of 20. This was the wake up call that I needed to change.
I had to dig deep and shift my focus from self-destruction masquerading as self care to truly caring about my body and soul. I started adding good things, mostly plants, to my diet- instead of buying a donut at my favourite coffee place, I bought some fruit at the neighbouring grocer stand, I carried a bottle of water with me everywhere I went since I was chronically dehydrated and never realized it. Instead of going out to drink all night only to wake up to a hangover, I stayed in with friends to watch a movie. I started thinking good things about myself instead of thinking that I was an all-consuming piece of garbage. I would tell myself out loud in the mirror everyday what I liked about myself. I stopped taking diet pills, stopped drinking a pot of coffee a day, and stopped pinching my sides while I ate. I still felt that itch, the tingle of pain and pleasure that was giving in to the overconsumption of foods. I had been so extreme and so harmful to myself; I thought I would never feel better. I didn’t even know who I was without these things in my life. I defined myself by my eating habits- they governed my thoughts, my body, my soul, and without them, would I even like who I was? But I realized the truth, which was that I didn’t like myself while restricting my diet, either. There had to be more to life than my rituals around food and body.
This is where I decided to turn my addiction to food into something healthy and positive. I had always been a pretty good cook, and I had a camera so why not start a plant-based recipe blog? Sprouts & Chocolate was born out of my desire to see food differently, to not be emotionally dependent on it. I knew nothing about blogging, how social media, or even the Internet worked but I wanted to take my negative feelings about food and turn them into something with passion and positivity. Working on my food blog has taught me that food can shamelessly pleasure the body and the soul. I could enjoy what I was eating, decadent or not, without the guilt of feeling disobedient. Though I have never discussed my disordered eating on my site, it has transformed the way I see food, turning it from a shameful secret to public sharing. No food is inherently dirty or clean and when I bake up some awesome cookies or a crazy healthy salad, I can now eat it without mentally running through a calorie count.
Before, it was perfection or destruction and nothing in between. Finding balance is a practice, and one that I continue to aim for every day. Some days are awesome and I feel great about myself, my body, and my life. Other days, I look in the mirror and ask myself, “Who the fuck are you?”
My recovery has taught me that I do not have to feel great every single day. Having moments of imperfection is- dare I say- normal! Shitty days happen but it is what you do with yourself on your bad days that is important. Over and underrating were tactics I used to temporarily make myself feel better, but of course the satisfaction never lasted. Now my behaviour has changed to actually take care of myself and my emotions instead of stuffing or starving them. I don’t turn to consuming as much as I can in a short time to feel better- I curl up in bed and read a book, turn off my phone and take a bath, go for a short run or literally just lay on the floor and do nothing. My behaviour now takes care of my body and my soul, because it is kind as opposed to punishing. My weight has stopped effecting my happiness and I give a big ol’ mental “fuck you” to those who question the confidence I have in myself, like how dare I feel good about my body*.
*Lacy said those exact words in her seminar and I will never forget them.
I may be at my heaviest, but I also at my happiest and that is worth something.
If you are feeling down about yourself, have anxiety around food, and don’t know where to start or how to start, reach out! Meeting Lacy for those 10 minutes at the end of a seminar has been the most soul stirring, cathartic, and healing moments in my disordered eating journey to recovery. It took just one person to listen to what I was saying and respond thoughtfully with no judgments for me to feel understood and worthy of my feelings.
Are you crying?! I am totally fucking crying. Jessica, you are amazing and brave and I am SO honored to host you!
For more from Jessica, visit her in the following places:
Have an amazing weekend!