If you’ve had an eating disorder in the past, its voice can always be waiting there, right there in the wings.
“You’re body is terribly flawed” it might say.
“You’ll never be good enough”
“I can’t believe you ate that”
“It’s time to count calories” it might suggest. “Or eat more. Or maybe starve.”
“Throw up” the voice might say. “Eat everything in the world and then throw it up.”
There are so many ways an eating disordered voice can manifest that it kind of blows my mind. Historically, my history with disordered eating has been very specifically restriction paired with compulsive exercise. But when that got better it morphed into bulimia and from there it morphed into general food freakiness. It became eating food really, really fast, like someone would catch me or like I hadn’t eaten in a long time. It became a general nasty voice in my head that told me I was unattractive and worthless.
My anorexia and bulimia mellowed into something quieter, but still painful. It became mean thoughts, and sadness when I ate anything at all. My eating disorder had made me feel very bad, but when it went away, I didn’t exactly feel better. Instead I felt quietly trapped in my body without my coping mechanism. There was enough food in my life to keep me at a stable weight, but there wasn’t enough food in the world to keep my brain feeling good.
I knew I had to find a different way.
When it turned out there wasn’t enough food in the world to make me feel happy or whole I started focusing instead on how I could be a better friend. My sickness had taken me entirely into my head, focused on my routine, my calories, my measuring cups, my exercise. I didn’t show up for my friends for years. I started showing up. The friends that forgave me for my selfishness showed up for me too. It felt perfect.
When it seemed there wasn’t enough food in the world to fill me, I asked myself a very logistical question: had I eaten enough that day? Had I gotten enough protein? Eventually I learned that I have sensitive blood sugar, and I need to eat every 2-3 hours. I made my eating schedule a habit, and then the only hungers I had to worry about were emotional.
I wrote. I wrote my fucking ass off, and I found people who liked my writing. Writing filled me up more than trying to control my body and when I finished a piece I had worked hard on, I felt like a champion.
When it seemed there wasn’t enough food in the world for me, I made a plan. My plan went like this:
“If I feel like puking, I will talk to Monica. If Monica is busy, I’ll take a shower. When the shower is over, I will think of things that make me feel good.” It was a really simple, three step plan, and once I put it in place, I stopped puking.Because I have consistently used this plan for any behavior I don’t accept (I don’t feel like puking anymore, but sometimes I do feel like mentally talking shit on my body) I am able to stay well. It’s simple, but not easy.
For the record, the things I thought of mostly when I needed a reason not to throw up were my students, young girls and how important I think they are, lifting weights, and my grandmother, mother, and sister. I stopped puking for the love of all women. I started to like myself as a result. These are specific to me, and you will probably have other excellent things to think about that will be specific to you.
What will you do when the voice of self-dissatisfaction comes up? How will you change your own mind?
This was written for all people that have struggled with food and body image. It is for those who have had diagnosed anorexia or bulimia, sure, but it is also for the compulsive exerciser, the emotional eater, the chronic dieter, the person with a constant loop of mean body self talk. I use “eating disorder recovery” in the loosest sense of the word. This was written simply for those who have added stress around food and body during the holiday time. I love you all, and together, we’ve got this.
For the rest of my life, I will consider myself to be in eating disorder recovery. Although it has been years since I actively practiced any of the behaviors that made me categorically “sick”, the first thing that happens when I am tired, sad, or stressed, is that I notice myself having shitty dialogue with myself about the way I look. My brain remains very quick to judge my body, and although I do not accept the crap it comes up with, it’s still there. Holidays drive me batty for this reason.
This Thanksgiving I watched my dialogue around food and body rise and fall. I made a big and beautiful pile of greens for the potluck I attended and I felt happy and positive and strong. I arrived to my party and saw a gigantic table full of piles of food and I felt incredibly anxious and tired. I acknowledged the anxiety was still there (YES, after all these years, after all my skillz, after all my self love and teaching my clients to do the same) and I told myself that I could eat what I wanted, without emotional repercussion. I made myself a plate of food fit for the awesome weight lifting vegan lady that I was. I ate until I was full, and then I ate a little more. Dessert came and I had pie, because I wanted some, and because my brain told me I shouldn’t and I was so angry at the shoulds that I felt I had to. I felt sad. My stomach was not stoked. I was simultaneously proud of myself for enjoying the food with my friends, and pissed off that it was difficult to deal with my over full-ness in stride.
When I looked around after the meal my friends and I enjoyed, I saw that most people were really full. They were laying down, and watching movies, and doing puzzles, and farting tofurkey farts. No one looked sad about their fullness. In fact, an hour or so later the whole cohort went out to get pints of coconut ice cream. It boggled my mind. My friends ate as much as me and were in fact, more than fine. They were happy! Comfortable and hanging out and stoked.
That’s the thing about eating disorder brain. It takes you right out of your life and into your head. All through the meal I was only able to be half present because of the negotiating I was doing. ME. Been-in-recovery-for-a-long-ass-time-ME. Damn, that sucks.
The difference between in-the-sickness-recovery and in-the-wellness recovery is my ability to notice what’s going on and my ability to make changes going forward. I plan to do Christmas differently, because it is in my best interest to fucking love the people I’m with instead of having an argument with myself that no one will ever win. Here are a few tried and true methods of mental wellness that I am happy to remind myself of.
1. Make a gratitude list
Gratitude saves my ass on a constant and regular basis, and is the simplest thing that I often forget to do. Taking ten minutes to write things down that you’re grateful for straight up changes your disposition. I am spending my Christmas with my family first, and my partner’s family second. I plan to take a moment to not only write down everyday things that I appreciate, but also things I appreciate about all the people I am seeing. At the core of holidays is the desire for togetherness, so I am focusing on the people I am surrounding myself with.
2. Participate in whatever exercise doesn’t fuck your shit up.
Move your body, and keep your goals in mind. (If you are in recovery for anorexia and underweight, do not do high intensity interval training, for example.) When I am anxious, the first thing I want to do is go for a run. I allow myself that luxury because it doesn’t mess with my recovery overall, but I also take time to stretch and breathe deeply when I am done. The goal is to do whatever you need to do to remind yourself that you are on your body’s team. That might be walking, it might be yoga, it might be lifting, it might be a sprint. Do what you need to do, but do it because you’re trying to love yourself, not come out on top of a calorie calculation.
3. Tell someone
So much of what keeps people eating disordered, body dysmorphic, or self-hating is secrecy and shame. Because we live in a terribly fucked up society, chances are someone you know is struggling in the same way. Opening your mouth gives you the opportunity to support and be supportive.
4. Be assertive- with yourself and with others.
If someone is pressuring you to eat more or less, don’t take that shit. You are the boss of you, and you don’t need to be afraid to say so. For those concerned with how to gracefully decline more when you’re at capacity, a simple “No, thank you!” is totally great.
If you are pressuring yourself to eat more or less, that’s another opportunity to take charge. Do what makes your body feels best, do what makes you feel most connected to yourself and your socializing, and if you catch a mean thought, just let yourself marvel at it. “Who would say such mean bullshit?!” you can think. Then have a good laugh. Not you! No way, no how.
Please be kind to yourself and your body this holiday season. Let yourself talk out your internal dialogue, be a listening ear, and remember that I am just an email away. The chaos will end, just like it does every year, and when it is all done, you’re still going to be standing. How cool is that?!
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.