In a few posts, I’ve detailed my extensive history with binge eating, overeating, restricted eating, eating habits that bordered on orthorexia, eating habits permitted by overexercising (“I can eat until I feel sick because I’ll just work out for two hours tomorrow I AM SO HEALTHY”), and then trying to get back to a place of health and wellness after a back injury. These topics are not new to me, or the blog, or to you as the reader. So for this NEDAwareness 2014 post, I am actually not going to retread that ground. Instead, I’m going to use this space to talk to you about possibly the scariest part of the whole deal – what the hell happens once you’re on the road to recovery, or perhaps, what happens when you’re nearly recovered? Now what?
I’ve collated some various tips and advice from years and years of growing to understand my body and my mind, and I wanted to share them with you in case you are in the same position as I am – on the other side of disordered eating, and now slowly starting to deal with the mental stuff that is at the core of the problems to begin with. I will say that it’s highly ironic that I’m writing a post about health and wellness when I’m currently battling the head cold from the depths of Mordor. Ah well.
Understand what the problem is, and go from there. I hate letting people down. I also hate feeling like I’m not utilizing my full potential. If you know anything about my family, they operate on the idea that if you work your ass off, you are capable of achieving anything you want in this world. Because of my personality type, this kind of doctrine can be incredibly helpful or extremely harmful. Knowing why you’re doing the things you’re doing is the first step to maintaining recovery. For me, the body image issues and tremendous physical punishment I inflicted on myself came from, yes, a definite place of wanting to be thinner (and as I’ve said numerous times, I did need to lose weight simply from a wellness standpoint) but it also came from a place of tremendous physical pressure I placed on myself of wanting to be the best at everything. I have to be everything to everybody, and I would rather die than disappoint my parents, so when my Mom sat me down at the age of 18 and gently told me I wasn’t healthy and needed to get in shape, I listened. Probably a little too well, but I listened because I wanted to make her happy*. Once I understood this crucial issue and started trying to figure out what made me happy, it suddenly became a lot easier to let go of my punishing gym routine. I just have to be the best version of myself, and in many ways that has nothing to do with the size on the back of my jeans as long as I’m treating myself well.
*My mom is the best, most lovely person in the world and only wanted me to be healthy and happy. She was an overweight kid and didn’t want me to have the same types of issues she did. Also, she’s pushing 60 and does Insanity workouts. She could kick my ass.
Love your body however it ends up, and dress for your new shape. You could say that my body type is ‘athletic’ – broad shoulders, big legs, short legs, and a slight waist. The only way I could get myself down to a body type known as ‘skinny’ was to deplete myself of muscle mass. I was a size 2 for about three months, when I ate only egg whites and Swiss chard for dinner. Right now, my goals revolve around feeling strong. I also put on muscle very quickly, so at the moment I have enormous shoulders and pretty big legs. I look amazing in skirts, but the supermodel trend of layering tons of clothes in the winter makes me look like a homeless Zeppelin. I know what works for this new body after trial and error. I was frustrated at first with all of the various things I couldn’t wear, but I was also pleased to see all of the really pretty things I COULD wear. Remember – sequins don’t have a size!
You are going to cry ALL of the tears. Once I let go of the things that weren’t serving me in a physical sense, all of the mental trauma and blocks I had placed in my brain suddenly burst open and I found myself completely unable to control my emotions. There were many, many times in the past year or so that I found myself crying over the smallest thing because I wasn’t ‘stuffing’ my emotions with food or exercise. At first, I thought I was going crazy, but then I realized that all of the feelings I was hiding, all of the control I was exerting, all of that was coming to the surface. I do enough yoga to know that we keep all of our experiences in our bodies (relationship issues in our hips, emotional issues in our chests, etc.) and if we don’t allow ourselves to process them they will emerge as eruptions. Once I started actually processing that stuff, it was like Vesuvius. Not being afraid of that is the key. Crying is awesome and therapeutic. The other night I cried my eyes out with my mom because the stress of waiting for PhD decisions was on my chest like a ton of bricks; I didn’t binge or overexercise, I just allowed myself to feel the feelings. Afterwards, it felt like someone took that brick and crumbled it away. I did eat a BUNCH of Pumpkin Spice Hershey Kisses after that, but that’s just a mandatory part of my day.
Get professional help. Yoga can only do so much. When I started up my practice again I considered it to be my therapy (“yoga is my CHURCH, everyone! Screw therapy and actual psychological support, YOGA!”), but now I realize that yoga, as wonderful and beneficial as it is, was putting a band-aid on my more intense traumas. As a result, I’m currently shopping around for a holistic therapist in the Manchester area. Of course you can talk out this stuff with your family and loved ones, but at some point you start to realize you want to spend your time with your loved ones simply loving them, not using them as an emotional dartboard. My boyfriend is possibly the most wonderful and patient person in the world, but he’s been telling me for a solid year that getting a therapist would probably benefit me more because they’ll be able to guide me through the practice of letting go of all of these issues, not just reiterating the issues for the sake of emotional cleansing.
Don’t restrict any food, regardless of what people tell you. This is a trick I learned from a surprising source – Portia de Rossi, aka Mrs. Ellen DeGeneres. While promoting her book Unbearable Lightness, Portia told Oprah that one of the ways she got better from her extreme anorexia was to permit herself to eat any kind of food regardless of portion size and food type; that freedom gave her the permission to eat whatever she wanted, and she found that if she didn’t restrict her food the compulsion to overeat or restrict food became more and more minimized. For a while, I was a vegan and because of that I considered myself recovered because, hey, I was eating tons of peanut butter and oils and all of that stuff I had considered “bad”! Woo hoo! Not really. I didn’t want to eat meat or dairy because I was afraid they were going to make me fat. As a result, I was stringy and no amount of weight lifting would allow me to maintain muscle mass, and we all know how much muscle mass helps your heart and bones. I’ve discussed on here before how I cannot eat gluten due to a medical diagnosis, but other than that I allow myself to eat any kind of food given to me. I have to. Otherwise my control mechanisms will cause anxiety.
Surround yourself with people who don’t give a shit about what you look like. This is huge. For a very long time I made it a point to only associate with ‘cool’ people, or people who talked shit about other people, or people who were ‘clean’; aka, they worked out a ton and drank all the green juice and practiced body scrubbing on a daily basis and made their body into a temple of broccoli. As a result, I absolutely HATED what I looked like, because they made it subliminally clear to me that I needed to ramp up my physical game in order to be a better person. So I constantly felt like I needed to be more…something. Just more. Over the past few years I’ve started to clean those people out of my life (Facebook’s “Hide All” is wonderful) and as a result, my brain is much more clear-headed. I hang out with people who love me because I’m a nerd, and because I try to be nice to everyone I meet. They couldn’t give less of a shit about what pants size I wear, they care if I am a good person who enjoys a good glass or two of wine and eating artisan cheeses at 2AM, and they don’t judge me if I end up falling asleep on the floor of their living room in a pile of half-finished crochet projects while watching Adventure Time.
I will add on a special PS to the above point – The more into the recovery process you are, the less inclined you will be to talk shit about other girls and their bodies, and the less inclined you will be to pay attention to the messages in the media that tell you to hate your body. A few weeks ago, I mentioned to a dear friend that I hated how people felt the need to tear down the bodies of others, and she said to me “That’s a really good sign you think that, because it means you’re feeling really good about yourself and your own journey.” It’s true. I really try to avoid talking about other people and their bodies, unless I think they’re in a position of ill health. In an addendum to my discussion about Rachel Frederickson, I am relieved to see that she’s put on at least 15 pounds since winning The Biggest Loser!
It’s a journey, and sometimes the destination is a better understanding of yourself and your body. The great work begins and ends with you. You’ve got this. The more love you feel, the more you will give, and the more you will realize that you are more than your body.
“You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body, temporarily.” – Walter M. Miller, Jr.
Work your soul.