“You don’t even look like you had a baby!” Well meaning strangers -- in the grocery store, on the street, at the doctor’s office -- give my body the once over, voices tinged with admiration and a hint of envy. It is intended as a compliment, this denial of what is: That I had a baby, that the “soft animal” of my body is just that, an animal that grew an embryo the size of a poppy seed into an eight pound, six ounce fetus who is now my beautiful son.
There was a time when my body was all angles and lines, whittled down to sharp points and jutting bones. I thought that contouring my body would make me somehow good enough. Pregnancy profoundly changed that notion, as well as that body. My belly slowly rounded, first soft and then hard, hard as a rock as my womb filled with fluid and nutrients and became a safe space for my child to begin his life. My face became rosy and round, the hollowness between my thighs filled in, my breasts swelled and prepared to nurture my baby.
For someone recovering from a battle with an eating disorder lasting over a decade, this process was not easy. The comments bothered me, well-intentioned or not. Too big, and I’ve let myself go, I’m overdoing it, gained “too much”. Too small, and I’m not taking care of my baby, already not being a “good enough” mother. “You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting”: Yet in our culture, we do. Magazines are full of articles scrutinizing the bodies of pregnant celebrities and extolling the starvation diets stars engage in to lose the baby weight. Where is the article that describes the miraculous act of giving birth in all its unglamorous glory? Where is the article that describes the trauma your body has gone through, the battering and bleeding and convulsing that leads to a new life being placed in your arms? Where is the article that describes the overpowering love a mother feels for her newborn baby? Aren’t those things more meaningful, more important, than an exercise regime designed to give you flat abs and “banish the baby belly”?
I won’t lie and say I don’t get caught up in the idea that my body should immediately bounce back, that my hips should narrow and my belly flatten and my boobs perk up in the coming weeks. The world expects it, right? Much in the same way that they expect me to be back at work as soon as I can walk without looking like I just went horseback riding, to keep a perfectly organized home, to exclusively breastfeed, to wake up early to go to the gym, to make a home-cooked dinner every night at 5pm, and to remain sweet and accommodating despite living on no sleep for the past two months. It’s just not reality. The reality is that you will be pooped on, peed on, and spit up on multiple times a day. The reality is you will never style or blow dry your hair again, and you might even have to cut it all off because it just gets in your way. The reality is, your nipples might leak right through your shirt while you’re at the mall. And the reality is you won’t care because it really is all worth it.
I want to spend these precious first few weeks of my baby’s life with him, not sweating away the extra few pounds at the gym. When I look in the mirror, I want to be amazed and inspired by what my body has created rather than frustrated and ashamed of the ways in which it has changed. My body does not look the way it once did, my clothes do not fit in the same way. I no longer have a child’s body; I have a child. And I would not trade that for anything in the world.
I thought long and hard about what I wanted to share on my blog for National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. And I didn't think there could be anything more powerful than sharing a story of recovery from one of my clients. Enjoy.
Committing to recovery was a difficult decision to make. Not because I didn’t want recovery, but because it required of me a gigantic leap of faith that if I pushed myself through all the physical and emotional discomfort, the rewards would be worth the pain. I am not a risk-taker, and I have never felt comfortable staring down “the unknown.” In my ambivalence, I came face to face with the recovery paradox: I didn’t want to commit to recovery unless I had some reassurance that I would actually be happier. But, the only way to have access to the feelings of happiness was to honestly try out recovery…and to eat.
Food and hunger had been my enemies for close to a decade. How, I wondered, could they ever help me? The answer lay rooted in biology: if I ate enough, I gained weight. If I gained weight, I thought more clearly. If I thought more clearly, I could examine the real issues (because we know that eating disorders are never just about food!). And, dealing with the real issues often led to genuine feelings of confidence and competence as I realized I could actually handle life. Food was no longer what led me to my eating disorder—it was my ticket out of it.
As I ate and became physically healthy, I did some digging around what I felt were my key issues. Chief among them was my social anxiety: I had always felt out of step with my peers, somehow just a little bit different in a way I couldn’t name. I had been completely overwhelmed by the sexually charged social atmosphere in college, and my solution was to retreat—straight into the arms of anorexia. This was an amazingly effective short-term solution, as it took me right out of the social and sexual games. After all, nothing screams, “Hands off!” more than a starving female body. The downside was that when I was sick, I had no brainpower left to examine the roots of my social discomfort. This was work that could only be done at a healthy weight in recovery. Eating allowed me to reach a point at which I could think complex thoughts and truly unpack this issue, and what I found was that I didn’t have a “problem,” after all…I just hadn’t allowed myself to realize the truth: that I was a lesbian. This realization was a major turning point for me. Although it was challenging to process, having this understanding about myself opened the doors for me to begin living a more self-accepting, authentic life.
Today, recovery means being honest about my appetites—my hungers for intimacy, spirituality, professional fulfillment, and—yes—for food. I’ve discovered that although I am the quintessential introvert, I also have a deep desire to feel positively connected to other people. As I’m growing more comfortable with my sexuality, I’ve been experiencing for the first time what it feels like to be attracted to other people in a way that is exciting and energizing. Sometimes, all this intimacy business can get overwhelming, and I remember why I retreated from this aspect of life so long ago. But even when I feel that old fear tugging at me, I have never once regretted my decision to trade in my eating disorder in favor of fully engaging in the business of living.
I will not sit here and tell you that recovery is easy. But, I will tell you with conviction that recovery is worth it. In retrospect, I know I have gone through a lot of struggle to get where I am today. I also know that I would never want to give back what I have gained through this process. I used to go to sleep every night feeling as though it would have been a blessing not to wake up in the morning. Now, when I wake up each day, I know that the true blessing is to have another chance to participate in the human experience—the joyous parts for sure, but also the tough parts…because even having negative feelings is better than having no feelings at all.
We all have wishes. Things we long for, dream about, hope of. And I believe that taking care of our minds, bodies, and spirits is a pre-requisite to living a full and abundant life. A life that is full of wishes coming true. This beautifully written client spotlight could not capture these sentiments more completely. Imagine the possibilities when your whole health comes first.
Inside my body, my wishes circle my heart like little fish. Sometimes, when there is extra desire in a wish, that wish escapes from its place and wriggles up toward my throat. The wish can no longer be contained, and it grows so big that it keeps swimming, up past my throat into my eyes, where it finally gets released as tears. There are lots of things I wish for, but there are very few that have the potency to move me to tears. In fact, lately there has been just one, a yearning I feel more deeply than any other—the hunger for more human connection.
Actually, the word “connection” seems too casual, like something you can achieve with the barista at your local coffee shop as you purchase your daily cup of caffeine. Perhaps what I am talking about can be more accurately termed “bonding,” or “intimacy.” On one level, I want friends - genuine friends with whom I can be myself, and who like me for who I am, not what I can do for them. I want friendships without unspoken rules or contingencies, where communication is direct and honest. For as long as I can remember, I’ve had this longing—for loyal, equal friendships with people who value me as much as I value them. I observe other people in their intimate pairings and I think: I want that.
Yet the notion of taking direct action is relatively new. My hunger pangs for connection are sharper and more acute than those I felt during the years that I starved myself from food. For such a long time, this appetite for intimacy went unacknowledged, sublimated with a much more easily satisfied fixation on food and body. How relatively easy it was to focus on miles run and calories consumed, rather than on developing intimacy and friendships with other people, people who would surely judge me, deem me unacceptable, and leave. This strategy of displacement worked brilliantly for many years, until, suddenly, it didn’t.
After years of working on recovery, I finally realized that all the attention I lavished on food and body would never be reciprocated, that I would always be alone unless I actively took steps to make room for other people. This new awareness marks one of the many shifts that has taken place inside me since I first made my commitment to recovery. The possibility of opening doors and cultivating relationships at once scares and intrigues me. I look forward to exploring this further.
What do you wish for?
I talk about body image and weight a lot. Our culture values thinness (sometimes under the guise of health) and places one image of beauty on a pedestal (thin, lean, blonde, Caucasian). Consequently, a lot of women find themselves lost in self-loathing as they don’t seem to measure up. Rather than putting their energy into positive self-care, they put themselves on unsustainable diets and exercise regimens then blame themselves for not being able to “stick with it.” (Why not blame the regimen, I wonder?)
I often hear women say that they put themselves through this because they simply cannot be happy or go after their dreams until they lose weight. If they lose weight, they’ll have the confidence (or whatever else) they need to take their dream vacation or go after a new job. I’ve got a news flash for you- life is passing you by!
A client of mine recently wrote this journal entry and I received her permission to share it.
“Lately I’ve been trying so hard to convince myself that things will get better once I’m thinner. But the past actually shows me that this is totally unrealistic. When I was thinner, I was too hungry, too busy at the gym, and too obsessed to be happy.”
Don’t lose yourself chasing after a number on the scale. Live your life now. Sure that includes moderate, healthy, balanced nutrition and exercise (and by the way, your healthy weight will naturally follow on its own). I’m not suggesting you abandon taking good care of yourself. In fact, happiness is a by-product of good self-care. But I am suggesting that life is so much more than your dream weight. It’s about relationships, experiences, and moments that may pass you by if you’re too focused on the calorie count to enjoy it.
I learn a lot from my clients. In fact, that's one of the things I love about my work. A few weeks ago, I got an email from a client who wanted to bring in some old jeans to our next session. These were jeans she wore when her eating disorder was pretty darn bad. So, she suggested she bring them in (with some of her art supplies) for us to have a little fun. From this experience I learned that in order to move forward, there are certain things you have to let go of first.
So after you read her blog post, you might want to consider, the following questions:
- Is there anything toxic in my life (beliefs, thoughts, relationships, tangible items, habits) that are holding me back from living a life this healthier and more free?
- If yes, do I need support to let those things go?
- If yes, what could take the place of those toxic beliefs, thoughts, relationships, items, or habits?
- If yes, is there one small thing I could do right now that would point me in a better direction?
After I said goodbye to my scale (with a hammer), I relied on you to gauge my worth and my value as a person; your job was to dictate what kind of day I would have, to punish me on days when you were tight and to urge me to restrict even more when you were loose. You whispered to me constantly, “You are not enough.” You were a constant test. Like the your friend, the scale, there would be no number good enough, no size low enough, to satisfy you. I used you to compare myself to others, never measuring up.
When I started to get better, you started to get tighter.
You tried to undermine my recovery by telling me I didn't deserve to feel good in my clothes. Every morning I tentatively stepped into you, feeling you grow more restrictive, more punishing. As you got tighter, your voice grew louder, and my recovery began to fade.
It was then that I decided to destroy you, and in doing so reclaimed my recovery.
I wrote on you in permanent markers, things you didn’t like but that made me feel empowered, in control.
I have a body, I am not my body.
These cute pockets are not worth my sanity.
These jeans do not define me.
I think I will cut you up, take your voice away, the way you took mine away for so long. I will make you into a blanket, a blanket that will provide warmth and comfort rather than hatred and self-loathing. You will provide memories, not of cold, restrictive days, but rather of the day I took my power back, the day I decided that a piece of cloth does NOT define my worth.
So goodbye, Jeans. Rest in peace.
Every so often I have the pleasure of sharing with you a client's story. (See the tag on the side of my blog: Client Spotlights). Eating disorder recovery is a long and scary road. Seeing the successes (both small and big), is a vital part of holding out hope and belief in a better life. So thank you Jess for sharing what you've learned along your path. Your willingness to share your journey is inspiring. And no one should go it alone. If you are interested in reading Jess' full story, check out her pro-recovery blog.
One year ago I entered recovery for my eating disorder, and it has been quite the year with many ups and downs. At the end of it, however, I am so grateful for every moment. I have learned and grown more than I ever thought possible.
Since a year ago, so much has changed in my life for the better. My eating habits are not the only aspect of my life that has changed- my entire outlook is more positive and I am a happier and healthier person overall. Recovery is about so much more than learning to eat normally- it is about learning to truly live and embrace life. It is about discovering one's personal, healthy identity beyond an illness that takes on a life of its own. It is about learning to believe that "I am enough and I am beautiful just the way I am".
My biggest accomplishment in recovery thus far is not being in denial about my illness and at the same time recognizing that it does not define me. In the past year I have discovered who I am separate from my eating disorder, and I like who I am. As I have learned to stop restricting food, I have learned to stop restricting other aspects of life as well. For example, I no longer restrict friendships, fun, or emotions. I know how to let myself feel my emotions without letting them overwhelm me, I have incredibly rewarding relationships with my friends and family, and I have learned to relax and embrace spontaneity in a way that I never thought possible.
We all know that recovery is not all about the food and the body, but in terms of the food and the body, I have made significant strides. After one year of recovery:
* I have the desire and capability to follow a meal plan.
* I am no longer Anemic or otherwise deficient in vitamins and minerals.
* I do not count calories.
* I do not over-exercise.
* I can find clothes that I feel confident in.
* Many former fear foods are foods that I love and eat guilt-free.
* I have discovered new types of food that I love.
* I am able to recognize hunger and tolerate fullness.
* I don't weigh myself.
* I get my period every month.
* I am able to recognize that fat is not a feeling.
* I know my triggers and how to combat them.
* I love dining out at restaurants.
I did not accomplish all of the above on my own. I have been very fortunate to have the support of an amazing treatment team. It took me awhile to find a team that I am comfortable with, but the trial-and-error with various clinicians was worth it. Also, DBT has helped me a lot. I no longer feel powerless to recover, because now I have the tools necessary to kick some serious ED butt anytime, anywhere!
Although I consider recovery a gift, it has not been sunshine and rainbows the whole time. I had countless days of ambivalence where I questioned, “Is recovery truly worth it? Because this is so much more painful than my eating disorder ever was!” Recovery has not been easy, but I have found that nothing worth fighting for is ever easy. In the beginning it is incredibly painful to give up eating disorder behaviors, but slowly, over time, it gets easier.
Today, I can say today with complete sincerity that the benefits of recovery are worth the struggle. I have my ups and downs, as is a natural part of the recovery process, but I know that someday I will be fully recovered. There is no way I am going to let some life-sucking illness take control of my life ever again, because I deserve to grow, thrive, and enjoy life to its fullest. I can fully recover with hard work and perseverance, and so can you!
Every so often I have the pleasure of sharing with you a client's story. (See the tag on the side of my blog: Client Spotlights). Eating disorder recovery is a long and scary road. Seeing the successes (both small and big), is a vital part of holding out hope and belief in a better life. So thank you J for sharing 5 of the lessons you have learned while on your path to recovery. Your willingness to share your journey is inspiring. And no one should go it alone.
5 Lessons on My Path to Recovery
"I feel ready" she said. It was her last night as a patient in the Intensive Outpatient Program at the Cambridge Eating Disorder Center (CEDC). She was ready to take back the 9 evening hours a week and let go of the support the Center provided. She was ready to go out in the world and do it on her own. It was only my first week, and I remember wondering if I would ever feel that way. I was still having trouble saying, and truly believing, that I had Bulimia. It seemed like an impossibly long road to recovery. Would I ever be a normal eater? What is normal eating anyway? Was I prepared to make a life change that would reprogram 17 years of emotional eating, negative body image, body-based self-worth and self-loathing, and, more recently, a full-blown eating disorder? Would I ever feel ready? I knew I had to try.
Week after week, I went to the sessions. The support was tremendous and the lessons passed along were invaluable. But week after week, I would express, rather disconcertingly, that I could not see my path to recovery. CEDC was undoubtedly keeping me afloat, but how was I supposed to be ready to go out there and make it on my own if I didn't know the way. I'm left-brained and process-oriented. I wanted steps. I wanted a to-do list. I needed markers of my progress to know I was improving. I didn't even know what recovery looked like. How was I supposed to find something if I didn't know what I was looking for?
With the help and support of the Cambridge Eating Disorder Center and the guidance of Marci, (and I can't ignore - with patience and time), I am beginning to see the road to my recovery. There have been many lessons - these are a few that have been especially meaningful to me.
1. My eating disorder is a part of me, but I am not my eating disorder.
Once I admitted that I had an eating disorder and actually believed it, this was my first, and perhaps most important step to recovery. Shame and guilt melted away and I found a stronger sense of self-worth.
2. I can make decisions based on self-care.
Playing the game of "should" and "should not," guilt and obligation, will often lead you astray. Making a decision based on self-care will bring you back to balance. It can change your outlook, change your day, make you stronger, more confident, more in control. Decisions based on self-care can be difficult, but making the difficult decision, with your own well-being in mind, reinforces the notion that you are important and deserve to be taken care of.
3. I can separate food and feelings.
I have taken to telling myself, "This is how I feel. This is separate from my food choice." Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't. But I am beginning to embrace the uncomfortable feelings and appreciate them for the messages they are sending me, or even, the gifts they are giving me. They are opportunities to learn what I truly need. Numbing with food makes me feel like a prisoner in my own body and a slave to my eating disorder. I'm learning to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Feeling bad, in a strange way, means I'm getting better.
4. Black-and-white thinking is my enemy.
My diet does not need to be black and white, all or nothing. I can make food choices, moment by moment, and work towards progress, not perfection or ideals of thinness, as my goal. Progress towards healthy living and body-based signals of hunger and fullness through compassion, acceptance, and forgiveness.
My recovery, also, does not need to be black and white. The ups and downs are part of the process. I might fall back into all-or-nothing eating, I might make food choices based on feelings, I might make decisions that are not based on self-care. It's about doing the best I can with what I have in the moment and learning from the highs and the lows. It's about forgiving myself for the times I fall and being my own cheerleader when I get back up. Recovery is imperfect. The downs help us measure the ups and remind us of where we want to be.
5. Progress comes from taking risks.
I could not have gotten this far or learned this much without taking risks. Growth comes from working through the challenges we face, with food and in life, and finding the lessons on the other side. It comes from fighting our eating disordered brain, making the difficult choice, and reframing years of unhealthy thoughts. Growth comes from finding the strength that we never knew we had when we were unwilling to take the path that scared us.
These are the markers of my recovery, the signs I know that I am changing and growing. I am finding that, by taking away my eating disorder's control over me, my body and mind have slowly begun to step up. I understand that the road ahead may still be long, and though I am not yet recovered, I can see the path, I will stay on it as best I can, and I am confident that I will get there. I understand that my eating disorder has served a purpose, and that letting it go might be scary, but it will ultimately be what sets me free.
I am proud that on my last night at CEDC, I was also able to say, "I feel ready."
I am continually grateful to my clients who teach me on a daily basis. Their intelligence, compassion, and drive never cease to amaze me. And I'm also grateful that they are willing to share their stories with my blog readers. I can't tell you the number of people who say that the client spotlights are their favorite part about my blog! So here is another inspiring story of a client who (through a lot of hard work and help) has found a much happier place in life with food, weight, and her body. Thank you for sharing and enjoy.
My obsession with food and dieting saved my life. Now I am ready to let go.
Let me explain.
After over 15 years of anguish, I am free from the obsession. I never thought life could be this good. I am recovering from an eating disorder. Binging and restricting. Gaining and losing. What appeared to be years of yo-yo dieting was in fact, an all-consuming obsession with food and with hating my body and myself for what I thought was a lack of willpower. Food was my weakness and I hated it, so the cycle perpetuated.
In reality, food was my mechanism for coping. That was perhaps the biggest revelation that came out of my treatment. I had never before thought of food as a tool that I used to cope with the trauma I had experienced in my life. I knew food was a comfort, sure. But I didn’t realize that my obsession with food and body image was a way for me to divert my attention and focus on something I thought I could control when everything else was in turmoil. Rather than let certain, unbearable traumas consume me, I focused my thoughts and feelings on food and my physical appearance. It was how I was able to get through. It was all I could do to survive.
The eating disorder saved my life at one time, but it ran rampant and nearly destroyed me. The obsession with food served its purpose. I don’t need it anymore. It feels like I miracle, but it is in fact quite real and achievable.
When I came to Marci, I was skeptical to say the least. I didn’t trust nutritionists. I didn’t need their help. I knew which foods were healthy and which foods were not. Though I didn’t think I needed Marci’s help, I went to my first session so as to comply with my treatment program at an eating disorder center. A fellow patient had just started with Marci and gave her a glowing recommendation.
With Marci, no foods were off limits. She was gentle and she really listened. I felt comfortable divulging the details of my disordered eating. There is so much shame involved in binging on food. It was such a relief to be able to confide in her and seek help in untangling the emotions.
In just a few months, I have completely changed my life. I’m finally happy – no, ecstatic! Sometimes I cry just thinking about how far I’ve come. Now I eat whichever foods I am in the mood for at each meal. I enjoy food without the feelings of guilt. By allowing myself what I want, I don’t feel deprived and so I don’t feel the need to binge. The food thoughts and obsessions dissipate. I find myself satisfied. When I’m done eating, my mind moves on to something else instead of lingering and haunting me for what I did or didn’t eat. By experimenting, by trial and error and by falling down and picking myself back up every time, I have been able to achieve balanced eating.
It’s hard to describe what this kind of freedom feels like. Food is fuel, but it is so much more than that. Food is social; it is one of the most pleasurable enjoyments in life. Now that I am allowing myself these pleasures, I am truly enjoying my life. I had been depressed for longer than I could remember and was convinced that I would never escape this nightmare. But it is possible.
Now I have the pleasure of enjoying an egg and cheese sandwich in the mornings with two, whole eggs (instead of egg whites) and cheese (!), on an everything bagel, which is flavorful compared to the dry, wheat toast I might have allowed myself to eat before. Sometimes I eat pizza for lunch and sometimes I have fish and brown rice with a salad. Sometimes I eat pasta with cream sauce for dinner and sometimes I eat lighter fare. I allow myself to go out for ice cream with friends and I don’t feel the need to binge on pints of it later when I’m alone at night. I’m no longer ashamed to eat certain foods. I enjoy all foods – veggies and ice cream alike. I still can’t believe this is my life!
I don’t mean to make it sound like this was easy. I have been in intensive therapy for months to work on the underlying sources of pain that led me to use food as a coping skill. I learned new ways of coping. I have a support system. I learned to ask for help and I learned how brave it is to do so.
While I have made a breakthrough on balanced eating, I still have a lot of work to do on my self esteem and body image. I used to think I would be happy if I was thin enough. Even though I’d still like to be thinner, I’m enjoying my life right now – at the size that I am! That was the biggest surprise of all. I’m not sure yet if I will always want to be thinner or if at some point, I will be able to accept myself no matter how I look. Although, it does feel like I’m on my way to making peace with my body as I did with food.
Marci assures me that my body will reach the weight it’s supposed to be as I continue. I trust her and I’m beginning to trust my body. But even if I never lose another pound or even if I gain weight, I will NEVER restrict food again. I refuse to waste one more day making myself miserable. I thought I would spend my entire life fighting this battle. In the end, I won by giving up the fight and letting go. I let go of everything. I couldn’t do it anymore. I let go of the control and of the fear. I’m finally free. No matter how hopeless it may feel, believe me, it really is possible.
Each month I look forward to posting a client spotlight. And I'm so grateful that "A" was willing to share her story with all of you. It has been so gratifying to work with her as she has worked hard to develop a happy/healthy relationship with food. She has fought hard in her recovery from an eating disorder and along her path found two keys to healthy eating and exercise- cooking and climbing. Read on and enjoy.
Six months ago I hit a low point in my battle with an eating disorder. I had literally run my body into the ground through a long-standing combination of over-exercise and under-eating. It took three full months in a treatment center to restore my body to health, but it continues to take work to restore my mentality surrounding food and eating healthfully. Thanks to the support of Marci and my therapist, (as well as constantly checking in with myself on a daily basis), I can honestly say that I am in a place that I haven’t been in for years. My approach to both food and nutrition has been transformed. No, I don’t pretend to say that disordered thoughts and tendencies don’t exist – but I know how to fight them.
I never intentionally tried to compromise my health or destroy my body with an eating disorder. Rather, it felt like something I could control in the middle of an emotional tornado. I had always been an athlete, rowing through college then running marathons in the years afterward. I thought I knew about sports nutrition and healthy eating. But what was originally a way of staying healthy became an addiction; I only allowed certain foods into my body, at certain times, in certain amounts. I shut off everything my body was telling me. I continued pushing myself physically, until my body nearly gave out. I was mentally, emotionally, and physically spent. I had a brutal awakening in January of this year and realized that I couldn’t continue treating my body this way. So I decided to give up all control for the sake of getting both my healthy and my life back.
The early stages of treatment were both physically and emotionally intense, uncomfortable, and even painful. But the challenge now is regaining a healthy perspective around eating, exercise, and maintaining life balance. I am a different person now – physically, yes, but more important, mentally. While there is clearly no single thing that helps individuals recover from an eating disorder, two processes have remarkably helped me find my way to a fresh food mentality: cooking and climbing. Let me explain. :)
I had never really cooked a meal to share with others; sure, I cook my own food, but I had never truly enjoyed food preparation because of my tight restrictions on what I allowed myself to eat. I ate a baked sweet potato but never cheesy mashed potatoes. I grilled fish with lemon but would never have given it a maple glaze, for example. I can’t explain it, but there were so many foods I wouldn’t eat in the midst of the eating disorder simply because the dish, as a whole, terrified me. I met a friend, however, whose joy was in cooking delicious meals and who graciously began to share that skill with me. I began to help with the cooking a couple times each week as we made dinner for ourselves. Something about the process of creating a meal and being involved in each piece of onion dicing or butter melting made something in my head suddenly click. Once I prepared a “challenge food” in this context, from start to finish, it was no longer scary or off limits – I could easily see exactly what it was, and in breaking it down into ingredients and steps. What had been a looming pasta nightmare, for instance, became a delicious, hearty pasta dinner that I could enjoy with a great friend. So challenge by challenge, I realized the key to tackling my fears was just to cook them! And I know now that all I have to do when confronted with something that I hesitate to eat, or when I think twice about whether something is “healthy enough,” is cook it myself and understand that it is simply food – delicious and nutritious in all of its forms.
Coming from years of exercising for the wrong reasons, I have been careful, in my recovery, to approach exercise as something that I WANT to do for the sake of enjoyment. The same friend has recently reintroduced me to hiking and backpacking as a fantastic form of physical activity. I must admit that in recent years I haven’t been an enthusiastic hiker…it did’t provide the physical challenge and intense vigorous exercise that I thought I needed. But in re-learning what is healthy and good for my body, as well as what is thoroughly fun in the process, I am coming to absolutely love the periodic hikes and trips I have been taking through New Hampshire’s White Mountains. But they have been invaluable as well in what they have taught me about my body’s needs regarding nutrition.
I have realized through the months of treatment that I need to put a lot more food into my body in the course of a day than I was ever aware of, simply to get through a normal, busy weekday. Butthrowing in about 4000 feet of elevation and miles of trail, I discovered that food is, plain and simple, fuel for my body. Without sufficient amounts of food, I cannot perform. I have been at the point of tears on a trail, body exhausted. Yet after refueling I’m suddenly happy and able to continue going.
Of course, we all know that proper nutrition allows us to live and have the energy our bodies need. But it wasn’t until a hard day of hiking that I was able to see the direct correlation between food in and energy out. Easy. It was so freeing to realize that to some extent, it doesn’t matter what I put in – I need the fats, the carbohydrates, EVERYTHING, in order to do what I want to do.
But this applies to the rest of life too! Pretty much any food, in moderation, can and will be used by my body to live the active, healthy life I want to live. And in consuming every food, in a variety, I am happier. Eating what I want to eat, when I want to eat it, is less of a challenge when I acknowledge that food is fuel. End of story.
So of course, the mental battles of eating habits are there, and they may always be, but they are few and far between. And when they arise, I know how to fight them. I am committed to living a life that isn’t dictated by my food choices, but enhanced by them. And I’m getting closer!
So each month I try to highlight a client's success whether big or small. And this month I'd like to showcase my good friend Laci. Over the past year she has fully committed herself to her health. She, like many of you, was overworked and overcommitted with her job, volunteer work, and taking care of her family. Good nutrition and exercise were at the bottom of the list (if even on the list at all!). After delivering her first baby and months of over-indulgent eating and neglecting exercise, she decided to take charge of her health.
Now, she's not a success story just because she lost weight (which she did- she's holding a pair of pants she was wearing to work over a year ago). She's a success because she committed herself to re-prioritizing her needs and putting them at the top of her to do list! After reading about Laci's story, I wanted to highlight a couple of the key things Laci did to accomplish her goals.
1.) She was willing to take a hard look at her list of excuses and create solutions for them
2.) She was willing to sacrifice momentary pleasure (favorite TV show) for the satisfaction of accomplishing a long-term goal
3.) She created a support network with both friends and family
4.) She re-created her environment by filling her home with nourishing food options
5.) She established accountability around the food she ate
6.) She signed up for runs and races to keep herself motivated and consistent with exercise
7.) She found out what worked for her and what didn't
Finding solutions to living a healthier life requires creativity and commitment. What works for you, likely is not the same thing that works for your neighbor. You are unique- with your own interests, family life situations, time constraints, and goals. So follow Laci's example- make a decision to live a healthier life and start making creative solutions to keep those goals on track!