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When did disordered eating become so…normal?

I may have abandoned the pursuit of a career in nutrition, but I’ve been more than tempted to put on my dietitian hat and start lecturing lately.  Good lord, there are an awful lot of unhealthy habits being encouraged in the name of “health”!

When did such a disordered relationship with food and fitness become so…normal??

I work with nearly all women so, naturally, the topic of dieting comes up pretty frequently. To minimize my nutrition-ignorance-related rage, I try to ignore it as much as I can, but the things I do hear leave me incredulous.  Weight-loss plans that allow you to eat no carbs, no fruit, no sweets, no alcohol…and very little of the few foods that are deemed acceptable.  So little, that exercising is considered risky and off-limits.  To me, all those limitations sound far too familiar, too close to being an eating disorder.  And yet, it’s not some get-thin-fast diet found on a sketchy pro-ana website.  It’s a certified “lifestyle program”, run by (seemingly) professional nutritionists.

WHERE did these people get their education?  How are they getting away with giving people such terrible advice??  It makes me angry, how irresponsible it is for nutrition experts (who should know better )to be promoting such unhealthy ways.  They of all people should know the damage that this kind of diet can do to a person’s health, both mentally and physically!

And then there are the macro-tracking, health-obsessed, superfood-of-the-week people. I can’t log onto Facebook or Instagram without seeing someone’s plate of protein pancakes, complete with the fat/carbs/protein captioned below the picture.  Does everyone really need to know the nutritional info of everything you eat?  Do you??  Your body isn’t obsessing over whether or not it’s “reached it’s ideal macros” for the day, why should you be?

Oh, and the “fitspiration” craze.  Whether it’s the thin, toned, muscled-but-still-feminine girls or the bulking up bro, the gym time involved seems a little obsessive to me.

Between overheard conversations, Facebook statuses, and Instagram progress pics, I could go on and on about the unhealthy mindset everyone seems to be wrapped up in.  I cringe to think about how many of those “healthy” lifestyles could lead to some seriously unhealthy consequences.  How long can you follow that strict diet before anorexic thoughts creep in? At what point does counting macros and eating clean become orthorexia?  Will the need to workout every day turn into a legitimate addiction?  It makes me worry how the best of intentions can go so far astray.

It seems I’m in the minority in this thinking, however.  Everywhere I look, these behaviours are admired, encouraged, and seen as accomplishments.  Of course, diet and exercise changes can be for the better, if it’s done in a healthy way.  In everything, moderation is key.  But these all-or-none approaches take it past the healthy, and edge into the disordered.

I don’t know.  Maybe the general public needs to be better educated about nutrition and wellness.  Maybe, coming from a history of eating disorders, I know too much?  Maybe I’m just more sensitive about such things.

Maybe a little bit of all three (everything in moderation, of course).

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because being sick takes too much effort

Revelation time.

It’s nothing groundbreaking, but it’s something I want to get down in words, so that maybe there’s a better chance I’ll keep it in mind and keep believing it.

Stuck in one of those hopeless-feeling slumps a few months ago, I remember asking a friend who was doing well in recovery when it all started to make sense for her. I was feeling so discouraged and frustrated with my progress (or lack thereof) in recovery, I needed some reassuring that it was possible.

Her answer, at the time, gave me a little hope that maybe someday I’d understand, but also seemed pretty unlikely. Quite simply, she said being sick takes too much effort.

I’m still struggling, I’m still sick, I still obsess over the silliest things – but I’m finally realizing she was right. After little tastes of recovery and the freedom it brings, following ED’s rules is exhausting.

I’m not super sure where my weight is right now, but in my mind it’s higher than I’m comfortable with. It may be my disordered mind, but seeing my little belly in the mirror makes me feel awful. It’s a daily struggle to stop myself from constantly body-checking and obsessing and worrying about weight gain.

In the worse parts of my ED, it would have been an obvious decision: eat less. Obviously, the way to fix everything is to restrict and cut out anything unhealthy that may have contributed to that flubby body. But now? Yeah, cutting back and getting really strict about what’s “okay” to eat is still a thought. But it’s not one I’m listening to.

I’ve discovered I really like some of those foods ED would say aren’t okay. Some of my favorite foods are probably the ones most likely to make me gain weight. And this is where Brittany’s words ring true – being sick is a lot of work. Why should I deny myself the simple pleasure of eating yummy food? Sure, a little body discomfort sucks, but forbidding poptarts sucks even more.

It may not be a huge aha moment, but I’m really glad I had this one. Food used to be such an unpleasant concept to me – something necessary to be tolerated but never enjoyed. Being able to connect good food and a happy belly to a happy Emily is a much nicer frame of mind.

Again, baby steps – but I’m getting there.

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nothing’s stopping you but yourself

I think I’m at the point where I’m just really disappointed in myself because I’m not better yet.

By saying that I don’t mean to discredit how far I’ve come – I know I have made progress in recovery.  I’m better than I was.  My list of fear foods, if I were to sit down and write one, is a fraction of what it once was.  My anxiety about foods has lessened, I’ve relaxed about food rules, and I’ve had glimpses of how truly wonderful life must be without an eating disorder.  But by no means can I say I’m recovered, and that fact makes me so, so angry at myself.

I really want to do better.  I don’t want to be stuck in this disordered life forever; there’s so much I’m missing out on, still.

I know, I’ve preached on and on about the “compare and despair” thing, and how everyone’s recovery is a unique, individual journey.  But right now, I think it’s the kick in the butt I need.

Two of my friends from Hope therapy have been top of my mind lately.  One, for a terrible reason, and the other for a wonderful one.

I’ll start with the terrible.

I met Jess at Hope, and we just clicked.  I felt we did at least, but I think that’s the way she made everyone feel – her loving, smiling, wonderful personality drew people to her, and made you feel special just to be in her presence.  We helped each other through the shittiest struggles of recovery, and saw each other on some of our best and worst days.  No matter how bad her day was going, Jess always had a smile, hug, or a joke to make someone else feel better.  I watched her transform from a sad, sick, ghost of a girl to the glowing, happy, healthy girl I loved.  The past few months I really think she was doing well – living her life fully and happily.

In the midst of her living her life and doing what she loved, Jess died in what I can only call a freak accident while rock climbing.  It’s still fresh, and not completely real to my brain, so I won’t write a lot about it, but I’m overwhelmed by how unfair life can be.  Jess struggled so hard, and overcame so much, just for this to take away the life she fought for.  My heart is absolutely broken.

At the same time, another one of my recovery friends is making my heart glow with pride.  When I first went to Hope, Brittany had been going for quite a while already, and although I immediately liked her, in the back of my mind she was always somewhat of a lost cause.  It was obvious how very much she was struggling, and I was afraid she was one of the unlucky ones who are stuck, just “surviving” within the disorder for the rest of their lives.

Well, a year and a half later, she’s proving me wrong, and I’ve never been happier about being wrong.  She’s gone away to an inpatient program, and as I watch her progress through Facebook, and get lil updates via text message, I can’t help but grin.  I think she’s really beating this.  She’s becoming healthier, brighter, realer in every picture, and you can see in her smile that recovery agrees with her – mind, body, and soul.  She’s been a bit of an inspiration for me.

If my two friends, both of whom I had labeled “sicker than me”, can recover and leave Ed in the past, what’s stopping me?  I know the answer, and It’s time I acted on it.  Nothing’s stopping me but myself.

It’s time to step my game up.
Recovery is possible, even for me.

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allllll the birthdays, and alllll the cake

I survived it: the weekend of allllll the birthdays, and all of the challenges that came with.

Like many of the things I say, to someone who’s never suffered an eating disorder, that sounds ridiculous.  Challenges?  What are you talking about, birthdays are great!?

This year I would agree – yes, birthdays are great.  For the years and years when my eating disorder ruled my life, however, birthdays were nothing but stress and avoidance.  Toooooo much food and socialization for Ed, that’s for sure.  Family dinners were never fun, and birthday cake was not even up for consideration.  When mom insisted that I choose a birthday dessert, it was always angel food cake – the only thing Ed considered safe.  (I had angel food cake somewhat recently, after being re-introduced to actual desserts, and oh my god – it’s the most boring cake in the world.)

Last year, soon after starting my recovery journey, I had my first piece of birthday cake in over ten years.  It was a huge accomplishment for me at the time, and a pretty exciting “new” thing.   Looking back on it, I’m still proud of that baby step, but I’m even more proud of how far I’ve come since then.

I spent my twenty-second birthday in Montreal with a friend, at a weekend-long music festival.  Eating that weekend was pretty unstructured and messy, but birthday cake was a priority.   It ended up being a slice of chocolatey mousse cake, at breakfast time, followed by a day of eating definitely-less-than-I-should-have.  Like I said, baby steps, I guess.  Any cake was a pretty big deal after ten+ years of none.

This year, birthday number twenty-three, involved a whole lot more cake.  A whole lot more everything.

My mom’s, my cousin’s, and my birthday are all within a four-day period, and this year that resulted in a full weekend of birthday festivities.  Between Friday and Monday, our fridge calendar was blocked solid with celebrations, and leading up to it, I have to admit I was pretty nervous and anxious about all the food that would be involved.  A single piece of cake is one thing – a weekend full of food-related events is just slightly more stressful.  If I didn’t explode from either all the calories or all the anxiety, it’d be a miracle.

Well, it’s Tuesday, and here I am.  And let me tell you – I had a fabulous weekend.  I fully enjoyed it, because I didn’t listen to Ed’s BS.  This year, I didn’t miss out on anything.

The past few days were wonderful.  I shared a drink (or two..) with my baby cousin to celebrate her turning nineteen.  I enjoyed a backyard barbecue with all my friends and family (and maybe more drinks).  I went out for a lovely birthday dinner with my also lovely boyfriend.  I ate homemade ice cream cake, and good old-fashioned vanilla birthday cake, and fancy gourmet (birthday) cupcakes, and it was all DELICIOUS.   And best of all, I talked and joked and laughed and enjoyed a relaxed, carefree, pretty-much-normal weekend with my favorite humans in the world.

This was not a weekend I could have enjoyed a year ago, and most definitely not before that.  I’m so glad I’ve come far enough in recovery to be able to celebrate with my loved ones, and not have food be such a stressful thing, or something that prevents me from having a good time.  I can’t lie – I did have a few moments when Ed tried to take over, and tell me “you don’t need to eat that, you don’t need those extra calories”.  But I had to remind myself – one weekend of more-than-usual consumption is not going to matter in the long term.  Turning down the birthday treats, and being awkward at the various events, and spending my time obsessing would have had a much more negative impact on my weekend, and memories of it.

I have such amazing people in my life, and I am so thankful I got to spend my birthday (and Mom’s and Sammie’s) with them this year.  Birthdays are pretty cool, when you let them be.

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my choice, not ed’s

I’ve been thinking a lot lately, and I can’t help wondering what my life would be like if I’d never developed an eating disorder.  Considering this all started before I was even in junior high school, I never had much of a chance to get to know myself and figure out who I was before Ed took over.  All my choices and changes and life events since age twelve (at least) have been influenced by that eating disordered voice in my head.  Without Ed telling me what to do, who knows what I would have done in my life up until now; I could have turned out a completely different human had I never listened.

Not to say, necessarily, that I regret all my life choices.  Who knows, maybe without a fear of frivolous calories I would have started drinking excessively and become an alcoholic.  Bad things happen in everyone’s lives – my big bad thing just happened to be an eating disorder.  I just find it interesting (and kind of scary) to wonder what could have been.

So what’s brought this bunch of wonderings into my mind?  While trying to figure out school and career and future plans recently, I think I saved myself from letting Ed make a huge life choice for me.

My plan (up until now, I guess) was to go back to university this fall and study Nutrition.  I know, with such a history of eating disorders, definitely a great idea, right?  Maaaybe not.  But I justified it by saying that nutrition has been something I wanted to do since high school, and that I wanted to help others recover from eating disorders someday.  Both true, but even in high school when I first considered studying dietetics, Ed was influencing me.  I’m starting to think it wasn’t a genuine Emily interest as much as it was an Ed interest.

Talking about body systems and calories and micro/macronutrients all day?  Yeah, sounds like something Ed would love.  My eating disorder has always loved to overanalyze food, so of course a career doing so sounded perfect.  Me, though?  I really don’t think that is, or ever will be, a positive thing to have in my daily life.  Not to mention that hospitals and doctors appointments stress me out.

I feel bad, “giving up on my dream”.  Everyone I talked to about my plans for the fall was encouraging and so pleased to hear I was headed back to study nutrition.  They were excited for me, glad I was going back to school and doing something I really wanted and cared about.  A part of me is worried that everyone will be disappointed in me, or think I’m a lazy quitter who doesn’t want to put in the effort at school.

There’s another part of me, though, that’s relieved.  And a little proud of myself.  I’m glad I realized this now, before I’ve committed to anything, before I’m years into my studies, and before I get myself stuck in a potentially triggering career for life.  This might be the beginning of making my own life choices, and taking those decisions away from Ed.

I still don’t know what I want to do with my life.  But I’m only twenty-three, I have time to figure it out.  Maybe I’ll stay at my current job for a while, maybe this will lead to bigger things in the same field, maybe I’ll have a brainwave and start on a completely different path.  Whatever I decide, I’d like to think it will be me making that choice, because Ed’s had control for far too long.

Gaining just another little bit of freedom from the eating disorder, I think. 🙂

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dating, vulnerability, and ed

Dating is always kind of messy and confusing.  Dating while you’re trying to recover from an eating disorder is a whole other pile of anxieties.

Sure, I’ve had boyfriends before, that’s not a new thing.  And since Ed’s been an issue since age twelve, that’s not new either.  But being honest about things sure is.  In the past, it’d always be part of my past – I used to have an eating disorder, I’m over it now, I’m just a picky eater, etc etc.  I denied having a problem all those years, so hiding it from teenage boys wasn’t too hard either.  Now that Ed’s been called out, and I’m fighting him, it’s not such an easy thing to hide.  Recovery is a daily struggle for me, and it’s something I really need to be honest, with myself and others, about.

And that’s where all the new anxieties come in.  On top of all the other things to worry about, now there’s the worry of whether my “issues” are too much for someone else to deal with, or if I’ll be written off as a crazy girl.

Not to complain; the guy I’m currently dating is wonderful.  He treats me better than anyone I’ve dated before, I’m really starting to like him, and I feel pretty comfortable around him.  He knows the basics of my ED situation, and I’m sure if I told him more he’d be supportive and understanding.

But still.

How understanding can I really expect someone to be?  Even for starters, how can I explain that I call my eating disorder Ed in order to distinguish myself from it?  To me, or anyone else recovering, or someone who knows this stuff, it makes sense.  But to someone on the outside, doesn’t that seem a little crazy?

And the silly things Ed makes me upset over, how do I explain that?  I still have days where food worries override all legitimate life issues.  I still have foods that make my heart rate speed up with anxiety.  There are still a lot of things that, depending on the day, could set me (Ed) off and cause a little freakout.  Should I let him know when I’m struggling and having a bad day, or hide my problems and only show him the happy, normal part of me? I’m left with the option of trying to explain, and potentially looking like a crazy person, or making excuses and avoiding the issue.

I don’t want to be avoid-y and run away from this when it gets tricky; that’d be letting Ed win.  But opening up to someone and letting myself be that vulnerable is terrifying.  I’m really afraid I’ll scare away a really lovely boy by letting him into my crazy mind, but I’m also afraid that if I close myself off he’ll get frustrated and still run off.

When I’m honest with myself, I know that being open and honest about this is the best choice.  If it’s too much for someone, it’s just not meant to be.  Recovery is a much bigger priority in my life than any boy right now.

So, I guess, here’s to honesty, vulnerability, and – hopefully – happy times.

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it gotta get bad before it gets good (right?)

Whoooops, it’s been a while.  A combination of doing well, being stressed, and lacking inspiration is to blame for my neglecting this blog; I should really get back into the writing mode.

How can I say I’m doing well, but also stressed?  I feel like eating-disorder-wise, I’ve been pretty good lately.  There’s still anxiety about certain foods/situations, but I’m pushing myself daily, and a whole lot of foods have lost the “fear food” title.  In terms of life though, it’s been rough.

I’ve read a lot about how when people start to recover, they feel overwhelmed with the emotions that flood in after being numb for so long.  I can only assume that’s what I’m going through, because there’s no legitimate reason I should be so sad and stressed all the time.  Maybe without the focus on food taking up 96% of my brain, all the other things going on finally feel real to me.

Whether there’s that “logic” behind it or not, this depression/anxiety thing is incredibly frustrating.  Most days, just getting to the end of the day without tears, and presenting myself as a reasonably happy person, is exhausting.  Trying to ignore all the bad feelings is hard.  The voices in my head that tell me I’m awful, I’m not good enough, I don’t deserve to be happy are just so persistent.

And then, out of the blue, I’ll have a happy, carefree day, and criticize myself for ever getting into such a bad funk.  *Sigh.*

I’m hoping this is a temporary thing.  I’m hoping it’ll all get easier soon – eating, thinking, life.  I’m just so tired of always feeling a bit mentally unstable.  Am I ever going to be just normal and happy and healthy?  What’s it like to not have constant negativity and overanalyzing and anxiety going on in your head?

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