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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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Three-Course Stress

This shouldn’t be a thing that stresses me out so much.

Every time my coworkers start talking about our staff Christmas dinner, my stomach knots up and my mind starts racing and worrying.  Every part of the situation makes me uncomfortable.  I’m a lot younger than everyone else in the office, and this year I won’t have a date.  So already, the social part of the evening is a bit weird for me, especially considering what an awkward human I can be.

I’m not too concerned about the people part of things though – I’m scared about the food.  My boss pays for everything, and as a lawyer who charges hundreds per hour, he spares no expense on this dinner.  Last year, this meant a three-course dinner at a very high-end restaurant, and the same type of thing is planned for this year.  Instead of being excited for an excuse to dress up and be fancy, I’m thinking of ways to avoid going.

Last fall, my eating disorder was probably the worst it’s been since being discharged from inpatient at age twelve.  I was living on my own, and it was just so easy to restrict my eating to a bare minimum, and avoid any foods that Ed didn’t like.  Obviously a three-course gourmet dinner was not something I was okay with.

It was about a year ago that I first stumbled upon the book Life Without Ed.  That was a huge wake-up call to how disordered I’d gotten.  After reading it, I believed for the first time that maybe I wouldn’t have to follow Ed’s rules forever, and maybe there was hope for me to be healthy and normal.  I was inspired and decided that it was finally time to do something; I was going to “recover”.

I say “recover” with quotes because looking back I can see what a joke it was.  In my mind I was going to get better, but I definitely wasn’t going to change anything.  I didn’t change any of the foods I ate or try adding things in.  I wouldn’t consider going to a doctor or any other professional.  Gaining weight wasn’t even up for discussion.  Not much was up for discussion, honestly – I didn’t dare talk to my parents or friends about my recovery plan, because that meant no backing out if I changed my mind.

Somehow, I got through the Christmas dinner.  Fully unprepared, and after changing nothing else in order to get better, I went with a mindset of “I’m in recovery, so I have to prove it”.  I remember being so proud of myself for ordering an appetizer, and an entree, and an actual grownup drink.  I forced myself to eat everything, and a coworker even commented, surprised at how much I ate.  Even now I don’t think I could handle the sheer volume of food I crammed into my then-starved body.

I went home felt miserable.  Never mind a food baby, I had a huge food monster of guilt and shame and discomfort inside me.  I really cannot remember a time I felt worse about myself, or even physically worse, after eating a meal.

So with those cheery memories of last year, no wonder I’m feeling apprehensive of this year’s dinner (to say the least).  Even though I’ve been attending Meal Support, and adding fear foods into my diet, and overall eating much better, I feel like I’m not at all ready for this.  Everything on the menu is pushing past the limits of my comfort zone, and three courses means triple the food, and triple the stress.  Is three courses even normal?? It sounds like such a terrifying amount of food.

I don’t want to be so stressed out over a single meal.  After months of work in recovery, shouldn’t I be able to just enjoy going out with my coworkers and having a nice dinner?  Ed’s voice is still pretty loud when he’s telling me that I’m not allowed to do that.

Times like these I’m extremely thankful for my dietitian (especially now that I’ve gotten past my prejudice towards all medical professionals and have grown to love her).  I know she’s full of wisdom and advice, and talking to her is going to get rid of a lot of this anxiety.  Between her and the rest of my recovery team, I know I have the support to get me through such a stressful night and maybe even enjoy it.

I’m still pretty nervous about it though…Is it too late to change my mind on bringing a date, and take my dietitian with me?

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Treat Yo’self

“Huh. It’s gonna be kinda weird at my wedding when I don’t eat any of my wedding cake, isn’t it? Oh well, just the way it’s gonna be – I don’t eat cake.”

I’ve honestly had that thought before in my head, and accepted it as fact that I wouldn’t be eating cake on my wedding day, or ever, really.  Not that I’m planning my wedding, or even close to being engaged, or that a wedding is a possibility anytime soon.  I just kind of assumed that whenever in my future it did happen, cake would not be a part of that day for me, because as a rule, I DON’T eat cake.

Or cookies. Or chips. Or an infinite list of all the delicious foods that ED tells me are bad and definitely not acceptable for me to eat.

I guess I should change that “don’t” to a “didn’t”.  Or I should soon, as I learn to be okay with eating these foods.

Now when I think through the wedding day cake situation, the thought of not enjoying a piece of my own wedding cake is really, really depressing.  Because a) what kind of bride doesn’t take part in all the traditional, lovely, fun parts of her own wedding day? and b) WHY would I miss out on such a delicious treat?!

As I move forward in recovery, I’m pushing myself to try more of the foods that ED ruled out.  Since before I can remember, I always just claimed to be “not a dessert person”, and I’ve never indulged in the yummy treats that go along with holidays, birthdays, or even just after-dinner desserts.  I honestly had myself convinced that I didn’t like chocolate.  PROOF of the insanity that starvation-mode causes.

Turns out, I really, REALLY like chocolate. And donuts.  And brownies. Holy moly, brownies.  Right now though, each time I treat myself, it’s an event, with a lot of anxiety surrounding it.  While I’m eating, it’s delicious and everything is excellent, but before and after, I’m consumed with worry.  Letting myself enjoy yummy food just seems like a huge taboo after all these years of denying myself.  Surely, I’ll wake up the next day with the evidence of that brownie grown onto my thighs.  Or even if it’s not immediate, what if I stop worrying about food, and that brownie becomes a habit, and then I pile on the pounds?? That lil brownie brings on a spiral of worries.  I know those thoughts are irrational, but they continue to pop up.

Mostly I’m trying to ignore that crazy worrisome voice.  I KNOW I’m not going to instantly gain weight from an occasional treat, and I KNOW I’m not going to suddenly start eating terribly.  I’m allowed to eat cake at a birthday party.  I’m allowed to have ice cream after dinner.

Bit by bit, it’ll get easier, I know.  For now, each time I decide to be brave and have a yummy treat, it’s a win over ED. And the payoff of deliciousness is just about always worth the anxiety. And the more I practice challenging it, the less the anxiety will come into play.  Without the anxiety, desserts will just be a happy thing in my life.

I know there are so many reasons to be excited about recovery, and a lot of them are a lot more legitimate, but I think the thing I am most excited for is dessert freedom. Time to face the facts – I AM a dessert person, after all.

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Emma vs. PB&J

I’ve had a few really good days of motivated recovery, so in all honesty, I was just waiting for Ed’s voice to break into my thoughts.  And right on time, he showed up this morning while I was making my lunch to bring to work.

It’s so frustrating.  I feel like, after attending group therapy, dietitian meetings, and psychologist appointments for four months, it shouldn’t still be such a struggle.  But for every victory, I feel like Ed finds a new thing for me to stress about.

It seems like a never-ending cycle.  I have a few days where I feel so positive about recovery, and I’m looking forward to all the cool things in my healthy future, and I’m challenging fear foods left right and center.  And it’s usually on about the forth day, I wake up panicky and uncomfortable, and convinced every calorie I eat is going to accumulate on my body in pure fat.  THANKFULLY, the really bad guilty hateful thoughts only stick around for a day or so, and then I work my way back up to being super stoked about getting better.

I feel like I’m getting better at handling it though.  The fact that I haven’t turned into a gross obese whale after eating all the “bad, unhealthy, forbidden” foods I’d previously denied myself is reassuring.  I’m slowly learning that it’s NORMAL to eat all those things.  Normal people don’t think twice about having cookies or ice cream or any of those yummy things, and why should they?  NOBODY gains five pounds just because they decided to have a piece of birthday cake.  So, contrary to what I’ve believed for over ten years, I’m probably not the exception to that rule.  I can eat things that taste good, and nothing bad will happen.  I’ve even done it, and I’m still alive and well.

That’s probably why it’s so frustrating when I do get stressed about food.  There are still so many rules, STUPID rules, that are ingrained in my head.  Sure, I’ve tackled a lot of really scary stressy foods.  Some of them aren’t even an issue anymore, and I can eat them in normal life, no problem.  But so many things are stressful in nonsensical ways – they’re only safe on certain days, in combination with other allowable foods, or in specific places.

Like peanut butter.  At meal support, YUM, gimme all the peanut butter.  But when I set a goal to eat peanut butter at home, I instantly wanted to take it back because in the real world it’s just too scary.  So putting a pb&j sammich in my lunchbag this morning was a perfect time for Ed to start yelling at me.  There were tears involved.  At 6:30AM.  Over a SANDWICH.  How silly is that?!

I hate the whole “hashtag blessed” thing, but I truly feel #blessed to have such excellent friends from therapy.  I’m especially glad that one of them is the unofficial president of the peanut butter fan club, and gave me an early-morning pep talk on how good pb&j is and how happy and strong my body will be from it.  I can tell myself the same thing over and over, but somehow it’s more believable when Sarah tells me that I don’t need to stress about that delicious, healthy, happy lunch that’s waiting for me.

Some days are still struggle city, and on those days I feel like quitting and going back to all of Ed’s rules and forgetting all the progress I’ve made.  As time goes on though, those days are getting less frequent.   And on the good days, I feel SO PROUD to show Ed I’m stronger than him.  Day by day I’m getting even stronger (thanks to peanut butter!), and soon Ed won’t have any power over me.

Baby steps.

Today at least, I’m counting as a win.  Nice try, pb&j, but you’re not gonna ruin my day.

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Recovery Revelations

After two bad days spent loathing my thighs and debating over every bite of food, I’ve had a beautiful realization that has put me back in the recovery mindset. I feel like every time I run out of enthusiasm for beating ED, it takes a revelation like this to get me back. Each time it’s a different, new idea that just makes me remember “RIGHT! THAT’S why recovery is so important”, and I feel like eventually, they’re all going to add together, and be ever-present in my mind. Eventually, they won’t even be conscious thoughts in my head. It’ll just be fact: Recovery is worth it; Life is so much more than having an eating disorder.

Anyway, today’s “brand new thought” was really something that, when I really think about it, should be an obvious, duh, thing. But that’s what an eating disorder does. It warps your brain, so the normal, rational thoughts don’t seem so normal, and the crazy ones make sense.

Life is too amazing to waste precious moments worrying about food.

Obvious, right? Apparently not. There are so many times in my life where I should have been having an amazing experience, and my most prominent memory of it was how I stressed about the food involved.

Specifically, I think about my trip to Thailand last year. Thai food is delicious (Or what I dared to eat was delicious; there was plenty I wouldn’t go near, because of all the “unnecessary” calories and fat). And it’s incredibly cheap. And a huge part of travelling is getting to try out all the local cuisine. But I missed out on that, because in my crazy lil mind, staying thin is more important than getting the full Thai experience.

Pad thai on the street for lunch? Maybe, but only if I’ve had a really “good” day up until then, and I’d have to have a light dinner later. Group dinner at the Indian restaurant? Nope, that’s pretty risky, I’ll have to find a safer meal somewhere on my own. Clubbing the night away in Bangkok? Whoa, I do NOT need all those liquid calories.

WHY DID I LET THOSE THOUGHTS HAVE SO MUCH POWER OVER SUCH AN AMAZING OPPORTUNITY???

I’m going to Bangkok (along with a few other Asian destinations) again in a few months. I don’t want a repeat of last time; I want to soak in every bit of the experience I can. I don’t want Ed to hold me back from doing the things I want to do, and from joining in on all the group’s fun.

In my mind it’s easy to be like “Of course I won’t let Ed ruin my holiday; I’ll be stronger by then, I can eat whatever I want”. But if I were to be offered a big plate of curry tomorrow, I’d still probably panic and try to avoid it. I still have a lot of work to do towards recovery.

More and more though, I can see that it’s worth it.

Even outside of the big things like travelling the world and tasting its foods, it’s worth it in everyday life. Birthdays, family dinners, Christmas; they all revolve around food, and they’re all supposed to be enjoyable experiences! As long as you keep listening to Ed, however, they’re still going to be stressful! Life shouldn’t be all about the food and the calories and your weight. It should be about enjoying each moment, and appreciating each moment.

Each day, I have to force myself. Some days, I have to force myself with each bite. But little by little, it’ll get easier. And eventually I’ll have that final realization that links all the little ones together, and sticks. Recovery is a struggle, but it means a full, amazing life, and I have to keep reminding myself how very much I want it, and it’s worth all that struggle.

Just think of all that pad thai…mmmmmm.

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