When life is just crazy

Hi all! I’m going to take a break from my usual advice-focused posts and talk a little about my personal life. As some of you know, I’ve been in recovery from BED for over a year. I followed an approach mainly based on intuitive eating self-help books, individual and group therapy (including CBT), and many of the tips I’ve discussed in this blog (getting rid of food guilt, putting weight loss on the backburner, and eating mindfully). My recovery isn’t based on willpower at all (because willpower is a limited resource), and I almost never have binge urges. Recovery isn’t always a smooth path, but it’s mostly been wonderful …

Until recently. I am now pregnant with my first child. And it has completely turned my eating and exercise habits upside down. Add to this a new, stressful job and making plans to start graduate school, and the result is a lot of craziness!Baby girl

Pregnancy and morning sickness have really changed my eating habits in ways that I don’t really love—nothing sounds appealing, so I get little pleasure from eating these days, and I need to eat almost constantly to keep the sickness at bay, so I’m rarely hungry for actual meals. And I’m eating a lot less produce, and my exercise habits and social life have dwindled to almost nothing, thanks to near-constant nausea.

It bums me out, honestly! But I just keep reminding myself that my body is going through some crazy things right now—producing a human being!!—and I need to be patient and just listen to my body as best I can. It’s a gentle reminder to me to listen to my body’s needs, not what my mind THINKS I should need.

I think this is a lesson that can be applied to all of us: our bodies know best. Learning to quiet my mind and its incessant judgments about food and exercise (and everything else!!) was KEY to starting recovery, and I have to remember that it’s also key to continuing on my recovery path. And it’s a great reminder that circumstances change, and our bodies change for various reasons. I can’t control what my body is doing during pregnancy, and that’s such a frustrating thing to me … but I also think it’s a GREAT way of learning a very important lesson in letting go of that obsessive need for control.

I apologize if this post is rambling, but I am experiencing a little editing burnout these days (editing is my day job). 😉 I wanted to give you all an update because I know I haven’t written in a while. And I wanted to share a snippet of what recovery is like—it really is about continually growing and learning about yourself—and when I am able to set aside that incessant need for control, I can admit that it’s a really beautiful thing. 🙂

How are you doing this fall (or spring, if you’re in the other hemisphere)? I’d love to hear from you. 🙂

Healthy eating – it’s not just about the food

So, what IS healthy eating? This phrase is thrown around a lot, and its meaning is vague at best! Here’s what I’ve learned during my eating disorder recovery.

We can argue all day about what foods are the healthiest, and even the experts can’t agree. Everybody seems to agree that fruits and veggies have lots of nutrients, but still, every body is different. When striving to “eat healthy,” consider both nutrition and what works best for your body (broccoli is generally considered healthy, but if it makes you feel ill, then it’s probably not healthy FOR YOU!). Don’t forget the importance of balance – eat a wide variety of foods, including treats*. This is basic intuitive eating. 🙂 But here’s the thing …

Healthy eating isn’t just about what you put in your mouth.

Healthy eating also requires a good attitude and satisfaction with food and eating. Don’t believe me? Studies show that attitude and satisfaction from eating actually have a very significant effect on your metabolism and digestion – possibly even more important than what you’re eating!

So, eating nutritious foods isn’t enough. Eating nutritious food is not healthy eating if you’re forcing yourself to eat foods you don’t like … or if you’re feeling guilty or anxious during or after a meal. Just as good health requires both good physical health and good mental health, healthy eating also has both physical and mental components. Our bodies and our minds are intricately connected, so when our bodies and minds are not in harmony, we are essentially at war with ourselves – and you can imagine what kind of damage can result from constantly being at war!

Healthy eating = nutritious, balanced eating + a healthy, positive attitude toward eating

So, what does this have to do with eating disorders? It matters because most ED people don’t consider the last part of the equation. They think that eating salads every day = health … or eating raw vegan = health. That might be true if a person genuinely loves eating salads every day or eating raw vegan AND if that way of eating creates no difficulty or anxieties (and no restricting or binging behavior). But most people who strive to “eat healthy” focus solely on what they’re eating without considering how it makes them feel. This creates a disconnect between our minds and bodies – or even within our minds.

It is possible to derive both nutrition and pleasure from our eating. This is truly healthy eating!

This disconnect is the problem with eating disorders. An eating disorder essentially means that a person has an unhealthy relationship with food and with her body. How do Thoughts-Create-Your-Reality-300x196we fix that? For one thing, we can work on the right side of the equation above (the “attitude” part); in fact, fixing that part of the equation will go a long way towards fixing the actual eating part too. Don’t believe it? Try it and find out. Work on changing your attitude toward food. Experiment with different foods and eating situations, and find what gives you pleasure. When we change our thoughts, we change our reality.

Do you have a healthy relationship with food? What does that equation mean for you?

 

I use the word “treats” here loosely to refer to “play food” or food that is eaten purely for pleasure rather than nutrition; however, the actual practice of intuitive eating involves giving up labeling food as “good” and “bad,” so in reality, any and all foods could be considered treats if you enjoy them!

Feelings, food and weight

So, as many of my followers know, I’ve been binge-free for a while. I couldn’t tell you exactly how long, but I’m guessing somewhere in the area of 4 months. Does this mean I’m completely cured of my eating disorder? Well, I will say that I have zero desire to binge anymore. I do still struggle with emotional eating and body image issues sometimes, but even in those areas, I’m a million times better off than I was a year or two ago. So, does this mean I still have an eating disorder? Maybe, maybe not. I think it just means that I’m a normal woman. I’m not sure if the labels are that important at this point.

Along with being a normal woman comes hormones, depending on your stage in life. At this time in my life, hormones tend to hit me pretty hard, and they sometimes make me question all my progress and success – in other words, ED’s voice becomes louder. As I noticed this happening earlier in the month, I came across this quote from one of my favorite bloggers, Isabel Foxen Duke:

“Worrying about food or weight is the ultimate distraction from what’s really going on.”

So true. I love her. So, along with hormones and other life stuff, I’ve found myself doing exactly that – worrying more than usual about food and weight. Not a fun place to be – back in ED’s world inside my head. However, I realized yesterday that’s NOT the problem. My food and weight are fine. I’m doing fine in BED recovery. I’m simply avoiding my OTHER problems by pretending it’s a food or weight issue. I don’t know whether to be happy or unhappy that I’ve figured out one of my mind’s own tricks! 😉

I think it’s a good thing. Sure, sometimes it would be easier to obsess about food or weight instead of dealing with the HARD stuff, the emotions, the anxiety, the stress … real life. But, many months ago when I came to the crossroads where I could choose either life or ED, I chose life! I’m not going back. ED is no longer welcome here.

Next time you’re stressing out about food or weight, consider that it might be a signal that something else is wrong. Don’t let ED distract you from dealing with real problems and life goals. You – and your life – are worth so much more than that! 🙂

One day at a time?

Anyone who’s ever thought about entering recovery of any kind has probably heard this phrase: “one day at a time.” And it’s a great phrase! It’s used in many recovery programs, especially 12-step programs. However, as with anything else, I think it can be misinterpreted and can hurt us if not used carefully.

“One day at a time” is a great mantra to use when you’re trying to change a behavior. In the case of eating disorders, sometimes “one meal at a time” is even more appropriate! Using these mantras can help the overall goal of change seem much less intimidating. Anybody can do anything for ONE day or ONE meal, right? And then you begin to build on those days or meals, one at a time, gathering more and more strength until you’ve truly achieved change and it’s no longer a daily struggle. I think it can be useful in avoiding all-or-nothing thinking, such as “I will NEVER binge again” … which often sets us up for failure, right? Instead, you just say “I am not binging TODAY.” One day at a time. It’s so simple yet beautiful.

On the other hand, some people misuse the “one day at a time” phrase to justify dangerous or irresponsible behaviors or thinking. If your goal is unrealistic or unhealthy (for example, maybe you want to skip meals or eat extremely low-calorie), “one day at a time” isn’t appropriate because it could lead you to believe that it’s OK to adopt unhealthy behaviors that are not sustainable long term. In this kind of scenario, “one day at a time” is sadly just about willpower (which is generally not very helpful in ED recovery) rather than true change.

Ideally, I think a more long-term perspective is beneficial when formulating a plan. I do think there is some truth to the idea that “if you fail to plan, then you plan to fail.” I’m not suggesting an extremely detailed plan; we certainly can’t control everything or imagine every possible scenario. However, it’s good to have long-term goals: What is a way of eating that will be sustainable for you in the long term? How will you handle setbacks? Don’t use “one day at a time” to avoid planning for possible setbacks. Because difficulties WILL arise, and you are likely to have setbacks and relapses. It’s better to acknowledge this in the beginning and have a plan for how you’ll handle setbacks … because if you don’t, then you’re likely to hurt yourself in two ways: (1) when life gets hard, you’ll turn to food because you don’t have any other strategies to use; and (2) when you do binge or slip up, you’ll return to your old habits of beating yourself up, rather than opting for more productive post-binge strategies. And of course, this keeps the binge cycle going, over and over again (as we all know!!). This is why I think it’s important to first make a plan that will work for you in the long term that addresses the possibility of relapse and makes concrete plans for how to handle it. THEN, you can use the “one day at a time” strategy to actually implement your plan and goals (and tweak the plan when needed)!

So, if you are truly honest with yourself and realistic about the future, “one day at a time” can be very useful! But sometimes ED’s tight grip on our minds makes it difficult to be honest and realistic though; this is why most of us can benefit from receiving some kind of external support, such as therapy or support group (even an online support group). 🙂

This is how I personally have found the “one day at a time” phrase to work FOR me, rather than against me. Agree or disagree? What is YOUR experience with viewing recovery in the short term versus the long term?

“I’m surprised I don’t feel worse.”

The title of this blog post was taken directly from a journal entry in May of 2012, after describing a particularly large daytime movie/food binge. Most of my binging occurred at night before bed because that way I didn’t have to deal with the physical consequences as much (because I would sleep them off). But, occasionally, I had daytime binges by myself while my husband was at work. Sometimes I told myself it would be a good strategy to binge during the day – if I did that, then I wouldn’t need to binge at night. I called this the “pre-emptive strike,” and sometimes it worked. Many times it didn’t. It sounds really ridiculous as a strategy, but I was desperate to get out of my nightly binge routine and would try anything to break the habit (even if it was simply moving the binge to an earlier time of day).

Anyway, the reason I’m telling this story is that the sentence above really stood out to me when I was recently skimming old journal entries. I thought, it kind of implies that I should be feeling worse, perhaps even that I wanted to feel worse. Did I deliberately want to feel worse? Sometimes, no – sometimes I was truly seeking comfort in food – in the only way I knew how, at that time, and I wanted to feel better. But sometimes, yes, I was so desperate to break this habit that I intentionally tried to make myself feel as awful as possible, in hopes that it would make me change. I thought maybe I could force myself to have a rock-bottom moment! So, sometimes I would eat with the intention of trying to be sick, trying to feel as awful as possible, in the hopes that it would FINALLY make me stop. And each time, I thought this is it, this is my rock bottom, I’m done with this. But the next day or the next week, I would find out I’m not really done, and the cycle would begin again. How messed up is that – trying to force a miserable rock-bottom moment?

Obviously, this didn’t work. After more than a year of this, I finally realized that I couldn’t force this. I couldn’t force myself to stop binging overnight – I couldn’t say “Day 1 of never binging again.” I couldn’t force myself to stop gaining weight or to start losing. I couldn’t force myself to eat healthy or to BE healthy. I couldn’t force myself to beat this eating disorder through willpower. I had assumed that because I stopped smoking that way (cold turkey), that I could do the same with binging. But it wasn’t meant to be. I had to start SLOW and start over – this meant totally re-establishing my relationship with my body and with food very gradually. I had to accept that this was going to take a while, and I might not stop binging immediately, and I wasn’t going to be perfect at it. This was a totally new way of thinking to me (especially letting go of some of the perfectionism), but I realized that I had to try – because nothing else had worked. I needed to stop treating recovery like a diet. Well, guess what? It worked – I don’t binge anymore, and I don’t even want to. I’m becoming more and more free of ED every day. Although still evolving, my relationship with food and with my body is better than ever, and it’s the most amazing feeling. I never thought it was possible to not be obsessed with food, but it is. And it happened because I simply allowed it to happen – rather than trying to force change.

Have you ever tried to force yourself to hit rock bottom? Have you struggled with the perfectionist, all-or-nothing diet mentality that is often at the core of ED?

Is full recovery possible?

This is a question that’s hotly debated in the eating disorder community. Is it possible to be “recovered,” or will we always consider ourselves “in recovery”?

I won’t pretend to be an expert, but I’m going to give you my take. I believe full recovery IS possible – possibly for everyone, but at least for almost everyone. Am I there yet? No, but I envision full recovery happening for me. There was a time when I couldn’t imagine ANY recovery, much less full recovery – we’ve all been there, and we all know that feeling of utter hopelessness and despair. But that hopeless feeling doesn’t convey truth – it is merely your natural response to your eating disorder’s nasty voice in your head. But I think you can eradicate ED’s voice for good. There will come a time when ED has to accept defeat and realize he is no longer needed or wanted. Don’t get me wrong – ED fights HARD to stay with you, torturing your thoughts. And there are many weak versions of recovery out there that don’t eliminate ED but merely quiet him down or change him into other forms.

So, what is full recovery, you ask? Simply put, it is normal eating. It is eating to fuel your body, most of the time, listening to its needs, but also being HUMAN and occasionally not listening to your body; it is seeking comfort outside of food, weight, calories, and control; it is getting back to basics – the way we were all born, in harmony with our bodies and our minds. This is the future I see for us – indeed, this is the reality that many recovered people are living right NOW. But how do we get there? Well, that will be the topic of a future blog post … OK, make that MANY future blog posts, because there isn’t one simply and easy answer. The truth is, the recovery process is long, hard and complex, but it is worth it. YOU are worth it!