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I started the Food: Friend or Frenemy series almost nine months ago. At the time, my relationship with food was tricky and I wasn’t entirely sure it could get any better. After all, in our culture, an unhealthy, or complicated, relationship with food tends to be the rule, not the exception. I figured food and I were frenemies for life.

I was wrong.

It turns out food isn’t my friend or my frenemy. Food is fuel. Food fuels my body so I can do all the things I want to do. Follow my passions, be in the moment, connect with family and friends. My body is a vehicle that enables me to do absolutely amazing things and have soul enriching experiences.

Deconstructing my relationship with food, realizing my body was in the best position to determine what it should use for fuel, then learning to not only listen to, but trust, my body and let it make food related decisions took a lot of time, patience, vulnerability, and an incredible amount of trial and error.

I would love to give you a step-by-step guide on how I found peace with food. But the truth is, much like eating disorder recovery, finding peace with food isn’t a step-by-step process. It’s an expedition. A quest, if you will.

A quest that involves a lot of work. Challenging thoughts and behaviors. Challenging how we speak to and relate to friends and loved ones. Challenging the messages we see and hear everyday.

While I can’t do a step-by-step guide, I’d like to share a few things I learned, and resources I found helpful on my quest.

Mental Health Management Must be a Top Priority

I am a highly sensitive person living with anxiety and depression. Which means I am very easily triggered. For decades, my emotional fragility led me to seek refuge in an insidious eating disorder. I was so desperate to escape the chaos of emotions, I failed to notice the eating disorder was killing me.

Through recovery I started to experience feelings and realize they are the life blood of connection.  Feelings are incredibly powerful and can bring people together or tear them apart. Feelings are the essence of life.

Hi! I am a highly sensitive person stopped at a stoplight!

Hi! I am a highly sensitive person stopped at a stoplight 🙂

Now that I am eating disorder free, I feel life. All of it. Good and bad. Life can get pretty overwhelming at times, so I have to take affirmative steps to maintain my baseline. To me, baseline is feeling centered, connected and able to be in the moment.

Baseline doesn’t come naturally so I have to work at it. For me that means, writing (journaling), moving my body, connecting with friends, and meditation (yoga or holding space to breathe). If I do those things regularly, I am able to maintain baseline pretty effectively. I can even handle minor triggers here and there.

However, anxiety or depression still have the power to blind side me. Sometimes by a massive trigger (an election maybe), other times it might be nothing.

When my anxiety and/or depression flare up things start to spiral. I feel bad, sad, stressed and uncomfortable in my own skin. Suddenly daily tasks like taking the boys to school  (which requires me to get dressed and leave the house), cleaning the house, making dinner or just interacting with people seem like monumental tasks.

My self-esteem plummets and all I can see or recognize are my faults which fuels both the depression and anxiety. When I am in it, it feels like I’m trapped in a pitch black closet with only fear and shame as companions. It is incredibly isolating and frightening.

With practice and patience. I’m training myself to stop, breathe and feel my way through the feelings. Even the scary ones. I know if I feel the feelings, they will pass. Even the sad, scary, stressful ones. But if I don’t allow myself to feel, or I try to hide from the feelings, they get trapped inside. My trapped feelings tend to manifest outwardly as negativity, lack of patience, anger, frustration, isolation and self-hatred.

Sometimes I can’t handle the feelings right away. Sometimes I need a distraction first. A breather. And that is okay too. But I always try to come back to the feelings as soon as I can. I know if I don’t they will only get worse.

This is still a work in progress and one I am committed to. I know if I take care of my mental health first, my life and relationships are far more rich and rewarding.

Resources: The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown. Carry On, Warrior by Glennon Melton. Joy on Demand by Chade-Meng Tan. Magic Lessons Podcast Ep. 209 Glennon Melton.

Radical Self-Love

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Preach it, Stuart Smalley! PREACH!!

Learning about, accepting and loving my body for all the amazing things it enables me to do (as opposed to focusing on what my body looks like) was transformative. And hard AF (Mom and Dad: AF means “as fuck”).

I learned to love who I am and what my body can do, but man oh man, is it hard AF to always love the way my body looks. Especially in pictures or on film.  I don’t normally swear in posts but trying to accept and love the way my body looks in a culture that idolizes thinness, feels like swimming upstream at Niagra Falls.

But I’m getting there. Please understand this is not an invitation for comments on my appearance (in fact, please don’t). I’m just being honest about how hard it is to love my body when I am surrounded, and often bombarded, with images that promote “thinness” as the ideal standard for beauty and body type.

These images and the “thinness is ideal” narrative, saturate our culture. And it goes deep. Think about the lack of size diversity in books, film, television, the media and on the internet. Look at children’s toys. Dolls, Barbie, GI Joe, Star Wars figures, princesses. Look at children’s television and movies. They primarily represent one body type. I can think of one size diverse princess, Princess Fiona. And she’s a green ogre.

My kinda Princess!

My kinda Princess!

We are indoctrinated into this “thinness is ideal” culture before we can even consent to it. We grow up playing with toys, reading books and seeing films that represent one body type. And as we get older our bodies change, but theirs don’t.

I internalized this as there being something wrong with me. My body never looked like the bodies I saw on tv, in books or magazines. My body never looked like the Barbies or dolls I played with. The only time I really saw a size diverse kid, she/he was a sidekick or a villain. And he/she was usually made fun of or defined by his/her large body.

I wanted to be Stacy from The Babysitters Club. I wanted to be Jessica from Sweet Valley High. I wanted to be Stephanie Zinone from Grease 2. Oh and I REALLY wanted to be Laura Holt from Remington Steele.

But I didn’t look like them. I thought if I was thin then I would look like them. And if I looked like them, then I would be accepted and belong. I would matter.

I didn’t trust my own opinion, so I depended on peers and adults to validate my appearance and tell me I belonged. Yet, no matter what people said, I never felt good enough.

The pursuit of positive body comments from others felt like chasing a high. “Next time so and so sees me, he/she is going to be totally FLOORED! I’m going to look so thin and gorgeous!”

I spent most of my life chasing that high.

Women are groomed to believe that our bodies are our voice. If we are thin and beautiful we will be heard. We will be respected. Yet, even when I was thinner I still felt voiceless. The mantra that everything in my life would fall into place and I would live my best life if my body was smaller, thinner, prettier was ingrained so deep in my subconscious it had become one of my core values.

As I started looking deeper into my relationship with food and becoming more open to a relationship with my body, I started focusing more and more on self-love and unconditional body acceptance. As I learned to love and accept my body, I started to see the deeply systemic nature of the “thinness is ideal” mentally.

And say a heartfelt, “FU!”

Radical self-love means no matter how or what I think about myself and/or my body in any given moment, I tell myself (over and over if necessary) that I am enough and I matter. As is, no buts.

At first, it felt completely unnatural, counterintuitive (I thought we were supposed to focus on what we needed to improve about ourselves), and incredibly selfish. Learning to love and accept myself and my body for what it is in any given moment (even in the face of negative body comments) took a tremendous amount of patience, journaling, positive affirmations, breathing, boundary setting, therapy, and girl time.

I love my body exactly as it is right now. And if it’s a little different tomorrow, I’ll love it just the same. Because I love myself and my body, I take care of it, I listen to it, I nurture it. My body thanks me by enabling me to do all the things I love to do.

My body gave me some incredible moments this year. Here are a few:

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Resources: Big Girl: How I Gave up Dieting and Got a Life by Kelsey Miller. Meret Boxler’s Life Unrestricted Podcast, episode 9: Linda Bacon. Am I against weight loss as a body positive activist? by Sarah Vance.

Seeing diet and intentional weight loss culture for what it is – An obscenely profitable scam at best or, at worst, a mechanism to perpetuate systemic patriarchy and misogyny.

in-a-society-that-profits-from-your-self-doubt-li-men-s-polo-shirt

The diet and intentional weight-loss industry is the monetization of the “thinness is ideal” mentality. It espouses health and happiness while belittling and shaming its customers. Diets thrive on the fallacy of long term weight-loss. They promise to fulfill one’s unrelenting desire to fit into the “thinness is ideal” standard.

“Lose weight, feel great!”

“Lose weight, get healthy!”

“Lose weight to live your best life!”

And it’s all bullshit. Diets and intentional weight loss programs have a ninety-five percent failure rate. That’s not rhetoric, that’s science. Intentional weight loss programs make money because they are designed to fail. You don’t fail a diet. The diet was created to fail you.

That ninety-five percent failure rate built a sixty billion dollar industry.

And we still so desperately want it all to work, but it doesn’t. Eating disorders are more prevalent than ever. Girls as young as seven or eight start dieting, comparing and criticizing their bodies. Too many women spend precious mental energy obsessing about what they’re going to eat and what their body looks like. Too many women hate themselves because they don’t feel like they are pretty or thin enough. They feel like failures because they don’t fit into the incredibly narrow “thinness is ideal” standard.

No thanks.

I’ve learned weight loss doesn’t define happiness or health. I do. What I do with my body, how I move it and how I take care of it, have much more of an impact on my health and happiness than what my body weighs.

Resources: Health at Every Size and Body Respect by Linda Bacon. Weight Science: Evaluating the Evidence for a Paradigm Shift by Linda Bacon and Lucy Aphramor. The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolff

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hi Friends!

I just wrote my first ever guest blog post! It’s for a wonderful recovery website called Recovery Spark. They have wonderful recovery resources and make some really incredible films as well!

You can check it out at:  http://www.recoveryspark.com/ed-blog/ali-road-to-recovered

I’ll be back next week with another post!

Thanks!

-Ali