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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.

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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 and obesity 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 even 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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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In Part 2 of my Food: Friend or Frenemy? series, I am going to explore my relationship with food. But before I do I need to come clean. This post has taken awhile to write. I’m new to Recovered (four months!). Newly Recovered is a somewhat precarious position. It’s new and unfamiliar. I am feeling all the feelings and doing things I’ve never done before. Putting myself out there in ways I have never done before. Showing up and allowing myself to be seen for who I really am and not who I think other people want me to be. It is fun and exciting but it is also terrifying. Maybe even mostly terrifying.

I want to stay Recovered. And some days I really have to fight for it. The early stages of Recovered are tough. It’s not like the constant torment of being mentally and physically ravaged by an insidious eating disorder. I assure you, that comparatively, where I am now feels like a pleasure cruise verses where I was. But the truth is that being Newly Recovered and fully feeling all of life for the first time can be overwhelming. Add in the unpredictable variables of anxiety and depression, and life can sometimes feel like balancing the middle of a teeter-totter while two little kids throw soccer balls at you.

The last two months have been exhausting and finding the time and emotional strength to write for the blog have been tough (especially because my relationship with food is complicated and full of triggers). In addition, two months ago depression snuck up and engulfed me before I even knew what hit me. My anxiety management tools weren’t as effective and I couldn’t escape the feeling of being trapped underneath a down comforter filled with melancholy infused feathers.

Throughout most of my recovery, anxiety was my constant companion. I encountered depression as well, but anxiety often overshadowed everything. Consequently, my tool box was full of anxiety management tools and low on depression management tools. It took me almost a week to even realize that I was dealing with depression. Plus the depression felt different. When I had an eating disorder, depression felt like that down comforter filled with melancholy but with heaping amounts of hopelessness, unworthiness and crippling self-hatred thrown in as well (ED Ali was likely the source of the hopelessness, unworthiness and crippling self-hatred).

While I felt the heaviness of depression, I was grateful to not have to manage the hopelessness, unworthiness and crippling self-hatred. Still, being in the midst of depression and tackling a big issue like my relationship with food was complicated. I questioned whether I was really Recovered and whether I could ever heal my relationship with food. I also combated quite a bit of guilt and shame. Rather than let it all consume me and potentially lead me into a relapse, I focused on taking care of myself.

I didn’t beat myself up. There were days when all I could do was focus on meeting the needs of the boys. There were days when I snacked all afternoon. There were days I didn’t write at all because I couldn’t deal with what might come out. There were days when I needed an escape so I watched Netflix, listened to a podcast, picked up a book or listened to the Hamilton soundtrack for the hundredth time (btw, I memorized the Hercules Mulligan parts, should that ever become important).

It took me over three weeks to sit down and write this post. Despite my inner critic’s instinct to belittle and punish myself for not doing what “I should” be doing (i.e. writing), I decided to be kind myself. I reminded myself that I am enough just as I am. I am worth the time and effort it takes to stay Recovered. I also reached out and shared what I was experiencing with trusted family and friends, which helped to take a lot of the shame away. And in those moments when I struggled to be kind to myself, my family and friends stepped in.

Taking that time was so important. I am now in a better place physically and emotionally. I am ready to dive into my relationship with food. This may get uncomfortable and take some odd turns, but I know the only way to heal this relationship is to start working through it.

So here it goes …

Food. I hate food. I love food. Food comforts me. Food punishes me. Food nourishes me. Food poisons me. Food relaxes me. Food stresses me. Food makes me feel successful. Food makes me feel like a failure. Food hates me. Food loves me. Despite all the work I have done in recovery, food still has tremendous amount power over me. It pains me to admit it.

That power feels like a remnant of ED Ali. ED Ali used food as a weapon to manipulate and control me. I may have gotten rid of ED Ali, but I still have to deal with her mechanism of control and punishment everyday day. Food.

ED Ali was clever. She knew that even if I eventually got rid of her, I would never be able to get rid of food. Food would serve as a constant reminder of our toxic and abusive relationship. She knew she could use food to taunt me even after she was gone. And how hard it would be for me look past those taunts and move on.

I. Want. To. Move. On. I want to trust food (or myself around food, I’m not sure which it is right now) but I have trouble seeing it as anything other than ED Ali’s weapon of choice or even a potential gateway back to ED Ali.

I started turning to food for comfort as a little kid. I often felt awkward and out-of-place, so I turned to food. It started as young as 7 or 8. Food was my comfort. It grounded me. It made me feel less alone. As I began to suffer the side effects of turning to food for comfort (i.e. weight gain), I started to obsess about how to counteract those side effects. Enter ED Ali.

Food was the gateway to ED Ali. Then food became ED Ali’s weapon against me. I know I have to find a way to get along with food but I am scared that it’s going to lead me back to ED Ali.

Throughout recovery and the early stages of Recovered, I bypassed (or avoided/ignored) this issue by dealing with a bigger issue, letting go of weight loss as a goal. In letting go of weight loss as a goal I gave myself permission to eat. More specifically, I gave myself permission to eat and not feel shame or guilt afterwards. This took a lot of time and energy but I did it. I knew there was a chance I could gain weight but I also knew that if I ate regular meals and snacks there was a high likelihood that I would stop binging, so my weight would probably balance out. And, that’s pretty much what happened. (NOTE: I haven’t weighed myself in well over a year. I know my weight has stabilized because my clothes fit the same way they did last year.)

Except, now that I think about it, I didn’t bypass or avoid my relationship with food during recovery. I just found a way to use food as a weapon against ED Ali. When I let go of weight loss as a goal, I found that if I ate until I was full (or a little over full) she didn’t have much to say. It was only when I felt hungry or my pants started to feel a little looser that she’d chime in:

Those loose pants feel good don’t they? Doesn’t it feel good ride that hunger wave? To have so much control. You want to lose weight don’t you? Be in control. Have more confidence. Feel beautiful. I can do that for you. You just need to listen to me.

But if I stayed full, ED Ali had little to zero interest in what I was doing. It was so much easier to strengthen my healthy self when she stayed quiet. So I used food to stay full all the time. Not satiated, not stuffed, full. Meaning I often ate just a little more necessary. And I eventually got strong enough to ask her to leave. And she left. Even though she’s been gone for over four months I continue to use food to stay full because it feels safe. And I suppose there is a fear that if I stop using food against ED Ali, she’ll start using it against me again.

But she is gone. She’s been gone. It is time to move on and stop living in fear that she might sneak back in. I am stronger now than she ever was. Honestly, I’m not sure if food is a friend or a frenemy or just food. But I do know that food does not have to be a weapon anymore.

In Part 3, I am going to de-weaponize food.

 

 

 

 

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Confession: I Recovered from my eating disorder without ever really examining my relationship with food. I recognize how strange that sounds. However, most of my recovery focused on examining and processing the thoughts and feelings that drove me to use food to numb and punish myself. Then, along with my support team, I developed healthier coping strategies to deal with those thoughts and feelings.

Knowing that I did not have to dive deep into my relationship with food to recover from my eating disorder was comforting. I remember being in group and someone saying that she found hope in the fact that she could recover from her eating disorder by healing her relationship with food rather than addressing all of the emotional baggage that drove her to use food as a coping mechanism. I found hope in the exact opposite (a true testament that hope and recovery can look different for everyone.) I’d rather confront the emotional stuff than take a magnified glass to my relationship with food. Plus I figured if I handled the emotional stuff then the rest (i.e. my relationship with food) would simply fall into place. And to a certain extent, it did.

My relationship with food is better now than it was five years ago or even six months ago. I don’t look at food as either “good” or “bad” and I am not trying to lose weight anymore. However, food and I still have issues and I suppose now is as good a time as any to finish healing our relationship.

That sounds convincing, right? Like I just made a really healthy decision to dive into an issue as soon as it came up. Yeah, that’s not exactly what happened. This issue with food popped up about a week and a half ago when I read the next writing assignment in 8 Keys to Recovery from an Eating Disorder. The task was to compare my relationship with food to my relationship with people. My initial reaction was anger. “How dare they put a food related question in the “It’s Not About the Food” chapter!” Then I dismissed it, “I’m Recovered, so I don’t need to address my relationship with food. I’m already fixed.” (No, denial here…). Then I started feeling guilty because I committed to at least drawing inspiration from every writing assignment in the book.

So, with anxiety and dread, I started thinking about my relationship with food. I got as far as identifying trust as an issue when my anxiety flared up, along with some uncomfortable feelings.  So, when I wasn’t spending time with the boys, I turned to every avoidance tactic in my arsenal. Netflix, podcasts, scroll therapy (ie. social media), books, going to bed early, snacking, working out.

Until last Friday around 4:00 pm. The boys and I were in the car headed home after school. I was tired and in full “uncomfortable feelings and anxiety avoidance” mode. As the boys argued in the backseat about who was or was not touching who, I started to think about what avoidance tactic I was going to use after the boys went to bed that night (Steve was out-of-town). And there it was…an eating disorder thought. For a second, the thought didn’t seem odd or out-of-place. For a second, it belonged. Then, as quickly as the thought arrived, it was gone. Destroyed. My defenses against ED Ali and ED thoughts are heavily fortified so any ED thought that enters my consciousness is systematically neutralized with relative ease.

But I haven’t had an eating disorder thought in months, so this got my attention. I couldn’t ignore the, now flaming, red flag in front of me.  Recovery taught me that the only way out is through, so it was time to stop avoiding and start working through my relationship with food.

I started by talking with friends, family and Liz (my amazing therapist) and being open about what I was feeling (and trying to avoid feeling). It was helpful to share and hear things like “me too” and “I am so glad you told me” and “no, you’re not crazy.” I also started writing, which was incredibly helpful because I was able to start processing my feelings and see where they were coming from. Processing this issue led to a couple of breakthroughs so I am going to break this down in a couple separate posts.

My next post will dive into my relationship with food. The following post will focus on some of the surprising body image issues I uncovered while processing my relationship with food. The last post in this series will address the action steps I’ve taken to heal my relationship with food and move forward.