When you think you’ll never have a healthy relationship with food…

Hello hello hello! It’s been awhile and for that, I apologize. Life has thrown some busy weeks at me and between my real life job, writing on the side, my Instagram, this blog along with my partner and friends and family- I’ve had to let some things slide lately. I have been doing some writing lately- which you can read HERE and HERE if you’re interested but it’s nice to be back on my own page, where I can let all my silliness/not-always-making-senseness shine through.

This is a post I’ve been meaning to make for awhile- one that might have been helpful to me at the start of my recovery. Now before I start, I just want to say that I am still learning. This post hits on some of the principles of intuitive eating- but that’s an area I am constantly exploring. Even though I spend most of my days consuming content related to all inclusive wellness, intuitive eating and Health at Every Size, I am far from knowing it all. But if you’re interested, I fully recommend reading the book Intuitive Eating or if you’re podcast person, I highly recommend Christy Harrison’s Food Psych– it consistently blows my mind.

Anyway.

There was a time when I was so hungry, I literally couldn’t imagine that I would ever be full. That might sound a little nutty to people who haven’t experienced disordered eating, but it’s true. When I was deep in my restriction, I thought that if I let go of all my food rules, just let myself eat unrestricted around food, then I would eat it all and I would never stop. When I would celebrate holidays with my family and be surrounded by food that I craved so intensely, I would end up eating much more of it than I intended (usually while in the kitchen, where I would clean up- mostly as an excuse to eat straight from the dish). I would eat as much as I could while following my most lenient of rules. And I still never felt satiated. Those moments proved to me that I could not be trusted without strict guidelines. I thought that I would never be capable of being full- so instead, I never gave myself that full permission to eat what I craved, when I craved it.

For a while before I started my “real” recovery, I let myself have more/different foods- sometimes I would even have pasta! Or “regular” bread or red meat or a cookie! But there were still rules. And most of the time, I would take one or two cookies from a package and then let the rest get stale in my cabinet. There were still portion limits, times that it was “okay” to have them and times when it wasn’t- mostly, there were times when it wasn’t. Food was a minefield that I had to navigate; one wrong step and it would impact my future forever. 

When I did immerse myself in recovery, I let go of all the rules. There was no more foods on my “cannot eat” list, there were no more rules about times or portions or number of meals or snacks. I just ate. And that is scary. It is scary to let go of our food rules- for so many people with disordered eating or with a history of dieting, food rules are what allows us to feel in control. They give us a false sense of safety, the idea that as long as we follow them, we can be “good”. So to let go of them is a huge and terrifying step.

I’m not going to lie: at first, it feels like you really will never be full. Rarely do you feel satiated in those beginning stages. But the most important thing you can do is keep going. Giving up at that point is just going right back to square one. It’s important to keep going and keep eating, without rules. If you’re hungry, it’s important to eat. If you can’t stop thinking about food, you’re probably hungry (read this from Caroline Dooner about mental restriction).

Here’s what I can tell you: at some point, you will start to be able to recognize your hunger/fullness cues with astonishing clarity. It may take awhile- remember that your body as been in starvation mode essentially as long as you’ve been dieting/engaging with your eating disorder. Just as you don’t trust it, your body doesn’t trust you either. It doesn’t trust that you will continue to feed it adequately. It is storing food because it doesn’t know if it’s going to be consistent. It’s not ready to send you those fullness cues because it doesn’t want you to stop eating- it wants to repair your body’s systems that haven’t been getting enough fuel for years. It wants to make sure your heart and your lungs and your digestive system have enough energy. It wants to get you your period back if you’ve lost it. Your body is going to burn through this energy at first because there’s so many things to be done and it doesn’t know how long this increased intake is going to last. Basically, this is a period of learning reciprocal trust between you and your body. It’s learning to trust that you’ll feed it; you’re learning to trust that your body is not suddenly going to implode if you start eating adequately.

During this time, you might have voices that pop up and tell you that you’re sabotaging your health, your diet, your life. Of course! Your eating disorder/diet is going to be pissed about this break up. They’ve had control of you for so long; of course they are going to want to rebel when you stop listening. And there will be times when their words will be seductive, where they’ll really convince you that you might be better off going back to them.

You won’t be. Going back to your eating disorder/disordered eating/chronic dieting will never make you happier. And it’s not something that you can negotiate with. You cannot be fully recovered if you still have a foot in diet culture. You just have to give it your all, baby.

I know.

It’s scary.

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But here’s the thing: if no food are off limits…if you’re done listening to the rules that unhealthy voice set for you…if you’re done restricting, weighing all your foods or measuring out every painstaking ounce…your body will tell you what you need. Really, it will. When you stop forcing your body to meet certain guidelines, it will tell you what it needs. Sometimes it’s a cookie. Sometimes it’s a salad. Sometimes it’s both or neither. It will take you awhile to unlearn everything diet culture taught you- and then to relearn how to listen to your body and give it what it needs.

But I promise that you can do it. We are all born with an innate sense of what to eat, when to eat, how much to eat. And as much as you might think you’re somehow broken, I promise that you’re not and that you can heal your relationship to food.

My plan is start posting about intuitive eating and Health at Every Size more often since there’s so much confusion around them- but also feel free to email me with any questions you’d like answered on the blog! Stay tuned- and in the meantime, follow me on all the things!

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What is happening with my stomach?: The not-so-glamorous parts of recovery

A few weeks ago, I posted about my recovery journey and I got an influx of messages from people in recovery, people who want to recover, people who have a family member/partner/friend who wants to recover. And I got a lot of questions. But by far, the most common question I got was something along the lines of what the hell is happening with my stomach?

Stomach issues. No one gets through recovery without dealing with some sort of abdominal distress, constipation, gas, bloating, etc (that I know of). And obviously, these are not the most glamorous issues to talk about. Nobody loves talking about their bodily functions- except, of course, dietitians, luckily for you guys! So I’m going to dive into some of the most difficult parts of recovery that I went through as it pertains to my tummy.

 

Bloating

The big bad bloat! Bloating is by far one of the most common and most uncomfortable parts of recovery. Bloating starts on day one and many times, it doesn’t go away for months. Some of that bloat is tummy bloat of course. But it frequently, it can feel like a full body experience- and in some ways it is. Swelling happens because your body is trying to repair itself. Think of a sprained ankle. It swells while it heals. That’s what happens to your body- it swells while it heals. And by far one of the most common places damage has been done is the gastrointestinal tract. For many people who have battled eating disorders, you’ve spent years restricting/purging/abusing your digestive system. For those of us who had restrictive eating disorders, our digestive tracts are not used to processing foods- especially so many different foods that we are presented with in recovery. Our bodies have to work harder and to readjust to eating a mix of foods again. Same logic for those who have been purging- you’re now asking your body to do a different thing it isn’t used to. So it’s going to take some time for it to readjust. Be patient and keep eating. Whatever you do, do not think “Oh, I’m bloated so I’m just going to eat fruits/vegetables/’healthy’ things”- more often than not, those things are just going to increase your bloat. Your best bet when you’re feeling super bloated and uncomfortable is to stick to more processed, less fibrous foods. THIS POST by Amalie Lee explains it really well. Keep eating and it will get better!

Stomach Pain/Gas

Stomach pain is real during recovery. I dealt with it often. And I have the same general explanation as the one above. Your body isn’t used to everything that’s happening when you start eating again. Your digestive system is not used to working so hard- and oftentimes, the muscles have actually gotten weaker. It’s been on vacation for however long you restricted/used ED behaviors and quite honestly, it’s still a bit tired. Many times, it has to do with gas (oh the wonders of recovery). There’s a lot of gas in the first stages of recovery. There just is. Hopefully you live with people you can joke about it with; it’s much easier that way. The stomach pains and gas will go away, it just takes time to rebuild and strengthen those muscles. In my experience, it passes a bit sooner than the bloating. There are still particular foods that I restricted during my ED days that cause my a stomachache when I eat them- but those are few and far between compared to what they used to be like. Some tips for dealing with stomachaches:

  • Ginger or peppermint tea always help settle my stomach.
  • A warm compress- like these ones my sister makes over at Payne and Comfort (no, I did not intend for this to be an ad for her but I did use it a lot with stomach pain and still do).
  • Laying on my right side usually helps move some things around and makes me a little more comfortable.
  • Tracing the outline of my colon- stay with me here. I learned this from a dietitian I worked with during my internship, who said she learned it as a pediatric dietitian- but still useful for adults. Put you fingers on your lower right stomach, right above the hip. Tap your fingers all the way up to under your ribcage, across to the other side and then back down the left side. That’s the general area where your large intestine is and it usually helps move stuff through- or at the very least, it feels kinda nice and makes me feel like I’m doing something to improve my stomach aches.

Heartburn/Acid Reflux/Indigestion

This is something I dealt with a lot but honestly, it’s gotten better with recovery. I’ve always had issues with acid reflux, especially during my ED days, but it’s a common symptom during recovery as well. I don’t have a clear answer as to why this is but most people think it’s something to do with the fact that your digestion as a person in recovery is way slower than the average person’s- usually double or triple the average time it takes for someone to digest. Again, those muscles have atrophied and aren’t as efficient as they once were. They can get back there but they need to be exercised to get stronger- so think of every meal as a workout for your digestive system. They get a little stronger each day, but it doesn’t happen overnight (just like any other part of your body). However, because of this, food sits in your stomach longer and there’s more opportunity for heartburn/indigestion. It is uncomfortable- tips I have include more ginger/herbal teas, sitting upright for at least an hour after a meal, not drinking coffee/caffeine if I’m experiencing reflux already and avoiding alcohol while symptoms persist. Occasionally, I will take a Tums if things are really uncomfortable but I try not to rely on them too much- same goes with any other OTC heartburn remedy. These things will usually pass on their own, you just have to give it some time!

Diarrhea/Constipation

Saved the best for last! When you start eating more in recovery, you are most likely going to experience diarrhea and/or constipation at different points. When you first start eating again, your body more likely than not is not going to be able to figure how to process things right away so you may experience more bowel movements than normal. On the flip side, your sluggish digestive system may also be like screw this, I am not going to digest anything and you may end up constipated. Both of these things are normal, both of these things are okay, and both of these things will pass if you keep eating. One thing worth noting is that I had horrible constipation nearly my whole life. It was a joke with my family, my friends and my partner. So to all my sisters with constipation I feel you and I have been there. But since recovery, I have had maybe one or two instances of constipation, if that. I always thought that this issue was just genetic, just how my body was but it turns out it was a symptom of restriction. This was, by far, one of the best things that happened during my recovery as constipation literally plagued me before.

The bottom line is all of these things will get better. Be patient and keep going!

Have other questions you want me to answer? Send me an email meghan@sundaesforthesoul.com or leave a comment here!

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Q & A: Why I Chose Recovery

Oh hello!

Before I get into today’s post, I want to send a giant thank you thank you thank you to every one who commented on or reached out after my post last week- there were too many Instagram comments for me to respond to but I promise I read each and every one of them and I’m beyond grateful for the love and support from all of you. I’m so thankful for you.

ALSO I want to say that my incredible big sister who is super crafty and has her own Etsy shop has recently added these awesome new pillows to her shop. I collaborated with her on these and I’m super excited about them. A portion of all proceeds are going to NEDA (National Eating Disorder Association) so it’s the perfect gift or addition to your home/dorm room/living room/anywhere really. Also February is eating disorder awareness month so what better time!? Check out her shop here or follow her on Instagram @payneandcomfort!

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What I really want to talk about is all the messages and questions I got from you guys last week. I got a looot of people who reached out after my last post- I think I got through all my emails but if I haven’t responded to your DM on Insta, I promise I’m getting there! Working a full-time job and also having to do adult things like clean my apartment and do my laundry really gets in the way of my time interacting with all of you, which is a bummer but the way life is I suppose.

I decided that I have wayyy more to say about recovery than I have so far either on here or on Instagram. Like a lot. Things that I can’t believe I haven’t talked about before- like the physical symptoms of recovery (abdominal pain, bloating, etc), minimums and hunger cues, night sweats, buying new clothes/adjusting to a new size, relationships in recovery, etc, etc. I also realized that when I started recovery, I relied on other people’s stories and experiences with MM and advice by non-diet dietitians to get me through and wouldn’t you know it, I am both those things. So I have a lot to say and over the next few weeks (months?), hopefully I’ll be able to put more tangible recovery tips out into the world.

One question that I got asked a lot over the past week was:

What was your inspiration to recover? What motivated you to start?

Oh, sweet friend, strap yourself in. I’ve got a lot to say about this one.

I started, plain and simple, because I could not go to the gym anymore. I had moved past the stage of simply not wanting to go to the gym, to my body aching every time I went to the gym, to my body finally being like “I’m out. I’m not doing this anymore” and me collapsing into a heap on my bed and googling how to recover.
(Note: I spent 3 months in physical therapy trying to heal the damage I did to my body. Please do not do this to yourselves).

I started because every time I went to the gym, I would sit on the bench in the locker room and put my head in my hands and have to literally will/bribe myself to get up and work out so I could get out of there ASAP (and this had been going on for at least a year).

I started because I was tired of vegetables. I was tired of the same “safe” foods over and over again. I was tired of eating weird combinations of foods in private.

I was tired of not having enough energy to get through the afternoon.

I was tired of lying to people about why I was eating so little/not at all.

I was tired of my constant mental fog, my inability to focus, the headaches that I got from being hungry.

I was motivated by the fact that I could hardly go to a dinner with my partner and not have a panic attack.

I was motivated by my lifelong desire to be a mom.

I was motivated by the fact that I lost my period for nearly 4 years (in case you’re wondering it’s baaaack and there has never been someone more excited to get her period than I was 6 months ago- and still am, despite the cramps and backaches that I have right at this very moment).

I was done making excuses for why I could not go to dinner with my friends or why I couldn’t eat at certain events or why I had to meet up after dinner.

I was motivated by the idea that I could control my life instead of letting exercise dictate what I could/could not do and planning my weekends for me.

I was motivated by my desire to allow all foods into my life, which is a principle I advocated for in my training as a dietitian.

I was motivated by my hope to someday help other women with disordered eating as a dietitian and as an advocate.

But most of all…

I knew that my life could be bigger.

I knew that in addition to restricting my intake, I was restricting my ability to live a full life.

I knew that I wasn’t doing all the things I wanted to do because I was allowing food and exercise to consume my life.

I knew that I would never be all that I wanted to be while I was trying to force myself into a little box.

I knew that the answer to happiness and a fulfilled life was not cutting out processed foods/sweeteners/anything that wasn’t “clean”.

I knew that I deserved more.

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At the end of the day, that’s it. I deserved more. You deserve more. We all deserve more than those tiny little boxes we try to force ourselves into. We deserve more than unrealistic goals. We deserve more than those voices in our minds that tell us we are not good enough. We deserve more than having a panic attack over an ice cream cone. We deserve more.

Recovery is a hard thing to start. It’s not like flipping on a light switch. Light doesn’t suddenly flood in, drowning out all the darkness. It just doesn’t work like that (that I’ve ever heard of). But my list of reasons to recover was growing for years before I finally made the decision to start a real recovery. So if you’re struggling now, think about what you’ve given up. Think about who you were before your eating disorder. Think about what you’ve lost and what you want back. Think about the rest of your life and how you want to live it. That’s why I started.

If you have a question about recovery or MM or self love or body acceptance (etc etc) that you want me to address, send me an email at meghan@sundaesforthesoul.com! It’s particularly fun for me to write things that I know people are wondering about.

in the meantime, follow me on all the things! and go buy yourself a pillow from my sista!
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One Year Ago Today

One year ago, it was a Saturday. I got up in the morning, made my oatmeal as I did everyday. At this point, I had been lying to family, friends and myself for months about my eating disorder. “I’m doing a lot better!” I would reassure them. I told myself that I was just never the type of person who would not be able to exercise, never the person who would able to just order a pizza on a whim or have an extra unplanned snack. I had gained some weight back from my lowest weight but I was still underweight, hungry, anxious and trapped.

One year ago today, after I ate my oatmeal and drank my coffee, I opened my drawer and pulled out my workout clothes. Then I laid down on the bed, and I cried, as I had every day that week when I went to go put on my gym clothes. I did not want to be a slave to the gym anymore. I did not want to force myself to an irrational number of minutes at the gym. I did not want to force myself out the door, into the car and to the gym, where I would get on the elliptical with my book and beg the time to go by quicker. Inevitably, I would go longer than I even planned on. Some days, I saw spots. Some days, my legs felt like jello, like they could not bear to hold me up much longer.

One year ago today, as I started to pull on my workout pants with tears in my eyes, I stopped.

I took off my workout pants.

I crawled under my bed, pulled out my laptop and googled “anorexia recovery”.

I spent over four hours researching anorexia/excessive exercise recovery. I came across the Minnie Maud method via the Lets Recover tumblr and then the ED Institute (formerly Youreatopia if that sounds more familiar to anyone). I read every single piece of information I possibly could. I read blogs of people who had done MM, searched instagram accounts, read stories of people in remission.

One year ago today, as I laid in my bed and researched recovery, I got out of bed.

I went to my pantry.

I took out a box of cheez-its that I had bought for when my boyfriend visited and I ate a handful. And then I ate another handful.

Then I ate two Lindt truffles.

And then I laughed. I laughed because I had forgotten what it felt like to eat food without guilt or shame or a constant stream of negative thoughts in my head. I forgot what it was like have permission to eat.

That night, I laid in my bed with a glass of wine and snacks. I watched a movie (I can’t remember which one because I could only think this is real. I cannot live like this anymore. I am doing it this time. I am going to do this. I am going to recover.)

For anyone who doesn’t know, the Minnie Maud method is used for recovery from restrictive eating disorders and necessitates approximately 3000 calories per day- depending on age, height, etc- and absolutely zero exercise so that your body can fully heal. The 3000 calories is considered your minimum- what you must get every day. Oftentimes, when you start refeeding after an eating disorder, intake is much higher than 3000. And that’s the point- to give your body extra energy to not only keep you alive and functional, but to repair the parts of your body that were damaged by restriction.

The next morning I woke up and suspended my gym membership. I told them that I would be back in April. (Spoiler alert: I called back about a month later and cancelled for good. When they asked me why, I think my response was somewhere along the lines of “I hate it there”).

I called my mom as I waited in line for coffee. I’m doing it. I’m going to eat 3000+ calories per day. I’m going to stop exercising altogether. I’m going to let my body heal. I’m going to the grocery store now to get food. I’m doing it this time, this makes sense to me. I heard her skepticism- she had heard a similar spiel many times before. Somehow, it never stuck. But she was wholeheartedly supportive, the way she always is.

After 7 years of restriction, excessive exercise, body hate and orthorexic tendencies, I was skeptical too. I knew, without a doubt, that I was going to gain weight and I was probably going to gain weight quickly. I knew from reading Lets Recover and the other resources that I would get edema (water retention) which meant swelling all over- even in weird places. I knew that it would mean that I would get a “recovery belly”- when you first start refeeding, your body puts most of the weight in your abdominal area to protect all your essential organs. It also gets some of the swelling, so basically you get a markedly round, bloated lower abdominal tummy (not unlike a pregnant belly). I knew all of this. I had read the recommendation to get loose-fitting, flowy clothing to make it easier as I gained weight. I had read that at first my body would want mostly processed foods, because they’re energy-dense and digest quickly.

I was terrified, yes, but I was also liberated. As soon as I committed to recovery, there were no more rules. My no added-sugar/no artificial sweeteners/no processed foods rule? Gone. My only salads for dinner rule? Gone. My exercise at least 6 days a week rule? Way, way gone.

It’s hard to describe those first few moths because everything was new and my body was changing all the time. For the first couple weeks, I had serious night sweats because my metabolism had been kicked into overdrive and couldn’t keep up. I had some digestion problems. I learned that my body did not want any more vegetables, at all. My body wanted french fries and milkshakes and pasta and Milano cookies and Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. My body expanded and my pants no longer fit. My boobs went from a size 34C (that had shrunk down to a B in restriction) to a 36DD. My booty no longer fit in my underwear. My shirts all felt tight across the back when I did anything but stand up completely straight. Weird things were swollen- like my feet and my shoulders and my knees. I went through phases of extreme hunger- another extraordinarily common recovery side effect, where you become insatiable. It’s those kinda days where second breakfast and second dinner are not only possible, but necessary. I learned to respond to both physical and mental hunger- which are equally important (and I’m now realizing I need to do another post about that some time). I didn’t have to wake up to pee in the middle of the night because my bladder muscles got stronger (unexpected but awesome discovery). I bought new pants- and then a few months later, I bought pants again. I wore leggings as much as possible. I relied on Goodwill and other thrift shops for all my clothes, since I was constantly growing. I discovered how much I love cookie butter.

Things that got me through those first few months: the Recovery Warriors podcast. Everything Caroline Dooner has ever done. Christy Harrison’s Food Psych podcast. The Everything ED tumblr/website. Various Instagram accounts that had done MM/taught me that I could love myself – Amalie (@amalielee), Gina (@nourishandeat), Megan (@bodyposipanda), Sarah (@bodypositivepear).

Halfway through my recovery, I became a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist- a path I had set out on in the thick of my eating disorder, one that I wasn’t even sure I wanted anymore. With that, came more time for relaxation/rest/pleasure than I had in years. I stopped isolating myself and saying no to dinners with friends because I was scared of the calories- I went out with friends and ate pretzels and beer cheese and cocktails and french fries and pizza and instead of the running calorie count in my head, I could focus and be present in my conversations and laugh, really laugh. I wore shirts that showed my upper arms. I was able to show up to life more because I was no longer chained to my running shoes. In fact, once I made the decision to stop exercising in the beginning, I didn’t feel the guilt and shame that I expected. Instead, I felt immense relief. When I went home, I had more time to spend with my family and friends because I didn’t need to waste hours of my day running/at the gym/going to absurd exercise classes.

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It’s hard to explain exactly what it feels like to be in this place that I’m in right now. The place where I can put my hand on my stomach and appreciate it’s squish. The place where I can eat whatever I want, whether it’s quinoa or a cookie or a carrot or a box of animal-shaped mac n cheese. The place where I can go out to dinner with my boyfriend and not feel like I have to order the “healthiest” or “cleanest” thing on the menu. The place where I can eat what sounds good to me.  The place where I can admit openly and happily that I have not formally exercised in one year. The place where I can shut down diet talk when I hear it and take photos of my body for seventeen thousand people on Instagram to see. I’m not fully recovered- I don’t know when that will happen but it takes a long time to unlearn 7 years of bad habits. Still though, I am much healthier, happier, stronger, fulfilled and empowered than I was a year ago.

Is it happy, what I’m feeling? Yes. Grateful? Of course. But mostly, I feel free.

Free from my eating disorder and restriction. Free from food rules and workout requirements and diet culture. Free from body hate and shame. Free from the constant insecurity, anxiety and guilt that I felt every time it came to eating. Free from the box that my eating disorder had trapped me in.

Free, free, free.

 

If you have recovery questions or if you’re going through recovery right now or if you are just looking for some recovery support, I want to hear from you! You can email me at meghan@sundaesforthesoul.com. I want to start doing some more recovery posts to explain more about MM, what it’s like and how to get to the other side and I want to know what you want to know. Hit me up, girlfriend!
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