Monthly Archives: March 2016

Reason to Recover #2: Enjoying Holidays

Here’s what I remember about holidays growing up as a kid:

I remember being surrounded by family and friends. I remember eating the candy the Easter bunny brought before we went to church on Sunday morning. I remember sneaking downstairs with my sister on Christmas Eve to see what was in my stocking. I remember testing my new bike out and playing the games that Santa brought. I remember playing in a giant refrigerator box on Thanksgiving day with my cousins and thinking it was the coolest thing ever. I remember eating the same coconut cake on Easter every single year at my Great-Aunt Ruth’s house and always having the brightly colored eggs that my grandmother made every year to go with it.

Here’s what I remember about holidays in my eating disorder:

I remember preparing for weeks in advance- extra long workouts, skipping meals, restricting wherever possible. I remember always ensuring that there was a “safe” food present when we were celebrating at my house- and the crippling anxiety of going to someone else’s house and not knowing what there would be to eat. I remember trying to make time on every holiday to go for a run, even if it was Christmas Eve and 20 degrees out. I remember checking the times the gym would be open to ensure that I could get there. I remember analyzing every single thing I put in my mouth, counting calories, seeing how that food would “fit” into my plan for the day. I remember choosing foods I didn’t like as much because they were “better for me”. I remember skipping dessert, saying I was just too full. I remember picking at the leftovers in the kitchen because it feels safer when no one is watching. I remember feeling nothing but guilt and shame after the holiday for days, if not weeks, and the compulsive need to “make up for it”.

Sound familiar? Anyone who has dealt with an eating disorder or even anyone who has been a chronic dieter/compulsive exerciser, I am sure, can relate to some of these thoughts. Holidays are hard when you have an eating disorder. You suddenly dread the holidays you loved as a kid. You want to get them over with. You want to get back to your normal/healthy/clean/whatever-it-is kind of diet you want to maintain.

This Easter was my first holiday since I committed to recovery. There have been one or two instances over the last year that I can remember treating myself and eating what I wanted- but it was closely followed up by shame, guilt, remorse. The feeling that I had done something wrong. Yesterday, I celebrated Easter with my family and here’s what happened: I ate cinnamon buns and muffins and sausage. I drank a mimosa (or two). I ate what I was hungry for and not what my “mind ghosts**” told me to eat. And what’s more- I engaged fully in conversation with my family, something that was always nearly impossible when my mind was consuming with calories, body hate and anxiety. I left my sister’s house with gratitude, rather than shame; love, rather than hate. YUGE (shout out to my Bernie fans) recovery win. 

Traditionally, Easter has been a celebration of life, a time of rebirth. And while my relationship with religion is still being explored as I learn what spirituality means to me, I cannot help but think how fitting it is that my first holiday in recovery is the holiday celebrating rebirth. Eating disorders don’t want life- if you let them, they will kill you. If you’ve read my recovery journey, you’ll note that the first time I remember exercising to control the way my body looked was after an Easter dinner. Yesterday was exactly 10 years after that day. Which just goes to show that anyone who is doubting that they can break out of that eating disorder world, you can. For anyone who thinks they’ll never break out of diet culture, you can. Anyone who thinks that holidays have to be stressful, they don’t. You deserve to belly laugh with your family and not spend time calculating how much you ate. You deserve to eat what you want to eat without having to “make up for it” through exercise or other behaviors. You deserve more than you have given yourself. There is so much more life after you choose to recovery from an eating disorder. I promise you it’s worth it to find it.

*”Mind ghosts” is a term coined by the fabulous Instagram account @nourishandeat- I don’t want to take credit it for it but I do love the term as a way to describe the eating disorder voices that pop up.

P.S. If you missed my first reason to recover, check it out here!

P.P.S. If you’re still not following me on Instagram, what are you waiting for?! Check it out @sundaesforthesoul.

Reasons to Recover

There are a thousand and one reasons to recover from an eating disorder. More than that, probably. One of the first things I did when I committed to recovery was make a list of reasons why I should recover. I sat in my bed with candles lit and mellow music in the background and scribbled out a list of everything I could think of in my journal. There’s a lot of reasons and I hope to talk about a lot of them as I continue to share on this blog- my hope is to share a new one every few weeks. They won’t be in any particular order- none are more or less important than the others. But right now, I want to share one in particular with you all.

So here is my first reason to recover that I want to share: being able ot eat out at restaurants without guilt. I love restaurants. I think eating out is such a small and delicious pleasure in life. I love going to restaurants with their perfectly set tables and their beautiful flatware and their tasty cocktail menus. I love a perfectly dressed salad, a wonderfully seasoned piece of meat, creamy polentas and risottos. I love the option of appetizers and desserts. I love breakfasts away from home. Omelettes, perfectly buttered toast and homemade french toast. I’m getting carried away but the bottom line is: I love food.

Buuuut…I hate food at the same time. Food has provided me with the biggest love/hate relationship of my whole life. I love food- how it tastes, how it looks, how it’s art within itself. But I hate food- for causing me anxiety, for never feeling like I deserve it, for the never ending guilt that I associate it with. And throw in the fact that I am a nutrition major and know much more about the scientific properties of food than any person should…well. It’s just complicated.

But recovery has flipped this whole thing upside down. I’m trying to go from a love/hate relationship to a love/love relationship. Which is hard. But kind of awesome.

I’ve been to a lot of restaurants throughout my recovery and while I love love love dining out, there’s been very few occasions where these outings didn’t totally consume me with guilt. Before recovery, eating out at restaurants meant being in very tight control of my intake and exercise for days before and after. It meant ordering whatever was “safest”. It meant saying no to dessert even if I wanted it.

But NOW. Now, my friends, things are different. Now eating out has no rules- it doesn’t take preparation. No extra workouts. No calorie counting. No restricting in preparation. Now, eating out is just that. It’s just a meal out. No strings attached. And how wonderfully freeing that feeling is.

Now I’m going to be totally honest: the first time I went out to dinner in recovery, it practically sent me back into a relapse. I was filled with anxiety before we even got to the restaurant. Despite how “free” I was, I felt ED screaming back at me to order the “safest” entree so that’s what I did. And I felt so guilty afterward, I felt sick to my stomach. This experience left my mind whirling- I felt like I had messed up my recovery. It turns out I didn’t mess it up- I just had a very normal, somewhat expected and entirely temporary fallback into my ED brain. I felt like I could do nothing but go home, curl up and go to sleep.

This weekend, exactly two weeks after that first experience, my partner and I went out to dinner once again. My ED brain was screaming at the top of her lungs last week so I was a bit nervous. When we first got to the restaurant, I went to the bathroom and made myself breathe and then said out loud to my reflection in the mirror “it’s not what you eat, it’s who you eat it with” (I’m a bit crazy I know). I went back to the table and quickly identified the safest entree on the menu- but that’s not what I ordered. I challenged myself to order something that I would have never even considered ordering before. Something that came cooked in loads of butter. Something that was delicious. We shared two appetizers before- and I can honestly say that I don’t think I have ever allowed myself to enjoy a cheese plate so thoroughly. At the end of the meal, we ordered Irish coffees, something which I’ve said I wanted to try for years but never had the courage to actually order.

 

Here’s the thing: this experience didn’t fill me with dread or shame or guilt. It didn’t make me want to cry and it didn’t make me embarrassed. It was so freeing to sit across from my partner and enjoy a meal with him. It was so nice to be able to carry on a conversation without adding calories in my head or sneaking my phone beneath the table to try to add them up. It was so nice to be present and not be caught up in the food or everything I have attached to it.

Dining out continues to confuse me- just yesterday morning, I went out to breakfast and I couldn’t decided if I wanted the safe food because I wanted it or because it was safe. I spent minutes antagonizing over the decision of what to order. I expect that this will continue to happen for awhile until I can repair my mind-body connection and be able to truly rely on my hunger cues.

The confusion is worth the freedom. I might not have had to deal with the confusion and the indecisiveness of ordering when I was stuck in my ED, but I was just that: stuck. I was trapped. I was trapped in a little prison I had made for myself and while it was cozy, it deprived me of so many of the beautiful things in this world. Like coffee with cream and  broiled fish in butter and white wine and pancakes and scallops wrapped in bacon. Things that may seem mundane and insignificant to other people that represent a HUGE win in my recovery.

Being able to eat out and enjoy not only the food, but being able to enjoy fully in the conversation and presence of the ones you’re with when you’re out to dinner is a beautiful, beautiful thing and in my opinion, one of many reasons to recover.

If you haven’t already done it, follow me on Instagram @sundaesforthesoul, Facebook at Sundaes for the Soul or Twitter at @sundaesforsoul (links above). I have heard from quite a few of you and I LOVE reading your comments and feedback so please keep it up! I love to talk about my journey and hear about yours. Sending you all strength and love this week!

A letter to all the young girls

To all the young girls and boys (and all the older ones too),

Lately, I’ve been reminded of a lot of memories of myself when I was younger that I haven’t thought about in quite some time. I had a wonderful childhood, really and truly. I grew up with four supportive and loving parents (and step-parents). I had a cool big sister and two neighbors that were practically family- all three of whom shaped my whole childhood and filled it with more happiness and goofiness than I can describe. I had friends who stayed by my side through middle school and high school and are still my friends today. I am lucky to say that I was surrounded by good people growing up.

But there’s other parts of my childhood that aren’t filled with this same kind of love. Don’t get me wrong- I knew nothing other than love from the people who I was closest to. To this day, I know more love than some people know in a life time. But there was always someone who was criticizing me, pointing out my flaws and showing me quite the opposite of love. And that someone was the little voice I had inside myself who was always telling me in no uncertain terms that I was not good enough.

I remember being no more than 12 years old and laying on the couch watching TV, pinching the skin on my legs thinking I was “fat”. I remember coming home from school in middle school and eating a large snack then immediately feeling guilty thinking that I had done something “wrong”. I remember going for runs to make up for all the “bad” foods I had eaten, even when I didn’t want to run. I remember feeling bad about my body because it didn’t match the girls I saw in the magazines or on TV. I remember feeling like I wasn’t fashionable enough because I didn’t have the “coolest” clothes. All of this before I even got out of middle school.

Once I got to high school, it continued and unfortunately, got even worse. Because once you get into high school, everyone’s bodies are changing/changed and you see older girls who look so much cooler and you feel like you’re the only one who feels trapped in her own awkward body. I remember how it feels. I remember thinking I was not “hot” enough. I remember feeling that unless I looked a certain way, no boys would ever like me. I remember the first time I panicked about eating mac n cheese and soda for lunch at a friend’s house because I felt like that wasn’t “healthy” enough. I remember comparing myself to every celebrity I saw in magazines. I remember feeling like everyone else was somehow doing it better than me. Here’s a secret: they’re not. 

Because here’s the thing: none of what I’ve mentioned so far- your body, your clothes, your stomach- those things are not what makes you beautiful. What makes you beautiful is the thoughts in your head, your hopes and your dreams for the future. What makes you beautiful is the way you laugh so hard your stomach hurts and how passionate you are about dancing or playing the violin or softball or whatever it is that you are passionate about. What makes you beautiful is how much you care about your friends and family and all the time you spend with them. What makes you beautiful is how you love to ride your bike and how you spend your nights watching Disney movies and how you do silly things with your best friends at sleepovers. What makes you beautiful is the way you care about your schoolwork and how you want to make the world a better place. What makes you beautiful is even the funny way your hair sticks up in the morning or how your fingernails are really wide or how you share the same big nose as your grandmother. What makes you beautiful is all these little things that make you you- the you that is more than just a body, the you that is your mind and your thoughts and your hopes and your desires.

All my life, I’ve been comparing myself to other people. All my life, I’ve been thinking that I wasn’t good enough. All my life, I didn’t think I was beautiful. I’m writing this so you know, far earlier than I did, that you are beautiful and you are good enough and you are the very best version of yourself. You don’t need to try to be anything different. You don’t need to pick yourself apart when you look in the mirror. And comparing yourself to others, well, it won’t get you anywhere. It was Theodore Roosevelt who said, “comparison is the thief of joy” and my goodness, isn’t that the truth. Comparing yourself to other people or celebrities in magazines will not bring you joy, I can assure you. It will rob you of your joy and you, my dear, do not deserve that. Your beautiful mind was made for things much, much more than trying to lose weight or trying to look a certain way. Your mind was made for more than comparing. Your mind was made for dreaming, for wanting to enlist change in the world, for thinking all the wonderful thoughts you think as you lay in bed at night.

So my advice to you is this: eat whatever you want. Wear whatever you want. Move your bodies in a way that feels good and healthy to you. Throw out any magazines with toxic images of “perfect” girls. And please don’t let yourself waste your young life or your early adulthood or even your full adulthood spending anymore time thinking that you are any less than beautiful. Please don’t let yourself waste anymore time thinking that you are not good enough. Because you are. There will never be anyone else who is as good as being you as you are. And don’t you ever forget it.

xoxo

Climbing.

I hiked a mountain yesterday.

I love hiking and no matter how many times I do it, I will never stop loving the quietness of nature, the sound of leaves crunching under my hiking boots, the scrambling to get to the top of the mountain, the way the whole world kind of melts away. And this hike was especially wonderful because it was with two of my best college friends and conveniently, two of the best roommates I’ve ever had.

Now, I know, really and truly, that hiking a 4000 foot mountain isn’t exactly within my recovery “rules”. My recovery body has not experienced exercise in over 7 weeks. Not even a short run around the block. Not even a brief stint on the elliptical. I do some yoga stretches sometimes, particularly when the sunshine (or moonshine) is coming in my window in the morning or night but that’s about it. But this was one of my best friend’s first time ever in New Hampshire and what is New Hampshire without mountains? So I admit, I broke a recovery “rule”. But I actively made the decision when they told me they were coming up that this hike would not be about calories or about how I was “burning off” my meals or how I was “earning” food. This hike would be about friends and trees and nature and Earth. And also, I’ve lived with many-a-rule for much too long and even though my no-exercise rule is in place for a good reason, it was worth breaking to appreciate this time with my friends.

The world slips away when you’re hiking. You aren’t surrounded by people and noise and useless chatter. You’re not comparing yourself to other people you say either in real life or on social media. You’re not scrolling through your Instagram feed looking at people who have “perfect bodies” and you’re not watching Snapchat stories of people having “more fun” than you. Your idea isn’t filled with other people’s ideas and images; it’s filled with your own thoughts, your own imagination with nothing but the dirt and the sky and the trees around you. When I’m hiking, I’m not comparing myself to the perfect-looking girl in the advertisement, I’m not pinching the parts of me that are not “perfect”, I’m not counting calories in my head. I’m just appreciating the fact that I’m made up of the same stuff as the dirt and the sky and the trees and that I deserve to be here too.

Hiking a mountain parallels recovery in a lot of ways and there’s a lot of metaphors (or similes if we want to get really technical about things)  that I could come up with. Like how it’s easier in the beginning and then after awhile, it starts to get really hard and suddenly you’re finding it much more of a challenge than you did in the beginning. Or how there’s always going to be parts where you trip or possibly fall. Or how there’s unexpected parts where it’s slippery (because it’s March and there’s still ice- and because there’s always going to be places in recovery where it’s easier to slip up). Or how good it feels to get to the top after so much hard work.

I haven’t gotten to the “summit” of recovery yet, I’m not even close. Full recovery doesn’t happen in 7 weeks. It happens in a year or two years or eight years or twenty years. But I can say with certainty that I’m getting closer everyday, even when I don’t feel like it. Even when I feel like I want to sit on the ground halfway up the mountain and just enjoy where I am without pushing on farther. But I don’t. I don’t give up because I know there is so much more at the top. I know that I’m cutting myself short if I stop. That even though I might be comfortable where I am right now, it’s not where I’m supposed to end up. That if I keep going, there will be so much more and I will be able to breathe so much deeper and see farther and have an even better perspective. Because that’s how it feels to be at the top of a mountain- you can take a deep breath and enjoy. Look around, spread out your arms and embrace all of the beautiful Earth around you.

 

I haven’t gotten to that point in my recovery yet, but it’s coming slowly but surely. And until then, I’ll refuse to give up, I’ll refuse to stop climbing, I’ll refuse to sit down and I’ll keep looking ahead to the day where I can spread my arms out and breath a little deeper.