Eating Disorder Awareness Week: A Bit of My Story

As Eating Disorder Awareness Week comes to a wrap, I thought I’d share a little of my story and experiences with this disease. I have tried to be as non-triggering as possible without leaving out details I think are important. If you are struggling with an eating disorder, please read with caution and care.

xxx

It all began as a diet gone horribly wrong.

Like many college students, I’d gained a few pounds during my freshman year. I’d been small my entire life, force-fed heavy, unappealing energy bars when, as a child, my doctor determined I needed to gain a few pounds. But, the juice, cashew and breadstick gorging over late-night study sessions had taken a slight toll.

I clearly remember the night I decided to start “the diet.” After the compulsory weigh-in at a doctor’s appointment, I resolved to get back down to the weight on my driver’s license, 93 pounds. Why I chose this number, I can only guess.

I took to eating disordered behaviors so quickly it would seem I’d been grooming for them my entire life. I cut back on foods, then started skipping meals altogether. I’d get up early each morning, take a bike ride then eat only a small bowl of grapes. At night, I’d lie in bed agonized with hunger and dream of all the foods I wanted to eat: muffins, corn on the cob slathered in butter, baked potatoes, chicken, oatmeal cream pies, glasses of milk, chocolate cake, pizza and (good god!) the newest Dairy Queen ice cream concoction I drooled over while watching television commercials.

Sometimes I’d stuff food in my mouth just to taste something and quickly spit it out, rinsing my mouth with water to avoid any food actually getting near my stomach. To anyone thinking of trying this, it works rather poorly. You’re bound to ingest some of what goes into your mouth and risk developing a bad case of TMJ in the process.

Occasionally, I would give in and binge, only to suffer the terrible physical and emotional consequences. Binges are not simply over-eating. Binges involve shoving as much food as you can tolerate into your body as quickly as you can. Though they certainly serve a purpose (whether that be psychological or physiological), binges are rarely enjoyable experiences. The food is eaten so quickly, it’s hardly tasted. Some individuals appear to dissociate during such episodes, meaning they are physically awake but mentally “turned off” or figuratively separated from their bodies. I’ve had similar experiences over the years, driving to the store completely numb and emotionally void, thinking only “food, food, food, must find food…”

Within the first month, I’d dropped 14 pounds.

The grocery store became a museum, a showcase for all the things I wanted but would not allow myself to have. I also developed a love for baking and a sadistic infatuation with feeding high-fat, high-calorie items to those around me. (I can now only assume no one will again accept baked goods from me without wondering about my intentions. Ha!)

I lost more weight. I stopped having my period. And in one alarming moment in the university library, I realized my heart rate was in the 40’s. Lying in bed at night, I’d press my palm against the wall, the cold, sturdy tangible surface holding me in reality, calming the chaos in my brain. The sad truth is these things did not alarm me. I was pleased. I was doing something right. I was, in my sick and twisted mind, a success. For most of my life, I’d felt mediocre, not smart enough, not pretty enough, not witty or sociable or blessed with some great talent. But now…now I had a “skill.” I could lose weight. If I willed it, it was done.

Having surpassed my initial “goal weight” I set a new one. This is one of the oft-held delusions among eating disordered individuals. We think, “I’ll get to my goal weight and then I’ll stop.” In reality, there is no goal weight, unless that goal be death. No weight is ever low enough. It is always “just a few more pounds, just another inch off my waist.” And when the logical mind peeks out from behind the disorder, one holds even tighter to the delusion. “I’m not sick. I’m not one of those girls. I can stop if I want to. I’m not addicted. I’m fine.”

Lies. You’re not fine. Your body is dying. I was in a never-ending battle between logic and delusion, reality and distorted perception.

From my journal, September 6, 2003:

“I have so many questions. I guess the biggest one is, “who am I?” I’ve spent so much of my life trying to be something I’m not, trying to fit in, trying to get people to like me. And where has it gotten me? It certainly hasn’t made me happy. Instead, I think it has torn me apart. So much so that I don’t even recognize myself anymore. I’ve allowed myself to be scattered, events in my life to remove pieces of me. And now I wonder how I can be whole again. I’m scared, scared to give up my control, my precious control, my safety net. That would mean allowing things to hurt me, allowing myself to be vulnerable. But I don’t even know where to begin. And I don’t really know how to find myself. Who am I anyway?”

xxx

I wish I could wrap my story into a lovely package, all the loose ends tied into one lovely bow. Isn’t that the way a story is supposed to end, with all the problems resolved and the handsome prince and the happily ever after?

Truth is, life is not a fairy tale.

And so I, all of us, forge on. Wake up in the morning, put both feet on the floor and begin the day. Some days are easier than others. Other days the struggle to remove myself from the safety of the covers feels monumental. But eventually, I always get up. Coffee and cigarettes and trying to find peace in the moment, peace in the freshness of a new day. Nearly eleven years after the onset of my eating disorder, I know that I am not entirely recovered, but I hold out hope that with enough hard work, I will win more battles than I lose. And that, in itself, will be enough.

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Oh, Happiness…you elusive beast…

“It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.” Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

I have a confession. I can be an incredibly negative person. (To those who know me well, keep your laughter to yourselves. Kthnx.) But really, far too often, I find myself wadded in a ball on the couch on the verge of tears wondering why “I can’t just be happy?!” My life is pretty good. I have a family who loves me, a caring boyfriend, a home, a fur baby… And yet, I tend to become fixated on the difficult aspects of life.

I think I sometimes fall into the “happiness trap,” imagining I’ll one day wander into some magical world of emotional bliss. The reality? Happiness takes work and practice. Well, shucks…

Okay, so how does one go about this happiness business? Keep in mind I have certainly not found the holy grail of all things gaiety and rainbows, but I’m fairly certain happiness is the direct result of choosing to see and string together all the “nice” moments in life (a tasty meal, a hug from a loved one, a smile from a stranger, a sunny afternoon, a good book…all those things that make you smile, make you feel content or peaceful) all the while letting the “not so nice” moments drop like stones from your hands.

And like most things, the more you practice happiness, the easier it becomes.

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You’re on your own, and you know what you know. And you are the guy who’ll decide where to go.” Dr. Seuss

Cauliflower Taco “Rice”

I adore carbohydrates. Rice, pasta, bread, you name it, I probably like it. And as a vegan, I get a lot of my daily protein from whole-grains. However, when you don’t feel like all the calories from carbs or perhaps are short on your veggie intake, I recommend making cauliflower “rice.” This dish is incredibly simple and can be seasoned to fit with a variety of courses.

This site has a great tutorial for different methods of cooking the cauliflower. The basic idea is to add pieces of cauliflower to a food processor and process until the consistency of rice then cook until softened. I wanted to make a taco-flavored rice, so while the cauli was pan-frying, I sprinkled it with chili-garlic powder, dry taco seasoning and sea salt and added a little red onion to the mix. Once cooked, I topped my rice with vegetarian refried beans and salsa.

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My cauliflower is a little larger than it ideally should be, as (alas!) my food processor died while blending frozen bananas. The result was still delicious and definitely nutrient-packed.

Apple Crisp Pancakes!

In case you couldn’t already tell, I really like pancakes. And if I may toot my own proverbial horn, this morning’s flapjacks were the bomb.

Cue Apple Crisp Pancakes. Ta-da!

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These babies were apple-y sweet with just a hint of crisp streusel topping in each bite. Mmm…

Apple Crisp Pancakes

  • 1/4 cup white whole-wheat flour
  • 1 stevia packet
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Pinch salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 flax egg (1/2 T ground flax and 1-1/2 T water)
  • 1 tablespoon canned pumpkin
  • ~1/4 cup almond milk
  • 1/4 small apple, diced small

For the Streusel Topping

  • 1 tablespoon quick oats
  • 1/2 teaspoon Earth Balance spread
  • 1 teaspoon brown sugar

In a small bowl, prepare streusel topping by mixing oats, Earth Balance and brown sugar. I like to use my hands to combine well. Set aside.

In a bowl, mix together flour, stevia, cinnamon, salt and baking powder. Add in pumpkin, flax “egg” and enough almond milk to bring to desired consistency, about 1/4 cup. Fold in apples. Pour pancakes onto a lightly-greased skillet or griddle and sprinkle streusel over top. Tap lightly to ensure the topping stays on the pancakes and doesn’t come flying off when you flip them. 🙂 Cook until golden brown on both sides.

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Serves 1. Calories: 202 Fat: 4.7g Carbohydrates: 33.7g Fiber 6.3g Protein 6g

Mmm…

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You’re Pretty Good Looking…

I recently attended my first eating disorder recovery support group. I’d searched for groups in the past and been unable to find anything in the city, so as soon as I located this one, I knew I needed to make myself go. The small group met in a cozy basement room of a local university building. Overall, the experience was positive and left me feeling welcomed, warm and hopeful.

Later that night, though, as I lay down to try to sleep, I found my brain swimming with thoughts..

“I don’t know why you went to that group. There’s not even anything wrong with you! Good grief. Your weight is perfectly healthy. No one thinks you look ill, so you obviously aren’t. Yadda, yadda, yadda.”

Living with an eating disorder is much like playing host to an evil twin who perches herself on your shoulder incessantly whispering cruel and belittling comments into your ear. You never feel good enough, pretty enough, deserving enough. But though it sometimes feels more comfortable to consider the ED as separate from yourself, I believe this displacement of responsibility could be potentially harmful.

The reality is, all these thoughts are coming from your own brain, not some separate entity. Frustrating? Absolutely. But admitting these thoughts are a part of yourself means returning the power to where it belongs. In you.

Let me say this, as much for myself as for anyone who might be reading: You deserve peace. You deserve joy. And you deserve to not continue to live in a way that leaves you tired, weak, ill and socially-isolated. YOU ARE ENOUGH.

On Gratitude

This past week was a tough one. I struggled a bit to cope with my emotions and found myself turning to food (or lack thereof) as an escape. I realize I may never fully rid myself of this particular demon, but this morning, as I look back on the past few days, I am reminded of just how blessed I truly am. Far too often I forget to open my eyes to the beauty around me.

Off and on, I’ve kept a “Gratitude Journal” in which I write out all the little joys from each day. I think this is a fabulous way to avoid being sucked down into pessimism, and seeing how I’ve spent the past week in Poor-Me-Ville, I felt it was high time I take a minute to stop, breathe and be thankful. Granted, we all have bad days where everything seems to suck and nothing works properly. You spill coffee down your shirt, there’s a giant hole in your sock, traffic stinks…you know the drill. But even on “those” days, I believe you will find little moments of loveliness if you allow yourself to see.

This week, I am thankful for 1) a family that loves and supports me 2) a hopeful weather forecast 3) cooking a yummy supper for J 4) finding a great new tv series (True Detective. Check it out!) 5) rediscovering my love for Legos!

On Grief and Loss

inspiration

Occasionally, life throws us a curve ball. You’re going along just fine, making it through each day, feeling as though things are coming together, then BAM! Flat-lined. Whether it be the loss of a loved one, the end of a relationship, loss of a job… live long enough and you’ll eventually find yourself in this position.

Bummer.

I’m certainly not the model of proper coping mechanisms. In fact, I’ve often felt I’m a better example of what not to do. But over my 30-odd years, I’ve learned a few things. And wouldn’t you know, life has given me the perfect opportunity to put those lessons into action in my own life.

First of all, don’t run from grief. Like it or not, no matter how long and how hard you try to push it down, grief will eventually catch up. (Think Michael Myers.)

Second, allow yourself to feel. Cry, scream, punch a pillow. Let your emotions wash over you like a wave. Experience them in their entirety for a moment.

But, just as that wave washes over you with such striking force, allow it to ebb. Feel the pain, the rejection, the loss and then let it go. And each time those waves return, stand your ground, FEEL…but remember the tide will eventually fall. It won’t always hurt this much.

I have faith in you. You are stronger than you know.