My Autumn Bliss-List

I can hardly believe summer is drawing to a close. The past few months have brought change and a renewed sense of hope to my life. For the first time in my years of disordered eating, I am actively challenging myself to previously feared foods and doing so with minimal guilt. Only yesterday, a friend and I popped into the local Coldstone and treated ourselves to swirls of tangerine and pink lemonade sorbet then sat outside laughing and swatting away mosquitoes. Bug swarms aside, this is what I have craved for so long–not just the eating of tasty things but the enjoyment and pleasure brought by the experience of trying new foods and opening myself to life and the joy it has to offer.

As autumn nears, so does a whole new set of potentially blissful moments. I’ve seen a few people posting “bucket lists” for the fall months, and since I’ve never made one, I’m jumping on the trend.

“MoPB (Moments of Potential Bliss)” List 

  • Take an evening walk in crisp, cool air
  • Carve a pumpkin
  • Try a Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte (or similar autumn-themed drink)
  • Attend the Johnny Appleseed Festival
  • Do a leaf craft (such as this one)
  • Bake an apple dessert
  • Watch a ridiculous old horror film
  • Decorate apartment with jewel tones (and burn spice-scented candles)
  • Donate sweaters and jackets to Goodwill
  • Go for a hike once the leaves turn

What are you looking forward to this fall? What possible moments of bliss could you open yourself to?

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I once read an article about eating disorder relapse and about the little red flags each of us have that might signal things are starting to go south in the recovery department. Awareness of oneself and of one’s personal triggers is so important, and yet here I am, knee-deep in the muck of disordered behaviors and symptoms. Maybe I wasn’t paying attention or maybe I was just too preoccupied with other goings-on to truly care. I always find it strange that one day can be all it takes–one day of restricting, one day of binge eating, one day of sadness or self-loathing–to plop you right back on your ass.

I suppose what I am trying to say is…know your body, know your mind and know how to identify when you are headed in the wrong direction. For me, it’s:

  • increased obsessive-compulsive behavior about weighing food (i.e. taking a single blueberry out of the bowl because it puts me one gram over the amount listed for a single serving)
  • increased obsessive-compulsive behavior in non-food-related areas
  • ritualistic use of specific silverware
  • rigid eating schedules (i.e. 12pm, 3pm, 6pm and 9pm)
  • continually decreasing caloric values for meals
  • ignoring hunger and relying on non-caloric beverages
  • body-checking  (examining perceived fat in the mirror, feeling the body for flaws)

Fuck the disordered noise in your head and hang on to whatever shred of fight you can find within yourself. You are worth it. Click here for more information on eating disorders, relapses and how to find help.

In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer… And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger–something better, pushing right back.” Albert Camus

Little life changes and a bit on mindfulness

I have been absent for awhile, as events in my life have forced me to re-examine the way I’ve been living, the way I think and the way I carry out my beliefs on a day-to-day basis. I think it sometimes takes a minor crisis to get my attention. With that being said, I’ve developed a renewed focus on being aware of myself and staying mindful in the individual moments of my day. As a chronic worrier, my mind is often a step ahead in another dimension, so this is a titanic task (oooh, I love accidental alliteration).

Being mentally present may reveal a new perspective on the world--a new way of looking at familiar surroundings.

Being mentally present may reveal a new perspective on the world–a new way of looking at familiar surroundings.

In college, I gave a speech about mindful eating. I passed out Hershey’s kisses and asked everyone to look at the chocolate, smell it and finally allow it to melt on their tongues. Eating slowly, using your senses, allows your body to truly grasp what is happening as you nourish yourself. Too often we are in a rush, focused on something else or just too tired to go through this process. And I understand that! I was always eating in front of the television, shoving food into my face without paying attention. The end result? I often felt unsatisfied and reached for more food that I didn’t need.

“When walking, walk. When eating, eat.” rashaski

One of the newest goals for myself has been to 1) make meals I enjoy 2) arrange them in an attractive manner 3) set the table and 4) turn off the damn television. Without the added distraction, I feel I am able to get more enjoyment out of my meals, leaving me sated and not needing seconds (or triggering a massive binge). I know this is going to be a lengthy process and though I’m not “permitting” slip-ups I’m sure there will be some along the way. Regardless, I feel this is an important aspect of my recovery and of learning that food is not the enemy.

My challenge to everyone is to give mindfulness a chance. Could you sit quietly for even one meal a day? How does doing so change the experience of eating? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

For more on mindful eating, check out this link. I love these suggestions!

Pancakes For Lunch! (On Listening to Your Body)

One of the many important lessons I’m learning as I work toward recovery is the importance of listening to my body. So often I have eaten specific meals or foods because I thought I should eat them, not because I actually wanted to. The problem here? After finishing the meal I felt I should eat, I was nearly always still craving the foods I’d initially wanted. While considering what I wanted for lunch today, my first thought was, “Pancakes!” Then my disorder kicked in… “You need to eat veggies. You shouldn’t have pancakes for lunch. Veggies, Holly….veggies.” You know what? To hell with that. I wanted pancakes, so pancakes is what I had.

Pancakes

Texture porn.

Later, after working out, despite my brain yelling that I’d had far too many carbs, I devoured the most delicious bowl of pumpkin oatmeal topped with melted coconut whipped cream.

Oatmeal

The picture does not do this bowl justice. Best oats I’ve had in quite awhile.

I know that I haven’t yet won the war, but successes like these make me hopeful that one day my life won’t be ruled by numbers. What’s the takeaway here? If you’re craving a specific food, allow yourself to have it (in moderation). Giving yourself permission to eat delicious things decreases feelings of deprivation and, subsequently, helps to prevent future binges. Win win! P.S. Know what’s on the menu for later tonight?

chocolate

I’m fairly certain chocolate should be eaten daily.

Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger

Prior to my birth, my dad competed in Olympic-style weightlifting, and he continued to lift as a hobby for many years after. Growing up, our garage walls were covered in posters of hairy men demonstrating proper technique for the Clean & Jerk and the Snatch. (Could they have come up with dirtier names?) And at one point or another, all of my immediate family has engaged in some form of weightlifting. Perhaps it’s our short stature and resulting low center of gravity, but in some ways I feel like this sport is in our blood.

I’ve bounced in and out of gyms over the years, never staying as true to the sport as I would have liked. Too often, I’ve allowed my eating disorder to thwart my attempts at a better me. Recently, however, I decided to incorporate some light lifts and bodyweight exercises back into my routine, and I am so glad I did.

snatch2

This guy’s clearly enjoying himself…right?

No other activity has ever proven as effective in increasing not only my physical strength but mental endurance and feelings of hope and empowerment. When I am able to turn my attention to fitness and health, my brain’s idea of the “perfect body” quickly changes from pale and skeletal to toned and rosy. Lifting is not always the most pleasant activity (oh god, squats…), but I’ve found there’s nothing like cranking my music to 11 and busting out a few sets of deadlifts to make me feel seriously badass.

That's more like it...

That’s more like it…

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.

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.