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“The Summer Body Image Struggle” (By: Peggy Miller)

Summer is here (well not technically until June 21, but its close enough), and so are shorts, swimsuits, and all kinds of clothes that make hiding your body hard – a huge struggle for someone in recovery from an eating disorder.

One of my friends described bad body image in a way that I have never heard it described so accurately — so I am going to quote her on it. “The best way I’ve found to describe it is it’s like sitting in the back seat of a car on a really hot day and the air conditioning is broken in the car and the windows don’t roll down and there are too many people in the back seat with you squishing you and you’re wearing a heavy, tight, itchy wool sweater and you feel super car sick and have a pounding headache and someone in the car smells really bad and someone else is making a really loud meaningless sound right in your ear and you’re trying to get it off you and you accidentally bend one of your fingernails backwards. And you have to pee really really bad. And you don’t know how much longer you’ll be in the car but you’re stuck in traffic and there’s no end in sight.”

So yeah, it’s a terrible feeling. And don’t forget, your eating disorder is probably also gracing your mind with some choice words about your appearance and your worth as a person.

And the thing is, most of the time, this feeling really is not about our bodies. It’s about how loveable or worthy of love we feel, about our identity, about how in control or perfect we are, and many other things.

Lately, I have been struggling with these thoughts and feelings, and that’s why I wanted to write about them and give a few ideas of things that have helped me combat these thoughts:

  1. Try to think about what the feelings are really coming from. For instance, do I feel stressed about an upcoming situation? Do I feel angry at a person in my life? Do I feel insecure? Try to identify the root of the body image struggle and address that emotion or situation. Not harshly, but with compassion.
  2. Sometimes, I think that bad body image really is just that. It’s hard learning to live in your body in recovery. Whether you’ve had to gain weight or not, it feels different to live in your body and not use food to cope with life on a daily basis. Recognize that what you are doing is hard work, and it feels uncomfortable because you are fighting. Try to recognize all the amazing things that your body can do now that you are not in your eating disorder, and remember those.
  3. Try to distract yourself. Go talk to someone and ask about their life and try to be engaged with what is happening with them. Watch something on Netflix. Take a walk and think about how amazing it is that your body can move and be outside. Do something artistic. Journal. Take a nap. These feelings are real and hard, but they aren’t truths about you, and they will pass.
  4. Remind yourself of truths about your body. You are nourishing your body with what it needs to fully live. Your body does not determine your worth as a person. Clothes are just clothes – they keep you from getting arrested. Your body keeps you safe and lets you live in a world full of beautiful, fun, and amazing opportunities and people.

Lastly, I have been thinking about body image and how discouraging it is to have the expectation that recovery looks like absolutely loving every part of your body every day. A very wise therapist told me that maybe we should think about body image differently. It is not healthy to absolutely hate your body and try to hurt it, but it also maybe is not the most healthy to worship our bodies and think about how amazing they are all the time. Bodies are just bodies. They let us love the people around us, go hiking in beautiful scenery, sleep in on a rainy morning, hold a newborn baby, and witness all the other blessings that make up this thing called life. Maybe healthy body image looks like putting our bodies in their place as bodies and not using them to define our worth or who we are, but being thankful for the life they allow us to live, even though they are not perfect.

So this summer, I hope that when that yucky-stuck-in-the-back-of-a-car feeling comes around, you can challenge it with the knowledge that your body is a blessing.

About the Author

Peggy is a college student in Nashville, Tennessee, and hopes to one day become a therapist for eating disorders. She has struggled with some kind of mental illness for most of her life, and has struggled with anorexia for several years before choosing life and recovery by deciding to get treatment. She is passionate about recovery, and hopes to one day get to help a client find the freedom and hope that her treatment professionals helped her find. Peggy absolutely loves people, deep conversations, coffee, and most of all, Jesus. She aspires to show each and every person she meets that they are loved and worth immeasurably more than they can imagine.

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“When the Blindfold is Lifted” (By: Emily Grinstead)

Have you ever been blindfolded before? Bandana around your eyes, everything dark, heart racing with excitement for the game or surprise at hand. Didn’t it feel great when you finally got to take that bandana off?! You could SEE again! And usually what you find behind the covering is something pretty great.

Now, pretend that the bandana is still covering your eyes. And you can’t take it off. Someone has played a cruel trick on you, and you have to spend several years temporarily blinded, unable to take the bandana off. Fortunately, over time, the bandana begins to feel normal, and you notice it less often. But you start feeling out of touch with reality; you’re lacking knowledge about the world; and you forget what exists beyond your darkened existence. More than blurred vision, you now have an irritable spirit and a cynical heart. You can’t experience the world for what it truly is, so you decline–physically, psychologically, spiritually.

While this blindfold example is unrealistic, it provides a pretty accurate analogy for what happens to a brain hijacked by a restrictive eating disorder. When we intentionally restrict our caloric intake below what our bodies need, the brain freaks out and goes into starvation mode. Repeated insufficient intake combined with excess movement causes the body to enter into a negative energy balance. And when the body is in a negative energy balance, it’s forced to make critical decisions in order to conserve energy: eliminate the processes that aren’t of extreme importance (i.e., menstruation), and divert energy to those that are essential for life (i.e., heart and brain function). This is one overly simplified reason why many eating disordered women lose their periods due to malnutrition… because why spend energy on having a period when we need to keep our heart beating?!

As the body is further malnourished, even the essential bodily functions can begin to decline–heart rate decreases, orthostatic hypotension develops, peripheral circulation is poor, bone density is lost due to lack of circulating estrogen and low calcium intake, electrolyte levels get out of whack, hair loss ensues, et cetera. The body is crying out for more energy, but its needs aren’t being met, so it has to pick and choose how to use the minimal energy stores it has left. And cognitive function inevitably declines along with these dangerous physiological changes.

Having been in that medically compromised state for years (and not even knowing it at the time), I can attest to the fact that a chronic negative energy balance changes your brain’s ability to function appropriately in the craziest of ways. With prolonged restriction, it makes perfect sense that your thoughts would be completely preoccupied with food and body–the brain is starving and needs fuel ASAP. But the truly remarkable (horrifying?) part is how a malnourished brain so clearly lines up with that blindfold analogy mentioned earlier: starvation = negative energy balance = reduced cognitive function = the way we see the world literally changes. And that, my friends, is utterly terrifying.

I don’t remember much from my years in active anorexia (helllooo brain starvation), but I do know that nearly all of my mental energy was focused on food, exercise, dance, and school. And that was it. My hobby was micromanaging and manipulating my body size. Fun times, right?!

All of this is to say that the brain is pretty incredible in its ability to survive and heal after the trauma of malnutrition. Lost sensory and cognitive functions can be regained with appropriate and consistent nutrition. And I think this topic has been on my mind lately because I’m beginning to notice how stark of a difference exists between my malnourished brain and my nourished brain. I can’t really put into words what it feels like to be able to see again; my mind used to be so fogged and hazy and obsessive. I couldn’t engage in simple conversations, much less dedicate time and energy to meaningful relationships. All of my brain power was devoted to my illness. There was no room for anything else.

I used to think the phrase “numbing out from life” was kind of weird at first, but the descriptor couldn’t be further from the truth: eating disorders numb you out from life. And they do a really good job, too. They distract you from your reality–the good, the bad, and the ugly. Because eating disorders are life-stealers; they will stop at nothing until they destroy you.

But thank the Lord, that is changing. The very way I see the world has transformed. Without the mental fog of malnutrition, the grass is (quite literally) greener, a simple conversation more meaningful. My senses are heightened. I can feel things. I can experience gut-wrenching terror and wondrous joy and everything in between. And I notice SO MUCH. I can overhear conversations from far away, enjoy the intricate beauty of God’s creation, and be truly present in relationships without having my thoughts completely dominated by food and body. I appreciate the little things that were always there but sidelined by the eating disorder: a beautiful blue sky, starry nights in the country, the taste of hot coffee in the morning, the bustle of city life, music that energizes and brings joy, peaceful moments and crazy ones and all of the in-between.

Who knew that so much beauty could come out of years trapped in a prison of numbers, restriction, and self-deprecation?! I can confidently say that my mind is progressively less occupied by intrusive thoughts about food and body. And although I’m not fully free from the prison just yet, that’s almost more exciting to me because my senses and experiences and ability to see the world for what it is can only grow stronger and more vibrant.

Who knows what else is out there to see, when the blindfold is fully lifted? I can’t wait to find out.

About the Author

Emily is a junior at Vanderbilt University majoring in Medicine, Health and Society. She loves Jesus, journaling, brunch foods, and all things Christmas and Disney. Houston, TX is her proud home, but she is slowly becoming a converted Nashvillian. She hopes to become both a Nurse Practitioner and a Registered Dietitian so that she can use her own experiences with anorexia and orthorexia to treat patients with eating disorders.

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“Six Lessons on the Do’s & Don’ts of Eating Disorder Support” (By: Arden Whitehurst)

Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses, yet they are also one of the most misunderstood. I get asked what is and isn’t helpful to someone with an eating disorder a lot, so I wanted to touch on six lessons that everyone should learn, because everyone knows someone who’s struggling with this disorder.

Lesson One: Know what you’re getting yourself into.

Eating disorders are confusing, demanding and life threateningly serious. Warning: handling someone with an eating disorder is not for the faint of heart! It takes a lot of strength and courage, because of what eating disorders bring out in the suffering individual. The most compliant person will become stubborn. The amiable will become angry. The warm and friendly will become cold and distant. The moment you cross their eating disorder, the moment you try to make them eat or stop purging, is the moment that you become unsafe. You must walk in to the relationship prepared to fight fire or you will be seriously burned. The reason for this drastic change is simple. You are ripping (or threatening to rip) away their best friend, their comfort, their protection, their reliability and control. Would you be okay with someone doing that to you? I think not. The point of this lesson is, be prepared to fight, because the eating disorder will stop at nothing less.

Lesson Two: Put on your listening ears.

I recently spoke with a dear friend from treatment who said that what helped her most was people listening without trying to fix anything. She just needed to be heard and validated in her feelings. And so did I and many others I have met. I was an emotional wreck wrapped up in a pretty package. I was afraid, angry, tired, confused and lonely, but I had no idea what to do about these thoughts and feelings racing through my mind. I felt like I was going insane. Thus having a friend that would just sit with me and listen was huge. I didn’t want anyone to try to fix it. I just wanted to be heard and validated.

Lesson Three: Watch your mouth.

If you are trying to be sensitive to the needs of your loved one, then you will feel like you’re walking on eggshells around them. I remember my parents telling me in the midst of my disorder that they felt like they had to walk on eggshells around me, because they didn’t know what they could and couldn’t say. I had no response for them then and I still don’t have a concrete one now. However, there are a few things people said that I know didn’t help. First of all, don’t say “I understand” if you don’t actually understand. (*Hint: if you didn’t have an eating disorder and aren’t a professional in the field then you probably do not understand, so just admit it.) Second, don’t downplay your loved ones feelings. They have a right to each and every one of their fears. They may be irrational to you, but believe me they are all too real for them. So don’t say things such as, “It’ll be fine, you’ll get over it, it’s not that bad, it’s just a phase, just eat something, pray about it and it’ll be fine.” Those responses will make them feel like their disorder isn’t that bad, that they need to be sicker to get help. It will confirm the lies they already believe about themselves. It will make them withdraw from you and others, because the dismissing of their very real problem makes them afraid to share for fear that people will think they are crazy. I know I only shared what was really going on in my mind with my therapist, because I was too afraid to tell anyone else about the voices in my head and the irrational anxiety/crying at the thought or act of eating. Lastly, don’t comment about weight. Just don’t. It will not end well. Basically, be sensitive and think before you speak. Try to put yourself in their shoes and if you don’t know what to say don’t say anything at all.

Lesson Four: Ask questions.

If you are in the position of friend to someone with an eating disorder then one of the best things you can do is ask intentional questions. “How did ____ make you feel? What were you thinking when ____ happened? What can I do to help you? How can I support you?” It might seem like they don’t like the questions on the outside, but I guarantee it’s good for them to process aloud and will make them feel loved, known, cared for and like you see and acknowledge the hurt inside of them.

Lesson Five: Give support and space.

Support is necessary, but it has to be the right support combined with space. Mealtime support was particularly good for me, but I absolutely hated it. I was afraid to eat in front of people, especially when I knew they were specifically watching me. I refused mealtime support whenever possible until I got into treatment and had to have meal support. What I learned was that meal support is extremely helpful in treatment, because there was no judgment, just support from people who understood and were walking alongside me. Give non-judgmental support, but also give space. Don’t ask what they’ve eaten unless they specifically ask you to keep them accountable. Constant questions about food add pressure and anxiety to their already overwhelmed, overloaded mind. Don’t make a big deal about the food, because it’s not about the food at all. Your focus on what they’re eating exacerbates their already hyper-focused on food mind. It’s the dietitians job to handle the food and make sure they have adequate meal time support. Your job as their friend or loved one (unless directed otherwise by a professional) is to give them support and space by focusing on their heart & mind.

Lesson Six: Recognize the reality.

The last thing you can do is acknowledge that this is a disorder and a disease, not just a fad or diet plan. Recognize the reality that they have a mental illness, a mental disease, and cannot get well on their own. Tell them that while you do not understand the disorder itself, you do recognize that it is a serious problem. This will make them feel safe around you and hopefully, give them the courage needed to face their fears.

Everyone is different, so every eating disorder will be different. There are no magic words or cures that will work for everyone, because every single case is different. Thus these lessons are not all encompassing. They are not six easy and foolproof steps to getting someone through recovery, but they are solid guidelines to follow.

About the Author

Arden Whitehurst is a student at Lipscomb University where she is studying dietetics and psychology with the hope of helping women find food freedom someday. She loves spending quality time with friends and talking about Jesus. She has an obsession with any kind of nut butter and spends free time reading or writing for her blog (brave girl living blog.com).” She has now been in recovery for three years and is loving living a life of complete freedom, joy and hope. It is her greatest desire that everyone would be able to live free of the lies that the world feeds.

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“Joy” (By: Lindsey Love)

As I drove down Hillsboro Road, I felt the sun’s warmth on my skin while the wind blew gently on my face. My speakers were singing an Ed Sheeran tune and I was tweaking my duet performance. I saw pastures of vibrant, green grass and yellow wild flowers. Next, I felt my brain release those “feel good” chemicals as joy washed over me.

Joy. Is that word foreign to you? Has your eating disorder robbed you of your joy? Has depression sucked every bit of joy out of you like a siphon to a gas tank? Are you feeling hopeless and joy is just a three-letter word that only the “lucky ones” get to experience?

If any of the above are true for you, I hear you. I have been there myself and I know it can feel like it’s impossible to be happy again. I am living proof that it is possible and also that it is not completely out of your control (even though it feels that way sometimes).  As I felt that joy wash over me in my car, it reminded me of all that I have done to change my situation and to make myself happier. I don’t want to minimize the effects of depression or trauma—they deserve to be attended to with care. However, I believe that we can do that AND actively pursue things that make us happy.

For me, things started to shift when I realized I had a choice. I had to choose whether I was going to do things that perpetuate the cycle of depression and eating disordered behaviors or do things that slowly return my happiness. It wasn’t an overnight change, but one I worked on over many years. Instead of continuing to wish I was a writer, I decided to start writing again. Writing is something I have enjoyed since childhood and stopped doing because of my “stinkin thinkin” that told me I was no good. Now, it’s a useful tool for my recovery and something I use to help others. Another important change I made was with my relationships. Close connections with other women are like medicine for my soul, so I chose to make that a priority. I am so lucky to have a handful of women that I get to do life with and that really know me. These may sound like mole hills, but for me they were mountains. Depression really had its grip on me and made me think I couldn’t do anything. I’m so glad I took one small step and then another because now I get to benefit from these positive changes.

My challenge to you is to think of something that makes you really happy. It can be as small or as big as you want it to be. Think back to when you were a kid before life had taken its toll on you. What would you have done for fun? Who do you like to spend time with? Now, could you take one small step and invest in your own happiness? You are worth it. You deserve to be happy. You have a choice. Choose JOY!

About the Author

Lindsey is a Jesus loving wife and momma. In her free time, she likes to write, read, listen to music, be outdoors and spend time with friends and family. She has a bachelor’s degree in nursing and was previously an ICU nurse at St. Thomas hospital. She is currently enjoying being a full-time mommy and is waiting to see where the Light guides her next. She hopes her writing will encourage others in their recovery journey.

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“Adjusting” (By: Mackenzie Fox)

I have a few years of firm recovery under my belt at this point and some times that really feels like concrete, unbreakable. I think I had taken for granted what the struggle of recovery feels like sometimes but life had been sort of smooth. Recently, however, I’ve been dealing with a few medical issues that are greatly effecting my ability to eat and what I eat. While I don’t weigh myself, I could notice a difference in my body and the way it felt. I found myself being tired and unable to move my body in the way that I once was able to. These physical symptoms were manifesting into disordered thoughts that hadn’t crossed my mind in years. It’s a scary place to be, feeling this unstable ground for the first time in what feels like forever.

But you know what? I think this has been the ultimate test of recovery for me. Finding out that I’m capable of surviving in times of trouble is a powerful revelation and I hope that at some point you get to feel in your own recovery; this nest that you’ve built yourself as you go to therapy and treatment, and meet with your team, I hope you get to feel that catch you when you feel like you’re falling. My hope for all of those in recovery is that you can lean into your recovery when it feels like things might be falling apart. You are so much more powerful than your eating disorder leads you to believe.

About the Author

Mackenzie is a Nashville native currently pursuing her Masters of mental health counseling from Trevecca Nazarene University. She has special interest in LGBT groups and body image issues & eating disorders. Full time she works in multifamily property management as an assistant property manager. She spends her free time weightlifting, yoga and spending time with friends and family.

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“To My Body” (By: Katie Adams)

I decided to write you a poem

So please listen closely

I wish to say some things to you

For once, its kind words only.

Now that you can hear me

I want to say I’m sorry,

For all the pain I once caused you

When I hated my own body.

Please don’t worry about those things I said

just forget it ever happened,

Forget all the names I ever called you

For a stomach I wanted flattened.

I know I was hard on you

But today I’m finally free,

I’m healing every day and finding

All the things I’ve never seen.

At one point I didn’t have confidence

Or a satisfaction guarantee,

I’d never looked at myself in the mirror

Without bullying my own body.

From crying in retail dressing rooms,

And going days without a lunch

I pretended like all this was okay

As I took every single punch.

A mind that would beat itself up,

Even at times when I needed a hug

But I couldn’t find kind words for myself

I felt my body wasn’t loved.

Today I’m free from all the hurt

I’ve recovered from all these memories,

Now I realize that loving yourself

can be your greatest accessory.

So to my body, I apologize

I’ve accepted your imperfections

I promise to stop being so negative towards

What I see in my reflection.

Since this is the only body I’ve got for the rest of my life

I promise I’ll stop wishing parts of it away;

No longer will I let my body go hungry,

or feel discomfort because of weight.

today I’ve chosen to finally be happy,

With what I see in the mirror

And I’ve chosen to appreciate my body

Without having to skip my dinner.

I desire to be a friend to my body

As I never wanted to be it’s enemy

So as I’ve healed I’ve thrown aside

Any sources that brought me jealousy.

Magazines of models and the clothes that fit too tight

I threw them all away,

The foods I feared, the hunger I felt

And numbers on the scale have been erased.

So if my body’s listening, I hope it knows it’s worth

Could not ever be defined from a size, a number

Or place on this earth.

If my body’s still listening, just remember to stay strong

And keep looking for a little confidence

In a world where it can feel wronged.

And if society’s standards shout at you, fight back with all your own

Remind yourself your body is valued

For more than skin and bones.

So I’d like to say thank you to my body,

for all it has fought for me,

every day it has stayed strong

and today, I’m finally free.

About the Author

Katie Adams is from Memphis, TN. She currently attends college at the University of Memphis where she studies Dietetics. She became a volunteer with Renewed this past year with the intentions to be an uplifting and positive light for body image and those who may have suffered or are suferring from an eating disorder. Katie wishes to be a registered dietician in the future and believes writing for the Renewed blog gives her the ability to reach out to those in need and show an understanding for those who deserve it the most.

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“Breaking the (Food) Rules” (By: Emily Murray)

What are food rules?

Food Rules are a set of guidelines that a person internalizes that dictates when, where, how, and what he or she can eat on a given day.

Here are some examples of common food rules found in our culture:

“Do not eat anything after 7:00 pm.”

“No more than _________ calories per day.”

“No processed foods.”

“Avoid sugar at all costs.”

Food rules are problematic because they don’t account for individuality, or allow for the flexibility that we all need in our lives.

Should a person skip dinner if their schedule doesn’t allow them to eat before 7:00 PM?

Should an active college student be expected to eat the same amount of calories as a 40-year old sedentary woman?

Should we say no to an invitation to eating at a friend’s house to avoid processed food?

Should we stop eating fruit because of it’s sugar content?

No. All of those things are irrational, rigid, and unsupported by evidence-based research. Yet, so many of us want a set of rules to follow in order to feel good about our own diets, so we reach and grasp at anything and everything that promises to help us “stay on track” or move towards a “happier, healthier” life. We want a simple way to control our weight, body shape, and image.

Perhaps the most unbelievable rule I’ve stumbled across recently comes from Michael Pollen’s book, Food Rules, An Eater’s Manual: “The Whiter the Bread, the Sooner You’ll be Dead.”

Rules like this are dangerous. It’s dangerous to start cutting out certain types of food/entire food groups. It’s dangerous to apply one individual’s food philosophy to all people, because every person’s needs are different. Each person’s diet is shaped by his or her access to food, activity level, gender, age, food preferences, ethical/religious beliefs, lifestyle, and more. It’s foolish to think that every person should abide by the same rules. It’s foolish to think that every person should abide by any set of rules when it comes to food.

As previously mentioned, food rules aren’t really about the food. They are created and followed in attempts to control/manipulate our weight, shape, and health in unrealistic ways. These types of rules are characteristic of disordered eating/eating disorder behavior.

“Don’t eat white bread” turns into “don’t eat bread at all”.

“Eat fewer sweets” turns into “avoid sweets at all costs.”

“Consume less fat” turns into “consume no fat”.

Jenni Schaefer explains, “You may have noticed that you are avoiding certain foods, eating only at specific times, or restricting the overall amount that you eat-all because your [eating disorder] promises you that following these rules will keep you thin, safe, binge-free, or something else.”¹

But these rules don’t really keep us safe. What they do do, is hold us hostage, a slave in our own mind, to our own rules, that don’t really have our best interests in mind. Food rules develop in hopes to help us live more meaningful, fulfilled, connected lives, but they actually keep us from doing just that. They convince us to stay at home if we are at risk for breaking our own rules, they remind us that they can never be broken, no matter how illogical they may be.

How do you break free from food rules?

1) Identify Your Food Rules: Any belief, attitude, or dietary rule that you follow in order to prevent weight gain, promote weight loss, control your caloric intake, manipulate your body, or prevent a binge is considered a food rule. Some of these rules you may be aware of already, and others you may not. It’s important to identify and name your own food rules in order to start challenging them.

Ex: “I cannot eat butter.”

2) Challenge Your Food Rules: What do you believe will happen when you break one of your food rules? What will actually happen? Are your beliefs rational? Is there any chance you are overgeneralizing? Catastrophizing? Fearful for no reason? Would the same things happen to other people if they broke your rules?

Ex: “Butter is a fat, so butter will make me fat. If I eat butter, I will gain weight.”

Ex: “Butter is a fat, but my body needs fat. Fat gives me energy and helps fuel my body. Fat helps me absorb vitamins A, D, E, and K. Fat also helps keep my skin healthy, protects my organs, and insulates my body. Adding butter to my toast won’t instantly make me gain weight. I know many people who are at a stable weight that regularly incorporate butter into their diet. If I gain weight, it isn’t the butter’s fault. If I gain weight while practicing good recovery, it’s because my body needs to, not because I did something wrong.”

3) Break One of Your Rules: The moment you start to break your food rules the easier it becomes. The easier it becomes, the more food rules you will break. The more rules you break, easier it becomes to life a life without rigid, unrealistic food rules.

Ex: Today I added butter to dinner role. It tasted good. I don’t feel like I overate. Even though it was scary, the butter did make the role taste better. I am proud of myself for breaking one of my (ED’s) rules.

No matter how big or small, all food rules must eventually be broken to recover. Yep, that’s right- all of them. The sooner you start breaking them the more progress you will begin to see.

It’s important to note that breaking the rules doesn’t always feel invigorating. Sometimes, especially at first, breaking the rules is very uncomfortable, scary, and just not fun. It can even be counter intuitive after following them for so long. If starting alone is too difficult, seek out a trusted friend or family member to help you as you begin to break the rules and expose yourself to foods you may not have allowed yourself to have for a long time.

“The best way to defy your eating disorder is to pick up your fork and nourish your body.”

Reference:

  1. Thomas JJ, Schaefer J. Almost Anorexic: Is My (or My Loved Ones) Relationship with Food a Problem?Center City, MN: Hazelden; 2013.

About the Author

Emily Murray is currently a Nutrition and Dietetics student at Tennessee Technological University. She is a lover of Jesus, who believes her purpose in life is to love God and love people. She enjoys spending time with her friends and family, writing, hiking, learning, and playing with her dog Maddie. Upon graduation, she hopes to attain a dietetic internship in order to fulfill her goal of becoming a Registered Dietician. Her goal is to learn how to best take care of herself so that in the future she can help others find peace and healing in their relationship with food. She hopes that sharing her story will inspire others on their own journey, and encourage them not to give up.

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“If Not Now, When?” (By: Hailey Zahurones)

There’s one question my treatment team asks me and that question is, “if not now, when?” This is a question I get so tired of hearing from them but it’s one that hits me the hardest. I’ve been one in the past to prolong the process of recovery because I have to find the “perfect time” for it. One day after a session, I left asking myself, “what am I really waiting for? Am I waiting for my doctor to tell me I’m dying? Am I waiting for the scale to hit the exact number I want? Am I really waiting for that perfect time?” If so, I’ll be waiting a long time because the reality is, there’s no perfect time to do recovery.

Recovery is one of those things you just have to take a leap into the fear, and un-comfortableness of it, which is a lot easier said than done. But not choosing recovery means continuing to live as a shell. It means continuing to live in the wrath of an eating disorder. It means more pain, more lost relationships, more health problems, more things you love are lost, and so on.

As I make the conscious choice of choosing recovery, I’ve found a joy I’ve never had. I’ve laughed more than I ever have. I’ve made more friends than I’ve ever dreamed. And I’ve found strength that I never thought I had. So, how many success stories do you need to hear before you write your own? Choosing recovery is hard, but it’s definitely worth the fight. So, if not recovery now, then when?

About the Author

Hailey is a preschool teacher from Murfreesboro. She was in treatment at Focus Treatment Center in Chattanooga and The Renfrew Center of Nashville. Hailey has struggled with anorexia since she was 13 years old and plans to go back to college in the future to major in Psychology specializing in Eating Disorders.

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“Collision of the Internal and External” (By: Skyler Levine)

When I see my body, my vision is anything but 20/20. Though I have a keen eye for nit-picking and self criticism, I have zero accuracy when it comes to reality. I can name off the things that I see as aesthetically displeasing about myself, and am constantly wracking up a laundry list in my brain of these items. In fact, this inventory is always at the ready to list off the parts of myself that I see as “wrong” or “bad,” as if the miracle of the human body could be either. These things are astonishingly specific as well, and they don’t all have to do with my weight, although, the scale is more than a monumental factor, and something that takes up way too much headspace. I often think about my knee joints being unflattering to my legs. To me, they’re too low and therefore amplify the size of my thighs. Or I’ll look at my arm when draped over the back of a sofa cushion and see my relaxed tricep drooping off the bone. It always looks untoned to me, as if it was excess fat instead of unengaged muscle. These things seem petty, right? Self absorbed and ungrateful given that some people don’t even have limbs to bash on.  I think so too. Though, the reality is these thoughts are not mine. They are speeches written by a phantom voice that likes to lecture me whenever I look at myself in the mirror. This is an illness that was given to me, not one I adopted.

I wish I could say it hit me during puberty, or even in middle school, but frankly I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t plagued with these thoughts. However, my younger mind conjured up much less destructive forms of these speeches. There were less thoughts of shame and embarrassment, yet more thoughts of comparisons between my skewed perception of myself and what I saw of others. I would look down and see a bulging (or what I thought was bulging) belly on my nine-year-old self. Then I’d see the slender builds of my classmates and sink into an abyss of humiliation. This specific cycle of comparison between myself and others has adhered itself to my daily routine ever since. The only thing that has changed is now, as a young woman, I have days where my weight tangibly fluctuates and I continually have to search for new ways to cope with that. Quite often, that seems like an unmanageably hard task.

Though infrequently discussed, eating disorders come in an infinite amount of forms. The one I was dealt with is bit atypical compared to the popular types, making it easy to minimize. However, I believe no matter what form yours comes in they all blossom from the same root. An eating disorder in definition, is a food addiction with no healthy outlet to process it. For example, I’ve battled orthorexia, – an extreme obsession with healthy eating that makes me feel hysterical about trying to “indulge” – as well as overeating. Though they seem like two completely different ailments, each causes me to fuss over everything that goes into my mouth for the same two reasons: I’m terrified of gaining weight, but I also seek comfort in food to heal my anxieties. Honestly, I battle my inner demons every time I sit down to a meal. That means three or more times a day I’m terrified to eat anything the orthorexic side of my brain has deemed unhealthy. That also means that three or more times a day I struggle to keep myself from endless binge eating. In today’s society it’s hip to be a health nut – even to the extreme level of anxiety and intense fear of food that I face – but it’s not hip to be an overeater. That is why I pretend like I’m not. I let people in on the fact that my obsession with healthy eating has gotten out of hand, but the side of me that can’t find an off switch when I eat is one I prefer to leave invisible. Both diseases are equally severe, but since one is more “respectable” than the other, that’s typically the only one I talk about.

Growing up in the 21st century, I’m constantly being reminded that the anorexic aesthetic is not only coveted, but praised by our culture. Gaunt bodies have become hip and popular and photo evidence of this isn’t hard to come by. Simply log onto any social media platform, walk into any clothing store, look closely at any advertisements, and pick up any mainstream magazine. They’re in there, every single one of them. Pictures of women with hollow guts wearing exquisitely fitting clothing. These external factors make it so easy for someone like myself to question my own appearance. That’s the definition we’ve prescribed for being beautiful, and I can’t help but want to achieve that beauty. The thing is, the visual aspect isn’t the whole story. Though today’s society pretends otherwise, popular eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia are typically praised by those around us. Thus, this lifestyle has quickly become normalized. Sure, mainstream publications like to write about recovery stories and gush over celebrities’ strength in recovering from such an illness, but the underlying plot is actually to gush over the strength it took to maintain the disease.  It’s easy to pretend otherwise, but if you’re not advocating against eating disorders, you’re most likely advocating for them without knowing it. Take author Roxane Gay as an example. In her memoir “Hunger” she talks of her experiences with overeating herself to obesity, then constantly attempting to get thin. People praised her weight loss, even when it manifested in a disordered fashion. She wasn’t applauded for the image of getting healthy, but for fixing the problem of her overweight body. This completely disregards the fact that she was 1) bulimic for a spell, and 2) had deep seeded psychological reasoning for her obesity that went unaddressed in her youth and left to fester in her adult years. Neither of these things mattered though, her losing weight was all that counted.

Now, before you think I’m cynical about the world or just plain ignorant to the many body positive outlets available to young women, let me tell you about why these resources are irrelevant in my career line. Being a dancer, the entire aesthetic of the art form relies on your bare body. Precisely as being a celebrity offers your body up for public debate, being a dancer gives your higher ups a say in how you’re supposed to look. It’s unfortunate to admit, – and sometimes we pretend otherwise –  but  truthfully, you can’t expect a career in ballet if you don’t have the right physique. In context of the classical ballet vocabulary, things are either right or wrong and the body is no exception. One must be unnaturally thin, but not lacking in muscle tone. One must appear athletic, but god forbid the muscle fiber builds bulky instead of lean. One must have the right bone structure. Knees that fully straighten, ankles with hyper-mobility, shoulders that aren’t too broad, etc., and the catalogue just continues. Even if you are dancing for a company who is on the lenient side in terms of physical appearance, it doesn’t change the fact that you’re forced to stare at your virtually naked self in a mirror and pick out each individual flaw, as a full time job. It doesn’t matter if they haven’t given you a “fat talk,” you see the blatant favoritism played to girls with ideal bodies. It’s a competitive sport and everyone wants that edge. Everyone wants those unachievable ideals.

In all truth and honesty, I believe beauty is strictly an opinion and something that takes infinite forms. The only way we can change this is by changing the way we view ourselves and those around us. I believe we must start seeing our  bodies simply as vessels to experience our outer world and find joy through our discoveries. It’s when we focus on the superficial layers of ourselves and those around us that we find ourselves living life backwards and in a darkened state. Call me one to daydream, but imagine the freedom and deep capacity for joy you would have if you woke up one morning and never gave a thought about your body or anyone else’s.

Reference:

Gay, Roxane. Hunger. HarperCollins Publishers, 2017

About the Author

Skyler is a five-year local to Nashville since relocating from California. She is a second company member with the Nashville Ballet as well as part time student at Belmont University. As her struggle with food and body image prevailed she felt the need to be of more service to others in order to heal myself. Now, she co-leads the Nashville Chapter of Dining for Women, (a global giving circle dedicated to woman in extreme poverty) as well as volunteers with three political activism groups. In her free time you will find her enjoying handwork (knitting, embroidery, spinning), a good book, seeing live music, or spending time with her incredible friends and family.

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“Asking for Help in Recovery” (By: Peggy Miller)

The first time I told someone that I had an eating disorder and needed help was incredibly hard. What I didn’t realize was that recovery would mean thousands more times when I would have to reach out for help even when everything in me did not want to.

Sometimes, those moments of asking for help felt like I was admitting defeat- like when I had to go to residential treatment after being in outpatient treatment for a while. Or when I had to tell many people I was close to in my life that I had been lying to them. After I left residential and felt very motivated for recovery, I thought I was done having to ask for help. What I didn’t realize was that recovery is not about having everything figured out so that you can do it for yourself, but being able to reach out and voice your needs when you can’t do something.

After being in recovery for a while, I felt like I should not have to ask for help anymore and like I had these expectations on me of being at a certain point in recovery and not needing help. However, the more that I did not reach out for support when I needed it, the louder my eating disorder voice got. Although residential treatment was so helpful to me, the process of learning to reach out to my friends and family in my day to day life and only have appointments with treatment professionals a few days a week was hard for me.

While in residential treatment, I learned to use my voice to ask for help, but since it was the staff’s job to help me, after a while I felt comfortable reaching out. Transitioning to outpatient treatment, I had to overcome my fear of being a burden or being seen differently when I asked for help. So often, shame keeps me from reaching out in the moments when I need it most. But shame also lets my eating disorder thrive. It gives it more power over me and makes me feel more alone.

The last few weeks, I have been learning the immense amount of bravery that it takes to continue to reach out for help in recovery. But also, I have been learning the freedom that this brings. The freedom of being known and of not carrying something so heavy alone.

As much as I think that asking for help makes me weak and is something I won’t need to do once I recover, the truth is that this skill is one that I will use throughout my entire life and that asking for help actually means I am strong. Eating disorder recovery is unique in the fact that not only does it give me the skills to overcome my eating disorder, but also to live a healthy, full life by teaching me skills to handle things that will come up throughout my life in different ways.

Whether you are trying to find the strength to tell someone about your eating disorder and ask for help for the first time, or whether you have been in recovery for a while and are trying to learn how to ask for help even when you feel like you should be okay, know that you are being so brave. You are not alone, even when it feels like it. Your struggle does not make you a failure or a burden, and as much as your eating disorder wants you to hide your struggles and “handle them yourself”(which is really your eating disorder handling them), being vulnerable gives your eating disorder less power over you. Even though the shame that keeps you from asking for help can seem crippling, there is so much freedom that comes in letting yourself be known, even in your darkest places.

About the Author

Peggy is a college student in Nashville, Tennessee, and hopes to one day become a therapist for eating disorders. She has struggled with some kind of mental illness for most of her life, and has struggled with anorexia for several years before choosing life and recovery by deciding to get treatment. She is passionate about recovery, and hopes to one day get to help a client find the freedom and hope that her treatment professionals helped her find. Peggy absolutely loves people, deep conversations, coffee, and most of all, Jesus. She aspires to show each and every person she meets that they are loved and worth immeasurably more than they can imagine.

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