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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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“When Exercise Does More Harm Than Good” (By: Emily Grinstead)

When you think of the word “exercise”, what comes to mind? A walk around the block with your dog, a healing yoga class, a dance party with your roommates? Or do you think more along the lines of … a grueling workout at the gym, comparing yourself to that girl on the treadmill, forcing yourself to move in a way that you actually really hate?

Growing up, I never thought much about how active I was. I mean, do you know many kids who are conscious of how much exercise they’re getting? Just like we are born intuitive eaters, we are also born with an intuition about how to move our bodies appropriately throughout our lives. As children, this often looks like playing outside with friends and family, riding bikes around the neighborhood, or trying out different sports. I was a naturally active child, but my movement was not “typical” for a kid. While I tried every sport you can name, I failed miserably at all of them, and it even took me until I was ten years old before I learned how to ride a bike. Leaving the soccer balls, basketballs, and volleyballs behind (balls are terrifying), I naturally sought after the things that brought me joy: dance, hikes with my family, and even that bike turned out to be kinda fun I was also naturally high-energy: always talking a million miles an hour and coming up with new ideas–plays, books, drawings, you name it–to keep me busy.

It wasn’t until the second half of 8th grade that I began to question how I moved my body. As my body naturally gained weight in preparation for puberty, I became more and more aware of how my body looked and how it was changing. And I didn’t like what I saw. Having always been the “small one” growing up, I was beginning to lose that piece of my identity, and that realization was nothing but terrifying. A few months down the road, those intrusive thoughts turned into behaviors, and those behaviors turned into habits. I began working out (something I had never done before) to “get ready for summer” and “look good for high school”. I started counting calories, running regularly, and monitoring my weight as everything–my health, my personality, my sanity–slowly spiraled downward.

Fast-forward a couple of years, and you’ll meet “healthy Emily”, a self-proclaimed expert on all things health and fitness. More like an expert on all things orthorexic. Steeped deep in a disorder that was my normal at the time, I went through more exercise phases than I can count: hot yoga, long-distance running, weight lifting, HIIT workouts… you name it, I probably did it. And that deeply rooted love of dance? Still there, but unfortunately twisted up in the disorder as well. While high school dance truly was my safe haven from the craziness going on inside my brain, it transformed from an innocent passion into just another arena where my eating disorder could ridicule me. I was never good enough, never thin enough, never talented enough.

And so I shrank.

As my eating disorder continued to take its toll on my mind and body, I grew even further away from my intuition around exercise. Carefree little Emily who loved to play outside was gone, and her replacement was a girl who made endless workout plans, lived for OrangeTheory Fitness, and thought it was totally cool and normal to start training for a half marathon after nearly collapsing from malnutrition a few weeks prior.

The disordered exercise saga continued, and it wasn’t until the summer after my freshman year of college that I learned just how much damage my supposed “healthy lifestyle” had done. My heart had lost significant muscle mass and was beating slowly to conserve energy; I had osteopenia from lack of circulating estrogen (turns out that body fat we’re taught to hate exists for a reason…). This medical wake-up call was enough to scare me into agreeing to stop my rigid exercise routine, but as soon as I was weight restored for the first time, I jumped right back into those intense workouts. And the medical consequences–along with an extremely anxious, compulsive need to exercise–re-emerged. Funny how that happens when you don’t listen to your treatment team…

After months of this quasi-recovery thing I was doing, last April, my doctor told me that I had to give up exercise cold-turkey if I wanted to get better. And so I did. Seriously. I don’t know what enabled me to do that other than the sheer grace of God, but I think I was so fed up with how exercise was controlling my life (and despite my eating disorder’s hatred of all things treatment, I happen to trust my doctor a lot).

And now? I haven’t formally exercised since that appointment. It’s been 10 months now, almost a year. And what do I do instead, you may ask? I SLEEP, I nourish my body, I read, I write, I spend time with friends and family, I relax, I study, I live a life no longer dominated by exercise. And honestly, I’ve never thought less often about exercise in a long, long time. Of course, completely abstaining from any form of exercise is not the plan long-term because intuitive, joyful movement is a normal part of a healthy lifestyle. But right now, it’s the absolute best thing for me and my health, and I’m so incredibly grateful for this season of rest and renewal.

Of course, stopping all exercise was by no means easy, and the temptation to exercise was so strong those first few months without it. But over time, the more I chose my health and long-term well-being over the short-term urge to workout, the easier it got. So for anyone who is in recovery from an eating disorder and has been told they need to stop exercising; for anyone who has an unhealthy relationship with exercise; for anyone who feels compulsive around exercise and just plain sick of doing stuff that doesn’t feel good, I encourage you to take the time to look at your relationship with movement and ask yourself: Am I allowed to exercise (i.e., am I physically, mentally, and emotionally well enough to exercise)? Does this type of movement make me truly feel good? Am I doing this because I want to or because I feel like I have to? We’re all in different places and on our own journeys with exercise, and I am a far cry away from someone who knows what it’s like to have a normal relationship with her body, but I do know what has and what hasn’t worked for me. And while I can’t predict what my relationship with exercise will look like in the future once I’m able to move how I want to again, I can offer you this:

Letting go of fitness trackers has been absolutely HUGE for my relationship with movement and my body. It’s such an empowering act to remove an item that may be keeping you chained to a disordered relationship with your body. (Note: I understand that this is not the case for everyone; however, the correlation is present and strong). Your health is not contingent on how many steps you get, how many calories you burned during your workout, or how much or what you ate today. Health is so much more complex than these misleading (and often highly inaccurate) measures. Your body does not need to be micromanaged by a piece of plastic and metal; we deserve so much more than that. If any of this resonates with you, I encourage you to take a deep breath and take the damn thing off.

While I don’t yet know exactly what a healthy relationship with exercise looks like for me, I most certainly know what it should never, ever look like again:

-compulsive

-rigid and overly scheduled

-as a way to “numb out” from life

-as a way to control the size of my body

-as a way to “tone up” or “fix” a certain body part

-as a way to make myself feel worthy of wearing a certain item of clothing (i.e., bikini, shorts, dresses, etc.)

-as a way to “make up for” or “burn off” or “create a deficit” for something I’ve eaten or plan to eat in the future

Moving our bodies should never be rigid, stressful, or anxiety-provoking. Moving our bodies should be a joyful celebration of all that they are able to do. Unfortunately, the diet industry thrives on selling us the idea that if we just have enough willpower, eliminate xyz food group, start this new exercise routine, buy this new product, we’ll finally be thin enough, worthy enough, happy enough. And those messages are literally everywhere. But we have to ignore the crap in order to have a truly healthy relationship with exercise. Because being stuck in a disordered relationship with exercise only puts us further and further away from living a fulfilling life.

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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“Finding Faith” (By: Lindsey Love)

“WHY do I keep doing this?” I ask myself. It’s as if I am banging my own head against the wall over and over. AND OVER AND OVER. But why? I have all the tools necessary to climb back out of this pit, but I don’t use them. I have done so much work on my self worth and my core issues that I just can’t comprehend why my body keeps robotically doing these behaviors. I’m not even self-medicating anymore. It’s just what I do. This self-destructive ADDICTION I call my eating disorder has the steering wheel with the gas pedal to the floor. If I don’t take the wheel back soon, we are going to crash into the bottomless abyss to never return.

At least that’s how it feels, right? I am here to tell you that it’s not true. You can ALWAYS climb out of the seemingly impossible pit and return to the land of the living. I say the land of the living because I believe that when one is in an eating disorder, it’s not truly living, but dying a slow and painful death day in and day out. Slowly is the worst way to go, right? For the sake of full disclosure and honesty–I can’t say that I’m completely recovered—YET. However, I am far enough along in my recovery to see that it is possible and there is an abundance of joy and peace on the other side.  There are so many proponents that go into recovery, but the one I want to address right now is faith. Spirituality. Higher Power. Whatever you want to label yours is alright with me. I call my Higher Power God.

Are you still with me? Hear me out, please. I know this is a highly sensitive subject, but I’m willing to take the risk for the sake of maybe reaching one of you. I am a believer that anyone who struggles with an eating disorder/disordered eating is not intimately connected with their Higher Power. I say this because we are seeing ourselves through the eyes of imperfect humans instead of our Almighty Creator. Our Creator sees us as perfect. Lovable. Beautiful just the way we are. We are not seen for our outer shell but for our inner breath taking, chill inducing beauty. Viewing our worth based on our bodies is like driving all day to get to the beach, arriving to the hotel and not opening the blinds to see the captivating beauty of the beach and the ocean. There is more to you than your container for your soul. So much more.  I spent a lot of time searching for ways to fill that emptiness I had deep down in the bottom of my soul. I always knew something was missing and I tried to fill that hole with my eating disorder, perfectionistic thinking, achieving and success in my career. Seriously, the list could go on endlessly. My point is that nothing could fill that void except God. I have formed a relationship with my Creator and am happy to start seeing myself through His eyes. That emptiness is going away. Joy and serenity are returning. Some things are starting to go my way. Not everything. Trust me, I know things aren’t going to be perfect. There will always be bumps in the road and I will stumble and even fall. But, now I have someone to help me get back up. Someone who loves me and sees me as beautiful and worthy. Isn’t that what we all really want? To be lovable and worthy? I know that has been a big one for me personally.

I want to make sure you all understand that I am NOT saying to stop doing everything else you do for recovery. Therapy, using tools, your eating plan, nutritionist, connecting with others. Those are all EXTREMELY important too. What I know is that I was doing all those things and I continued to struggle. I needed more. The missing component for me was God. Working on my faith gave me the ability to put all the puzzle pieces together and make recovery work for me. The more steps I take away from the eating disorder, the easier it gets to keep going and to want this recovered life.

I want to share with you what this looks like for me. Each day, I spend some time reflecting on what I am grateful for and what I am struggling with. Then, I share this with God and give Him the things I don’t think I can handle. The things that are just too much for me. Is this a quick fix for recovery? No way. But it sure is the foundation to my recovery now. I cannot do this without Him. The beauty is that I don’t have to.  When I start to hear those negative messages in my head, I remind myself of what He thinks of me. I am beautiful. Lovable. Worth it. It really does help. It’s funny that I just typed that because I realize that I am currently struggling with comparing myself to other moms. Just typing this is helping to shift my perspective. So, thank you all for that! When I get those bad urges to use my eating disorder, I now turn to God instead of turning to all my old habits. What’s amazing is that I can actually feel better than I would have if I used behaviors. It allows me to take some time to identify what I need and to meet that need and also to connect with my loving Lord. Getting that sort of connection is really healing and calming. I essentially took away the eating disorder and filled that hole with my faith.

I hope I’m not coming across as being too “preachy”. That isn’t my intention and for those of you who feel like I am, I get it. Trust me, I do. I used to be someone who never thought that I could have a relationship with God. I thought it just wasn’t going to happen for me because I had tried for so many years and never really felt the connection. I think what changed for me was twofold: I stopped using my eating disorder which was a big barrier between me and God, and I started actively working on my faith. I really started digging in pretty deep. I think this looks different for everyone. We all connect differently. Maybe it’s starting to read a book or just pondering the idea of where spirituality fits in for you. Maybe it’s talking to a friend or mentor about it, doing some meditation or going to church. Start small but keep going and the changes you see will be BIG. I believe in YOU. I believe that you can do this. One step at a time.

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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“The Transformation” (By: Victoria Guentzel)

A big trend that I have noticed on social media lately is the “before and after” picture. Whether someone just finished a workout program or a new diet, there’s always some significant change in his or her appearance. Many times, these photos can be visually powerful tools to represent a triumph of achieving a goal or milestone in their health journey — CAN being the operative word. What these photos do not show is the “middle” or the not so linear journey to the “after” photo. Because of this, many negative consequences can occur to the viewer as a result.

Oftentimes, these photos place an unhealthy emphasis on the superficial side of getting healthier. The “shock factor” that most of these photos carry is some dramatic weight loss. Weight. A number. In viewing these photos, it’s easy for us to glorify the weight loss that we see, rather than the steps taken to better their health. There is a lot more to health than the number we see when we step on the scale.

I’ve been through a period of time where I attributed my self-worth to the number on the scale. My life became endless math equations, calories counting, and portion control on how many calories I could consume while still making the number on the scale go down. The number on the scale should not be the ultimate goal, but the result of healing from within.

Another qualm I have with these photos is the light in which they are painting themselves in the “before.” The before photo is just as important as the end. Demonizing the before is not the point. The person in both the before and after photo is important and represents the harsh realities of what the person went through. I’m proud of my “before.” It led me to where I am today, stronger and healthier because of it.

When I look back at these photos, I see a many year journey of restoring my weight. I see someone who has been through ups and downs, but still manages to pick herself up every time. The path from my “before” to “after” was anything but linear. It was a series of highs and lows, crying and laughter, anxiety and joy. These photos don’t show the blood, sweat, and tears that go into our journey towards recovery.

Ultimately, there is no “after” photo because it is a constant journey. I’ve learned to not focus on either my before or my after because it’s about living your “middle” in a world that is constantly changing and throwing you curve balls. There will still be moments in life where I fall, and each time I fall I know I will pick myself up again.

About the Author

Victoria Guentzel is finishing up her senior year at Middle Tennessee State University studying Nutrition and Dietetics. She plans to complete a dietetic internship and obtain her Master’s in Public Health in hopes of being a Registered Dietitian. She aspires to work with school-aged children to teach healthy and nutritious eating behaviors. She is currently developing a wellness blog, The Nutrition Beat.

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“How to “Reset” After the Holidays When You’re in Eating Disorder Recovery” (By: Emily Murray)

The holidays can be hard for everyone, especially for those who are going through eating disorder recovery.

Sometimes it feels like we can’t escape the leftover Christmas cookies brought into work, seasonal Starbucks drinks, cinnamon rolls, coffee cakes, candy canes, Oreo balls…the list goes on.

And we love these things, we really do. But there is a fine line between restricting holiday desserts, enjoying them, over indulging, and binge-eating.

I spend some of my free time mentoring others who are walking through the early stages of eating disorder recovery, and every single one of them has mentioned struggling with this delicate balance.

Is there a way to enjoy holiday treats without overindulging? Is overindulging the same thing as binging? Is it restricting if I say “no” to a dessert that I really don’t want? How do we make sense of this?

Even at this point in recovery, the holidays can still be tricky for me. ED still tries to sneak in at times, and tries to condemn me for what I eat or don’t eat. If I say no to dessert, he tells me I am going to relapse. If I have more than one dessert, he tells me that I will blow up like a balloon.

I’m happy to report that those things haven’t happened, and that I am in a place where I can share some of the things that have helped me most in my recovery during the holiday season.

Here are 5 tips for resetting after the holidays: 

  1. Resist the urge to purge. It is important for me to list this tip first, because I know how sneaky and manipulative ED can be. To “reset” DOES NOT mean to act on urges to purge away calories or the foods that we have eaten. That is the opposite of resetting. Purging behaviors set us back, and set us up to establish the same binge or restriction cycles that we are trying to break free of. Resetting doesn’t equal purging, and it’s important for us to make that healthy distinction in our minds.
  2. Reset. To “reset”, is to mindfully and objectively evaluate our intake for the past few days, and how those foods made us feel physically, mentally, and emotionally. This means that we don’t place judgement on what we have or haven’t eaten. When we reset, there is no room for “you shouldn’t have” or “I can’t believe you ate______”. When we objectively reflect back on our recent meal patterns, we think about what we’ve eaten, how it has made us feel, and if we actually enjoyed the dessert. If we feel like we’ve felt sort of sluggish because we’ve had too many Christmas cookies, it’s okay to back off a bit. By backing off, we are choosing to take a step towards mindful, intuitive eating. On the flip side, if we find that we haven’t allowed ourselves to have any of our favorite holiday treats, it may be time to introduce one of our “fear foods” with a trusted friend or family member.  When we reset, we choose to eat regular meals (despite the food that we have or haven’t eat that day), we drink lots of water, we go about our day in a way that is mindful and intentional, without being obsessive and ridged. We move forward without dwelling on the past, we make decisions that honor our mind, body, + spirit, and, we choose to eat the food that enhances our physical and psychological well being. When we reset, there is no restricting or purging… just balance.
  3. Establish healthy boundaries. Decide which desserts you love, and which ones you could live without. Do your grandma’s oatmeal chocolate chip cookies make your mouth water? Are cinnamon rolls apart of your Christmas morning celebration? Enjoy those things. Is your co-worker’s homemade peanut butter cookie just mediocre? Do you secretly despise eating your aunt’s fruit cake? Are you eating those mini-chocolate candies because you genuinely want them, or because you are bored? These are the types of things we want to think about when we are trying to be mindful this holiday season (and as we move forward). It’s okay to say yes, but it’s also okay to say no.
  4. Understand the difference between overindulging and binge-eating. This is a big one. There is big difference between overindulging and binge-eating. To overindulge is to eat one (or two) too many sweets on a certain night or at a certain occasion. People often over-indulge at holiday parties and holiday gatherings. The food is rich and the company is good. After the outing, you may feel more full than normal, and you may realize that you ate too much. Binge-eating, on the other hand, is characterized by recurrent episodes of eating large amounts of food (often quickly and to the point of discomfort), a feeling of loss of control during a binge, and experiencing shame, distress, or guilt afterwards.¹ This is tricky because individuals who have restrictive eating disorders may feel guilt and/or shame after eating just one or two holiday cookies. However, this is not a binge. Binging is uncontrolled, rapid, and often done in secret.It’s eating a larger amount of food than the average person during a given period of time, and feeling completely out of control during that process. Most people that I talk to think that they have gone on a large binge, when really, they have either eaten a normal amount or may have had one too many cookies. We’ve all done it, we all still do it, and we all have areas we need to improve in. Our bodies are smart; there is always grace and provision available for us to “reset” when our bodies when they are telling us that we need to. If your recent eating patterns match up with the binge-eating definition listed above, click here to read more about how to recover from that.
  5. Resist the urge to jump on the “New Year’s Resolution” dieting bandwagon. Imagine you wake up one morning and bake a batch of homemade chocolate chip cookies. The smell of the cookies in the oven makes your mouth water. The cookies turned out perfect, and your coffee just finished brewing. However, you can’t have the cookies. Not today, not tomorrow, not ever. You can’t even have one small bite,  because you aren’t allowed to. There is too much risk associated with those cookies. So, what do you spend the next few days doing? You obsess over the cookies that you so desperately crave, yet cannot have. Not because of any medical condition, not because you have an allergy, and not because you cannot afford them. Physically, you have the green light to enjoy that sweet cookie; but psychologically, you cannot have one. You fear the weight gain that it could cause, the calories, the fat, the sugar…and the power that it has over you. The cookie has the potential to ruin your day, and you can’t take that risk. You can’t be “bad” again.

This sort of black and white thinking is eerily similar to disordered eating. And what does the research tell us? It tells us that dieting doesn’t work. Yo-yo dieting leads to one of two things: disordered eating or weight gain. Dieting and disordered eating are essentially one in the same. They both don’t work, and they both leave us worse off than when we started.

To reset is to re-focus on what our body needs most. It’s reflecting on where we are at and where we want to be, and recognizing what we need to do to get back on track, whether we have eaten one too many cookies or haven’t had one at all. It’s setting goals that aren’t influenced by anyone but ourselves. It’s working towards a life of purpose and meaning, one that is not hindered by the food that we do or don’t eat. It’s giving ourselves grace and practicing self-compassion for where we are and who we are today. It’s refusing to be defined by the past, but not forgetting the lessons we have learned that will help us move forward. It’s being gentle with ourselves and understanding that change is gradual.

To reset is to take a deep breath, say a small prayer, and keep moving forward.

*Special thanks to Reba Sloan for her impeccable knowledge, wisdom, and discernment related to this topic. Your honesty and words of encouragement have meant the world to me.

Reference:

  1. http://nationaleatingdisorders.org/binge-eating-disorder

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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“Holidays” (By: Anna Cragon, RDN, CEDRD, LDN)

The holidays are quickly approaching, which can be a mix of many different emotions for people. Some of you may be excited that long nights of studying are over and you get to go back to your hometown to catch up on sleep and have home-cooked meals. But some of you may experience a less joyful time. Going home for the holidays, whether for an extended period or only a few days, might be a difficult time. It is a time we get back into old family patterns and systems, and many of us do not often act as our best selves. Being with family may lead to saying things we regret or slipping back into eating disorder behaviors as coping mechanisms to get through the season.

Whether you go home to an extremely supportive family system or spend a short amount of time with difficult family members, keep these tips in mind:

  • Self care – Prepare yourself for the upcoming time before, while you are with family or in a difficult situation, and afterward. Spend time doing things that bring you joy (reading, using lavender lotion, taking a warm bath, getting fresh air or being in nature, whatever works best for you!).
  • Set boundaries – Prior to going home, work with your therapist to set any boundaries that are needed. I encourage clients to ask that family members not make any comments about food, weight, or exercise. You may have other topics where boundaries are needed.
  • Work to nourish your body – Stick to regularly scheduled meals and snacks and incorporate family favorites along the way.
  • Remember what is important – The holidays are a time to be still and remember what is truly important. While you should work to continue to eat and move your body in ways that feel good, keep in mind that food is never just about the nutrients. It is also about the experience of eating, whether enjoying holiday treats at your yearly Christmas party or making a family favorite recipe. My family still makes my grandmother’s gingerbread cookie recipe and the holidays wouldn’t be the same without them.

I hope that each of you find joy and peace in the coming weeks as we end 2017. Use the skills you have learned throughout your recovery process and support systems near or far to help you have a wonderful holiday season.

About the Author

Anna is a registered dietitian who specializes in eating disorders and practices in private practice at Fowler Nutrition PLLC. Anna obtained her nutrition and dietetics degree from Auburn University and completed her dietetic internship at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. She is originally from Huntsville, AL. Anna enjoys spending her time at Nashville restaurants and going for runs at local parks. Anna also enjoys traveling, reading, cooking, and spending time with family and friends.

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“Refining” (By: Maci Hughlett)

There comes a day in each person’s life where they must come to terms with what they have professed to believe. Sometimes this comes in the form of allowing your actions to say, “I love you,” when your heart is breaking. Other times we may find ourselves in a situation at work or school where morals have become more of a gray area than previously thought. Beliefs define us and dictate the behaviors, thoughts, and heart-patterns of our daily life. Beliefs unite us, divide us, and invite us into fuller living.

What we believe will always be put to the test. Our black-and-whites will begin to resemble black-and-gray or black-and-blue. It is during this time of turmoil where the deepest desires of our hearts are revealed; the good, the bad, and the fear. Lies creep in, destroying what we knew to previously be true. While the moral may stand strong, wind will do everything in its might to skew the colors of your mind.

When battling with an eating disorder or seeking out recovery, the messages we have been told to believe are twisted and rewritten in resemblance of beliefs we cannot comprehend to be false. Our mantras can fail us. Our mirrors become the image bearers of a life detached of a firm grasp of reality. What we believe about ourselves becomes the Russian roulette of truly knowing what we believe about ourselves, about reality, and about the narratives we are living.

There is hope. Whenever we are tested, we have seen in times past – the trial ends. In the lives of others, we see grace sustained well-beyond recovery. In the treatment, we see love sacrificially given once we become the helpers. In the strength of the new dawn, we see hope for a blessing of a new day has been imparted; a new day to choose recovery over the blurred lines. The gray provides hope. For gray to exist, black and white must have been present at the start – and will reshape into a new beautiful color.

About the Author

Maci Hughlett is a girl on a mission. She loves Jesus, coffee, books, hiking, and sees everything as an adventure. Maci is studying at Johnson University with a double major in Bible & Theology and Human Services – Counseling. She is up for doing anything in life that will help people see the light and would love to use her testimony for the good of others. Maci is a Tennessee native, growing up in Knoxville and is always making trips up to Nashville to visit family. She has found recovery from a bulimia twice and plans to stand strong against any future temptation to fall into the food trap once more. Family, friends, and her local church have been such a blessing in her life, especially on the road of recovery and she cannot thank them enough. Blessings!

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“The Power of “Zooming Out” in Recovery” (By: Valerie Martin, LCSW, RYT)

One of the painful byproducts of an eating disorder is the feeling of being perpetually stuck in tunnel vision: thoughts about food, body shape/size, numbers — and “shoulds” related to all of these and more — play on endless repeat in our minds. No amount of intellectual prowess prevents us from losing the forest for the trees. The things that mattered before the disorder took over as the headlining act feel like distant tones in the background, so faint they sometimes can’t be heard at all.

In my work with clients, I often use the phrase, “Let’s zoom out.” This is really just another way of talking about the skill of perspective taking, which can feel a little abstract — whereas, in our tech-driven society where zooming out is now as simple and natural as moving two fingers on a screen, this phrase resonates at a physical level. Often, our thoughts become so consuming that we don’t realize we are the fish swimming in water, because the water is just all around us. We have to become aware of the process of our thinking before we can do anything to relate differently to the thoughts themselves.

When we’re completely hooked by ED thoughts, we lose sight of what matters most — our chosen values like kindness, freedom, connection, independence, justice, growth, grace, and wonder. As humans in general, we’re not great at thinking in the “zoomed out” big picture. We get so caught up in our thoughts, worries, and day-to-day tasks that we essentially flip on the “autopilot” switch. We often confuse what seems “urgent” with what’s really important, and spend our whole days and weeks feeling reactive instead of proactive.

Zooming out is about becoming conscious again — and again, and again, and again — and reconnecting to our values not just in principal, but in action. It’s about noticing when we’re on autopilot, and switching back to “manual” mode of conscious choice-making.

This is why I love use the principles of Acceptance & Commitment Therapy, because the primary focus is on steering in the direction of our chosen values, and learning how to relate differently with difficult thoughts and feelings so we don’t get in our own way as much. Instead of feeling like a failure because ED thoughts are still there, we get to practice “unhooking” from unhelpful thoughts, zooming out to our values, and acting in alignment with those values while we make room for the anxiety that’s likely to show up in the process.

Whether or not you are currently in the process of navigating recovery, we all need frequent reminders to reorient in the direction of our values. I encourage you to practice the simple yet profound act of zooming out today.  I often find that setting reminders in my phone a couple times a day can be very helpful. Remember that perspective taking, or zooming out, is not about invalidating the pain that you’re in, but rather about helping shift the lens that you’re seeing and experiencing that pain through, and reconnecting you with what you’ve identified as most important to you.

Next time you find yourself caught up in unhelpful thoughts, give it a shot: Breathe. Zoom out. Remember the forest. Ask yourself what really matters, and if what you’re hooked into will feel as important in six months or even six days. Then, ask yourself, “If I were to take a small step right now toward something that matters even more to me than this, what one action might I take?” This skill, like any, takes regular practice — and it’s definitely worth it. Happy zooming.

About the Author

Valerie Martin (LCSW, RYT, CSAT Candidate) is a therapist and yoga instructor in Nashville, Tennessee. She works primarily with eating disorders, trauma, relationship issues, anxiety and depression. Valerie’s therapeutic approach is one of mind + body integration, using EMDR, yoga (including trauma-sensitive yoga), Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT), somatic (body-based), and experiential modalities. She also teaches yoga at Inner Light Yoga Nashville. You can find Valerie online at www.wonderwelltherapy.com, Instagram, and Facebook,  and reach her at valerie@wonderwelltherapy.com or 615-617-4947.

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“The Millennial Handcuff” (By: Emily Grinstead)

Fitbits, Apple Watches, [insert other fitness device here].

Whatever brand you choose, you know what I’m talking about: activity trackers. They’re everywhere. They’re a trendy status symbol, showing others that you don’t simply value your health, but that you’re so on top of it that you monitor your eating and exercise with technology.

I’m no exception to this trap. I’ve owned multiple Fitbits and an Apple Watch. I loved these devices; or better put, my eating disorder loved these devices (and still does). And when you think about it from ED’s perspective, they’re pretty wonderful little inventions: they keep track of exactly what you eat, how much you exercise, and how much you weigh; they send you notifications when you’re not meeting your “goals”; and they reward you when you reach certain milestones but get mad at you when you don’t follow the plan.

Just as the scale can be so destructive, fitness trackers keep their users preoccupied with food and body. I personally wouldn’t recommend for anyone to own a fitness tracker of any sort, but I know this opinion isn’t universally accepted by any means. However, I think it’s safe to say that those who do own and actively use fitness trackers are much more vulnerable to the trappings of diet culture, including obsessively monitoring food intake and exercising to change one’s body.

One of the best decisions I’ve made in my recovery has been to stop wearing my fitness trackers. I made that decision this summer, after coming home early from my summer job due to a near-relapse into my eating disorder, and I’ve never looked back.

Our bodies are hardwired with the ability to nourish ourselves and move appropriately. That’s why intuitive eating and joyful, mindful movement are at the cornerstone of the final stages of eating disorder recovery. They allow the recovered individual to resume normal eating and movement in a way that feels truly awesome for their body.

So take a second look at that item wrapped around your wrist and ask yourself, “Is this adding something positive to my life, or is it keeping me trapped in patterns of disordered eating?” I don’t know about you, but the last thing I’d want is to be paying money for something that’s keeping me in an active relationship with my eating disorder.

Let’s come together and take this step forward towards letting go of the food / body obsession. Simply removing the tracker off your body and giving it away or even throwing it away… imagine what your life would be like without that trendy little handcuff telling you what to do!

About the Author

Emily is a sophomore at Vanderbilt University majoring in Medicine, Health and Society (and possibly English!). 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 attend medical school and become an Adolescent Medicine physician, so that she can use her own experiences with anorexia and orthorexia to treat patients with eating disorders.

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