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By Samantha Brior, Guest Contributor

“And the winner of Season 5 Biggest Loser is, Alli!” I sat on the bed in my college apartment watching confetti fly across the television screen as Alli smiled big in triumph. “If she can do it, I can too!” I thought to myself. It was early spring, and I had a cruise coming up the end of July. I had always wanted to lose some weight, and the cruise seemed enough motivation to do so.

How much weight did I need to lose, was the question.

I studied several BMI charts and researched what the “ideal weight” for my height. I was shocked when I saw the number—a whopping 40 pounds less than what I weighed! I has always thought I had a little bit of extra weight, but not that much! The charts must be true, I figured. To achieve a 40-pound weight loss by the time I set sail on the cruise, I would need to lose exactly 10 pounds a month. It seemed like a lot, but I was determined.

Two months down of working out with no days off and eating right, I was down twenty pounds and felt great. I started getting praise from all my friends and people I hadn’t seen in a while for how different I looked. “You look great!” they would say, and I would respond, “Well thanks, but I am only half way there!” And they would look at me like I was crazy.

At this time, I had an extremely busy schedule. I was working an internship, taking 3 summer courses, and making time each day to go to the gym. My boyfriend at the time began mentioning more frequently that he was upset he never really got to see me. Instead of scheduling more time to spend with him, I took his comments as an attack and that he wanted to deter me from my weight loss goals, which pulled us apart even further.

The day of the cruise was finally here, and I had made my goal. I should have felt excited that I actually really did it, but instead I didn’t. The cruise up being more of a pain than anything. I needed to wake up super early to get my workouts in before we got off the boat for excursions. I was freezing all of the time, and I had to wear a sweatshirt over all of my nice clothes because I was so cold. I fought with my family because there were a lot of days where I wasn’t hungry and didn’t want to eat.

When we got home from the cruise, college had started up again and my family sought out a doctor who specialized in eating disorders. Although I hated going, I agreed to go to humor them that I was okay. The next few weeks in college became really difficult. I had aced my summer classes. Now, I would read a page and immediately forget what I had just read.

One day at work a sharp pain ran up my neck and I immediately couldn’t catch my breath. I was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance. Although I wasn’t diagnosed with having a heart attack, my body was definitely trying to tell me something.  

The next week I had gone to the doctor with my family and after I had gotten done stepping off the scale, the doctor looked at my mom and said, “If she loses any more weight she needs to go to the hospital. She lost another ten pounds since she was here!” I was now ten pounds under my goal weight and I just couldn’t stop for fear of gaining weight.

After we left the doctors, my family and I went to lunch and then back to my apartment. I sat on the couch with my mom and sobbed because I knew this was it, I had hit rock bottom. I looked at her and said, “I can’t go back to eating normally on my own, I know I can’t.” My mom squeezed my hand and pulled out my insurance cards and started dialing eating disorder programs. That was the day a piece of Sam, although barely there, had started to come back.

I owe a huge chunk of my recovery to my family, especially my sister who saw that I had a problem and didn’t care how hard I resisted her help. If it hadn't been for them, who knows what would have happened to me. Possibly a heart attack…or worse.

Since that day on the couch with my mom, when I owned that I needed help, I’ve had a couple of relapses, only one major. I would be lying if I said I don’t ever on occasion find myself thinking eating disorder thoughts. On stressful days eating disorder tendencies try to sneak up on me. The difference today is that I recognize them and can deal with them effectively before they start to take over. This ability certainly did not happen overnight. It took practice, patience and a lot of work on myself.

I am proud for how far I have come, especially when I remember how afraid I once was to chew more than a certain number of pieces of gum. I was lucky in my recovery because I think my eating disorder was more about appearance versus a deeper underlying issue.

Recovery is possible. It doesn’t happen overnight. It is uncomfortable, and it is terrifying, but once you get through it, you’ll look back and say “Damn, that was worth it.”

Samantha Brior lives in Northeast Pennsylvania with her dog Chica. She is the founder of safesams.com, a website where she shares her recipes for her Orchard Spice Bars, which are snack bars she specifically designed for people in recovery for their eating disorders. Check out her recipes and unique blog at safesams.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How do we calm spinning thinking about weight, numbers, eating disorder rules, & fears at meal time? In this interview with Kathy Cortese, LCSW, ACSW, CEDS, on the ED Matters Podcast, I teach yoga grounding techniques to calm meal anxiety.

I hope you find this information and the yoga grounding practices helpful! Let's connect if you have questions or would like to explore including yoga therapy into your recovery.

And big thanks to the Gurze Salucore Eating Disorders Resource Catalogue for interviewing me for this podcast.

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By Erin Reiland, Guest Contributor

“When we heal our connection to our bodies and reestablish trust in ourselves, we realize our problems really have very little to do with food.” -Samantha Skelly

Given the opportunity to write about my journey and recovery from an eating disorder, I was so grateful to have the platform to speak to others. My goal for writing this blog post is to let others know who are struggling with disordered eating that they are not alone. There is help and you are not weak for seeking out support. I also want others to know that relapse does not mean you will always be sick, and that recovery and having a fulfilling and amazing life is 100% possible.

In my recovery I used to think it was basically crap when I read others' stories about how they got better and were so happy now. I believed “they” could do it, but not me. I had resigned myself to believe that the eating disorder would always be some part of my life. But that is far from what has happened. If you told me 5 years ago I would be writing this I would have laughed at you. It has not been easy. In fact, at times I wanted to give up. 

My eating disorder began when I was around 15. I was a competitive swimmer with college scholarships on the horizon. But I always carried the underlying feeling of not being good enough for anything. 

As a competitive swimmer, I needed to keep my body healthy and strong. I felt “big” or “bigger” than other swimmers because I was almost 6-feet tall, but in actuality,  looking at pictures of myself, I was thin, muscular and strong. I believed I lost races to other girls who were half my size in height becasue something was “wrong” with me. And so, I felt a need to become smaller.

I see now that I wanted to disappear. My depression and anxiety was a volcano waiting to erupt. I began to slowly cut food out of my life but continued to swim at the level I was at and my body could not keep up. My swim coach noticed the weight loss first and I denied that any problems were going on. But luckily, he went to my family out of concern. My family also had some inkling of problems, but I was a master of hiding and lying (I mean really good).  

My parents sent me to my pediatrician who sent me directly to the eating disorder clinic at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford. I was admitted onto the unit directly from the clinic in a wheel chair to the hospital. I could not believe it. I wanted to run away, but since I was a minor I could not do anything. I hated my parents and I was beyond livid at the time. I was very lucky though that I was admitted when I was, because if not my heart and blood pressure were dangerously unstable and I could have died. I was on complete bed rest for 3 weeks due to my vital signs.

I was in a state of denial.

I spent almost 20 years of my life in my eating disorder and various treatment programs. I've lost count of how many times I was admitted into children’s hospital and the numerous ER visits for dehydration and inpatient hospital stays on psychiatric units to restore weight and stabilize my vital signs. Insurance companies are willing to pay for inpatient psychiatric unit stays in a hospital, but most of these programs are not eating disorder based and do not know how to treat someone with this disease. For me, these hospital stays were like a band aid, only for the downward spiral to repeat itself again and again.

I was very lucky in that my mom and stepdad had good insurance and I was able to also go to residential eating disorder treatment centers. Most insurances do not cover these facilities because they are very expensive. So many people are unable to receive the help they need and deserve.

Despite all my rounds of eating disorder treatment, my life continued to revolved around food and my weight. I used every means to control my weight, from diet pills, laxatives, to purging. My life was my eating disorder. There were years where I would be “ok” enough to function and even had an amazing job at a prestigious University for 10 years. I ended up having to leave that job three times for 6 to 8 weeks at a time to seek treatment. I didn’t understand nor did many of my friends and family why I was not getting better. Afer all, I had all the resources to do so. But we all thought I just wanted to hold on to the eating disorder - that I did not want to get better. In a way, I did. It felt safe. I knew it well. It was my best friend and worst enemy. But at least I had it. I felt I had lost so much and I would not lose my eating disorder as well.

After I had my son 9 years ago, I thought I would be better. I had to. He needed me. I was a single mom working full time, but within 2 years of his birth I was sicker than ever. The next 4 years were pure hell. I don’t remember a lot of it, as I was so malnourished. I am so grateful to my family who helped me with my son and continued to support me. I am not sure how I kept my job.

The good news is that over the past 4 years, things began to switch for me. It was not one thing that contributed to this change. Rather, it was many small things. I was finally ready to to work on the real reasons I was holding on so tight to the eating disorder. I worked for the first time on my childhood trauma that I numbed out in my mind for most of my life. The pain that was sucking anything left from my soul had to go.

Then the sudden death of my son's father and murder of my best friend within weeks of each other sent me into a spiral and I was not able to handle life. I wanted to die at times, but I went back into my last treatment and stayed. I couldn’t take the pain and energy it took to keep up with the eating disorder. Up until that point I would argue, deny and find any way to call "BS" on what everyone else had to say to me. I was not the patient anyone wanted to deal with. But really it was me trying to deflect and protect myself and my eating disorder.

I didn’t want to feel inside myself. I did not want to be present in my body. My body was the scariest thing to me. I wanted out of it by any means possible. My last treatment was 3 years ago, and when I was admitted I was near death. I don’t recall the first few weeks there. I chose to get a feeding tube to help with weight restoration. I literally was choosing to live at that moment.

I chose hope. 

Slowly, I began to feel into my body--the body that I had avoided for most of my life. It was terrifying. I stayed for 3 months in residential treatment. When I returned home I did step down, continued therapy, and went weekly to yoga. I found yoga to be such a healing part of my recovery, allowing me to connect with my body and emotions. 

The body and mind connection for me with yoga has been amazing. I allowed myself to feel instead of stuffing the feelings down when they came up. I hated it at times--feeling ashamed and scared what would surface while doing yoga. But I allowed myself to begin to accept myself at first and then begin to like myself and now love myself. I'm learning to accept myself for where I am at right now, not where I think I should be. 

I am currently working toward a certification to become an eating disorder life coach. I never would have thought I would go or be in the direction I am going. I know I will be able to help others coming from a place of having been there, yet understanding how others can stay stuck for so long and believe they are not ever going to recover. I know that feeling. I also know the feeling I have now. I know it is possible. I think I will always be learning and growing personally for the rest of my life.

I hope sharing my story here gives you a glimmer of hope and helps you see that you are worth it. Keep going!

Erin Reiland lives in the Bay Area (California) with her 9-year-old son and is currently persuing a certification program to become an eating disorder life coach through the organization Hungry for Happiness, whose goal is to help 1 million people suffering and dealing with disordered eating by 2020. For inspiration and hope for recovery, connect with Erin on Instagram..

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By Bridget Clawson, Guest Contributor

When Jennifer asked me to write for her blog, I said yes immediately. I was honored that she invited me, but I ws also anxious. I reread her entire blog, and with each post came self-doubt and questions about who I am, where I am in my recovery, and what I have to say as a writer. Instead of thinking about what I wanted to write about, I was thinking about how I could write to fit Jennifer's style and the other guest bloggers she has feautured.

In May, I attended #NEDAcon in Philadelphia (Jennifer was there too!). I heard amazing eye-opening discussions about the place of marginalized voices in the eating disorder recovery community. With so many of those voices out there needing to be heard, I kept asking myself why my voice matters?

I am not marginalized. I am the cis-gendered, affluent white female whose eating disorder journey started in adolescence. At the conference I was questioning everything: Where did my voice fit? Before I was able to continue on this hunt to find all the reasons why my voice didn’t deserve space, one of my favorite voices in the recovery community, Maris Degener (YogaMaris) posted this: “I realized that while there are many things I will never be able to control in the world, there is one thing that I will always have power over: the way I frame my story.” These words changed my mind. I do have a story!

So the new and more deserving question became: How do I frame my story? In a world full of people telling stories, where everyone deserves a seat at the table, how can I share mine in a way that makes me feel authentic? The answer came when I was thinking about a conversation I had with my old therapist after sharing at Renfrew's NEDA Week event back in February. 

My therapist said to me: “Can I just say first of all that I’m so proud of you for last night. “Old Bridget” would’ve waited until she was perfectly recovered to share her story, while you were so real and authentic and offered a lot of hope to those who were there who are also still finding their land legs so to speak. :) “

I am still finding my land legs. I am perfectly imperfect in recovery. That’s my voice. I am 24 years old and more than half the time I have no idea what I am doing. Lately though, that hasn’t bothered me so much. Coming from a place where I was obsessed with making sure everything was picture perfect, all of my ducks were in a row, and everything was sunshine, rainbows, and unicorns on the outside, it’s nice to be real, to be authentic, and to share the parts of myself that aren’t so put together.

Usually, my pieces of writing are impulsive, written minutes if not hours before posting and edited along the way as I re-read them. Sometimes my words really resonate with others, and sometimes they don’t. I don’t have control over that, but I do have control over the narrative that I share and the narrative that I tell myself every day. My brain is full of ideas, and I’m figuring out that being in this place in both my recovery and life in general is a lot like throwing these ideas at the wall and seeing what sticks.

Be that as it may, I’m happy. I like figuring out what’s next. I like the uncertainty even though sometimes it causes me anxiety. I like that this future of mine is wide open.

While being on this journey is exhilarating all on its own, sharing it makes it even better. Having people reach out to me who are finding their own land legs and telling me how they are glad someone else feels the same way is the basis of building this wonderful community. As someone who walked into treatment thinking she had nothing in common with anyone in the room, and later finding out how alone she was NOT, this is the good part.

Finding my voice like finding myself is going to be challenging, ever-changing, and sometimes not what I expect, but I’m here, and I’m ready.

Bridget leading yoga at the 2018 Philly NEDA walk.

Bridget Clawson is a 24-year-old registered nurse at the Cildren's Hospital of Philadelphia and a trained yoga instructor. She is passionate about eating disorder awareness and advocacy, has been sharing her story locally both in the recovery community and in her job as well as through social media. She hopes to one day be more involved in the public health aspect of recovery and continues to get more involved. In her free time she enjoys reading books (the paper kind), going to concerts, taking naps and of course making breakfast for her dog Rocky. You can connect with her through her blog, on instagram, or through . She would love to hear from you!

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By Becca Owens, Guest Contributor

Seeing someone you love in pain is always hard. Watching them struggle with an eating disorder or other mental illness and substance abuse can be scary. You may wrestle with feeling overwhelmed or frustrated, wondering how to help or how things got to the place they did. Understanding how family dynamics contribute to mental health as well as the healing process is an important step in loving your family member well and supporting all family members toward growth and overall health.

Co-Occurring Eating Disorders and Addiction
Over the years, many people have likened eating disorders to the patterns of addiction, and while they do resemble each other in some ways, they are distinct diagnoses with unique needs in the healing process. They aren’t the same, but they do often go hand in hand. In fact, many people who struggle with an eating disorder — like bulimia, anorexia, binge eating, and other specified feeding or eating disorder — also struggle with an addiction, and vice versa. Around one-half of people with an eating disorder also are battling an addiction, and about one-third of people struggling with substance abuse also have an eating disorder; both much higher than the general population.

Both eating disorders and substance abuse often begin during the most stressful times of life. When people feel overwhelmed with stress in their lives, they may begin to cope in unhealthy ways, like over-controlling their eating habits. For some, both issues may develop simultaneously, but it can be hard to recognize the differences in their patterns at first. Both have symptoms that include the following:

  • Preoccupation with the new habits
  • Increase and intensity of use
  • Withdrawal from past interests
  • Inability to quit using or cease certain behaviors despite negative consequences

Another problem with fighting both conditions is that they seem to perpetuate each other. One mark of addiction is that people become more impulsive and less responsible for taking care of themselves, particularly their nutrition. Addiction can also cause serious health problems that exacerbate eating disorders, particularly GI and neurological issues.

Because of the self-image struggle associated with eating disorders, many people may hate the way they look and mistreat themselves so much that they choose to escape their destructive patterns with even more problematic behaviors like substance abuse. Each problem can feed the other so that it becomes an unhealthy cycle.

Body Image Talk in the Home
Studies show that how children think about their body is often formed very young. Much of this happens in the home as kids observe how their parents view their own bodies. The family patterns they witness become normal to them. If parents tend to talk negatively about their bodies and have unhealthy eating habits, children absorb these same tendencies and carry them into their teen and young adult years.

“It is essential that we hardwire our brains with new ways of thinking about ourselves. One very important way to do this is by finding new ways to relate to yourself through language.” – Shared on Heroes in Recovery.

When someone is fighting an eating disorder, part of the healing process will likely include reflecting on their family history and how their ideas were shaped at home. Because of this, healing often needs to take place within the whole family through family therapy and behavior change.

One helpful change — although it may not easy — is to begin changing how family members talk about their own bodies as well as each other’s weight and body image. Loved ones don’t need to give empty compliments or offer fake encouragement, but families should strive to adopt positive speech and a culture of genuine support for each other’s health.

Finding Help and Healing for Eating Disorders and Addiction
Once you are able to grasp the struggle your loved one is dealing with, it’s important to provide healthy and ongoing encouragement for their healing journey. Finding and entering specialized treatment for their situations can feel overwhelming for both them and you, but they need your positive support as they take the next steps. It is important to choose a treatment program that addresses co-occurring disorders so that they can heal from both the eating disorder and addiction simultaneously.

Many treatment centers will also offer tracks for families to learn about both diagnoses and how to change patterns at home that will help their loved ones find success upon returning home. If you are looking for help in finding specialized treatment for a co-occurring eating disorder and addiction, please call our 24-hour, toll-free helpline today. We can answer all your questions and talk you through the treatment process. We can offer you hope and show you what a healthy future can be for you and your family!

Becca Owens is a writer for Center for Change, which provides a holistic approach, rigorous medical and clinical program with a wide range of levels of care and nurturing environment. Our team of medical, psychological and nutritional experts have been carefully selected because of their expertise in treating both the outward symptoms and underlying causes of eating disorders.

 

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On Saturday, May 12, 2018, eating disorder treatment professionals, researchers, individuals affected, family members, educators, and activists came together for NEDAcon Philadelphia at Drexel University. This wonderful conference focused on educating attendees about the diverse experiences of people recovering from eating disorders and inspired a vital call to action for inclusion of marginalized groups in the recovery community. 

The conference presenters powerfully impressed how all connected to the recovery community play an important role in expanding the conversation and representation of who exactly suffers from eating disorders. Exceptional professionals, including Colleen Reichmann, PhD; Ivy Felicia; Samantha DeCaro, PsyD; Hallie Espel-Huynh, MS; and Rebecca Berman, LCSW-C, CEDS, MLSP, spoke on how and why the intersectionality of eating disorders and all body sizes, races, abilities, genders, socioeconomic statuses, sexual orientations, ages, and other behavioral and mental health conditions must be valued, respected, researched, and represented.*

A major takeway for me from these presentations was the truth that we can't for wait for the media to change these messages; rather, we, the recovery community, must empower ourselves to lead the way and educate others by using our voices and paving avenues for healthcare, research, and professional outlets to exponentially raise the bar for access to care and overall education about underrepresented groups in the eating disorder community. What a necessary and powerful call to action! And it was personally thrilling and humbling to be in the audience, learning from so many wise voices and feeling moved by others' experiences that were so unlike my own, due to my many priveleges. 

The presenters on the NEDAcon Self-Care Panel from left to right: me, Stacey Lorin Merkl, Nikisha Bolden, and Shalini Wickramatilake Templeman. 

I had the true honor of not only attending NEDAcon, but also moderating a recovery panel on self-care and maintenance. The three women on my panel were brilliantly brave and inspiring, each sharing stories of struggle and victory, pain and healing. Their backgrounds, eating disorders, and pathways to care were all very different. They shared how their marginalized or otherwise non-typically represented personal experiences affected their identity before, during, and after treatment. And they spoke with such courage and confidence about what self-care means to them and the daily steps they take to sustain and support their recoveries. Each offered a message of hope for attendees, including family members.

In their own unique ways, the women on my panel and the people who shared about their challenges in recovery on a panel moderated by Brian Pollack, LCSW, CEDS, are actively advocating for wider acceptance of eating disorders in their communities. They are also raising up their own voices and those of others to create awareness and prevention of eating disorders. They are out in the world every day, owning their recoveries and purposelfully helping others do the same through their example and steadfast commitment to gathering up all the bodies and voices of the eating disorder community, uniting them, and assuring them of their worth and worthiness of care, recovery, and humanity.   

Today, I am filled up with gratitude for the brilliant, brave, and inspiring individuals who shared their stories and showed up for themselves in such empowering ways at NEDAcon. It was an unforgettable day for me, one that has sent me on my way to new explorations and learning about intersectionality and eating disorders, and a quest to seek out the voices and stories of those who are willing to share and be a part of educating me and the world.   

As such, I have 5 action items on my list from NEDAcon. I share them here with the hope that you, too, will join me in these actions and that they may even inspire other steps for you to share with me and the recovery community. 

  1. Diversify my social media newsfeeds so that I am learning from/about other groups' experiences, the challenges they face, and have an understanding of what they value. I will then share/include their posts in my community and amplify their voices in my work, so that they are being heard and seen in my small corner of the recovery community. 
  2. Connect with experts and leading voices with different backgrounds than myself and ask questions about their life experiences so that I am best able to serve my yoga therapy clients and represent the entire recovery community in my speaking and writing. 
  3. Be mindful of images I post. Seek out images that represent a variety of body sizes, races, abilities, genders, socioeconomic statuses, sexual orientations, and ages.
  4. Be mindful of the words included on my posts, so as to not unintentionally perpetuate fat phobia or other damaging and insensitive cultural and social messages.
  5. Share others' voices on my blog to promote inclusion as well as provide space for individuals to tell their story. 

To that last action item, if you would like to share your story of recovery on my blog, I would love to hear from you. Individuals of all body sizes, races, abilities, genders, socioeconomic statuses, sexual orientations, and ages are invited and welcome. Your story holds more inspiration than you realize, and the recovery community is hungry for inspiration, motivation, healing, and empowerment. If you are interested in sharing your story on my blog, let's connect.

Thank you, National Eating Disorder Association, for such an excellent day of sharing, learning, and ultimately, healing. You have my commitment to practice inclusion and encourage others to do so as well. We don't recover alone; it often takes a village. Let's do this together to make sure no one is alone on their personal healing path.  

*Other presenters at NEDAcon included Melinda Parisi Cummings, MSEd, PhD; Sam Tryon, RD; Steven Crawford, MD; and Laura Cipullo.

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Navigating our food decisions, thoughts, and behaviors is outright exhausting. I can remember the early days and years of recovery feeling so wrung out by the end of the day from the sheer energy it took to choose, create, eat, and digest meals and snacks. All of my energy was directed at eating in some way, shape, or form. The barrage of what, when, and where to eat banged around my brain constantly. The "games" of If I eat this, then I can't eat that, blah, blah, blah, rarely turned off.

Yet, strongly competing with all this "noise"--the constant calculating and planning and worrying--was my heartfelt desire, or intention, to be whole and free for myself and my family. 

Like an internal compass, this intention for wholeness and freedom has guided my healing path in empowering ways. Early on it took diligent practice to proactively confront fear and make choices that aligned with my intention instead of mindlessly giving in to habitual eating disorder patterns. I thank my Yoga practice for assisting me in fostering the internal awareness required to wake up to destructive habits and then cultivate the courage and strength to integrate new life-sustaining patterns.

One very crucial awareness I committed to developing was the difference between my food preferences and food rules. Food preferences, our genuinely natural likes and dislikes, are self-directed. No strings attached. Our preferences represent a pure inner wisdom programmed in our nervous systems. Food rules, as you know, are driven by the opposite of inner wisdom; they are born of a variety of factors, including social and cultural messages, fear, control, and power.

Food preferences are neutral in nature. Although you may have a strong visceral reaction when you see or smell a food you naturally like or dislike, your body's response comes from a neutral space. Whereas shuttering or freezing in fear at the smell or sight of a food for which you have strict rules is not neutral. The reaction is charged with layers of emotions and triggers that initiate spinning thinking. The rules and our reactions to them throw us off center, sending us away from self-directed inner wisdom into the jungle of eating disorder mayhem. The ground beneath us is nowhere to be found as we obsess on rules--breaking them, keeping them, rationalizing them, creating new ones, etc.

Food rules (both those we internalize from social messages and the eating disorder programming) barricade us from wholeness and freedom. Our rules are prisons. Luckily, these prisons of ours lock from the inside, meaning we have complete and total power to unlock the cell door and take a chance on living self-directed rather than rule-bound. I don't make light of what it takes to even consider unlocking the prison cell in the first place, let alone opening the door and taking a step forward. I can also attest to the fact that it is possible to leave the prison and not look back.

So, how do we untangle the difference between preferences and rules? This can be tricky at first, particularly in early recovery when everything about us feels like a result of the eating disorder. But, this is not true. We are way more than the eating disorder, and we have preferences for a variety of aspects of life, we just need to create time and space to reconnect to them.

When we live from the place of preference, we are in our center, tuned into our inner wisdom. When we live from preference, we assert self-assuredness; there's little need for debate. We know what we know to be true because there's nothing to argue about. It is what it is--literally!

To determine the difference between a food rule and preference, try this short Yoga-inspired practice:

  • When making a food choice, observe in yourself your reaction. This includes your physical response, breathing, thoughts, and emotions. If your body tenses; if your breathing turns shallow, fast, or is barely there; and/or if your thoughts and emotions jump on the eating disorder track, then you are working from the "food rule" space. If, on the other hand, your response to a food is more a instantaneous, natural like "Oh, I like that" or "No way, I don't like that food," and your physical, mental, and emotional state is not much altered, you are likely in the preference space. Observe your reactions to gauge which is at play. 
  • Then, "find the ground," meaning, get grounded, centered, present to the experience and moment. To do that, connect with time and space through your feet and hands. Feel your feet on the ground. Sense the connection between your feet and the surface under them.Trust you are steady and supported. Rest your hands on a hard surface, your body, or press one into the other to create grounding in your upper body. You can do this seated or standing, or if you are in a private space, you can rest on your back and allow the floor to support your entire being. Take a 3 to 5 slow purposeful breaths in this grounded position. Notice your inhale and exhale with each breath. 
  • If you determine you are in a "rule space," take 5 to 10 (or more!) slow purposeful breaths to interrupt the spinning thoughts and then proceed when you've gained some clarity about the best choice to make for yourself.
  • If in the "preference space," take 5 to 10 (or more!) slow purposeful breaths to simply notice your natural inclinations and honor that you do indeed exist outside the identity of an eating disorder. Perhaps write down your preferences as you encounter them to reinforce these self-directed aspects of yourself.
  • If you are unsure which space you are in--rule or preference--notice that too. Give yourself time to take 5 to 10 (or more!) slow purposeful breaths in this grounded position and see what bubbles up. There's no right or wrong here. Often, it takes time to reestablish our trust in our capacity to have preferences, and so distinguishing them from rules in and of itself may be process that takes you time and patience. A few quiet, purposeful breaths can do wonders in allowing our inner wisdom to come back online. Trust you will get there.

I recommend you repeat this exercise daily to get in the practice of differentiating between preferences and rules, with the intention of tuning into and honoring your preferences more and more.

Our preferences are like an internal compass. When we respect our preferences, we respect ourselves. We assert our humanity. We express wholeness and freedom. We embody our inner wisdom. Your preferences for food and all things deserve your attention and to be cultivated to the fullest. 

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For many years, including those of early recovery from an eating disorder, my reflection was a source of complete angst. Standing before a mirror or catching a glimpse of my body in a storefront window could instantly send me in a mental tailspin as I meticulously inspected myself from every angle. No matter the day, the prevailing feeling during and after this ritual was disgust.

Is that anyway to live, in disgust at the sight of your body?

I must have asked myself that question hundreds of times before finally answering NO. Believe it or not, taking a yoga class in a room with mirrors was what moved me to interact with my reflection in a new and surprisingly healing way.

Let me set the scene.

It’s a packed Friday noon class. I enter the yoga room to realize that the only spaces left are next to the mirror wall — directly next to it. Meaning, to my right isn’t another practitioner; it’s the mirror.

I scan the room three times over, as if by the third time a space will magically become available. I roll out my mat and feel agitated. I futz with the blocks and my towel and bottle of water, nervously moving them from one side of my mat to other, pretending to get set up for class while inside I feel anxiety building.

In the opening moments of class, I try to rest my mind on my breath, to settle in, and arrive. But that damn mirror is staring at me. I breathe deeper and try to give myself over to the flow, the rhythm of the movement, and the energy in the room.

I come face to face with myself as we enter the first Warrior 2 of the practice. The disgust begins:

Does the flesh around my hips really bulge like that in Warrior 2? Are my thighs really that wide? Does my stomach really stick out that much? Do I really look like that, like all the time?

I breathe deeper and close my eyes. When I opened them, magic actually did happen.

Time seemed to pause, and the sounds in the room faded away. First, I saw my own eyes — just my wide-open eyes. Next, I saw my body in the shape of Warrior 2. I didn’t see body parts, I saw the wholeness of myself in this strong and powerful yoga pose.

Then, I looked past myself and saw the entire room behind me filled with warriors, just like me — working hard, breathing deeply, coming to their mats to find peace of mind.

In that single moment, I recognized myself in the mirror as an individual part of a larger group that came together to experience and share a common purpose. The mirror reflected the definition of the word yoga — to unite or union.

Once I looked past myself in the mirror, it showed me community, the gift of shared experience. The mirror reflected belonging versus self-alienation. Seeing myself through the lens of wholeness created a reflection founded on connection.

In that moment, I understood how viewing myself through the lens of disgust severed any possibility for true connection with myself and others. This realization brought an emotional and physical release in my Warrior 2 pose. As the tears came I deepened the bend in my front knee, lifted my chest, reached longer through my arms, and turned my gaze forward over my fingers. The belonging I felt was so powerful and fulfilling that I didn’t need to “see it” in the mirror. I could sense it from the inside out.

That day in the yoga room brought me face to face with how mirrors can show me what is possible when I take my place in the world with the confidence of a warrior. Now when I see my reflection, I see myself in relation to the world behind me; to appreciate the spaces I inhabit or visit; to take in colors, shapes, nature, architecture, and the beauty of light; to recognize myself as part of a larger group and world.

It’s also helpful to apply the same idea when you look at pictures of yourself. Rather than stay stuck in picking apart your body, notice other elements in the picture. Connect with the memory of the experience—the sounds, sights, and people you were with.

Next time you find yourself spiraling into body disgust, pause, take a breath, and study the mirror for what else it can show you. Seek connection. Look at yourself through the lens of wholeness.

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Anorexia. My demon. The entity that defined, determined, and disciplined me. The part of me I loved to hate and hated to love. The very part I spent the better part of my life striving to banish and preserve at the same time. For who would I be without my demon, without Anorexia?

I contorted my body to cling to it but commanded my mind to renounce it. I showed up to recover but dreaded letting go. What was this “freedom” everyone spoke of? Who was I to be free?

The guilt and shame of failing my demon was heavy, but so was the pain of failing to banish decades of beliefs, behaviors, and rituals. For as much as my favorable character traits and values were a part of who I am, so too was this eating disorder.

The effort to exile Anorexia was exhausting. The struggle was suffocating. The push and pull between wellness and sickness created a momentum of its own, making healing from years of an eating disorder slow going at best and frustrating beyond measure.

But then, a breakthrough. A most unexpected twist to my story. A therapist I deeply trusted asked me about my love-hate relationship with the eating disorder, pointing out how swinging between these two extremes was a barrier to accepting myself.

“What if you made friends with the eating disorder?” she asked. “What if you got to know it? Learn from it instead of hate it or love it?”

She went on, “What if instead of being ashamed of the eating disorder, you embraced the truth that you are capable of all that you are despite and because of it?”

Then this, the most poignant question: “Jennifer, this so-called ‘disorder’ has been a part of you for all these years. Is it realistic to think you can banish it in the first place?”

As I took in her words, something snapped into place. It was me; I snapped into place. The two parts of me that had been warring for so long—my demon and the “real” me—effortlessly integrated, like two puzzle pieces destined to fit together. I felt complete somehow, whole, no longer two halves.

She was right. If I flipped my thinking from believing I had to cast out the eating disorder to honoring it as a part of who I am, then I could also be free of the shame that kept the eating disorder going in the first place.

If I respected Anorexia as a teacher instead of labeling it a demon, then I could engage the eating disorder thoughts, behaviors, and beliefs in the spirit of understanding, growing, and ultimately healing. Rather than dwell on the guilt of “being bad” or “having a bad day” when I used symptoms to the point of depression, I could look on those moments as “experiences” filled with wisdom and guidance—a truth about something within myself that needed attention, validation, and healing.

I’ll share that once I made this mental shift, of befriending versus demonizing the eating disorder, my symptoms decreased dramatically, I felt more comfortable and confident in my body, and I worked through “my stuff” with much more ease. Without the heaviness of guilt, shame, depression, and failure to hold me back, I was free to move through my life, to accept myself, and to value all my experiences (eating disorder related and otherwise) as opportunities from which to learn. By adopting this approach to relating to the eating disorder, I came to appreciate that I have a unique lens through which to see my life and the world.

To all my friends on a recovery path, you too have an opportunity to understand your life through a healing and empowering lens. What if instead of calling your inner struggles “demons,” you called them teachers, healers, or even friends? What if instead of striving to banish your “crazy,” you embraced the lessons and gifts of your experiences. How would your relationship with yourself change if you traveled the recovery path with a friend instead of a demon?

This can be a tough perspective shift to make. In fact, it may feel like more of a leap than a shift. I often share this story with my yoga therapy clients to introduce the notion that they aren’t “bad” for having a slip with symptoms, because the symptoms are a part of an experience that can be examined, discussed, and processed. As “ugly” as they are, eating disorder behaviors hold wisdom; they want to tell us something. The symptoms don’t make us “bad,” they make us students of our lives.

Certainly, we must resolve to learn our lessons and keep moving forward; I am not condoning actively engaging in eating disorder symptoms! Rather, I offer a perspective shift—from demon to friend—to enlighten you to the truth that you are whole already. No matter how divided or fragmented you may feel in this exact moment, you are whole. Befriend yourself.

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By Faye Bird, Guest Contributor

Your body is the ship, and your life is the journey.

Now, I know sometimes you feel lost. I know sometimes you wonder if the waves that beat against your sides will ever release your from their tumultuous path of destruction. I know sometimes you ask yourself if it would be easier to simply let the crashing tides carry you far, far away from here.

I know sometimes you fear that you’ll live forever in this in between, this life of solitude on your ship as you ceaselessly grasp for tethers, trying to escape from this world where you feel you cannot be reached, or loved, or known, or saved.

I know sometimes you question if the currents will ever guide you home.

What if I told you that the answer was not in the keeping your eyes locked onto the violent waves of your sea, for you already know the pain they are capable of.

What if the answer was not in learning the damaging nature of your tides any longer, for you have learned all you have to learn from them just by surviving into the present, right here and right now.

What if the answer was simple? What if the answer was clutching your wheel with white knuckles, with the ocean’s cold salt water permeating into your bones, and steering your self, your ship, your body, and your life just one degree?

And what if I told you that after many many thousands of miles, after many many thousands of breaths and days and rising suns, that your ship would be somewhere so vastly far from where you had always expected it to be destined for?

What if it is in this one degree shift, that you can save your own life?

See, our lives, our ships, our bodies and minds and souls, are all exactly where they are, in any given moment. The minute we lie to ourselves and pretend we are somewhere far from where we are is the minute that we are overcome with a storm of darkness, of discord, and of disconnection with our truth.

We must realize that it is in this very moment, no matter what storms plague us, no matter how relentless the barrage of gales may be, no matter how cold and exhausted we undoubtedly are, we still have the courage to shift our ships just one subtle yet profoundly courageous degree.

I have thought long and hard about what this degree of mine will be, and have come to the realization that my degree is in the letting go.

The letting go of the belief that no longer serves me, the belief that keeps me stuck in the who-i-used-to-be rather than the who-i-am-yearning-to-become.

The belief that I deserve to hurt for every second that I am alive; the belief that my life is a worthless mistake that must be compensated for and punished.

So, I grasp my wheel. I turn my eyes from the crashing dark waves that lulled me into hopelessness for too many nights, and change my course.

I leave this belief to rest, and instead I believe I am real, I am a soul filled with wisdom and sacred truth, I am a window into infinite wonder and change, and I do belong. I belong here, alive, free of this old thread of darkness that has stayed woven into my heart for much too long.

And yet even with this shift I am not anywhere yet near calm waters. My ship is still reeling from unrelenting walls of surf, I am still fearful of the waters below. But, I am no longer headed for a continuation of that old darkness, I am setting a new course.

Degree by degree, we change our endings. With time and patience and an unending fight, we build our new harbors and tether ourselves and our ships to a life we have never before known.

Degree by degree, we leave our past selves behind and embrace the truest selves we can be; the beings we are when we hold both our present and our future selves with the utmost grace, while still carrying with both pain and gratitude the lessons our darkness has bestowed upon us. When we are integrated, when we are whole. Whole, just as we have been all along.

So, my dear friends. The time has come. What is the shift you know so wholly in your heart that you need to bring about?

What is the belief that is still stealing away your breath, leaving you incapable of moving forward?

What is the piece of your darkness that you need to relinquish? What is the piece of your darkness to which your soul cries “let go”, “let go”, “let go?”

And how, today, will you begin that shift? How will you being the turning of your ship, your being, and your life, to use this small movement to bring about the beginning of the truest freedom?

About Faye Bird
My name is Faye; four letters, a single syllable, but I am on a journey to become so much more. I am 20 years old, living in the California Bay Area, and after many dark years lost in the depths of anorexia, from which I did not believe I could ever survive, I am now a soul rediscovering what it means to feel whole, to find worth and purpose, and to accept my whole being as all that I am. Through words, yoga, art, volunteer work, and connection, I am cultivating the pieces of my being once again, and am so honored to have the opportunity to share my words here today. Keep on keeping on. Always. 

Read more of Faye's brilliant writings on her blog, The Art of Becoming.

 

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