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The Truth about Guys, Girls, and Weight

17 Dec

For many girls struggling with food, body image, and weight, their eating disorder provides a sense of security and control over life events or feelings that seem overwhelming. I know this was the driving force behind mine.

But oftentimes, there are other incentives to continue manipulating food and exercise, like receiving compliments from friends and family, feeling lightheaded and invincible, and believing that being thin is more attractive. For me, it was a no brainer to pursue a full blown eating disorder because it not only helped me cope, but hey… I was also going to be admired, popular and pretty. What a bargain!

I really did believe that I was so huge and ugly that the only way someone would be attracted to me was if I became much, much thinner. Let me tell you… I was wrong.

After a certain point, people stopped admiring my “self-control” and “fitness” and began expressing disgust or concern for my health. The more emaciated I became, the less people wanted to be around me. It was as though they were afraid they would catch the anorexia like it was contagious.

Slowly, I lost what made me a woman- my butt, breasts, and curves. Instead, I looked like a malnourished teenage boy- gangly limbs, pointy elbows, sunken eyes, and prominent, countable ribs. Complete with the surly disposition due to my malnutrition and the resulting depression. I lost my body, but more importantly the quest to be the thinnest made me lose my joy. My smiles were stretched thin. Fake. And frankly, I see now why no boy would ever approach me because of that.

And now, being through the physical restoration component of recovery, I can see in retrospect how wrong I was about what exists in the minds of guys. I’m not saying I’m an expert, because clearly, I’m a girl. But I have been lucky enough to enter into a relationship with a very sweet, kind guy the past few months and have had to reconsider my previous beliefs about gender and beauty.

The first time he remarked on my figure, it took me a moment or two to recover. What? Everything my eating disorder had told me about being attractive was turned upside down. It shocked me, after talking with him, to realize that 20, 30 lbs. ago, he wouldn’t have even considered dating me… “I want to have something to hug.”

And apparently, this guy is not an exception. A recent study done at St. Andrew’s University in Scottland questioned whether the “size zero” body or a more curvaceous figure was more attractive to the 18-26 male age group. The girls were assessed for health by taking blood pressures and weights and then photographed. Then each guy was presented with the photos and asked to rate them in terms of health and attractiveness. Reports indicate that the overwhelming majority of the young men preferred the women at healthy weights over under or overweight women. What a strong message to girls who believe that you you have to be nothing but bones in order to be beautiful.

Don’t believe the lie.

Being healthy is more important that being thin. No matter what the eating disorder may say. End of story.

 The truth is, guys like happy, healthy girls.

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Replacing “Shoulds” with “Coulds”

15 Oct

I hate body bashing, yet like so many other women on this planet, I can’t seem to stop. It’s such a WASTE OF MY TIME… While I spend hours thinking about thinner thighs and agonizing over that chocolate chip cookie I ate, precious time slips away and I’m no thinner, no happier, no more at peace with myself than before. And then I feel guilty… for buying into the body bashing trap and wasting so much time! What a vicious cycle!

Instead of berating yourself and thinking of what you SHOULD NOT be doing, think of how many wonderful things you COULD be doing.

You could be shimmying to music blaring from the radio when no one’s home.

You could be cuddled up on the couch with a mug of steaming tea, a good novel, and the company of the patter of rain outside the fogged up window.

You could be calling one of those friends you never seem to have time to call.

You could be singing, laughing, basking in the delight of living.

You could be outside, feeling the warmth of the sun on your skin. You could be out digging in the dirt, planting new seeds, and starting new life. You could be smelling the sweetness of flowers and admiring the beauty of nature.

You could be hiking, breathing in the crisp morning air, so fresh it’s better than Pine-Sol.

You could be writing, pouring your soul out onto paper, leaving a tangible mark that yes, you were there.

You could be walking in your favorite clothes store, feeling the vast myriad of soft fabrics and wistfully creating a wishlist in your mind. You could be having an retro adventure in a vintage store, trying on the gaudiest 80’s dresses available. You could be testing in the shoe department of Macy’s, seeing what it’s like to strut in the highest stilettos they sell. *

You could be buried in the stacks at your local library, seeking out the classics and feeling smarter for just being amongst all the works of such great authors. You could be spending an afternoon at Barnes and Nobles, losing yourself in the allure of crisp, new books, full of such potential, waiting to be read. You could be browsing the nearest used bookstore, selecting the bindings that look most broken, because truly, that is the sign of a book well loved.

You could be lounging in your PJs on Saturday morning, doing nothing but enjoying doing nothing…

You could be baking cookies, brownies, cupcakes as sweet little reminders to give to others that you think about them often. That you care.

You could be walking in the park, admiring the leaves changing colors and cascading back down to the earth in fall. You could be rolling a snowman with friends or your kids, lost in the moment, not minding how frosty your fingers are because really, it’s all about fun. You could be laying at the beach, allowing the warm months to soak over you. Or in my case, you could be slathered in sunscreen at the beach, trying to stay under the umbrella with a good magazine for fear of looking like a lobster.

You could be flying a kite, allowing the breeze to blow away your worries.

You could be declaring it movie night, picking out your favorite, or a new one from the Redbox, letting yourself get lost in the fantasy, romance, or action of filmed fiction.

You could be plopped in one of those comfy armchairs little coffee shops always seem to have, whittling away the number of emails you have left to build up while sipping a fragrant vanilla latte. Ahh…

You could be getting a pedicure, allowing yourself a small luxury. You could be giving your friends pedicures, in hope that they will return the favor. You could be hosting a spa day… how fun would that be?

You could be napping, restoring your body and resting for the many, many things you will have to do in the times that will come.

You could be playing a long board game with family on the weekends, complete with rivalry and the little ones inevitably cheating. You could pretend to not notice, it’d be the right thing to do…

You could be feeding your soul, building yourself up, and tearing down the negativity. You could be creating a new path for yourself, moment by moment. You could be making memories with loved ones, so that down the line, you won’t regret all that time you wasted. You could be enjoying the finite moments you are given.

 You could be doing so much in the same time you would have spent wallowing, worrying, obsessing

You could be living.

 

 

 

 

 

Even with an ED, You Belong

18 Aug

My treatment team has always emphasized the importance of community and fostering social relationships in my recovery because, for so long, I isolated completely. Not too long ago, the only person I saw was my Mom when she came home from work. The rest of the day I spent with my eating disorder. I was lonely and the loneliness felt dark, enveloping, a huge gaping hole swallowing me from the inside out. I feared I’d never be able to fill that void I felt so intensely- that I was unlovable because of my eating disorder, so I should stay away from everyone. It was easier to hide in the apartment than face a world where I would inevitably sometimes get hurt, be afraid, or, perhaps most frightening of all, have to eat in public.

But the eating disorder said it’d keep me company. It wrapped me in a blanket of despair that provided security from the uncertain world and held my cold, spindly hand in its iron, death grip. Though I felt I could trust no one, the ED was different- it was constant, stable and predictable. Even if the rest of my life felt shattered, the ED gave me one thing to hold onto: “At least, at least you are still THIN.” 

As I’ve grown in recovery, I’ve found, however, that the desire to live and feel connected outweighs the fear that once kept me alone.

Today, I visited some of the teachers at my old high school. They were, of course, shocked to see me and from the look on their faces, they didn’t seem to think they’d ever see me like this. Over and over again, in each classroom, I heard the same phrase uttered, “You look so good!” And while a few months ago, the ED would have sensored their words before they reached my ear, twisting them into, “You look so fat,” today, I felt proud. They wanted to know how I came so far and pulled through; they sensed the magnitude and strength it takes to overcome an eating disorder. It was a radically different visit than the one I had taken a few months ago when I was near my all-time lowest weight.

Seeing me months ago, after I took medical leave from my freshman year of college, I saw concern written across their faces at the dramatic amount of weight I lost so soon after leaving inpatient “weight restored.” Most of them seemed doubtful then that I would ever reach the height of success they once expected from me. They saw me as someone to be pitied- someone who had everything going for her, but lost that in the grips of a wretched medical illness.

The visit today was inspiring for both me, and I hope for them as well. After hearing how healthy, good, well, beautiful, strong, and pretty I looked, I left feeling like I was on top of the world. For once, I didn’t have to lie about what was happening at home and outside of the classroom door. It was a whole new dynamic because I am not a sufferer anymore. I danced through each concrete hallway with my head up, confidence blaring, a bounce in my step and eyes sparkling. I refuse to let my ED make me suffer so much anymore. I don’t deserve it- I’ve done enough suffering for a lifetime. Two years ago, I hid behind a mask of perfection, pretending I was confident and put together, pushing through the pain inside. But that’s no longer: chatting with my AP Government teacher, I told her, “Honestly, I have not felt this good in a very long, long time.” She responded simply, “I know… you’re smiling.”

Most of all, today I felt connected, like I belonged, and that I was always remembered, always loved.

Recovery means risking hurt, rejection, rumors, criticisms and all the mess that comes along with relationships. But it’s worth it. Take a poll. Go see old friends, old coworkers, old teachers. And if you have none of those, I’ll tell you. Let this message flood your pores, ricochet in your ears, and sink into every part of yourself:

You deserve. You are loved.

You belong here.

Seven Steps to a Good Day

9 Aug

Do you ever feel like an Alexander? You know the one. Yep, I do. I hate those Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Days. And entrenched in my eating disorder, I used to have a lot of them. Life wasn’t fun… at all. It seemed like I couldn’t do anything right- that no matter how hard I tried, the only thing I succeeded at was being thin. But I wasn’t happy.

Don’t get me wrong- Life still seems to think my name is Alexander sometimes. Recovery is not easy-it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done- and I have my share of breakdowns, anxiety attacks, and “fat phases.” But the hard days become less and less frequent and I’ve slowly started figuring out that a “bad” day isn’t a product of fate alone. We have the ability to create a good day and avoid those ones filled with lima beans, no cereal prize, and soap in your eyes. Here are the ten steps I have come up with to ensure my day is as good as it can be, whether in recovery from an ED or not:

1. Pack the night before. Ask anyone who knows me well and they’ll tell you I love to travel and HATE to pack. Packing suitcases, packing lunch, packing boxes- doesn’t matter. Even though I’m an organization freak, there’s something about packing that I absolutely dread. So to avoid feeling anxious in the morning, I have made it a habit to pack everything I need for the next day, including my computer, materials for work, book, lunch, etc. the night before. It’s nice to wake up and not have such a sour chore to ruin my morning.

2. Stick with Structure. For months after I left inpatient treatment for my ED, I struggled immensely. Looking back now, I realize I falsely believed then that there was nothing to fill my time. The over-exercising, starving, bingeing, purging became a game to occupy my underused mind. Now, I have many appointments and work to go to that occupy most of my days, but I still add to my schedule to create more structure for myself. Even on days off and weekends, I still pencil activities in on my calendar. That way, if the ED pipes up with a suggestion, I can counter with, “Oh, that’s really too bad. I’d love to [insert: starve, binge, purge, run fifteen miles, crunch to exhaustion] but I’m too busy today. See? My calendar is filled up. We’ll have to reschedule for another day when I have nothing written down to do.” Which will be never…

It doesn’t mean that I have to fill every single second of the day; it simply means if I have large blocks of time, I pre-plan what I’m going to do, even if it’s just read, take a nap, or watch something on TV. And I don’t stick to the schedule rigorously, but it’s a fall back plan if I feel the anxiety of empty time beginning to rise or the ED starting to whine.

3. ” A Teaspoon of Sugar helps the medicine go down…” Life is stressful and a little bit like Robitussin, my least favorite medicine- sometimes the best thing you can do is accept it and swallow as quick as you can. Oh, and follow it with Mary Poppin’s famous remedy. In my case, I always plan one thing that makes me excited, that’s just for me, when I’m scheduling everything on my calendar for the following day. That way, when I wake up, I don’t think about what I’m going to have to swallow and endure that day, but rather the sweetness that will follow. Today, my “teaspoon of sugar” was going to photography class, but in the past I’ve also planned:

  • an early morning yoga class
  • coffee with a friend
  • eating a packed lunch in a different location(outside on a bench, at a park on the grass, on the porch…)
  • window shopping after work
  • renting a Redbox movie Continue reading

Creating as a Cure

30 Jul

 Forgetting. We all do it, and more often than not, it has such a negative connotation:

“Grandma forgot to put sugar in these cookies again. I think she’s going senile…” or

“Damn it… I set my coffee on the roof of the car before I left, but forgot to transfer it to the cup holder before reversing out. Bet someone got a jolt of java driving behind me.” or

“Aww… MOMMMM!!! TELL HIM HE CAN’T FORGET TO PUT THE SEAT BACK DOWN! THIS IS DISGUSTING! OH, AND HE NEEDS TO LEARN HOW TO AIM, TOO!”

See what I mean? Forgetfulness gets such a bad rap usually. But when it comes to ED recovery, or just living happier, I say a little dose of temporary amnesia is beneficial. It’s nice to be able to zone out from all the stressful thoughts that usually run through my head concerning weight, food, body image, insecurities, fears. That list normally occupies 90% of my thinking everyday, which I’m trying to change because really, it’s such a waste of intelligence. I think my gray matter needs a detox from all the detrimental thoughts the ED bombards it with, and that’s where art comes in.

For the longest time, I thought since I did so well in school, excelled in math and science, loved puzzles and nonfiction, I couldn’t be “creative” or “artsy.” When I was little, I loved drawing, painting, dancing, baking, and most of all, daydreaming. But as I matured, I picked up the message from society that I was supposed to be successful, bright, and driven, and any of those activities were distractors. Hippies, children, professional artists, and people with a dominant right brain could do art, but not me. No, if I wanted to study science or math, I had no time to “waste” on being creative.

Art, however, is an expression of emotion. In retrospect, I see a correlation between the development of my ED as a coping tool for my feelings quickly after I pushed the creative activities I loved out of my life. To survive the difficulty I was going through and no creative outlet, I turned to my eating disorder. Perhaps it’s the only thing my ED was good for- it helped me through an extremely heart-wrenching emotional time by giving me a sense of order and stability when everything was chaos. No, it was not the best coping tool, but it kept alive and functioning. I felt, and still do sometimes, that the mental struggle will overwhelm me; a riptide of anxiety, depression, or grief that will never let go.

 So, I starved away the sadness, binged back the tears, fasted of fear, heaved up the humiliation.

But I am a different person now. Through art, I don’t need an ED to forget about my troubles and numb myself from feeling. Today, I turn to photography, scrapbooking, knitting, pinterest collaging, cooking, writing(this blog!) and simply forget about everything but the art I am creating. The ED was successful in helping me cope because, through it, I lost myself. Literally. Art has helped me lose the eating disorder, and find myself again.

If you’d like to see some of the photography I’ve been snapping up, take a look at my new “Photography” Page at the top of the page.

Don’t FORGET to create something today!!!

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