Archives for posts with tag: disordered eating

dec 22For those struggling with disordered eating and for those working at their recovery, the holidays can be a particularly challenging time.

Not only because most gatherings revolve around food, but because emotional triggers are everywhere.

From financial stressors to navigating relationships with family, to not having enough time to unwind and recharge, the opportunity for relapse is ever present.

Like many who struggle with E.D., I am a perfectionist.

If you’ve ever watched television during the holidays, you’ll know that this time of year is about getting it right.

Every advertisement that flashes across the screen is a how-to guide on how to acquire the perfect gift, the perfect table setting, the perfect turkey, the perfect tree, the perfect dress, the perfect holiday experience.

Each ad is a reminder that you’re not perfect. Because, shit, you didn’t buy the right gift, your napkins are mismatched, your turkey is overcooked, and half your family isn’t speaking to you.

When things go wrong around Christmas time (and they inevitably do) it generally leads to me having a meltdown. Sometimes in the privacy of my own room. But more often than not, it’s in a shopping mall.

Which then leads to me eating too much to numb the shame and embarrassment, feeling angry that I don’t have enough time to work out after consuming an entire batch of sugar cookies, lamenting my lack of perfection, eating more to deal with that…and cue the relentless cycle.

Yes. The holidays are ripe with opportunities for that nagging voice that tells you you’re not good enough to rear it’s ugly head.

So, in case you’re struggling to quiet that voice too, I’m going to tell you what someone told me today:

Be gentle with yourself.

It’s so simple. So hard. And so true.

Christmas doesn’t care whether or not you’re perfect. That sweater you bought your mom in the wrong size? She can return it. That batch of cookies you just devoured? They were delicious. That turkey that’s overcooked? The dog will love it.

So when shit starts hitting the fan (’cause it inevitably will) take a deep breath, and be gentle.

Be gentle because you’re human. Be gentle because you can work out in January. Be gentle because there is no such thing as a perfect body, a perfect Christmas, or a perfect table setting.

 

 

 

oct 29My mother likes to joke that when I was a toddler, she could have left me on a blanket in the middle of a park and come back six hours later to find me still there.

I guess I have always liked boundaries. I found safety and security in the adherence to guidelines and rules.

In the chaos that was sometimes my childhood, having rules allowed me to feel like the world wasn’t spinning out of control.

Years later, I shoved my love affair with rules onto my dinner plate.

Food (and it’s movement in and out of my body) was the one thing I could preside over. And the laws I created were supposed to keep me safe.

I had rules about everything. And when I couldn’t control my impulses, I’d rid my body of my failure with laxatives or a finger down my throat.

Almost two years ago, I gave up the rules.

And oddly enough, my life didn’t spiral out of control.

In fact, it did the opposite.

At 25 years old, instead of letting my eating disorder run my life, I began to take responsibility for my thoughts, my actions and my relationship with myself and other people.

Sometimes it still feels like a miracle.

The trouble is, when I through out the rule book, I never actually took the time to learn to nourish my body.

After living under a dictatorship for so long, I kind of just went “Fuck you Eating Disorder, I’m gonna eat pizza!”

And candy bars, and cream cheese bagels and ice cream and nachos and beer and coffee whenever the heck I want.

And now, my body is finally saying, “Enough already. It’s about time you started treating me with some respect”.

Because I’ve got one body. It’s mine for the rest of my life, and I’ve already put it through some serious abuse. It doesn’t need a daily dose of refined sugar and salt.

I want to be healthy – eat fruits and vegetables (which quite honestly I have always found disgusting) and be free of my dependency on sugar and caffeine. I want to be my own source of energy and my digestive system to finally be free to function properly. It’s just that given my reputation, I’m really scared about giving myself rules again.

Then, as if by fate, a message landed in my inbox (an intentional one – not some crazy diet spam) that made me realize that I’ve still got a ways to go when it comes to transforming my relationship to food.  So, for the month of November (and then probably for the rest of my life) I’m choosing to honour, nourish and revitalize my body.

Because, let’s get real here, choosing to eat vegetables instead of french fries doesn’t mean I’m saying “fuck you” to recovery.

apr 9The above words popped up randomly on my news feed today and I felt as if the universe was speaking directly to me.

I like to believe that if I let myself see them, the cosmos have hidden  little messages and signs in random places for me.

Sometimes the signs come in the form of words on billboards or etchings on the back of bathroom stall doors. When I was travelling in Thailand, the delicious local curries (and local parasites) meant I had to use the ladies room frequently. My hotel in Bangkok was a mecca for foreign backpackers, and due to all the foreign digestive systems, it seemed that people had a lot of time to scrawl messages on the wall of the public toilet there. I remember one scrawling sentence that assured me, even though I was covered in mosquito bites, terribly homesick and suffering from extreme thaiarrhea, that I was “exactly where [I] was meant to be”

I realize that perhaps some backpacker’s chicken scratch in a toilet stall isn’t the best illustration, but I like to believe that the universe sends these little messages at the times when we really need them.

Sometimes the markings are in a youtube video you casually hit the play button on when you have a few minutes to spare. Six months into my recovery process, when I was ready to give up and succumb to my disorder again, a former voice teacher posted a talk by Brene Brown on listening to shame. Having read her research and books before, I didn’t think there was anything that could top what Brene’s words had already taught me.

But when I heard her talk about “the swamp” (the same metaphor my former teacher had always used) I finally acknowledged the shame that had been lurking beneath the weeds and murky water of the swampland of my soul.

I called my mom that night and I cried for hours. Tears that finally released everything that I’d been stuffing down and trying to rid myself of for so many years. I believe the universe gave me a sign that night that it was finally time to let go of my secret shame.

Sometimes the universe sends it’s messages in the form of people. I believe this, because since I’ve started letting myself see them, I meet these cosmic angels every day.

I am 99 days into my challenge and there have been so many moments when I have wanted to give up. I’ve wanted to stop writing, start shopping, stop eating, and start complaining  countless times along the way. I have even had a few dark moments when I was tempted to put my jeans back on again.

There is no doubt in my mind that had it not been for the incredible people the universe has sent to whisper messages of strength, courage, commitment and possibility in my ear, I would never have made it this far.

It is perhaps the single greatest lesson that my wunder year has revealed; that the life I have always dreamed of was here all along. I just couldn’t see it until I discovered that none of the magic and beauty was possible when I was trying to live it all on my own.

apr 7My relationship with food is a little complicated. We’ve had a bit of an on-again-off-again kind of thing going on since I was around sixteen.

After years of mild to moderate dysfunction, our relationship got seriously toxic. So we went to see a therapist. I was cynical at first, but more than a year later, I will admit that therapy did wonders for us. It’s not always a fairytale, but lately food and I have been getting along better than ever.

I don’t remember the moment I went from slightly disfunctional to full-blown disordered. The progression into the darkness was so slow and gradual.

As a teenager I would use food to stuff my feelings. I was in a performing arts company and felt some pressure to have a certain kind of figure, but I was also dancing 10 hours or more a week. On the weekends I would binge on junk food and alcohol-and used that as an excuse for purging.

Up until my early twenties, though I had been binging and purging now for awhile, I was never very conscious of what I was putting in my body.

Until I decided to give up meat.

Having always had a flair for dramatics, nobody questioned me when I said I was going to stop eating meat because I believed that eating the carcasses of murdered animals was poisoning my soul.

It was true. I did believe meat was poisoning my soul. Because more importantly, I was secretly positive that eating meat was making my soul fat.

After I determined that removing meat from my diet wasn’t getting the results I’d intended, I began eliminating other items. Never being one for numbers, I wasn’t inclined to count calories-so I would make up rules about what I was and what I wasn’t allowed to eat. I could eat quinoa but not wheat. Plain yogurt-but no other kinds of dairy. I could eat fruit-but no other sugar. Eventually my rules became so strict that I would only allow myself two very small meals of non-poisonous food a day.

If I broke any of the rules, it would mean I had poisoned myself and would immediately have to rid the harmful substances from my body.

When I entered the recovery process and began introducing some of the items I’d formerly crossed off the list back into my diet, it would induce a full blown panic attack. I would have to try and fight what had become an automatic urge to rid my body of the imagined toxins. It didn’t help that by this point my body had absolutely no idea how to process food anymore so my digestive system would go into overdrive.

I realize that having a compete meltdown over eating half a bagel sounds strange and maybe a little crazy. But as many who have struggled with an E.D. can tell you, the fear of contaminating the body and soul is entirely real.

Over the course of the last year, I have slowly been learning to experience food differently. My relationship still probably can’t be categorized as 100% healthy, but I went out for pizza last night and felt only mildly guilty. I can’t remember the last time I had a major breakdown around eating. Or at least I hadn’t had a major breakdown until today.

I have slowly been parting with many of my self imposed rules, but remaining a vegetarian is the one thing I know I would choose even without the influence of my disorder.

I don’t do a lot of things to reduce my footprint on the earth, but not eating meat is a simple choice that causes me no great hardship to maintain. I don’t go around preaching vegetarianism, but I believe we live in a culture that glorifies the needless consumption of mass amounts of chicken and pork and beef-and choosing not to partake in the process means something to me. While eating animals may not be immediately harmful to my body, the production of burgers and hot dogs is damaging the health of our planet at an alarming rate.

But today, when I got half way through my lunch and realized I had inadvertently consumed a plate of meat, I almost gave up on my winning streak. Even though it was completely unintentional, there are some false truths that my mind has still not parted with.

It took everything I had not to go into total meltdown mode. I don’t want to be the girl with the eating disorder who sits uncomfortably at the table, so I tried to make light of the situation. But in spite of this desire, though I willed them not to, a few panicked tears still managed to squeeze their way out.

After The Incident, as I ran along the Seawall, I tried to convince myself that those few fork-fulls hadn’t done serious damage to my body and soul.

Hours later, as I write these words, I am finally letting it go.

An incredibly wise friend recently wrote that “Life is a practice…Some days things will come easy and then the next day those same things will be a struggle. Just because today you didn’t eat what you wanted to, do what you wanted to do, or say what you wanted to, tomorrow is another opportunity to try again.”

I ate meat today. It felt like a catastrophic disaster, but maybe it was just a way for me to practice getting through life’s little struggles. Because in the grand scheme of my existence-a few accidental fork-fulls are not the end of the world.

feb 25I used to think that the only way to be brave was to be strong. That I must never let anyone see my weakness. Never let anyone smell my fear.

I used to think that to do things right I would have to do them perfectly. Which usually meant I would do them on my own.

There was a washroom in the corner of the basement of my highschool. It was tucked away near the art room and it had a lock on the door. My classmates would escape there in pairs sometimes-to do the kind of things that teenagers do away from prying eyes.

On days in which the armor I wore threatened to rust and fall away-I would summon the last remnants of my so-called strength and at the sound of the lunch bell, I’d retreat to this secret hideout and let myself break down.

I would allow myself to cry until either lunch was almost over or I’d heard the rattling of the handle on the door.

I would dab concealer on my red and puffy eyes, let out an exhale and plaster back on my “everything’s just fine” smile.

Last year, when it became clear that my strength was killing me, my deepest shame was that I could not cure my depression or my disorder on my own.

Those first few months of freezing in doctors offices, being weighed and measured and interagated by nurses and counselors and nutritionists were some of the loneliest moments I have ever known. Not because the doctors were unkind or made me feel ashamed. They were excruciating because of the weight of the secret that was bearing down on my bones.

When it became clear that telling my employers that I had another doctors appointment wasn’t going to cut it as an excuse for missing work anymore, I decided I would privately let my boss know.

I looked at her-this perfect, six-foot tall, blonde supermodel and superhuman -and figured once I said the words I’d probably be fired.

Instead, through the generosity of her spirit and the compassion of her words, for the first time in a long time I knew that I did not have to go through it all alone.

I used to think that to be brave was to be strong. That it meant pushing everyone else aside and saying “I can do this on my own”. I did not know until that moment-when I started letting others be a part of my life-that I had been so wrong.

Learning to lean on others when I could not be strong has been the single most incredibly gift of my recovery. It has shown me not only that the people in my life are superheroes but that there is no journey worth taking alone.

Whether in our sadness or our celebration, it is being there for each other, standing for each other, bearing witness to each other and holding space for each other that truly makes us strong.

 

feb 24

They say the hardest step is admitting you have a problem. Which, if you’ve ever struggled to admit something makes it sound like the following steps will be a veritable cakewalk by comparison.

When I sat down in my therapists office for the first time, I’d admitted to at least five other people that I may be dealing with a little bit of a problem. So I figured she’d walk me through the next few steps and when the hour was up, I’d walk out of her office and leave my eating disorder behind.

I did not know that admitting you have a problem is like breaking up with the man of your dreams-who also happens to be a really crappy boyfriend.

You know the type. Your friends hate him. Your parents hate him. even your dog doesn’t seem that enthused. But none of that matters because oh my god you are so in love.

You are so in love that you don’t notice you’ve changed everything about yourself to be with him. You don’t notice that your friends stopped calling months ago. Or that you’re wearing red lipstick purely because you know he likes it. Or that every time he goes to hold you you’re certain this will be the moment he’ll find something about you not to love.

Which is funny because when he looks at you you feel like you’re the only girl in the world. You feel sexy, beautiful and in control. Stick with him and he’ll give you everything. Then he puts his hands around your waist and laughs that you better not gain any more weight or he’ll have to leave you out in the cold. You laugh too. But you get a sinking feeling that he’s not kidding.

And suddenly you know that he might be the one for you. But you won’t admit it to yourself or anyone, cause only when you’re in his grasp do you feel anything at all.

And that exhilaration of feeling alive becomes more and more sporadic until you’re nearly dead inside.

If you’re lucky, one day you make the escape. But the hardest part isn’t leaving. It’s staying away.

When I walked out of my appointment that day and realized my therapist wasn’t just going to magically cure me, I decided I’d have to take matters into my own hands.

I read books. I did yoga. I took courses. I attempted meditation and tried numerous forms of doctor and self prescribed medications. I got as equally addicted…I mean committed to my recovery process as I had been to starving myself and throwing up.

The first book I read was by a woman who referred to her eating disorder as the shitty boyfriend named Ed that she kept getting back together with until she finally left him once and for all. I read Jenni Schaefer’s words and decided that I would just condense the lengthy process of falling out of love and have a nice clean break. I think I must have forgotten how bad I am at broken hearts.

I’ve never had a real-life shitty boyfriend. I watched my mom’s and decided I’d never have one. Not that they have all been perfect-one did insist on wearing a velour tracksuit-but other than that they’ve all treated me pretty good. But even though they weren’t to blame for it-I would still put on red lipstick if they’d casually mentioned once that they liked it. I’d still twist and bend to fit into the picture I thought they had of me. And even when I became unrecognizable to my former self-I’d still get offended when they didn’t want me to remain forever in their heart. And when I’d leave them before I could get hurt-when they didn’t show up on my doorstep begging me to change my mind-I’d be genuinely crushed and somehow surprised.

If we want to get all Freudian about it it my indignation and utter heartbreak may have something to do with going from being the centre of their universe to feeling rejected and abandoned. Hey, I’m only human- I’ve got some daddy issues.

But whatever the case, the trouble is that my version of Ed keeps showing up even after I’ve told him countless times we are officially broken up. It’s usually in the pouring rain and he usually professes that if I’ve made a huge mistake and if I’d just take him back this time-he promises-things will be okay.

Today he was standing on my doorstep when I got home from work.

He told me I’m getting fat and that if I’d just let him love me again he’ll help me find myself again.

Yes, I realize this is all probably making me sound more than a little crazy, but because I’ve already told you pretty much everything that’s weird about me, I’m going to just keep going.

Whenever Ed shows up I get scared that the hopeless romantic and childish side of me is going to push the stronger woman I’ve become aside. I’ve been waiting for the day when I get tired of putting one foot in front of the other and just give up.

And he shows up and reminds me that being with him was easy. And it was. It was like slowly freezing to death in a cold sea. Floating and numb, I could feel nothing.

This aliveness, this living and breathing-sometimes it’s exhausting.

No one told me that coming back to life again would be the hardest part. That as Ed disappeared the  particles of my broken heart would have to form skin and bones and limbs again.

That I would have to learn to walk again; one foot in front of the other again. And then, again.

That new lungs would stretch their muscles searching for the memory of breath. That I would have to find my voice again.

That I would have to slam the door on him over and over again.

That it would at times become exhausting.

But as the blood courses through the map of my veins as it journeys to the heart, I know that even though the road is long its making it whole again.

And I am reminded of how grateful I am to be exhausted. How grateful I am to be alive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

feb 14I should be getting dolled up right now, preparing for an evening of wine and cheese and friends and fun. Instead, I am half-curled up in the fetal position praying that the chills and stomach cramps I’m experiencing are a by-product of the falafel wrap I ate for lunch and not the result of the bug that has had my coworkers dropping like flies.

In either case, I do not have time for illness, so I am willing my body to be strong.

I am writing it a love letter in the hopes that love cures all.

I have not always known

But I know now.

You are the only one I’ve got.

The only heart.

The only hands.

The only lungs.

These arteries that carry my blood,

These bones that hold me up-

They are the only blood and bones I’ll know.

I didn’t always see it.

But I see it now-

You are as miraculous as any body in the world.

The way your cells whisper to me

As they seek out nourishment and warmth.

How they warn me to the danger of incoming storms.

Your skin with it’s time worn scars.

Your eyes which trick the mind,

But never the soul.

The infinite wisdom of your breathe,

The taste of raindrops on your tongue.

The way your veins have always known the pathway to the heart.

I havent always stood here,

But I stand in awe of you now.

feb 11Thought I couldn’t breathe without you
I’m inhaling
You thought I couldn’t see without you
Perfect vision

You thought I couldn’t last without you
But I’m lastin’
You thought that I would die without you
But I’m livin’

Thought that I would self destruct
But I’m still here
Even in my years to come
I’m still goin’ be here

-Beyonce

Survival, as defined by dictionary.com, is “the act or fact of continuing to remain in existence, especially under adverse or unusual circumstances.” A survivor is then said to be “a person or thing that survives.” Or “a person who continues to function or prosper in spite of opposition, hardship, or setbacks.”

In this sense, we are all survivors. I’m fairly certain, that there isn’t a human being alive that hasn’t faced some sort of hardship. Some of us have survived earthquakes and storms. Some of us have survived divorce, illness, stereotypes and war.

I have, and continue to, survive myself.

At this point you’re likely thinking “umm…ok?”. You may wonder how I can possibly put my survival skills on the same level as someone who has survived such adverse circumstances as war. And I get it-I may very well have no idea what it takes to survive anything other than the war I’ve waged against myself.  But I also know, that whether my hardships were real or a figment of my own creation, the threat I posed to my own survival was as deadly as any raging storm.

Growing up in a sometimes chaotic household, I found my refuge on the stage. As a teenager in a performing arts company, I was not unfamiliar with the notion of eating disorders. I just didn’t think that occasionally throwing up after a meal meant I had one. I admired with envy the commitment of girls who could make it through the day on lettuce alone. I lamented my lack of willpower and way the rush of a binge followed by the relief of its release put my teenage angst at bay. Looking back, I realize that this was the beginning of my disordered thinking.

Later, as an acting student in college I was told that my job was “to make the invisible, visible.”  As an artist, it was my responsibility to share the story of the character’s journey by revealing their hidden thoughts through movement and text. Because, more often than not, it is what is said between the lines, that creates breathtaking theatre. As an actor, I was required to access the dark, messy place within the human experience; the place where secrets lie. But though I knew my success depended on it, I couldn’t go there. I didn’t want anyone to see what a fraud I was. That while on the outside I might seem to have it all together, beneath the surface I was more fucked up than any character I’d ever have to play.

In Canada, a diagnosis of an eating disorder is more likely to be fatal than a diagnosis of breast cancer.  1 in 5 of those diagnosed will die as a result of complications brought on by their eating disorder.

I am lucky. I have had the means and the support necessary to fight for my survival. After a year of treatment, I now know on a rational level that being jealous of someone with a serious illness isn’t exactly a sign of mental clarity. But even today I struggle to remind myself that having an extra bite of my Pad Thai doesn’t mean I’m worthless or inadequate or losing control.

Survival is a promise I have to make to myself every day. I make it every time I take a breath, with every bite of food, every downward dog, every step forward and every step back. I make it every time I look in the mirror and choose to love the image I see.

Survival may have begun with me, but it has taken an entire community. It has taken the help of my physicians and counselors, the understanding of my friends and family, and courage of other survivors who have shared their stories and given me hope.

Survival is the anthem I sing in the face of my fears.  A deep breath in the face of opposition. Remembering to ask for help when I need it. Reminding myself, that just like Beyonce, I‘m gonna make. I’m not gonna give up. I’m a survivor and I’ll keep on survivin’.

jan 4As my mother said, the reason Superheroes wear tights is because “there’s less wind resistance and friction when flying through the air at super-fantastic speeds.” The reason I wear tights, is because they are not jeans.

Jeans lie. You’ll slip into them one morning and the next day you’ll find yourself contorting like a circus performer in a failed attempt to do up the zipper. Jeans will tell you that you’re thighs are “fat” or that breakfast “probably isn’t a very good idea”. Aside from the obvious benefit that they are pre-shrunk, my Wunder Under’s nylon and lycra blend doesn’t give a second thought to last night’s second helping of lasagna. They simply shape-shift to accommodate what ever space my body is currently taking. Which is good, because like most women’s bodies, mine’s form is constantly fluctuating-even if it’s just in my own mind.

It will be a year ago this month that I first sat in the exam room of a medical specialist and was officially diagnosed with an eating disorder. Of course, it had been unofficial for quite some time. But sitting in that office, my clothes hanging off my skeletal frame and shivering from the constant cold I felt, I heard the words that would change the entire course of my life;

“You have the strength of a 93 year old woman.”

I was 25. I have two grandmothers in their 90s. I didn’t want to argue with the doctor-but I was pretty sure that either one of my feisty Nanas could probably kick my ass. I hadn’t thought of my eating disorder this way, and with those words I realized how embarrassing it would be to lose to my grandma in a leg wrestling match. Needless to say, I got pretty committed to my recovery.

Over the course of the past year, with the help of many incredible people in my life, I have learned not to trust the lies my jeans tell me. Slowly (and there are days where it is still a battle) I have built up my strength and learned to listen to truth that I had ignored for far too long.

This morning as I slipped into the very first pair of Wunder Unders I ever purchased, I realized that they no longer bag out around my calves like they did a year ago. What was once was a hollow space has transformed into a magestical calf muscle. Muscle I have earned through sweat and tears and the encouragement of the people (and the pants) I love.

If my Wunder Unders weren’t so flexible, they might tell me that they’re fitting a little snug around the waist too-but they are so darn stretchy that they just don’t care. Instead, they tell me that my Grandmas better watch out. And my leggings don’t lie.