Dash from Dining

As is inevitable when it comes to social interaction is the situation that for those with a similar history as me might shudder: eating out, in restaurants, with others around.Let me tell you, I am currently writing this while sneakily eating a banana I had in my bag mid-flight. You know, because eating fruit is very tense and embarrassing, right?

As much as I am reminded that people don’t really care about what you’re doing (they’re often thinking the same fears from others, too), I cannot help but get anxious about something as simple as dining with others.

A peek inside my mind might make more sense. When I’m at home, knowing what, when, and how much I’m eating, I don’t feel the need to dwell on the little details. I can feel comfortable knowing it’s a “safe space.” It’s food I enjoy eating, and I can eat with my immediate family no sweat.

But start pulling in new factors. Different people with different eating patterns and appetites and diets as you. Going to different restaurants that, unless I’ve looked at the menu beforehand, is a shot in the dark of what I’ll have. And whatever ends up in front of me, how much do I eat? What is considered a normal portion? Are people looking at me or judging me?

Going vegan has helped tremendously in this struggle. If it’s vegan, it’s good to go. I can enjoy it without much other thought. But that still doesn’t necessarily prevent feeling self-conscious, especially if that means deviating from others, making different requests. And I still automatically think people are watching and judging me, that they can see me hesitate and overthink a function that should be innate but isn’t. Add more people, and the anxiety increases tenfold.

It’s as if there is a disconnect between my stomach and brain. They act independently and don’t understand each other often. So in a new dining situation, simple becomes complex. What is choosing an item from a menu or partaking in a buffet becomes endless questions and difficult decisions.

This comes back to my discussions regarding life as a constantly recovering individual in terms of my eating disorder. The network of nerves and signals in my brain will most likely always behave the same way, but from these patterns, I can address them accordingly. The fact that I don’t enjoy restaurant and large dining hall environments is not necessarily an out-right phobia. It’s definitely more anxiety-driven, making me on edge and uncomfortable.

I’m all about pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone. It’s important to not always steer away from what scares you, especially if you feel held back. This pertains to truly anything, regardless of your mental health. But I also think there’s compromise out there. It goes back to my discussion and thoughts about triggering situations that provoke unhealthy thoughts and behaviors. It’s not like all social situations have to involve food. You should not feel guilty if you don’t want to eat out or eat in a certain situation if you don’t want to. And others should understand that it’s okay, that the presence of being close to others and the effort into taking the time and energy to see others is worth it.

Because yes, I would not feel sad if I never ate out again. If I have the choice and we have to order from a restaurant, I will always go for takeout so I can at least be in a comfortable environment. So that means that if I’m actually present in a restaurant, regardless if I’m eating or just sipping or drink or just hanging out, then kudos to me.

Chances are, this is will always be my normal. Just as I am always generally in a lower mood than most others, I have come to accept that I have to make adjustments to live a full life, and that’s okay. The people who are in my life will hopefully understand that, and anyone who enters my life will be people who will come to accept that, too. It doesn’t make the whole predicament less annoying, but I’m proud of the progress I’ve made. I do hope I can continue becoming more comfortable with the inevitability of eating out with others.

Basically I’m here to voice my frustrations and let others know who might be in the same boat that it’s okay. It doesn’t make you broken. If it’s something that really bothers you and hinders your life, then it’s something to work through with yourself or a therapist. You do you. Either way, you are validated in your struggle.

Theme of today: keep on keeping on. Celebrate the little victories and be okay admitting if you need help or just need to leave a situation. Ultimately, if doing something like dining out in a busy place brings discomfort, there are always options and alternatives. It’s the awareness of your personal well-being that truly matters.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

Vying for Victimhood

Poor me. Why me?! Woe is me.

Ah, the good ol’ pity game. I used to be a champion of that one. Seeing yourself as an isolated enemy that the world is entirely against. That nothing goes your way. That your own hardship is of a unique and extreme caliber compared to others. 

Sometimes we just like feeling the sense that we are taken care of. We don’t want to take responsibility of the struggles we go through. We look to outside sources that are throwing us off kilter. 

And since people are how they are, we respond to victimhood with pity. We pay special attention to those who face wrongdoing, give them a shoulder to cry on. We want the people we care about to feel loved and cared for.

But when looking at victimhood from that perspective, doesn’t it feel just a little manipulative? Like the boy who cried wolf. You keep playing the same cards, and the people who started out answering to your every beck and call now resent the relationship.

It’s draining having to reassure someone constantly if they sound like a broken record. I am more attentive to that in others now, especially when I know myself how the mindless game works. When in the thick depths of mental illness, I didn’t want to acknowledge that my own mental state was at fault. It must be something else, right? Bad luck? A curse on everything I do? A demon swinging my emotions around like a pendulum, surely.

As difficult as it may be, we cannot cower away from our problems and expect others to mediate everything for us. We have to face obstacles head-on and be responsible for our actions and emotions.

As cliche as the Pinterest-esque quotes sound, we truly as the protagonists of our own stories. We have to be our own hero. We cannot depend on others to do so for us. If we do not have the resilience and willpower to handle life as it is, then we need a reevaluation of ourselves.

Living as our own hero is a true form of self-care. Let me tell you, as someone who used to strictly be the world’s punching bag, knowing that I have led the life I have makes me proud. I don’t see myself as a victim, but as a warrior. And we are each warriors overcoming our own battles and, in one way or another, will end up victorious if we move forward with the right attitude.

As always, it is about our perspective. And others can only influence us so much. You shouldn’t expect others to do it, either. When you know what it’s like from both sides, you realize that in reality, all of our daily annoyances, our lifelong battles, and everything in between: they’re unavoidable. The least we can do is accept everything as it comes and move forward. Stopping to mope over regrets and what “could be” is just wasting precious time.

Regardless of what we see as our biggest problem, chances are that somebody will be facing worse circumstances. The world is full of hunger, poverty, disease, and disability. We cannot help but look at our own lives and be grateful. Feel blessed for the people in your life, the simple conveniences of living in a modern developed society, your health and body and capable mind.

Admittedly, I will still at some point fall into the self-pity trap. People I encounter will also speak of themselves and their own lives as a giant travesty. I mean, the internet is full of people ranting about their lives and “ironically” calling themselves out. It’s your choice if you want to partake. Just because everyone else lie on the floor after tripping, you can still get up and keep walking.

And if you feel like someone in your life is in this category of mentalities, let them know. Or, if you’re the rash type, let them go. You deserve to feel uplifted, not obligated to reassure and babysit somebody who is questioning and doubting everything. It definitely comes with time and it’s not always easy, but I can say it is well worth it. 

You capable of confidence and strong self-esteem. Maybe not right now, but soon. Keep moving forward. Find the light poking through the fog. Life is a lot of doubt, fear, discomfort, and stress. But nothing in life is too difficult to not overcome. So own up to it. Victomhood or victory: the choice is yours.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

Troubling Triggers

The word “trigger” is one that has been thrown around much more often than it should. It’s just one of those “cool” phrases to use online to turn mental illness into a glamorous state of being.

But contrary to the overuse of the term, I do think it’s important to address this concept as it pertains to mental health. For those of us volatile to dips in mental health with a history of any difficulties, there can be certain situations that can be a tipping point for a relapse.

Understandably, moods are bound to change regardless of our surroundings, but even if you’re in a good place, certain things can just be uncomfortable or downright dangerous.

This topic came to mind after seeing a news story of how two girls completed suicide. However, it turns out that both girls had watched the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why before doing so. Obviously the families of these girls, with the one piece of tangible reasoning they can grasp, are placing blame on the video streaming site.

Putting blame entirely on Netflix is as bad as blaming every circumstance other than mental illness for suicide. However, I do think that the show was a trigger to young people already facing plenty of issues themselves. A confirmation that following through with their dangerous thoughts was a sensible choice.

For most people, triggers don’t come from television shows, but these shows could easily portray concepts that cause anxiety, that allow depressive thoughts to resurface.

A common misconception is that if we are exposed to our triggers more often, they are easier to manage. That we become used to how we feel and “overcome” our hesitation. Rarely is this true. Phobias and triggers are not synonymous. You should feel no obligation to face your triggers if you don’t feel comfortable.

Instead of devaluing someone for avoiding what is harmful to them, we should applaud the fact they’re aware of what disrupts their mental well-being and taking care of themselves accordingly. Nothing is more empowering than having insight into our health and making the best choices for ourselves. And if doing so doesn’t limit our lives or hurt others, nobody should judge however that self-care may look.

You’re probably wondering, do I have triggers? Of course. There’s a reason why I don’t wear a FitBit, weigh myself, or go out often to loud, crowded places without a valid reason. I know that by being proactive, I can prevent myself from having to deal with what I know might drive me to some unhealthy behaviors.

Is this a form of avoidance? That by not addressing these triggers head-on, I’m not actively seeking recovery? I don’t think so. You shouldn’t feel guilty for making your life as nontoxic as possible. You are the one living your life, and if that means that you don’t associate yourself with certain people or don’t partake in certain activities, then that’s okay.

It’s been a new thing these days for certain people to critique how often we might label a certain social media post or program with a “trigger warning.” But why is this any different from other health conditions? You wouldn’t ask a diabetic person to eat a ton of desserts to raise their blood sugar through the roof, nor would you put a jar of peanut butter in somebody’s face who has a food-borne allergy, expecting them to adapt to that situation and become more resilient.

It’s more understandable to make these comparisons, but mental health triggers can be much more complicated. As with mental and physical illness, the latter tends to be much more visible, more black-and-white. Mental health thrives in the grey area. The mental triggers, as with physical ones, can be mild or severe. They can come from anywhere that has some emotional ties. Most people wouldn’t even question eating certain foods or discussing certain topics, but who knows what goes through somebody else’s head doing the same thing. Triggers require others to be flexible and aware. They are not the outright cause of mental illness, but they are catalysts for trouble.

While not every single word or image we see or hear should require listing out every possible reason that it could offend someone else, but we ourselves should notice whatever signs we know are associated with our personal triggers and treating them accordingly. Nobody else has to be involved in disclosing every single detail we might encounter, but the people around us should act simply as moral support. They might not fully understand why a simple TV show or social situation might cause full-out panic or depression, but they can acknowledge that you might do things differently than others, and that’s okay.

Whether you have triggers or not, be mindful and empathetic of those who do have them, who may need your emotional support to simply live a full life. And these triggers are not glamorous. It’s not some new trend to say you have social anxiety or are depressed. Triggers have and will drive some people over the edge. Once we actually start taking that threat seriously, we can continue moving forward as a cognizant society.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

Where We’ve Come

Today is nothing poignant necessarily. Nothing too crazy. It’s just crazy for me, and hopefully others can relate.

When you’ve been through a lot, have had a whirlwind of obstacles and challenges come across your path, it’s weird to even imagine a point where those obstacles become manageable. As if you just got a pair of glasses after years of blurry vision and finally seeing the world as it is for the first time.

That’s how I feel. This has been the longest period I have ever felt this…normal. At a mental state where I have some sense of stability. For me, that is something I honestly never thought I’d find.

Maybe it’s just me trying to block everything out of my memory, but it’s hard for me to go back and think about my past mental states, my self-destructive thoughts. So many days of my short life have been spent covered in a blindfold.

I realize that I’m now trudging in unfamiliar territory. I don’t know what life is like without extra weight dragging me down. It’s weird to not always feel dull, or not have my mind racing to different random scenarios in my head, or not counting every crumb I’ve consumed in a day. With all of the extra head space, I almost feel guilty for not immediately going to do more. Pursuing so many different things I would have never dreamed of before.

No matter how awful mental illness is, when you begin to see a light at the end of the tunnel, you almost feel naked. Mental illness has been an everyday battle for me, and even on days that I felt better than normal, it became an easy crutch and excuse to rely upon. If I’m nervous about stepping outside of my comfort zone, even if I know deep down I can handle it, it’s too easy to just call out depression or anxiety and avoid it all.

But there’s no hiding now. I’m more aware of myself than I ever have been. In fact, it’s as if I am now truly embodying my personality. That can lead to new anxieties, of not being good enough even when I’m present. That I am a lost soul meandering into nothing, no end in sight, because my formative years were spent in fog. It’s scary to realize that vulnerability. It presents an unknown, a potential for relapsing back into my lower moods, a world that I don’t know I can fit into.

I also must realize that some aspects of myself are just me, not my mental illness. No amount of therapy or medication can make me care less about having my life especially clean and organized. I’m naturally very critical of myself. I still desire some sense of control over what I encounter in life. As I continue making progress, it’s all about learning about myself, finding out something new every day to better take care of myself.

Yes, the hesitations are real. I cannot deny those. However, with every fear that crosses my mind, an exponential number of benefits outnumber them all. They often arise in very mundane, normal situations, things that most other people wouldn’t think twice about. Like actually wearing shorts in the summer instead of hiding in long pants, even on the hottest of days. Like completing a school assignment without dazing off every few minutes. Like genuinely smiling and feeling emotions.

This journey is one I know I will travel the rest of my life. My genetics don’t allow for those dangerous tendencies to completely dissipate. But that realization doesn’t deter me from still working every day to be my best self, however that may look each passing day. Some mornings will be easier, and others not. If anything, knowing the potential of those easier mornings is more encouragement to remain hopeful and optimistic because normality and happiness are possible. They aren’t just cheesy motivational quotes.

My normal won’t look like yours or anybody else’s. What is a success for me might be a simple task for everybody else, and that is okay. And by no means am I saying that you can just put on a happy face when you’re depressed and you’ll be cured. Trust me, I know the burden of chronic mental illness.

I hope you realize that no matter your struggles in life, if you’ve come out the other side, you are strong. You are capable of facing anything thrown your way. And if you’re in the midst of the battle, keep going. The storm does pass. The rain and wind will batter against the windows and shake your foundation, but if you’re willing to weather it all, willing to accept help when necessary and patch up any damage, then you will be rewarded.

There’s point in not being hopeful. I know there have been times when I couldn’t imagine anything else or was so blind to my own suffering. But knowing that I am sitting here, feeling like I am, accomplishing all that I have thus far, it’s slightly unbelievable. I don’t know if it will ever really sink in, but if I can do anything with this present moment, I want to encourage others. I want to open the blinds so everyone can see the sunshine. Because the clouds cannot stick around forever.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

(Fit)Bits and Bobs

Since the dawn of society, humans have been conscious of their well-beings. Through different methods of tracking and calculation, people labeled and numbered their health. As time progressed, these modes of monitoring became more accurate and scientific through the growing use of technology. Today, society continues to expand health tracking opportunities, even stemming into user-friendly devices available to all consumers. These devices, commonly known as fitness data trackers, calculate a person’s daily steps, calorie intake, heart rate, and sleep pattern, all from the comfort of the user’s wrist. While the implications of these devices are noteworthy, allowing anybody to become more aware of their personal well-being, the technology’s influence through major scopes of life may reveal some flaws. Using the context of medical, professional, and ethical standards, fitness data trackers are still new devices that require improvement and are not best for all people.

From a medical standpoint, fitness data trackers encourage a healthier society, but the methods of doing so are not best for the majority. With the devices’ rise in popularity and other medical advances, the digital health care sector has seen a forty percent growth in recent years. Since the technology is still very recent in its fruition, the concept behind the trackers could expand even more to become more personalized for individual needs. Those who rely solely on their fitness trackers to measure their overall wellness may not be gaining the best perspective on their health. These people could also develop an unhealthy relationship with their tracker, obsessing over achieving certain numbers. Medically, fitness trackers measure everyday physical signs of a healthy life, but they cannot measure mental and emotional well-being, both of which are crucial aspects of a truly well-rounded state. To achieve optimal health, medical professionals must advise patients to not only wear a fitness tracker, but to also learn how to pay attention to their individual bodily cues and needs that a wearable tracker cannot provide. People focused entirely on a device for medical information can lose trust in their own bodies, if they may not function best according to a tracker’s standards, and in turn lose touch with their well-being over a piece of technology. In order to avoid abuse of a fitness tracker, individuals must set guidelines for themselves that place emphasis on traditional forms of health care, including annual physicals and potentially psychological therapy, and utilize a tracker not as a primary source of information. Health is not cookie-cutter, and through medical support, society can learn to both appreciate and criticize fitness data trackers, balancing both physical vital signs but also an immeasurable healthy mental state.

For some professional settings, the fitness data tracker has become a new staple incentive, but relying on collected numbers to provide employees with different benefits is unfair to those not using the trackers or not accurately representing their overall health, potentially affecting workplace morale. For many people—over sixty percent in one survey asking about the interest in wearing a fitness tracker to earn health care benefits—the chance to receive insurance premium discounts whilst providing employers their fitness information is very enticing. Companies can also keep track of how their employees might use a provided wellness program. Without proper consideration of those against fitness trackers, however, the devices bring about consequences hindering the workplace and relationships between employers and employees. Fitness trackers cannot identify specific medical conditions, and employers may easily disregard those situations if their sole goal in using fitness trackers is to lessen company insurance costs. Employers also need to provide participants with privacy rights and legal protections to prevent misusing data and overstepping (ha, puns) boundaries, potentially losing their employees trust and affecting their work ethics. Again, because fitness trackers do not determine overall well-being, employers should not use them as the only measure of their employees’ health. Employers providing wellness programs also need to prioritize giving workers other health care services beyond fitness trackers for the best service possible. Fitness data trackers have the capabilities to allow employers a greater insight into their workers’ livelihoods in and out of the office, but such capabilities come a greater need to redefine legal boundaries and accurate factors of optimal wellness.

Fitness data trackers encounter several instances of ethical questioning, especially regarding the accuracy of calculations and privacy of information. Technology is as flawed as the people creating it, so people must recognize that mistakes in the system are unavoidable. Most fitness trackers on the market are fairly accurate, but the numbers are not specific enough for the devices to give users an overall accurate portrayal of health. For example, if a device measures daily calorie intake without considering the type of calories consumed, such as those from nutritious foods compared to processed foods, the device may be painting a picture of external health while disregarding internal upset. From a utilitarian perspective, each individual must make their own decision to decide whether a tracker’s benefits outweigh its harms. Additionally, even consumers purchasing a fitness tracker outside of the professional sector may still be subjected to privacy violations. As with most software today, companies are constantly taking anonymous information to assess their products, but this fact may make many people feel paranoid, especially when that data pertains to their personal health. A fitness tracker, without any moral virtues, is very honest with the data it collects, and people who desire to keep their daily physical activities private cannot seek refuge. By choosing perhaps to wear the tracker occasionally rather than on a daily basis might alleviate some of this uneasiness, but fitness tracker companies do not endorse this practice, leaving consumers at an ethical dilemma. While every person is different, from an ethical perspective, the choice to support fitness data trackers or not is dependent upon an individual’s values of privacy and honesty, all of which are sensitive topics when involving personal health.

Indeed, from examining fitness data trackers using various scopes of everyday life, such as medical, professional, and ethical perspectives, this new technology is one that requires further innovation and consideration of individual needs. Technology continues to delve into different parts of society, but humans must still maintain their traditional values and practices for achieving wellness. Like any facet of life, balance is key. A fitness tracker is a great tool for mindful awareness of physical health, but other tools should also be utilized to remain mindful of emotional and mental health. Medical professionals, employers, individuals alike must remember to trust their own instincts and best judgments to create guidelines keeping technical and human qualities in mind. Fitness data trackers will not be leaving the marketplace any time soon, so consumers must gain a proactive attitude for deciding their own personal measures of health because wellness has no price tag.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

Judging Juice?

Ah, just another health headline denouncing or uplifting a certain food or drink or food group and toting how it might affect us based on some random study. Does that sound critical? Good, because it is.

According to the New York Times, pediatricians across the country have come out to warn parents not to allow their babies to drink juice and limit young children’s consumption. Which yes, I completely agree that lots of fruit juices are filled with syrups and sugars that kids don’t need. But this recommendation even concerns 100 percent fruit juices, too. Juice offers no nutritional benefits early in life, and can take the place of what babies really need: breast milk or formula and their protein, fat and minerals like calcium. Eating fruit in its whole form includes more fiber and prevents dental decay.

Even for younger kids and as old as 18, juice should still be limited. I completely understand that juice tends to be just empty calories, but the thing is, we haven’t even found a clear link between juice and negative health effects or obesity.

I guess my next question is, is a concern over the quality of juice a fight worth focusing on? Or should we devote attention to other matters that might have a greater impact on our health and the health of young people?

I could probably talk all day how I feel about the school lunch system and how the Trump administration has scratched any sort of progress we’ve made to improve the quality of food available to kids. The Hill reports that sodium levels aren’t a big concern anymore, nor is having all whole-grain products served. As if the menus school districts abide by actually help children learn and grow.

And it’s not just dealing with obesity either. I see even a greater lack of education on nutrition that really narrows in on the relationship we develop with food. Yes, there are definitely great programs out there designed to help children learn about the healthy options available and exposing them to the power of produce, but that mentality has yet to be translated to the lunch tray.

I realize this is a problem I have little idea as to how we can actually improve it. Kids are honest and typically picky. If learning something is boring, they won’t pay attention. If you change up what they know and are familiar with too much, they’ll question it. Yes, we have a food pyramid, but how helpful is that really? How many people follow those suggestions?

As with anything involving health and nutrition, we can’t expect a single, end-all solution. Every body and person is different and require different kinds and amounts of food each day. What we really need to teach is listening to our own bodies for guidance. To trust our instincts as to what we’re craving and not feel guilty for it if our diet doesn’t quite reflect one representation.

Besides moderation and intuition, we also need to emphasize to young people that food is our most powerful medicine. The nutrients we consume translate into our well-being, physical and mental. The portion sizes and calories nutritionists and teachers might recommend are the fuel and energy we need to live. There’s a reason why we should eat vegetables, fruits and whole grains. And food can be personal, a connection to nostalgia and emotion and tradition.

I’m not saying we don’t learn these concepts in school whatsoever, but the way we’re doing it doesn’t stick. When we step out into the world, exposed to the societal pressures we are, any sense of normalcy can easily flush down the drain. I remember all of my health classes in elementary and middle school as very…sub par. Very numbers-oriented. It works for some, but not for all, as with any sort of news that pops up that this one food is good and tomorrow it’s bad. So how are we supposed to know? It just makes some of us paranoid and anything but healthy.

Juice is just another passing headline among so many others that encourage us to make certain choices over others. And when it’s kids who don’t know any better, then absolutely follow something like this. I sure don’t recommend juice to kids or adults. But we cannot just blindly teach kids how to eat without some sort of context. Some sort of explanation about nutrition and its benefits. To allow our bodies some control of its desires before a restrictive mindset gets in the way. We have to instill in children that natural, whole foods taste better than the artificially preserved and processed food in the market, but help them notice that difference for themselves. Don’t force feed (pun intended) nutrition education, but have them apply it. Supply every school with wholesome lunches. Help make the nutritious choices more accessible and affordable for everyone. And, even if you do have a sweet tooth, you can still enjoy those treats in moderation. Somehow we have to bridge the gap from classroom to weight loss program, to stop this constant mentality of dieting that isn’t sustainable.

All of this…just from some random news about juice? Apparently so.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

“Pretty” Princess

I don’t watch Disney. Call me crazy, but I was never drawn to the fairy tales, the classic story line with animated sidekicks and handsome princes. I was way more into the Lion King than a princess movie.

Disney has been making some big bucks off of remakes of their classic movies. Even when people know what will happen, seeing the original, we go anyway, just to see if it lives up to the hype. Maybe they’re just out of new ideas. Especially when it comes to making a bunch of sequels, too.

But enough of that particular criticism. I want to hone in on a particular new remake that has been making some waves, just not for the right reasons. It’s not even Disney, but it’s a parody-remake of the classic Snow White.

Now the intended premise of it doesn’t sound too shabby. According to Polygon, the movie follows Snow White on Fairy Tale Island, a world inhabited by celebrities where how you look defines your status. Snow White wears a pair of red slippers that turn her into a thin and beautiful woman who will be accepted by society. It’s through her journey to find her lost father that Snow White begins to accept who she really is.

However, the marketing for the movies does not reflect this synopsis. Billboards and advertisements for the film depicts a message that because Snow White is shorter and rounder than her tall and skinny counterpart, she’s not as beautiful.

Even teaser trailers don’t help out the film studio that much. A couple of dwarves watching the thin, “beautiful” version of Snow White undress, which is, uh, a little creepy. Everything changes when Snow White removes her red shoes and transforms into the bigger version of herself. Unlike the thin, delicate version of Snow White, the “real” version of the character is depicted as less refined, burping after chugging from a mug. The look of surprise and horror on the dwarves’ faces implies how “beautiful” Snow White truly is, which is, unfortunately, not really.

There are plenty of things to say about these two advertisements. First off, the stereotypical images that these images portray simplify weight into a complete change of personality. Heavier people must be less polite, less healthy, less happy than a thinner version of themselves. That a drastic change in body shape is necessary to become a beautiful person.

Judging a movie by its marketing tactics is like judging a book by its cover. The underlying message might not reflect these previews, which even voice actors from the movie have criticized, but this is the first glimpse of what the public interprets. One of the key means as to whether their kids should go see it. I would lean toward the answer of no. Kids are impressionable. Heck, before a certain age, they cannot even distinguish between reality and media fantasy. To think if a young person saw a poster or commercial that had these suggestions, it’s hard to predict how that might change how that person thinks, about others and themselves.

Even without this movie as an example, shame toward unhealthy habits that lead to “unhealthy looking” bodies begins young. Kids learn very early about the food pyramid and the importance of physical activity. Not innately bad, even beneficial, but childhood obesity is prevalent today, and with that comes doctor’s requests for diets and exercise plans and everything else. We immerse young people into a weight loss mentality without much of their consent involved.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for raising healthy generations who appreciate whole (hopefully plant-based) foods and find physical activities they truly enjoy. But when we rely upon the scales, the BMI charts, the “typical” numbers expected for certain ages and sexes, are we considering the psychological effects from that? To tell a child that they’re obese, to restrict their portions and push them to workout? There’s a better way to go about instilling health, and that is not the way to do it.

The media influence doesn’t help either. To rarely see overweight people act on their favorite movies or TV shows, and if there is any, they are typically stereotypical. To gain a biased toward promoting “fit” bodies, seeing the smallest clothing sizes modeled in advertisements and stores. To watch a commercial like this movie that makes the obvious impression that “fat” is bad and “thin” is good.

I’m grateful that so many of us are becoming very attentive and wary about these subtle jabs against body positivity and nip them in the bud. We’re seeing more physical diversity representation every day, but not only must we expand the model of health and happiness, but we must also provide children the physical and emotional support they need to find their own version of health and happiness. The model looks different for everybody. But no matter how it looks, it is beautiful. The sooner we learn that, no matter our age, the better.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

Take Action

Today marks a very important day. For me and for so many others. World Eating Disorders Action Day.

Even before this day even begins, going online leads to a very important pledge people can take.  It’s pledging that yes, eating disorders are serious, potentially life-threatening illnesses that affect people across the globe regardless of age, size, weight, ability, race/ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, gender, documentation, and socioeconomic status. That we need to break down the stigmas surrounding them and speak out for those in need, for those who may be silenced by the illness.

From this pledge, there are nine truths that often fuel the misconceptions surrounding eating disorders. Misconceptions further our distance and understanding of it, thereby fueling misinformation. So, these truths are as follows:

Many people with eating disorders look healthy, yet may be extremely ill.

Families are not to blame, and can be the patients’ and providers’ best allies in treatment.

An eating disorder diagnosis is a health crisis that disrupts personal and family functioning.

Eating disorders are not choices, but serious biologically influenced illnesses.

Eating disorders affect people of all genders, ages, races, ethnicities, body shapes and weights, sexual orientations, and socioeconomic statuses.

Eating disorders carry an increased risk for both suicide and medical complications.

Genes and environment play important roles in the development of eating disorders.

Genes alone do not predict who will develop eating disorders.

Full recovery from an eating disorder is possible. Early detection and intervention are important.

And yes. All of these are true. From there, we hope to achieve some goals to promote these truths.

  1. All front line providers (including pediatricians, primary care doctors, dentists, emergency room and school health providers) educated in the identification, diagnosis and referral to appropriate services of eating disorders.
  2. Accessible and affordable evidence-based treatment, with early diagnosis and intervention a priority.
  3. Public education about eating disorders to be accurate, research based, readily available and geared to end stigma about eating disorders.
  4. An end to mandatory weighing and BMI screening in schools, and development of evidence-based health programs.
  5. Increased awareness of diversity in eating disorders, as eating disorders affect a wide cross section of the world’s population, including people of all ages, sizes, weights, genders, sexual orientations, ethnicities, nationalities, and documentation status.
  6. Community and family eating disorders treatment support programs to be available for all.
  7. Research-based interventions to be delivered in schools and universities on the facts about eating disorders, and how peers and staff can best support patients and families during treatment.
  8. Government agencies to include eating disorders services as part of health systems, public education campaigns, and regulatory bodies.

On this day, I shout from every rooftop for change. For progress. Not just in the United States, but around the world. This isn’t an isolated problem by any means. Its influence on the world population is staggering, and that is a scary thought. Just knowing that so many others have, are, and will be suffering with the same thoughts and landslides that I have makes my heart ache.

Eating disorders are so complicated. I don’t expect everyone to pick up on its consequences and immediately empathize. Heck, I still learn new things constantly about myself and my own nagging voices. We all have so much more to learn, how an eating disorder begins, its unique behaviors, its consequences on our anatomy and head space. This is an epidemic that one day cannot sufficiently support, but it’s an amazing place to start.

There are resources out there available, and the moment the warning signs and risk factors arise, we need to know when to intervene. However, not only are we still lacking in the number of knowledgeable resources out there specifically designed for eating disorder recovery, but the stereotypes we assume of therapy and in-patient hospitals builds up barriers and shame. Not to mention this deficit has on loved ones, an often forgotten group that goes through just as much pain.

While I speak as a forever-recovering young person, we all need to stand behind this cause. There’s so much to worry about in this world, so many issues we face, but some of the worst are the ones that slip by without us really noticing. Not until now, when eating disorders are some of the most common mental illnesses out there. And even then, it’s still a side priority. Maybe we’ll eventually get there. When lives are at risk, there is no time to waste. Every life is all too precious. We won’t be able to tackle the other issues the world faces if our own people are trapped in their own self-destructive heads.

Events around the world are honoring this day, emphasizing the mission that we ourselves or our loved ones don’t have to face an eating disorder alone, no matter who you are. And we need to keep researching and learning more to create a comprehensive treatment method that embodies the reality that full recovery IS possible. A difficult mountain to climb, but a climb that is well worth the effort.

I hope you stand with me and so many others today, using our voices for good. After the day pasts, I hope you will still stand strong with us as we keep fighting until the battle is truly won.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

To Feel Attractive

I’ve been doing quite well lately. My mood hasn’t dipped down too far lately. I’m kept pretty busy at work, which I really crave and enjoy. My anxiety has been okay, but I still clam up in stressful and/or crowded situations. Even eating has continued to feel more normal. This has to be one of the longest periods where I haven’t felt consumed by food rather than the other way around.

However, I do have an aspect of myself that just feels very weird to me to think about. I don’t know if others feel similar about themselves, but that’s why I want to write it out, and if you resonate with anything I say, at least know that you aren’t alone.

My relationship with my physical body is practically nonexistent. I personally think it would be much easier if I was just a floating soul, a gust of air moving through life. And it’s not that I’m unappreciative of my health and the abilities I have, being able to move and think and all that jazz. It’s more of my actual appearance that bamboozles me.

It’s very complicated to explain. I guess I feel indifferent. I don’t bash myself down like I used to, but I also don’t have much emotion when people say I’m pretty or attractive or whatever compliment they throw at me. I don’t know how to really respond. In a polite situation, I thank the person, but if it’s someone I’m close with, I either just let the comment roll off me or try to disprove it.

I’ve come to be comfortable with myself. I’ve found some sense of balance that I can not always yo-yo around with my weight. And I like where I’m at. But with my set point, I realize that I’m still a smaller person. I don’t necessarily consider myself petite or whatever word out there, but I also think that can be a good thing, to be content with yourself at a healthy state.

I am just me. But “just me” isn’t appealing to others usually. I joke that I slightly look like a young boy, and that’s just how I’m built. I along with most people am not a representative of what the media and society deem as “attractive” or “sexy.” I think what bothers me the most is not believing people like my boyfriend, who says he’s attracted to me and I’m completely dumbfounded by that. My face is fine, but everything else? Just pretend it’s not there. There isn’t that much there, anyways.

While it’s not the obsessive focus I’ve had with my figure, it can feel like a complete avoidance of it altogether. I flip-flop from one end of the spectrum to the other and cannot seem to reach a balance. Rather than needing to weigh myself every chance I get, I completely avoid it altogether. It’s an anxiety of knowing just one little misstep could lead to potential relapse, and that scares me.

All of this inner debate makes me wonder then, how skewed is my body image still, even when I’m on a great track with food? This is where body dysmorphia comes in. No amount of counseling can “cure” me of that. It’s just another included feature of imbalanced neurotransmitters. I can accept that. I can still fully enjoy my life and feel content. I don’t feel like I’m missing out by never putting on a pair of shorts or a swimsuit. There are so many important things in life to think about. All I care about at this point is that I’m physically and mentally healthy.

As you can see, it’s a delicate bridge I walk on. I carry on my days hoping people notice me for my work ethic and personality, but we’re so geared to observing our “book covers” before taking a read inside. That’s just human nature. I can accept that, but it’s more difficult for others to understand my different perspective.

Personally, I’m never one to comment on others’ bodies not knowing how they’re feeling inside. That’s not important to me, as long as you’re a good person. But in a romantic relationship especially, I don’t know how to comprehend the simplest positive comments from my partner. I feel almost shameful about that. I feel like I sound ungrateful or even rude for not wanting a reminder of how my body looks. It seems like such a normal thing in a relationship, but being considered attractive is something I cannot grasp. I dwell on it far too long.

We focus so much on recovery for eating disorders and body dysmorphia, as conditions people can completely overcome and lead normal lives. I wish there was more awareness about that minority that struggles more often, that still takes it a day at a time. Too often we think of that mental voice as a clear indicator that you aren’t “healed” already, but if it’s just part of your anatomy, an aspect of yourself you can’t completely change, what then? You cannot tell me all the hard work and effort I’ve put in and continue to put in to take care of myself isn’t enough.

I wish I had a solution to my problem. A way to convince myself that my body is a part of me that looks a certain way and I can clearly see that in the mirror or believe it when someone tells me so. As with anything about myself, that is just a work in progress.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

More Than Labels

Every can. Every box. Every jar. Every bag. No matter the packaging, if it’s something to eat, there’s a nutrition label stuck on it.

Besides the food pyramid, food labels were probably one of the first visual representations introduced to me when learning about nutrition. Learning about what all the names and numbers mean, the “good” and the “bad.” Imagine me using air quotes for those measures of goodness since those ideas of goodness can drive so many down the spiral of counting grams and calories and dieting.

The FDA made a decision last year to update the twenty-plus-year-old nutrition label we’ve grown so accustomed to, revamping it to better reflect today’s nutritional concerns. The number of calories will be bigger and bolder, taking out the “calories from fat.” Companies will detail any added sugars, natural and artificial. Nutrients like Vitamin D and Potassium will have greater emphasis over other common vitamins like C and A.

I’m not saying it’s bad that the FDA is updating labels to continue informing consumers about what is in their food. We should be conscious of what is more nutritionally dense or dilute. My concern is if, and if so, how, new nutrition labels might affect where our focus goes.

Fads are always coming and going. Food that is “dangerous” can become suddenly “healthy” the next. It’s hard to look objectively at nutrition depending on the lens you use. Whether it’s the diet industry spewing out a new trendy lifestyle every other day, or it’s morning news talk shows relying upon sketchy scientific studies to judge nutrition, people are spun and pulled in so many directions, I think it’s reasonable to be skeptical. In fact, we need more critical thinking in the media and messages we’re exposed to.

But food is personal. There’s always a hint of self-doubt whenever I discuss veganism or eating disorder recovery because people very often have emotional attachment to food. We associate food with comfort and belonging and celebration, and also discomfort and anxiety and obsession. Food tips the scale (no pun intended) toward emotional poles and rarely do we think of food for what it is: fuel. Energy. Necessary for life.

The one aspect I especially don’t care for with the new labels is the apparent emphasis on calories. It makes it even easier to just look at a number and assume choosing the option with the lowest number is best, disregarding what nutrients are within those calories. In an ideal world, I would just include the vitamins, minerals, and macro nutrients and throw the calorie count out the window. Simple calorie counting is far too simplistic considering how your unique body uses energy. Choosing a random calorie limit and fitting your meals within tight restraints just sounds like a recipe (pun intended) for disaster.

And yet even knowing how bad yo-yo dieting and diet-focused products are, people still get sucked in. I think without that influence from society, being aware of what’s in your food is great. I don’t want to seem too critical and say that all nutrition labels are bad. We should be conscious and aware of what we put into our bodies. But I think individuals also need to be more aware of themselves and their intentions when referring to a nutrition label.

Ultimately, the changes the FDA are making aren’t too drastic. Anybody can change a font size. I fear more about how people respond to it. Or don’t. Maybe I’m making a mountain out of a molehill. Regardless, the underlying message here is that we need to just keep talking about and questioning how we view and judge food. Our societal perspective right now is leading to commonplace disordered eating habits. New nutrition labels won’t change that. It just leads to more questions wondering what’s truly important or not.

Do I think it’s much better and easier to simply eat whole, plant-based foods that never have labels on them to begin with? Absolutely. But that’s not realistic for lots of people, and that discredits some really great brands and products out there.

There’s more to this nutrition label update than meets the surface. This is a great opportunity to talk about marketing and perceiving food, to talk about what a healthy relationship with food looks like. FDA, don’t just give us a new layout for what I still find a not-so-ideal representation of wellness. Give us a reminder of detaching guilt and fearing fats or carbs. Teach us to discourage the diet industry. Lead an example of how to adopt a philosophy that nurtures health in all aspects.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie