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

Serving up Intuition

Once I learned about the concept of intuitive eating, especially in the thick of disordered eating, I was simply appalled. In pure disbelief that there are people who are so in-tuned with themselves, they don’t overthink the food they eat. That sounds like a fantasy world where we all frolic through fields of wildflowers and chase rainbows.

Admittedly, intuitive eating is recent phenomenon that, on the surface, looks like a passing trend. But I could also say that about the rise of veganism, as many people see it, but I would beg to differ.

In a world obsessed with new diets popping up every day, intuitive eating could almost be described as an “anti-diet.” Essentially, those who follow the lifestyle listen to their natural hunger cues. They don’t count as calories or macro-nutrients. They don’t consider foods good or bad. They don’t stick to a strict time schedule of eating at the exact same time every day. They don’t obsess over the size of their plate or going in for seconds.

Maybe it’s just me, but living this lifestyle sounds like being some sort of zen master. The fact people can feel zero guilt for listening to their cravings and knowing when they’re hungry and satiated is mind-boggling to me. And yes, I do see that as blowing every other diet out of the water.

Although the terminology is recent, intuitive eating is really a basic concept. It’s not like other species are thinking about the amount they’re eating or what energy they’re burning. They innately know what they need to survive, and they don’t hold themselves back from that. Humans started out like that, too, contrary to the weird Paleo trends of “eating like a caveman.” Food is a source of energy and shouldn’t have a strict hold over your life.

In an ideal world, we would all be intuitive eating. We’d naturally be at our optimal sizes and shapes, we’d accept each other and ourselves as is, and we’d just strive to be our healthiest selves. But that would be way too easy on us. We’re already so ingrained with counting and measuring, it’s not easy to let that go and just be.

Ask anybody, and you’re going to struggle to find someone who hasn’t at one point gone on a diet or struggled with a form of disordered eating. Especially if you’re in the thick of recovery, don’t try to convince yourself that you can successfully eat intuitively. Trust me, I’ve tried. It didn’t work.

When we binge or restrict, we completely throw off our natural hunger cues. Even if you’re simply trying to follow some fad diet with a specific meal plan, we teach ourselves how to ignore the signals. We distract and discipline ourselves with controlling rules. Your mind and body become out of sync. Worst case scenario, you lose any sense of hunger or satiation all together as your body loses trust in your actions. Again, trust me, I’ve been there. In the disorder you seek control, and yet that’s the complete opposite of reality.

When I say I see intuitive eating as a monk-like practice, I mean that it indeed takes trust and patience because it’s very against the grain of modern diet culture. For so many, saying that food is truly just food, a part of being a living organism, it’s not easy to let that reality sink in. You must gauge your emotions and how your body feels before and after eating. You must avoid distractions to actually notice the signs of hunger or fullness. You actually slow down and become mindful of the activity that is eating and nourishing your body.

Obviously this isn’t an overnight change, and you cannot truly eat intuitively until you have some sense of normalcy if you come from a disordered background. But I think that once you can develop that natural, healthy relationship with food, you don’t overeat or restrict. Your weight doesn’t yo-yo regularly. Your mind isn’t chained to the empirical data or potential effects of every bite you eat.

I’m saying all of this out of admiration for those who successfully let themselves live and eat. Intuitive eating has definitely become an ultimate goal when it comes to my relationship with food. Since going vegan, it’s definitely gotten better, but I accept that it may never be perfect. The principles of the lifestyle, however, are very encouraging for anybody struggling: food is nourishment, and constantly monitoring your intake is not sustainable in the long-term.

I wish dieting didn’t exist. I wish so many people didn’t look in the mirror with disgust at their bodies. I wish we didn’t lust after certain “goals” based on how others live. I wish we didn’t stick on a label on every single food and attach “goodness” to them. I’d certain frolic if that were the world we live in.

Now more than ever, we need to relearn the habits we’ve picked up from magazines and click bait articles and commercials promoting the newest weight loss system. We’ve learned that the way we may naturally want to eat is wrong and must be regimented to fit specific standards. Instead, let’s learn that there is nothing wrong with our body’s cravings. There’s nothing wrong with how we look or the place our unique bodies individually thrive. If there’s anything wrong, it’s the belief that we aren’t good enough and need to change how we look and eat.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

Veganniversary

I don’t have an exact date I can rely on as to when to celebrate this special occasion, but I’ve decided upon April 1st as the day I count as my “veganniversary.” Simply put, I have officially been eating a plant-based diet for one year.

Long story short, choosing to go vegan was probably one of the best decisions I’ve ever made for myself. I never thought too much about the future outlook of not eating animal products, but this decision has turned into a passion than just a dietary choice.

While I’d say most people would focus on the physical benefits of going vegan, that isn’t my biggest concern. I’ve never been very unhealthy, and the health aspects weren’t my reasons for going plant-based, but if anything, I would say I (knock on wood) don’t get sick as often. Growing up, I would always expect to deal with allergies and sinus issues at least twice a year with changing seasons, but this past year, I’ve had far less instances of that which is quite nice.

The biggest changes are mental. With my eating disorder tendencies, no matter how much I would say that I enjoy food, it still made me very uneasy. There was always guilt, always debates going on in my head, but veganism has improved that dramatically. It’s not like the food itself helped with that, but I find comfort in knowing that with everything I choose to eat, it is something that is beneficial to my body and the world. Food goes beyond my own meal choices and becomes a source of activism. I can enjoy eating again without being weighed down by uncertainty and negativity. Food isn’t the enemy anymore.

I have learned so much. I have learned about health, nutrition, and the power of our choices. I have gained a life devoted to helping others, animals, and the environment. This mindset has stemmed into everything I do, and I’ve become a more conscious and intentional person. I don’t feel like a hypocrite loving every single animal I see and calling myself a proud environmentalist. I can say that I’m making the best choice for me and my sustainable, thoughtful life.

But back to the food. I’ve been able to try and fall in love with such a diverse mix of new foods. Whoever thinks that veganism is just a mask to hide more restriction has not tried any vegan recipes. I’ve fallen in love with so many different fruits and vegetables I never would have touched before. If you told me I would actually enjoy eating foods like peas, squash, and even raisins, I wouldn’t have believed it. I don’t even see animal products as food anymore. And what a great time to be vegan with the abundance of so many new products and restaurants popping up. Finding new foods to try and love is exciting.

My connections with everybody I meet feels more genuine to me. Maybe an odd thing to explain. My relationships with my family and friends has improved tremendously as I feel like I’m living my truth and I’m more present. I’ve become comfortable getting outside of my comfort zone in situations that used to never cross my mind, like asking food service people and waiters about vegan menu options. Nothing too crazy, but something simple like that makes you a little more vulnerable and may open up an opportunity for questions and new interactions. Plus, whenever I stumble across a fellow vegan or vegetarian, the connection you can make is so special.

After spending years struggling with anorexia, I finally see a light on the other side. I can actually feel like I have a chance at life. Yes, it’s still an everyday battle. I’m not going to pretend I’m magically completely recovered and eating plant-based is the end-all solution for everybody. If anything, I recommend to simply become more educated and aware of the choices you make everyday, to become curious about where your food and products come from. Now more than ever it’s important to do everything we can to alleviate the effects of worldwide suffering and climate change, even if that means observing Meatless Mondays or bringing cloth bags to stores offering plastic ones. Little decisions add up to greater impacts that can also inspire others to follow your lead.

Looking ahead, my dietary preferences are now stemming far beyond my plate. I now rarely buy non-thrifted items and am interested in transitioning entirely to using only green beauty (non-toxic, vegan, and cruelty free products) and becoming more zero-waste. If you thought I was a tree hugger before, think again. My perspective has transformed into one that looks at those minute details and wants to ask questions and be more aware of what I’m ultimately supporting with my dollar. I’ve also grown more passionate about my future, knowing that in some capacity, my main goal is to help others.

I cannot wait to continue my plant-based journey. I cannot wait to learn more, receive some confused remarks about what veganism actually is, and continue becoming healthier every day. I really can’t picture a life that isn’t vegan, and for me, this lifestyle is one I’m so grateful to live. Truly live.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

Scaling True Health

As the weather warms up, so do local gyms as people rush in to achieve their summer “swim suit body.” It’s a time to reinvigorate those lost hopes of New Year’s resolutions to prepare for shorts, t-shirts, and not having to wear a parka everywhere.

However, when it comes to measuring progress, people persistently rely on outdated, inaccurate means of determining their true health. That’s why one Canadian university tried something different. Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario has recently replaced traditional body-weight scales in its gym with another kind: Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs and self-actualization. Signs in the building ask gym-goers to focus on health metrics that don’t pertain to their weight.

This decision didn’t come without some backlash. Some critics see the change as one not promoting body acceptance, but one that ignores objective facts. The underlying message to take away from this change is to see health beyond physical appearance, and body-weight scales and BMI charts aren’t accurate representations of true health and well-being.

Traditional means of measuring our health often fall back to our weight. Studies consistently show, like one from the Center of Disease Control, that maintaining a healthy weight is important for overall health and can help prevent and control many ailments like heart disease and high blood pressure. Long-term weight control comes from healthy eating and regular exercise.

If health professionals and patients strictly look at the number on a scale, they only see one side of the story. Using a scale and Body Mass Index chart to determine what weight is appropriate for one’s height disregards factors that could illustrate an entirely different idea of health for up to twenty percent of people. An article from Time magazine  says that scientists cannot use a BMI number to distinguish fat from muscle, nor can the number understand different types of fat that each have different metabolic effects on health.

Someone who is at a “healthy weight” can be less healthy than someone considered “overweight” and even “obese.” These designations thus lose any sense of reliability or purpose for everyday wellness. In fact, according to Live Science, some studies suggest being overweight can improve survival of chronic diseases. A single number, although easy to rely on, doesn’t take into account someone’s everyday habits, body composition, nor their mental health.

When it comes to true health, perhaps psychologist Abraham Maslow had a good idea when studying the concept “self-actualization.” This term refers to an individual’s growth toward fulfillment of the highest of needs. Website Simple Psychology breaks down the five-stage model as humanity’s needs for basic survival, psychological well-being, and self-fulfillment. The pyramid has the largest portions dedicated to physiological and safety needs for security, food, water, and shelter. From there, humans desire feeling love and esteem that come from relationships and accomplishments. With all of these needs in balance, one can achieve their full potential and purpose in life.

If people simply focus on one area of life, such as physical appearance and achieving their “goal body,” other innate needs get pushed aside and disregarded. People push themselves so much to be more productive and become better versions of themselves, but rarely do they step back to consider how the rest of their lives might be affected. Deprioritizing less visible signs of wellness leads to further stigmatization of mental health problems that equally determine our well-being.

Measuring health is not a one-size-fits-all system, but an individual analysis of genetic and environmental circumstances. Studies show significant evidence that each body has a biological control of body weight at a given set point. With Western culture’s fascination with fad diets and overexercising, bodies replace their set points with various “settling points” that disregard biological signals throw people off-balance in a limbo that cannot endure in the long run. Rather than focusing on others bodies and numbers on a scale, individuals must understand their own body’s needs and natural resting point where they will truly thrive.

Even if people still want to take physical measurements of their patients, there are still better options out there. For example, gaining strength and endurance, wherever the starting point may be, shows progress and comes from consistent physical activity. Also, measuring one’s resting heart rate will show if the cardiovascular system is working efficiently to maintain good heart health, along with measuring blood pressure. The Mayo Clinic promotes a heart rate around 60-100 beats per minute and a blood pressure in the 120/80 range are normal and healthy.

Rather than going to the gym and working out for the external desires that seem to sporadically trend, people should focus instead on the internal and overall benefits. Regular exercise can reduce stress, improve sleep, keep skin looking younger longer, increase everyday energy, and improves productivity. Seeing exercise as an activity that works from the inside out can, in turn, improve the relationship individuals have with it, seeing it less as a obligation and more as an enjoyable pastime.

Canada’s Carleton University has certainly made a significant step toward seeing health as more than a number, and other gyms and universities should follow suit. Judging one’s lifestyle and health based off of a single glance is both unrealistic and damaging, leading to even greater health concerns like eating disorders and exercise addictions. Something as simple as gravitational pull with the earth should not have such a strong hold on society as it currently does. The human body is an amazing thing capable of fantastic feats. The best way to appreciate that is to listen to and care of it, accepting however it looks and building a loving relationship with it that goes beyond skin-deep.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

Hair and Happiness

This is a part of the array of eating disorder information that I never knew really until I experienced it myself. For someone who has done an immerse amount of research about these illnesses, I didn’t find much about this at all. Of course, everybody’s experience is different. But awareness is so crucial.

Eating disorders aren’t pretty. Anything but. Maybe they fit into some unhealthy aesthetic, but they aren’t sunshine and rainbows. When I had gone through my many up’s and down’s over the years, in and out of the recovery and relapse process, I had similar physical and mental symptoms that I had grown very accustomed to. They felt comfortable even. 

Not until my last, most dramatic relapse to date, did I experience new symptoms I never had before. I never had chest pains going up stairs before. I never had peach fuzz growing on my back before.

And, I had never lost a very significant volume of my hair before. It might sound silly and superficial, but that was the one symptom out of all of them that really terrified me. Probably because it’s something so basic in our appearance, especially for women. Who doesn’t wish their hair was as luxurious and beautiful as the models’ in every shampoo commercial out there?

Hair in of itself can be a form of identity. I had always liked my hair, despite the constant split ends and frizziness. People had always commented about how much hair I had and how thick it was. Whenever I was looking for a little change in my life, I went to my hair, a touch of experimentation for an otherwise very safe person.

My head is always prone to shedding. When my hair started to fall out, I didn’t think too much of it, not really judging my hair loss to what it usually was. But I did notice when I was seeing chunks of my head with much less hair than usual. That when I pulled my hair back after shower, I was pulling back sparse clumps into a much thinner ponytail. 

I cannot tell you the time I spent looking up anything I could on hair loss and regrowth. Why an 18-year-old college student would have problems like those of some middle-aged women. I of course was not ignorant that the assumed cause was my eating disorder, but I mentally blocked that off as a possibility. It was like a traumatic experience I didn’t dare consider because that would mean actually facing the real problem at hand. 

Depriving yourself of vital calories and nutrients for too long means that everything you do feed yourself goes to its priorities: vital organs. So auxillary goals go to the wayside, leading to drier skin, brittle and weak nails, lack of focus, irregular or no menstruation in women, and, in this instance, hair loss.

When it comes to my body, I don’t notice or think too much of how it changes. It always looks the same to me, which can be quite frustrating. I know when I’ve gained weight, but in a phase of losing weight, I get frustrated when no matter what the scale says, it all looks the same to me. 

My hair, on the other hand, I could notice. My mind is not blind to when my part is wider, that what was a mass of strands now clung to dear life. There’s a reason I’ve gotten more into hats recently. 

My hair became a very big motivator for me recovering. When I didn’t want to eat as much, I remembered that I was trying to regrow my hair, which I’d guess lost half of its volume in the matter of a couple of months. I focused on my hair to avoid the discomfort that comes from gaining weight. But it helped.

So whatever problem you might be facing, find your motivation, the thing that you really focus on as a reason for moving forward and doing what’s right. There are plenty of reasons to choose health over disorder, right over wrong, but don’t feel ashamed or selfish for clinging to a reason that isn’t very forward-thinking or beneficial to others. The only thing that matters is that you are overcoming the obstacle. That in of itself is forward-thinking and beneficial to yourself and loved ones. 

And, once you make it to the other side, the little things like a full head of hair become that much more meaningful. 

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

Less “Heart Eyes,” More Clarity

Although I’m sure I’ve touched on this topic previously, I feel like it’s still important to bring up, especially when it comes what feelings come from it, it being good ol’ social media.

Now I’m studying a field that is obviously very heavily involved in social media. It’s just another aspect of my more professional life to keep up on a LinkedIn page, a Twitter, heck, even this blog. Since these are things that can stick around for the long haul, social media is truly a double-edged sword on how you want to use it.

And with that double edge is one that is not so fun and can even lead to worse moods. I often try to use social media as a means for me to take a mental break and stay updated on others’ lives. I enjoy creating and sharing content. I enjoy feeling so in-tune with the world and current events.

And whatever response that might come from what I create and post can have a huge effect on me. As someone who is constantly delved into my emotions and takes great pride in the effort I put toward everything I do, my sensitivity doesn’t take a break online most of the time, at least when it directly involves people I know. I like promote for others to just live your life without feeling the need to appease to others’ approval. Most of the time I follow that.

But when I am certain platforms, I strive for validation. Receiving likes and comments is almost a high. It feels like a sense of accomplishment to know I am posting ideas that others like and notice. I feel a false sense of connection, an affirmation I am still a valued member of society. When I’ve struggled so much with my self-esteem, I hate feeling like I still have this outlet where I really crave that outside approval, but I cannot deny it.

Last week in particular, I saw my friend post a really heartfelt post for NEDA Awareness Week, a fantastic feat on its own, and I made sure to comment on that. And yet when I saw that post was getting much more attention than my own post was, I immediately slipped into a terrible mood. Just simple, nonexistent measures of validation I created in my mind somehow rationalized that people don’t care about me and maybe I’m not worth remembering. Even in situations where I don’t necessarily know the person, I feel jealous at times seeing people even younger than me with an unbelievable numbers of followers or traffic, as if having those virtual milestones would prove that my life is full and great.

What a dramatic conclusions to jump to! I see a lot of similarities of this, ironically, to my own tendencies toward OCD and anorexia. It’s just another numbers game. While the game doesn’t consume an overwhelming space in my mind, it’s a subtle indicator for me to abide by. The content I post becomes less out of my own desire to share what I care about and more of what I think others want to see of me.

And you don’t have to suffer from mental illness to still experience this phenomenon. Social media is an extension of our self-image, and when we really want to be thoughtful with how we want the world to perceive us, it’s just a constant opportunity to try and impress others and often one-up them. I really see it at times as a dirty competition for some people. Even if it’s not something you’re consciously concerned about, you’ll still inevitably see the numbers attached to whatever you’re seeing.

It’s addicting. Maybe if other users couldn’t see the number of likes or favorites somebody receives, that would make a difference, but who knows? When you study media, it’s almost as if you have no choice but to read and analyze the numbers you and others obtain. For a lot of people, that’s their job. And for others, they’re staring at their phone waiting for a notification to pop up. And when it doesn’t, there’s a feeling like you’re missing out on something.

Again, for the most part, social media is really fun to me, and the pros outweigh the cons. I do see value, however, in taking a break from certain platforms for a few weeks just to see how it goes. I know I’m in a majority who relies on a scrolling feed for a go-to in boring or awkward situations. It’s practically instinct these days. If I’m standing in a hallway waiting for an earlier class to end, chances are everybody is on their phones. I almost cannot remember anymore what it was like without those darned glowing screens.

This is a challenge for myself and whoever cares to join me. Appropriately, it’s the season of Lent, and while I’ve never been someone in the tradition of giving things up during this time, this year might be an exception. I’d like to see what it’s like without at least 2 social media apps. Honestly, I rotate through several on a daily basis, but even cutting down that number could make a difference. I’ll see what happens. Perhaps I will cut down more, maybe not. I probably cannot do much long-term cleansing just because I’ve had several instances where social media accounts are academic requirements (the joy of media & journalism). But for now, I’ll try it out. Of course I’ll still be typing away on here. The main difference will be for myself and my overall phone usage. I will report back at the end of this month or even Lent if I make it that long to fill you in.

If you’re not interested in joining me, at least remember to be mindful about your scrolling and posting. Social media can either involve mindlessly wasting time or overly conscious attention to the analytics. We need to find a healthy balance and act intentionally for our own approval, not a virtual thumbs-up.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

Elephant in the Room

In observance of NEDA Awareness Week, this year’s theme being Let’s Talk, I wanted to do just that. I feel there is no better way to address this topic than to make it as straightforward as possible.

We have made so much progress on mental illness recognition. Depression and anxiety are becoming less taboo, a slow but steady process. However, other mental illnesses, some of which are even deadlier than depression or anxiety, are still stigmatized in assumptions and shame. 

Eating disorders aren’t easy to talk about or face, but as we allow silence to take control, we not only lose control of ourselves in the midst of a hard fight, but also lose control in any sort of progress in making the topic more approachable and widely understood. We still see eating disorders as underweight, privileged white teenage girls staring at fashion magazines dying to be model thin. A choice. Just another diet fad.

While I fit a lot of that stereotype, I’m here to share that never once did I choose to spend my life struggling. Never did I plan to spend my high school and early college years mentally distant from actually enjoying my life. 

On the rare occasion that school addressed eating disorders in a health class setting, never did I associate myself with that. I don’t throw up my food. I don’t starve myself, I eat at every meal. I don’t envy fashion models or actresses. Heck, I’m not even thin enough to have one.

So we have people of any gender, size or ethnicity left struggling without even realizing it or feeling validated enough to seek help. Even those who seek help may be turned away based on their arbitrary BMI number or personal background. People actively wanting to get better and never being able to because eating disorders are not easily fought alone. Isolation allows them to thrive. Silence is replaced with actual food as a disorder’s nourishment. Even those who go through treatment, we still judge their apparent healthy weight and assume everything is cured, disregarding that eating disorders are mental illnesses with physical ramifications, not the other way around.

Eating disorders are not a one-size-fits-all disease. Their symptoms manifest differently for everyone. Some turn to restriction, or over-exercise, or obsession with “health,” or a fragile cycle of restriction, binge, and/or purging. 

Eating disorders don’t like runway models or artsy blog photos. They look like thinning, dry hair. They are aching, pounding heartbeats simply from climbing a flight of stairs. They are a stream of consciousness of strictly numbers and measurements and sizes. They are sobbing after spending hours staring in the mirror and seeing a reflection that’s “fat.” They are shivering in all temperatures and losing circulation just from crossing your legs. They are a need for perfection that will never be satisfied. They are drinking gross Ensure shakes usually meant for nursing homes. They are universal pain for every loved one trying to help you. They are fears of simply eating a rich dessert without taking hours to do so. They are the inability to exercise without it spiraling out of control of excessive calorie burning. They are  panic attacks just eating with another person. They are losing any sense of hunger or satiation. They are blindness to the fact that your skinny jeans barely stay on your waist. They are a constant urge for self-destruction.

If you haven’t guessed it already, those are just a few of the experiences I’ve faced in my life, a years’ long battle with anorexia. I cannot even speak for those with other demons, but I would not wish it upon anybody. They are ugly. They are damaging. And while a lot of people only have one incident and recover back with little issues, others are genetically prone to always be on the edge. That’s me. I can always envision going back to those habits. I still constantly notice other people’s bodies and how they look. I still cannot step on a scale or stick to moderate exercise without getting antsy. I’m still working on my perfectionism, as well as my relationship with my body and food. It’s an everyday battle. It’s a conscious choice every morning to do the best I can, however that may look. 

And while I still face my demons, I want to emphasize the need to bring light to them. If we truly want to combat eating disorders, we cannot make them cookie-cutter. They can affect anybody. They are mental illnesses with severe, deadly consequences. 

If you’ve never had an eating disorder, they are very complicated and hard to really understand. But you can still be aware of them, allow an open dialogue to be discuss them, and use your words wisely regarding health and body image. A little act of kindness can make a huge impact.

And if you’re struggling right now, reach out. You don’t have to fight alone, no matter how isolating the disorder feels. I know I will always be an open heart ready to care for everybody I can. But most importantly, TALK.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie