To You, From ED

I’m a Christmas junkie. Despite last Friday’s post about the darker side of the season, I still relish this time of year even if it has some downsides thrown in.

Trust me, the rest of the season will be full of jolly posts, but I know this time of year just isn’t easy for a lot of us. There are so many added pressures and worries that make their way into the hubbub.

The holidays bring about new expectations and doubts running through the minds of those who struggle with food. I consider myself always in recovery, but I’ve lived long enough to know the kinds of situations we’re bound to face: lots of goodies and desserts to tempt us, traditions centered on family but lots of big meals, the general consensus to “let ourselves go” for this month but once it hits the new year, it turns into a plethora of diets and workouts.Knowing how to feel somewhat normal around food is still a foreign concept to me. I still get uneasy being the only one eating with others around, I still always need a distraction with me at meals (like YouTube or a crossword puzzle), and I still don’t ever rush myself, even if that means I’m the last one at the table.

The holidays are a whole other ball game. Or a snowball game maybe. While others look forward to a month of rich foods and social gatherings, I’m far more…hesitant. Just because it’s coming onto be Christmas doesn’t mean my normal anxieties magically turn off so I can enjoy myself.

Let’s be honest, I am a million times better than I once was at handling my disorder and accompanying thoughts, but now they just subtly creep in. The pestering questions of what you’re eating, how much, my digestion, if I’ve moved/exercised today, if my body changes even over the course of the day. It’s a hyperawareness that turns my vision into a magnifying glass, inspecting every little detail to feel a false sense of security.

The woes of disordered eating don’t just affect the one with the racing mind, but everyone around them, too. The holidays are about getting together with friends and family and celebrating, and knowing someone is struggling or is obviously uncomfortable really dampens morale.

And when you have an ED, you learn to put a mask on. To hide your fears, to nonchalantly not eat certain foods over others. I know often times people think about restricting before the holidays to prepare for certain meals, and let me tell you, it’s completely counterproductive.

So how can everyone reduce the stress of the holidays, stay healthy, and enjoy the presence of loved ones? When in doubt, always put your own health first. You cannot expect to drain yourself of sustenance and still be able to appreciate the moment.

Make that sustenance food you look forward to, that you can enjoy with less guilt. For me, I’m a broken record saying that truly, veganism has made a world of difference in this regard. Thanksgiving has always been a mental battleground for me, but for this year and last year, my mom’s made me a FAB meatless loaf that is divine.

Your environment is also important, who you’re around and where you’re at. Inevitably you cannot always (and shouldn’t) avoid the situations that scare you because that’s how you grow, but especially during the holidays, make sure you have a support system backing you up if you need help. And if you need to leave from somewhere or not be around certain people, that’s okay. Back to my Thanksgiving, I was just with my parents and just being around them put me at ease, with no pressure to overeat or feel guilty.

Also, don’t forget to keep up with your self-care routine and any form of stress relief that help. The holidays are wonderful, but they’re frankly just days. If you’re going into an uncomfortable scenario, first off, kudos to you for being a true warrior, but before anything, mentally prepare yourself to stay calm. Focus on the people. Don’t push yourself too far. Have a plan if you need to.

For the family and friends who may not understand the inner ordeal I’m describing, I have suggestions for you, too. Don’t focus too much on what someone might be eating, but simply offer encouragement and empathy for the anxiety at play. Be flexible and comfortable with how someone feels about food-filled situations and allow them to express what would help them. Be patient and compassionate. Avoid staring at someone and bringing attention to food, body and dieting. We may not acknowlege it as often as we should, but thoughtful acts and words of love and kindness mean the world.

There are so many more things to celebrate in December than food. Believe in your strength and resilience. Take care of every aspect of your wellness. And whatever definition you best see fit, I hope this holiday season is merry, healthy, and bright.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie


Grieving and Growing

Many researchers have laid out a basic template for experiencing grief, but there’s so much more between the lines.

When hearing the word “grief,” we automatically think of the cliche five stages of emotions in a neat little line, all arising when a loved one dies.

Well, think again.

In my studies in grieving, which already remains abstract when we all interpret and experience grief differently, I’ve found myself resonating with the topic much more than I had anticipated.

I’m blessed to say that at this point, my first major loss was earlier this year, and that was my dog. I have drifted apart from friends, but no immediate loved ones have lost their lives. Again, for that, I am so grateful.

But I believe grief can manifest itself in situations beyond mortal loss. In life, we’re constantly changing, constantly losing and gaining, so inevitably we react to these changes in both positive and negative ways. And just because we’ve felt a certain way toward a particular change doesn’t mean we’ll always experience the same reaction. Again, it’s quite a difficult topic to pin down.

At the end of class the day we discussed grief, we were asked to answer the question, “What is your most vivid experience with grief?” Although prior to this lecture I had never considered answering the way I did, I felt compelled to say my most immediate, emotional encounter with grief was the loss of myself. The loss of the identity that my eating disorder so desperately craves.

I can still remember so clearly the first time my family had an intervention with me. The first time I myself realized I had a problem that I was ignoring and outright denying. I was at a point where I especially could not see myself as I was, malnourishing myself. Constantly thinking about food and my body. Losing a noticeable amount of weight in a short time. 

As I said, I was in denial that my mindset and intended lifestyle were not sustainable. That my “goal weight” and “ideal body” weren’t possible without slowly killing myself to achieve them. 

When realization hit me like a ton of bricks, I cried harder than I had ever had in my life. I remember going downstairs to my bathroom and just sobbing, getting so furious with myself that I had done what I had. That I had spent the last few months completely consumed in a daze of self-harm.

Accepting my reality, the stage I was at, the consequences I’d face if I continued, was my only way to truly begin recovery. Inevitably, I have frequently ebbed and flowed through various points of recovery, but knowing my mental illness and how it looks to me is crucial in responding to its corresponding emotions.

I have often bargained with myself, thinking of denying my eating disorder’s tendencies to become healthier, an internal battle waged that for most people wouldn’t take a second glance at making a decision. Or bargaining that certain behaviors aren’t “that bad,” that my weight isn’t “too low.” Again, acceptance and tenancity to counter these thoughts are key.

So grief is just an aspect of my psyche. I grieve the loss of an identity that has a perfect body, that can do everything with ease, that thrives on being the small, petite one. I grieve for my mind that is genetically always prone to self-harm. I grieve for an unattainable fantasy that I can always be the same size forever, making me feel special and unique.

I don’t hate this grief. It’s welcomed like an old friend. It has made me more mindful, more determined, more empathetic. It’s not some organized process you finish in due time, but a new perspective to value.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

More Fiber?

A heaping spoonful every morning…except I don’t see too dramatic of a change.

In my latest pursuit of finding what works best for me alleviating my digestive woes, my digestive health doctor suggested to me what I did not want to hear….”Eat more fiber.”

You wouldn’t think something as simple as fiber would fire me up, but it does. First off, my first doctor I admitted to struggling with my irritable bowel symptoms told me to eat more fiber. That was his only suggestion. I felt pretty distraught, feeling like I was wading through mud with no true answer in sight.

Again, why so hung up on fiber? I didn’t want to be that stereotypical health nut that told the doctor I live a vegan lifestyle and that I somehow know more about medicine than he or she does. I just wanted to point out that on a daily basis, I eat a very healthy diet, one that already includes plenty of fiber for my daily needs. But obviously, my food consumption wasn’t helping much to ease my digestion.

Here’s some more context on what my digestive health doctor told me to do, both tasks which made me quite nervous. I had to first take magnesium citrate, a laxative, to “clear out my system.” From then on, I would have a heaping spoonful of fiber supplement each morning to get myself back on a regular schedule. He never actually used the term “irritable bowel syndrome,” but instead described my digestion like a blocked dam that, when “about to burst,” would do just that.

Since my doctor specializes in digestion and not mental health, he probably didn’t even consider my thoughts on laxatives. They aren’t fun no matter which way you slice it, but when in a constant state of anorexia recovery, I was especially hesitant. But I put my trust in the formula.

From that day (or night of sitting on the toilet) onward, I have had a spoonful of Citrucel in a cold glass of water every morning. I’m still giving it time since I’m not about to expect a sudden miracle or anything, but since it’s been a few weeks on this new routine, I can say it at least has made my schedule somewhat more predictable, although I still have many of my symptoms at play, especially the uncomfortable gas and bloating.

Jumping back to my experience with anorexia. Taking each day at a time and still facing fears that leave me on edge, like eating a meal at a restaurant, mixing fiber in the process has felt more like a setback than anything. Whether I actually end up achieving it or not, I really want to become more intuitive and mindful with how I eat. My hunger cues at this point have relied heavily on the clock, as it seems most of my life does. There are certain times of the day that I generally eat, and that’s when I get hungry. It’d be nice to say my stomach is the one in charge, not my overthinking brain, I still say I’m just a creature of habit.

I didn’t expect the fiber to change much of this situation, but it has admittedly thrown off my established norm. At least when first starting out, I don’t know if I actually felt hungry. It was such a weird sensation, knowing that you normally would be craving some food but instead are just…fine. It’s hard to describe, even in writing. My fiber supplement isn’t one of those appetite suppressants because that’s the last thing I need, but I still immediately felt those effects in the normal Citrucel formula.

My gut was probably happy for something new, but my mind sure wasn’t. I felt like I was trying to manage one chronic illness while taking steps backwards in my mental health. Recovering from any eating disorder is long, hard process. For some, it doesn’t take but a few months to get back on track, but for others like me, it’s a lifelong battle. With my goal of some semblance of intuitive eating seemingly put on the back burner, I feared it was too big of a dream, too unrealistic for my body.

The connection between the gut and mind is a powerful one. They often work in sync with one another, so when one’s off-kilter, so is the other. That’s been my biggest obstacle these past few months. Piling on IBS to my chronic mental illnesses toppled the process I’ve been making. The last few weeks have especially been brutal, feeling like I’m on the verge of a mental breakdown at any time.

Luckily, however, I think my digestion is finally starting to readjust itself. The hunger cues are slowly coming back to me through still consistently eating when I usually do, acting like nothing is off. That would be my suggestion to anybody else who might be facing a situation where they feel discouraged and off: if you have an established routine already that works well for you, who says you have to completely disregard it? It takes time for our bodies to balance themselves out, and impatience only prolongs the process. With the close relationship between the body and mind, a positive mindset can work wonders for your health.

Have you ever felt overwhelmed by one health treatment simultaneously working for you but throwing off your mojo? What did you do to overcome that obstacle? I’m sure plenty of people out there have walked in these shoes and would really benefit from others’ perspectives.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie