[source] Not to sound conceited, but I have a lot of friends. We’ve shared intimate details about our lives on Facebook. We’ve tweeted interesting articles and quotes on more than one occasion. I congratulated you on your new job via … Continue reading
This blog post is part of the Week of Self-Love hosted by Anne-Sophie Reinhardt of annesophie.us. I’ve been thinking a lot about sex and love lately. (Yeah, okay, let’s all be grownups here please…) I’ve written before about how my … Continue reading
[SOURCE] Hard to believe it’s been three years since I made the difficult decision to leave grad school and give up theatre as my career. It was a compromise I made in order to find and maintain my health and … Continue reading
It’s hard to get unstuck from bad habits, negative thought processes, and emotional triggers. Or, rather, it’s hard when you tell yourself it’s hard. I love the idea of becoming unstuck, of wrenching yourself free with the power of your … Continue reading
It’s funny how the harder you try to control something, the more out of control it becomes. It was true of my eating disorder, and I apparently haven’t completely learned my lesson, even in recovery. As you know from my … Continue reading
One of the biggest blessings of this summer (and my injury and the resulting confinement to the couch) has been the time to sit and learn. I’ve spent the last three months investing in and expanding my knowledge about eating disorders, as well as fitness and nutrition. I’m doing my best, now, to filter the information, make connections, and use it to improve my own life–and hopefully my readers’ as well.
The more I write the more I realize that ED cannot be explained away as simply as I believed. It’s not just the “media-made-me-do-it” mindset inspired by stick-thin fashion models and celebrity gossip rags. Nor is it just the time-my-mother-told-me-I-was-fat childhood traumas that we discover and work through in therapy. It’s all of that and so much more:
ED is about appetite and addiction. It’s about obsession and ritual and anxiety. It’s about unfilled holes and un-whole foods. It’s about willpower–too much and not enough–and controlling the uncontrollable. It’s about recovery and relapse and habits and cycles. It’s about negative self-talk and negative self-image. It’s about twelve steps and baby steps and one step forward and two steps back. It’s about bad science packaged by the media and the government, meant for quick consumption but never proper digestion. It’s about fad diets and magazine models. It’s about binging and purging and why it feels wrong to feel. It’s about hours on the treadmill, running nowhere except into the ground. It’s about calories in and calories out and calories counted but not understood. It’s about sexuality and psychology, sublimation and restriction. It’s about fear, disgust, shame of the body, of its presence, of its weight, of its needs. It’s about wanting and not wanting to want. It’s about competition and perfection and idealism. It’s a cry for attention, a cry for help, a cry for the sake of crying, I’m crying, look at me, dammit! It is about silent screaming and weightless bodies, and a kind of loneliness that only the self-isolated can feel.
It’s strange: I originally started this blog with the simple intention to write about how unlearning nutrition helped me start to conquer ED; instead, it has shown me that the dragon guarding my tower has more than one head, and that no one tool is sufficient to slay the whole beast.
So I apologize in advance if this blog gets a little heavy with information in the coming days. I want to share with you everything I’m learning about how ED came to be and how it operates, and where it’s taking you, me, us on this journey.
That means I’m going to look at food science and psychology, addiction and recovery, history and theory, fitness and nutrition, and everything in between.
And I’m doing it all from the perspective of what I’ve learned and experienced. Which means that it may not jive with your personal philosophies and ingrained habits and things you’ve learned about the world through your experiences. I’m open to hearing your perspective, and I ask that you please share it–and allow me to share mine with you.
So, if you’ve been hanging out with me on Facebook, you know that I’m having a fun time playing with WordPress’s web analytics tools and seeing where all of my readers are coming from and how you’re finding me.
It is honestly so amazing to see that so many people can at least identify with my story, whether they’re a long-lost friend from high school or an internet stranger from the Republic of Malta. (Seriously, according to WordPress, people from more than 60 countries have at least clicked on my page. To me, that is incredible.)
On the flip side, however, it’s heart-wrenching to see some of the Google search terms that people have used to find my blog. (Don’t worry–it’s 100% anonymous, so not only don’t I know who typed those terms in, I also don’t know where they came from or when.)
Sometimes the searches are benign: “bikram yoga 30 day challenge.” “are organic apples healthy.” “bikram yoga fall over sweat.” Others, however, are heartbreaking: “friend looks emaciated exercise bulimia.” “is my body fat or skinny.” “hiding exercise bulimia.” “thinspiration i can’t do this help me.”
It’s heartbreaking, because I know what it feels like to type those words.
I know what it feels like to hear those voices in my head.
I know what it feels like to watch friends and family cry out with similar problems through social media.
I know what it feels like to search for a website that will justify the behavior, reinforce the stereotype, explain away the pain.
And I just thank god that the people who typed those queries found my blog instead.
There is so much damaging media out there–whether it’s the pro-ana thread tucked away into the deeper folds of the internet or the major news sources posting disordered behaviors (and tips on perpetuating them) on their front page. There are so many ways to starve yourself and feed ED, and they’re all at your finger tips…but then again, there is nourishment for your soul just a few search terms away.
I wish there were a search engine that could flag cries for help, disorder detectors that could crawl the net. And instead of bringing up the content that can cause more damage, this search engine would bring you here. And here. And here. And here and here. (I could go on and on…) And show you only a world behind your computer screen that could reflect how beautiful you really are.
I want this for you, just as much as I selfishly want it for me. I’m tired of reading articles that talk about the ways in which we use the internet to hurt ourselves. Even when we’re not searching for negativity, it pops up in our Facebook feeds. There are apps dedicated to quantifying our worth in terms of calories and pounds. Well, where are the recovery venture capitalists? I have an idea for a new business model, and when it saves us from starving ourselves, it will be sure to go viral. I call it:
SEO* for the soul.
There may be no immediate return on investment, no quick way to build the network, no surefire way to hide the self-hate and the negativity from the top web hits, but if enough of us take to the web demanding websites tagged with self-love and positive reinforcement, I think we can make it happen.
Until that day, I just hope against hope that the internet keeps bringing you back to me. Because I promise that here you will never need to hide. Here you will never need thinspiration. Here, you can do this–because we’ll get through it together.
Please reach out.
I became a vegan partially encouraged by the claims of green smoothies curing everything from cancer to hangnails.
I didn’t have cancer (thank god), but I did have an ankle that refused to heal. I thought that, perhaps, by detoxifying my insides I would be giving my body the impetus it needed to start healing.
The yoga certainly helped; in fact, doing Bikram seven to nine times a week greatly facilitated my ankle mobility and reduced my ankle pain. However, I could neither financially or temporally support my yoga addiction, and when my hours changed at work, I had to give it up almost entirely.
When I went back to the gym, besides the fact that the guy at the front desk was seriously concerned about the extent of my yoga-and-green-food-induced body mass loss* over the last two months, I had trouble doing lower body exercises without pain. Standing for hours at work made everything worse. More and more often, I was being sent to the back of house to answer the phones so I could sit during my shifts.
Without yoga, I was depressed. Without exercise period? Well, not even kale could make things better. And with both my roommate and financial situations definitively headed south–along with a major burnout impending at the Kool-Aid job–I took a much-needed vacation.
I flew across the Mississippi for the first time in my life so that I could visit my mother. In California.
In California, life was beautiful. In California, I felt calm and relaxed. In California, I felt change.
When I returned to Florida, I found out that my roommates’ guest was throwing a party for my roommate in our house (an event about which I hadn’t been consulted). I retreated to my grandmother’s house with my dog that night, and placed a phone call to my mother. I was going to California. To live with my mother. For good.
That would take care of my roommates and my finances, but what about my ankle?
I wouldn’t be able to leave Florida until the new year, and it was only October. I still had to stand on my feet for nine hours a day, forty-plus hours a week.
And since my orthopedist had been no help, I went to a podiatrist. I was X-rayed and examined, but nothing showed up to conclusively explain my pain. My ankle ached constantly and hurt acutely when I tried to run or jump. My heel started swelling whenever I wore shoes.
And so I went into a boot. (If you’ve never worn one of these evil contraptions, consider yourself lucky. They’re also known as “cam walkers,” and they have a rounded bottom–kind of like those horrifically ugly Shape Up shoes–which reduces the pressure you put on your bones and joints when you walk. They also make walking a chore, and so you do less of it as a result.)
An MRI showed that I had “bone marrow edema” (swollen bone marrow) in the three major bones in my ankle: the tibia and fibula (the two major lower-leg bones) and the calcaneus (the heel bone), and my doctor was also concerned that my boot was causing dysfunction in the subtalar joint (the hinge that moves your foot up and down) I went on disability and started seeing a physical therapist.
A bone scan in late November confirmed the edema. The PT did nothing except a few joint mobilizations, which were basically useless.
As my ankle situation devolved and my workouts remained at a standstill, I let the depression envelop me like a thick blanket, suffocating in its heat as the Floridian “winter” dragged on. My holidays were joyless, and my days monotonous.** I gained weight, despite the fact that I reduced my overall calorie intake and started substituting food with vegan food powders as often as I could. Being a vegan hadn’t cured my ankle, and it hadn’t cured my ED. The only thing I had left to do was juice some more chard and wait for California.
*I didn’t just lose fat. I lost a ton of muscle. I was becoming “skinny” in a way that didn’t look “strong.” And yet: I was thin enough to feel like I was made of air.+ I wasn’t thin enough for my black shorts goal, but I was getting there, and that felt like progress.
+When I was going through my New York anorexia experience, I read a book about Orthorexia that made me aware that there was a group of disordered eaters called “Breatharians.” Otherwise known as Inedia, or Fasting, Breatharianism is about starving yourself to break free from the heavy, cumbersome bodies to which our souls have been chained. It’s a steady diet of air to become air.(In other words, it’s killing yourself while justifying it through pseudo-philosophy. I don’t recommend this.) At no point did I subscribe to this practice (hypoglycemia was too terrible an ordeal for me to try it) but the idea of transcending the physical body to become lighter than air was often on my mind. The heavier I became, the harder I worked to become lighter.
**The only good that came out of this period was the fact that I got to spend a lot of time at my grandparents’ house. I honestly don’t know what I would have done without them keeping me sane and grounded!
As per ED Has Two Mommies: It’s amazing how an ED can thrive on social pressure. Even under the guise of change and growth, an ED can wriggle its way underneath even your healthiest habits and cause them to decay from within. Habits that you try to change by drastic measures become the drastic measures that your resort to when life goes off the rails. And ED is there as always, waiting with a “safety net” of routine and dysfunction to catch you as you fall.
The day I decided to do my 30-Day Challenge, the day I became a vegan, was the day I chopped off all of my hair (again). It was the day that I committed to losing 10 pounds by November. It was the day that I hung a pair of black shorts that hadn’t fit me since the height of my anorexia on my wall and decided that I would wear them on my birthday.
The day I became a vegan was supposed to be the day I broke free from the strict lifestyle of the figure competitor, the day I broke free from calorie counting, eating small meals every three hours, and using cardio/resistance training as an excuse to excuse myself from social life.
I was working full time and doing yoga every day. I used my days off to do doubles, or tried to fit doubles in at 5 am and after 6 pm on days I worked the early shift. I still ate every three hours and counted the calories in my seitan-on-sprouted grain-bread sandwiches. I practically moved into the farmer’s market down the street, since I was consuming pounds and pounds of vegetables in my daily juices and green smoothies (and became more tied to my kitchen than ever for easy access to the juicer and blender). My other meals were made up of giant salads mixed with fermented tofu or in various forms (mainly tempeh)–or else I would forgo the actual “meal” and just eat a meal replacement made of various combinations of sprouted legumes, grasses, and green things.
ED was there, perhaps wearing different clothes, but meddling in my affairs all the same. And, as always is the case when ED starts to meddle, the black clouds began to roll in.
I grew increasingly defensive of my food and lifestyle choices–apparently “vegan” translates to “alien” in the omnivore’s tongue*–and I felt like I was therefore more and more justified in my isolation. And isolation, if you remember, is ED’s favorite food.
Now, before I go any further, I am only writing the following to provide context for the descent into depression and disorder that follows. Let me also say that I know that I am just as at fault for any bad juju that was stirring between myself and my roommates up until this point–ED had turned me into a depressed, shrewish hermit, and my roommates’ inability to clean up after themselves simply brought out the best of my by-this-point well-cultured passive aggression.
All of that said, things went definitively south when one of my roommates asked if one of his friends could stay with us for a couple of weeks while she searched for a job and a place to live. Okay, fine, I said. As long as it was only a few weeks.
And I won’t go too deep into the details of this invasion of my home, but I that’s what it felt like–an invasion. Instead of being ignored, my food choices were suddenly questioned and made fun of. (Ew, what is that green thing you’re eating?!) My routines were called out and disparaged. (You’re seriously going to bed now? Fine, well, we’re going out. Don’t wait up.) I felt like I was living under a microscope, with all of my deficiencies on display and my habits the subject of analysis and debate.
And the more I was analyzed and debated–the more I heard the hushed behind-my-back and outside-my-bedroom-door conversations and the second-hand gossip at work–the more I became the depressed, crazy, creature of habit that our guest was talking about.
All of this, and she didn’t have to pay rent.
As the days turned into weeks turned into months, I grew more and more despondent. My roommates grew less and less tolerant of my presence in the house. I wasn’t the cool, fun roommate anymore–far from it. I was the annoyance who was lucky I was being allowed to pay rent. But for work and yoga, I confined myself to my room or a corner of the kitchen around the clock.
And, on top of all of this, our guest got a job at my Kool-Aid store. So now I was with my roommates and their guest around the clock. Not only did I have no relief from my roommates’ presence, but my promotion also turned out to have brought more responsibility without any of the joy I thought would come of it.
My only comfort? ED. ED wouldn’t lie or disappoint me. ED wouldn’t judge me–if anything, ED would keep me on track. ED was the only thing I could think about or else I was sure I’d go crazy. Unfortunately, ED was the very reason I felt out of control and crazy to begin with.
*I cannot even begin to quantify the number of times I’ve been asked, “Wait…does that mean you eat fish?” during my stint as a vegan. No, it does not mean I can eat fish. Veganism means eschewing all animal products, up to and including the bee pollen I was mixing into my daily oatmeal. No eggs, no honey, no fish, cheese, or cows. Not even chewing gum made with shellac or other animal derived products (and you’d be surprised how many there are). And if you’re really hardcore, no leather or animal-made nonedibles either.
There is a study making the internet-interpreted rounds, which states that Pro-Ana websites (websites that are ACTIVELY PROMOTING & CELEBRATING ANOREXIA) are actually good for people who are trying to recover from eating disorders.
I’m sorry, but I don’t buy the B.S. about “[belonging] to a safe community of individuals with similar experiences.” And while I’ll concede that this “community” may at least give these girls the desire to stay alive longer than if they were suffering alone, that doesn’t change the fact that anorexia is still one of the most deadly psychiatric diseases–or the fact that staying alive and in the disease is about as useful as being dead from it.
Look, I went through my period of “recovery,” where I still read orthorexic health blogs–you know the ones: women posting pictures of their daily food plans along with their macros*, celebrating their “days off” with “active recovery”**, and posting progress pictures to keep themselves accountable. And during that period, I didn’t get better. I thought I had figured out my relationship to ED, but really I was just seeking a community of women in the same frame of mind who would justify that relationship. I imagine this is what it’s like to be stuck in a codependent and abusive relationship only to have your friends tell you that all is well and good because their boyfriends beat them too.
I’m glad that these girls are seeking something outside of their ED-constructed towers to help them cope, but until there’s a way to make them understand that there are coping mechanisms outside of the disease, they will never heal. And pro-ana (and pro-mia and thinspo/fitspo) are just more ways for ED to keep us from escaping through the window.
Please, if you’ve ever gone online to seek solace (or justification, or tips, or self-medication) through pro-ana (whether you’ve been diagnosed with a disorder or just have disordered eating/body image), please, please, please seek help. Even if it’s as simple as calling a friend or reading a good book whenever you have an impulse to feed the disease, as simple as finding a funny website that isn’t food related or following some inspirational quote-er on Twitter. Whatever it takes, get out of the disease.
And shame on those who seek to justify pro-ana as anything other than a harmful drug. Maybe we can’t regulate it, but that is no excuse to try to justify its use.
…end rant. (For now. And for more on fitspo, check out my earlier post today.)
*Macros are the three macronutrients, protein, carbohydrate, and fat, which make up all of the foods we eat (with the exception of alcohol). When people say they are concerned with “macros”, it means that they are concerned with the ratios of protein, fat, and carbohydrates in relation to the ratio of each macronutrient they strive to eat each day. It’s taking calorie counting to the next level, because not only do you have to worry about restricting the total number of calories you put in your mouth, but also making them fit into perfect ratios to support whatever goal it is you think X amount of fat and Y amount of carbohydrates will achieve.
**Only a two hour bike ride up a mountain instead of going to the gym and doing fasted cardio followed by weights!