What’s messy, and why it matters

If you’re a Brené Brown fan like I am, I hope you’ve picked up her newest book, Rising Strong. I’m into it now and can’t help but be inspired by her words and her dedication of the book to the space in between vulnerability and the heroic ending of the stories we are all so excited to get to. She admits that failure is part of life, and says that the journey is messy:

 “We much prefer stories about falling and rising to be inspirational and sanitized. Our culture is rife with those tales. In a thirty-minute speech, there’s normally thirty seconds dedicated to, “And I fought my way back,”…We like recovery stories to move quickly through the dark so we can get to the sweeping redemptive ending.”

I like to think that my blogging here as well as at my old blog was a space for me to share some of my struggles, but I’ll admit that I like to rush to the ending. Sometimes this blog serves as a spot to figure things out, which is great. But as someone who wants to help others to figure their own things out, it’s a disservice to skip to the ending or to leave out the messy parts. So as I’ve been reading Rising Strong, I’ve been thinking about my own mess in the middle.

On a regular basis, there are parts about living my recovered, healthy, life that are not so easy. There are “failures” or stumbles now, and I don’t always want to talk about them. Is it shame? Is it an attempt to inspire and focus on what’s good? Maybe. But talking about where we feel shame, I know, only takes away its power. And being real about the messy parts of life is what is really inspiring to others. Take it from Brené:

“…[T]here’s a vast difference between how we think about the term failure and how we think about the people and organizations brave enough to share their feelings for the purpose of learning and growing. To pretend that we can get to helping, generous, and brave without navigating through tough emotions like desperation, shame, and panic is a profoundly dangerous and misguided assumption.”

She talks about “the beauty in truth and tenacity.” So for the next couple of posts here, I want to share some of the struggles I’ve had and/or have when it comes to living the healthy and happy life I try to stay committed to. I’ll talk about what it’s like to walk around recovered—some of the times where I find myself slipping, or the ways that I have to work on staying true to myself. It’s not always easy, and I hope that this serves to send the message that it’s alright to have to work at recovery or living a healthy life. We sometimes see these images of people who have it all figured out and beat ourselves up for not being as carefree or as put together as them. It’s the whole comparing other peoples’ highlight reels with our behind the scenes footage, and it’s shitty if you’re the kind of person who then beats yourself up for struggling. Talk about kicking yourself when you’re down. I’ve been there, and I hope talking about it both helps me to let go of some of that shame and also to let others know they’re not alone.

 

imperfections

So in the coming posts, I want to talk about what’s tough. Holidays, the scale, comparisons–these are just a couple of the things I want to talk about.

Are there things you struggle with but keep to yourself when it comes to being healthy and happy?
When you tell your story, do you skip to the end? 

Looking back: Why we need to love who we were

In starting teachers college, I’ve done some looking back on my social media and internet presence to make sure that my digital self is not doing anything that a teacher ought not to do. I’m kind of the one who’s always arguing for safety first and going home from parties early, so there wasn’t too much fear that I’d find anything I need to hide.

In the process, I started to come across photos of myself over the years. One of the things I noticed was the way I would look at some pictures and want to judge my body in them. When I started to think about it, I tried to be compassionate. That girl—whether she was big or small, smiling or pretending to smile—is part of who I am today. It is hard when I look back to not be a little upset with myself—How could I starve myself? And how could I binge and purge? And what would my life be like if I hadn’t spent so long hating and abusing my body? What would I be doing? How would my body be now? The questions could go on for days.

But I know that there’s power in acceptance. I know that I cannot go back and change things. And I also know that just as I encourage my personal training clients not to look at their “before” photos and beat themselves up or feel bad about them, the person we were years ago, 6 months ago, or at the start of our journeys is the person who made us into who we are today.

remember where you come from

Anyone who has gone through a recovery process or who has undergone some kind of transformation (from an eating disorder, around their weight, through an addiction) should give some credit to who they were in the throes of their issues. It was that person who found the strength, the motivation, and the means to start the process of becoming who we are now and who we will be in the future.

suffering start

Looking back and feeling ashamed is a disservice to who you are now. We have to be okay with where we’ve been, and I argue that we have to be proud of who we were then just as much as we ought to be proud of where we are now—on whatever journey we might be on.

love yourself as if

Turning to Dr. Google: On sane self-diagnosis

I have a (kind of bad) habit of self-diagnosing on google. Lately, my searches have included things related to my back injury (from dropping a barbell on it in August), to the (likely associated) IT band pain I’ve been having when I try to run, to exercise-induced asthma and bronchitis, to obsessive compulsive disorder. There’s something in me that wants to find an answer.

doctor google

I can remember vividly the kind of comfort I felt when I came across websites about the Female Athlete Triad. According to good old Wikipedia, this is “a syndrome in which eating disorders (or low energy availability), amenhorrhoea/oligomenorrhoa, and decreased bone mineral density (osteoporosis and osteopenia) are present. …[T]his condition is seen in females participating in sports that emphasize leanness or low body weight.” At the time, I was not having a period, I was pretty light, and I had received DEXA results that said my bones were not where they should be for a girl my age. I fit the bill—and I was so glad to have something outside of me.

It’s not my fault.

That’s the thought that I had.

There’s nothing wrong with seeking comfort from knowing that it’s not your fault, but with things like my eating disorder–where it remains tough to know what was biology and what was going on with my own choices—I think it’s worth noting that not being at fault and not being able to help it are very different.

With this week’s searches, I think I was looking for relief. From the guilt of worrying that I’m being a pansy with my leg pain, or that I’m too anxious—from things that I bring onto myself. I want it to be outside of me, even though at the end of the day, the problem doesn’t go away with the addition of a label. When I realized I had that Female Athlete Triad, it wasn’t like there was a pill to make it disappear. In the end, the shifts happened when I tackled what I could with the support of others. It required taking responsibility, which can be hard when we’re convinced that we aren’t at fault.

That self-diagnosis represents a relief.

It’s not our fault.

We have a condition, outside of us.

Does this mean that the responsibility is removed?

 

So, if I have a certain condition, I try to think, What caused it in the first place? What can I do to fix it? With the triad example, it was my eating disorder. And with my eating disorder, there were a lot of factors—many of which were up to me to choose differently around. Later, I turned to “adrenal fatigue” to make myself feel better for running myself into the ground. Solution? Take the stress off of my body, little by little–whether the condition existed or not. Basically: Slow. Down. Via different choices.

Knowing this, I still get sucked into the interwebs when I’m not feeling great about something going on with my body. I hope that if you’re a googler like me, you can notice what you’re after when you start turning to Dr. Google to make you feel better. My leg hurts when I run—knowing the name given to the pain I’m experiencing is less important than taking a break and coming back to it with a game plan to run pain free. I’m noticing some weird coping tendencies and some extra anxiety—whether or not this is clinical matters a whole lot less than dealing with what’s driving me to them. Etc. etc. etc.

All of this being said, I don’t want to discount the way that knowing that we aren’t entirely at fault when it comes to our health is not a bad thing. Back to that eating disorder—knowing that I had power but was not to blame was what let me take charge and decide to recover—and kept me going when the going got tough. I say we use our labels to make informed choices, not to let us off the hook or as some strange form of comfort that stops us from taking the best care of ourselves.

ek care

Do you self-diagnose on google?
Do you feel better knowing that you “have” something?

No Diet Day–Should it be every day?

This will be a short post because I’m already a bit late for my afternoon run — it’s a speed sesh so maybe being hurried to get there will start the workout on the right foot? I didn’t want today to go by without putting a post out though, as it’s International No Diet Day.

no diet

In honour of that, maybe check out this article by Health at Every Size advocate Linda Bacon over at the NEDIC website.  She advocates for learning to trust our bodies, which goes in line with the kind of intuitive eating and self-acceptance/love approach that I myself get behind. I especially like the part where she hits the nail on the head when it comes to the element of control that dieting so alluringly offers:

“As long as things go well, the dieter can maintain control. But if anything gets in the way or changes, she can’t. The reason is clear: Dieters don’t rely on the normal signals of fullness to regulate their eating, so there are no brakes in place.”

…I know that when I have gotten sucked into restriction, or obsessing over/tracking my every meal, judging it, etc., there’s been a sense of control and power that I have–and it felt good. It’s nice to feel like you are totally in charge. And what thinking we need to get really strict about our food does all the time is convince us that we are otherwise out of control monsters who will binge at the first chance.

And unfortunately, after restriction, that’s what happens. I still have foods that were formerly “forbidden” that I have to remind myself–it’s OKAY–or else I end up overeating them to the point of feeling like crap. My experience tells me that I am not in fact a madwoman around food, but the more I think that I eat too much or eat the wrong things, the more likely I am to go ahead and go “off the rails.”

My hope is that some day, it won’t be the exception or the one day of the year where we don’t diet–but that we’ll learn to feed and take care of ourselves in a way that doesn’t require us to feel like failures or to give all of our energy to controlling ourselves.

two diets

 

Remember: we are not crazies. The diet industry likes us to think that, so that we keep paying them for programs. And trackers. And diet coaches. And unless these products and people teach us long term habits that make it so we don’t require them, I’m weary. Our bodies are on our side!

There’s my two cents!
What do you think about ditching diets?
Do you make a point to avoid diet talk / dieting / buying diet books, or do you just go with it?
Does controlling your food work with you? Tracking? Monitoring? 
Have you given up on diets? What have you found?
What keeps you dieting? 

Recovery: 10 Truths I Wish I’d Known

It is Wednesday, which is usually a pretty boring day. But this Wednesday happens to be smack dab in the middle of Eating Disorders Awareness Week, which deserves a little recognition. In the fashion of all the “10 thing I wish someone had told me before I…” articles that float around the interwebs, here are ten truths about recovery that I wish someone had mentioned to me back in the day:

  1. You will learn more about yourself than ever before. So many people go through their lives never questioning the way they think about or talk to themselves. Recovery will force you to think about these things and will expose those not-so-self-serving beliefs that your gremlin has convinced you to think. It will also give you the opportunity to reframe them.
  2. You will get angry. I have never been so mad at myself, at the people in my life, and at society in general as when I was going through recovery. Processing that anger is part of the journey.
  3. You will get sad. It is sad to think about the time, energy, and life we lost to an eating disorder. I will never get another chance to, for instance, go to my sister’s wedding and not throw up in the bathroom. But I will get the chance to live every day of my life from here on out without hurting myself, and the sadness I feel is a sign that I recognize that I deserve—and have always deserved—more self-love.
  4. People say that it will be hard, but it will be hard. Like crying your eyes out because you don’t think you can do it hard. Like your best friend is starting a sugar detox while you are trying to normalize your eating by having a bowl of ice cream tonight hard. Like someone close to you doesn’t get why you don’t just lose weight if you hate your body but you know it’s not about the weight Like getting rid of the cute clothes that only fit when you were doing things to your body that you never want to do again hard. Like every day needing to remind yourself about the reasons that you care enough to keep trucking along hard.
  5. It gets easier. Think of something you’ve learned that was extremely difficult at the beginning when you were just learning, but got easier and easier over time and now feels like second nature. I’m thinking of driving. Just like driving, if we’re used to a disordered relationship with food and our bodies, living a life where we take care of ourselves is a brand new thing. I wanted to lose weight since I was a little girl—of course it was going to feel foreign to start to focus on wanting to love myself and take care of myself. But just like learning to drive, we can learn new habits.
  6. You’re going to make mistakes. To go back to the driving analogy, the first night I got my license I scratched another car—no lie. Did I stop driving? Nope. The same goes for your recovery process. Binge the first night you have decided to start working with a dietitian to help you? You can dust it off and start again. A “relapse” is not a reason to give up—it’s an opportunity to see what went wrong and to learn from it so that you can do better from there on out. Curiosity and the ability to forgive yourself will go a long way.
  7. You are going to inspire others. If you tell your story, you will inspire people. I know that talking about my own eating disorder was scariest at first. I also know that I’ve touched people’s lives and helped them take steps in the right direction. That is a rewarding thing.
  8. You are going to doubt yourself. You will run into someone who seems more confident than you about something: that carbs are going to kill you, that you should never eat chocolate, whatever. And you will want to believe them. But…
  9. You are going to learn to trust yourself. In our world, there are people who literally live off of convincing you to hate your body. There are entire industries that capitalize on confusing people about what to eat. We need to limit our exposure to the kinds of things that try to convince us that we are wrong or broken and to throw us off of our healthy paths, but when we are forced to encounter them, there is only one thing to do: stand strong and stand up for yourself.
  10. It will also be the most rewarding thing you’ve ever done. At some point, you’re going to look back and see how far you’ve come. You’re going to realize that you are a whole different person with a whole different orientation to your life.  For me, that meant the shift from wanting to survive to wanting to live. That’s a pretty big deal and something absolutely to be proud of.

happppppy

Wherever you are on the beautiful journey that is recovery, I hope you stop and give yourself some credit. Looking back like I had the opportunity to do in writing this is such a good way to reaffirm what we are doing. If you are struggling, and not sure where to start, I encourage you to keep educating yourself–read a book, but also to reach out–to a dietitian, to a friend, to a therapist, to a counsellor, to a loved one, to a doctor. You are not alone, and you are worth recovery! 

diet advice: think twice about who to trust

Yesterday, I shared an article that got me to thinking yesterday called “Opinion Stew”, which was by (medical doctor) David Katz and talked about the craziness that is the way in which we find our diet gurus and called for some common sense when it comes to deciding who to trust. The gist:

For now, anyone who shares opinions about nutrition or weight loudly and often enough — or cleverly enough — is embraced as an authority, with no one generally even asking what if any training they’ve had. This is compounded by the fact that, in the famous words of Bertrand Russell, “Fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser men so full of doubts.” It is the least substantiated, most uninformed opinions about how to eat that will come at you with the greatest conviction. That’s your first clue that something is awry, because true expertise always allows for doubt.

We have created a seething stew of opinion about everything to do with nutrition, including, presumably, stew. That leaves us with far too many cooks, many lacking credentials to be in the kitchen in the first place. I trust everyone knows what that means.”

 Some of my (facebook) friends shared the link and others commented in thought-provoking ways. I felt stressed out over thinking “I shouldn’t have shared this—I’ll certainly offend ____ [insert handful of names of people I know who dole out nutrition advice who are not dietitians and/or doctors].”

But if you read my post on why I think Paleo did me more harm than good from a few weeks ago, you’ll understand that I’ve personally been led astray by these not-so-credentialed gurus and books. I started to think maybe I would be better off not saying a darn thing about the way I feel about nutritionists vs. dietitians, but the shame I seem to be feeling about failing at the kinds of diets put out there by people who aren’t mainstream dietitians is something I’m probably not alone with. Even if some diet “works” for a 25 year old girl who is blessed with the ability to eat pretty much anything and still look “fit”—and is willing to talk about it on a podcast or blog about it or base a nutrition counselling practice off of it—that doesn’t mean that it’s healthy or that it’s the right choice for everyone. I’m a self-conscious person and sometimes I can think that because I don’t have a six pack or haven’t got the “perfect body” figured out I should just shut up. But ouch.

A couple years ago, I was en route to becoming a Registered Dietitian. I didn’t finish my degree in Nutrition and Dietetics, but I do have the (kind of crappy) orgo mark on my transcripts and the hairnet and lab coat I saved from spending a summer in Food Science to remind me that the kind of training dietitians go through is not something to be scoffed at. On top of the degree, there’s the internship, not to mention the competition those budding dietitians have to go through to earn one.

I also briefly considered taking a natural nutrition program or going through some program to become a health coach. But the warnings about those programs as “drive through degrees” or scams were enough to make me reconsider (I chose to take my Coactive Coaching instead because there are professors at Western who use it in their research, plain and simple, across a variety of issues—health and otherwise). I haven’t been through one of those “alternative” options, so I can’t speak on how hard or how easy they are. I have talked to people who have been through it and said that they don’t feel like they should be giving out advice, but then I’ve met plenty of people who do. I’ve also seen the way in which the lines of who to trust are blurry—recommending blogs and podcasts over even common sense.

And I’m mad at myself for believing the people who so confidently convinced me that everything I’d believed about nutrition was somehow wrong. But the writing is on the wall when it comes to my own story: I have been my healthiest and my happiest with my body when I’ve been working with a dietitian—not a nutritionist or someone who calls themselves an eating coach. Add to it that dietitians tend to have some experience working with people with eating disorders, and I know that I would rather spend my money paying someone who has dedicated a significant portion of their life to learning about nutrition and about how to help individuals and communities to be healthier than giving it to someone who decided to capitalize on their own success with a single diet. My biggest fear when it comes to the kind of alternative diet advice that more people will end up confused and doubting their own judgment and perhaps straying down the path of disordered eating. To pick on Paleo some more, let’s consider a nutritionist who has no formal training and then tells an individual to cut out a whole (foundational) food group. I don’t need to read the criteria of anorexia or the warning signs to know that cutting out a whole group of foods is a slippery slope. I don’t doubt that some of these nutritionists might recognize an eating disorder in their clients, but I also don’t doubt that some of these nutritionists have their own messed up relationships with food. I don’t doubt that some of them might have the guts to refer them to someone with training to help their client with their issues, but I also don’t doubt that there are some nutritionists who would just push those clients to try harder. I don’t doubt that there are some that would give up on their clients and blame them for not doing it right. I don’t doubt that there are people who are being led into disordered patterns of thoughts and behaviours around food because of the mass nutrition confusion that Katz talks about in the article I shared.

This is NOT to say that I don’t think people should talk about what they’re doing with eating and nutrition. Hearing about someone else’s experience with a diet or training program might be interesting (I read the posts that go along with the Human Health Experiment the owner of my gym is doing on himself). But I don’t think we should use that as a platform from which we can advise other people and charge money to advise them on how to take care of their own (very different) bodies.

So, that is a lot of words to come to the conclusion that I’m glad I shared that article. I want people to think twice before they share an article by someone who positions themselves as an expert—what are they really saying? I want people to think twice before they spend their money on any kind of diet or health or nutrition help or product. In short, I hope that the article—and my rambling on about it—makes you think.

Here’s the link again — “Opinion Stew” 

Did you read the article?
What’s your take on nutritionists vs. Dietitans and where to spend your moola?
Do you think there’s danger in the way things are right now?

races and paces: Go the Distance 10km recap

Yesterday, I ran a 10km race here in London that just so happened to be in the name of Hope’s Garden, the eating disorders resource and support centre that I’ve decided to bike across the country fundraising for! People who register for Go the Distance can raise money that goes directly to Hope’s Garden and the race is part of a series here in London.

hg

I ran the race on my own, though last year I ran it with a friend (she couldn’t join me this year, unfortunately!). I haven’t done a 10km race since last spring and wasn’t sure how it would go, so I tried to just go in with a goal of feeling good during the run. I think that was a perfect mindset–and I had a great race on that front!

I ran most of the way comfortably and I was pacing along perfectly with a nice woman for the first 8km. We chatted a bit–mostly about running, but also about teaching since she is a high school teacher–and the kilometres flew by. The sun was out so it was hot, but there was a nice breeze and most of the course, which started at Covent Garden Market and went to Springbank Park and back, was flat.

I am definitely giving thumbs up here!

I am definitely giving thumbs up here!

My finishing time was 56:31–not my best effort on a 10km but not my worst. I know that a lot of people said that they were slower than they’d hoped, and I spent a little bit of time thinking “I should have run faster” but got over it pretty quickly when I was reminded (by that awesome boyfriend of mine) that:

  • my focus is on the bike ride anyhow
  • nobody cares about 2 minutes one way OR the other
  • I’m healthier and happier than ever before

I also know that doing the race was important. Exercising–and keeping it enjoyable–is a big deal to me. I know that sometimes people think of running as a sport where eating disorders can thrive–and that might be true. But running a race or just running around the block is a chance for us to use our bodies and to see what they’re capable of–something  I know is absolutely essential in making friends with your body. It doesn’t surprise me that people who don’t move in their bodies have a hard time respecting, appreciating, and loving their bodies, so I think that getting Hope’s Garden into the running community is a great thing. I also know that the more people can hear about it the better–and that maybe someone who needs it will find the brochure about the centre in their race kit and check it out.

I may not have run a personal best, but I had a good morning at the race running for something I care a lot about–and that feels pretty darn good! And, as a bonus, I got some pretty embarrassing sweet race photos out of the day!

This is the best of the bunch!

This is the best of the bunch!

Have you participated in a race in honour of something you care about a lot?

 

If you want to donate to my ride and to Hope’s Garden, please visit my Giving Page at https://www.canadahelps.org/GivingPages/GivingPage.aspx?gpID=37108. All the donations go directly to Hope’s Garden. If you want to get involved or have any questions, ideas, or other thoughts, please comment below! In the meantime, love your body and be happy and healthy. 

 

appreciating exercise (or why I’m ready to bike across the continent)

The other day, I was biking with a friend of mine and we got to talking about how training time—biking, running, swimming (she’s a triathlete friend)—gives us a way to destress. When she said something about how exercise has always been her way of keeping herself sane, happy, and healthy, I couldn’t agree more. There’s something about heading out for a bike ride or a run and getting to be outside, without your cell phone attached to you, with some space from the rest of what’s going on in your life, that’s oh so freeing.

More generally, I think exercise is a great way to destress. Letting it all out in the weight room. Processing thoughts in the pool. Thinking things over on a hike. These are all ways that exercise can give us that much needed break and time to just be in our bodies.

However, for a while, exercise was a source of stress in my life.

First: Am I doing enough? I should do more. This was the name of the game when I was really struggling with my relationship with my body and experiencing my eating disorder.

Then: Am I doing the right kind? I should do it all. Even through recovery, I’ve found that it can be a difficult balance to master: exercise is a place where I can learn what my body is capable of and where I have the opportunity to just experience it for what it does, not just for how it looks, but it’s also a loaded area where there are so many messages about what we “should” be doing.

But I’ve learned along the way that when it comes to deciding whether or not something is good for us, things aren’t always black or white. Going on a long run for one person might be about getting out and experiencing their body. For another, it might be about burning off a binge. We celebrate people who are dedicated to their recreational pursuits and sometimes we can go too far—for the average person who trains for health or just recreation, training through an injury probably isn’t necessary and seems counterproductive. It can be a slippery slope if you’re struggling with why you exercise—the compulsion is hard enough to kick, but add in acknowledgement from the world around us when we do come across as “hardcore” and things get even tougher.

That being said, I think it’s important to talk about how exercise, even for people who have struggled with compulsivity in the past, can be a part of taking care of your body. Our bodies are meant to move so learning a relationship with our bodies that allows us to exercise in life-affirming, health-building ways is essential. With so many messages about exercise as a way to control weight, it can be hard to flip the switch: exercise isn’t punishment or just about changing the way your body looks. The number of articles I’ve seen about quitting running because it’s not going to make you skinny just reinforce the idea that exercise is only about weight—it’s not. Running has other benefits—the mental ones I talked about at the start of this post, the other physical aspects that have no reflection in our body composition.

Exercising, in my opinion, is about using our bodies and keeping them moving in ways that feel good and that are enjoyable. It need not be complicated or intense. It shouldn’t come loaded with feelings of guilt and compulsion. It’s simple: exercise should make your life better—your physical, mental, emotional, and maybe even spiritual health (if you’re into that).

love your bod

If you’re a regular reader, maybe you’ve checked out my bucket list page. On it are some things that I’m making good on these days, namely biking across the continent. I didn’t really elaborate on my page, but ever since I wrote an article for Canadian Cycling Magazine in 2010 about a man who rode across the US and fundraised for brain and spinal cord regeneration research (he raised $26 052 to be exact), I’ve had biking across the continent in the name of eating disorders awareness on my long term to do list.

So, that’s why I’m uber excited to be planning this fundraising ride across the states. I’m sorting out the details now, with plans to donate the money that I raise to Hope’s Garden, the eating disorder resource centre in London that helped me so much. When I decided to ask for help with my eating disorder over five years ago, I used the Hope’s Garden website to find myself a therapist. I went to support groups throughout my recovery on campus and at Hope’s Garden itself. The Awareness breakfasts and special events that the centre offered kept me learning, committed, and passionate about my recovery. It seems only fitting that I do this in their name! My plan is America By Bike (the same company the man I interviewed used) and their “Fast America” tour in April of next year: 33 days, 3 457 miles, and a whole lot of awesome. I’ve been talking with Hope’s Garden (the woman in charge there makes me even more excited about all of this) about fundraising and setting up a donation page, looking for sponsors, and getting the word out about what I’m doing—and why I’m doing it.

cross country

If I hadn’t taken the time to think about what exercise means to me and to get my relationship sorted out with why I work out, I don’t know if biking for 33 days straight from one ocean to the other would be a healthy choice—my mindset of more is more is more in the past would certainly be raging. But I’ve earned back the right to bike my butt off by putting in the work and getting healthy. I had a good talk with my therapist (part of how I stay committed to myself and my health) about this. She (re)assured me that years ago, this wouldn’t have been a great idea. But given where I’m at now and what I know about exercise–I see it as a place to challenge our bodies and then to really appreciate just how much they’re really capable of–I know that this is one heck of an opportunity to focus on what my body’s capable of. It’s hard for me to think about how my thighs are looking in my biking clothes once I’m out the door and riding, and I trust more and more that the less I worry about how my body looks as a result of the exercise I do, the more I enjoy activity.

Like I said, I think it’s important to—and I’d like to serve as an example of someone who’s been able to—find a healthy relationship with working out that will keep us moving, happy, and healthy throughout our lives.

Stay tuned!

turn dreams

 

What kind of exercise helps you appreciate your body most?
What’s one item on your bucket list that you’re ready to make good on?

Is an eating disorder a forever thing? On “struggling” and committing to recovery

It’s been a very long time since I’ve blogged. I trust that I’ve been missed. I may not have been blogging, but I have been thinking about things to blog about (the blogger’s blessing, perhaps?). One thing’s on my mind lately…

To this day, I can remember sitting in my doctor’s office, telling the new nurse practitioner about my history with my eating disorder. In the midst of my recovery, I filled her in on my background and recovery progress. While she applauded that progress, she said what still makes my throat close up when I think about it:

“You know that you will always struggle with this. It will never go away.”

At the time, I think I just sat there quietly, trying not to cry. I may have blogged about this before, but as of late, it’s been coming up for me again. Last week, I was reading a story about a cycling acquaintance from London, Andrew House, whose story regarding disordered eating I only had an inkling of (you can read his whole story on the London Free Press site). In his teens, his eating disorder had gotten really serious. He now rides successfully and serves as an example of recovery in action. A quote from him in the story hits home with the topic I was getting at earlier:

““Eating disorders are definitely on the rise,” House said, “and to see someone who has been through the whole process, it gives them a lot more hope. Society tells them they’re going to struggle the rest of their lives, and I tell people, ‘oh, no, you can do it.’””

Amen to that sentiment!

This all got me thinking: what is it about being told that “you’ll always struggle” that irks me so much (personally and when I hear about it being said to other people)? I can only speak from experience, but I know that when I have a slip, the best thing someone can say to me is first and foremost that it’s okay. The next thing I need to and want to hear is that I will be able to get back on track and that it doesn’t mean that I’ve failed at recover or that I’m doomed to struggle for the rest of my life. The last thing I’d want to hear is that their relapse is to be expected given who a person is. Minimizing a stumble to put it into perspective in the grand scheme of things (there are ups and downs in recovery, obviously) or to make it okay (I don’t think falling down is anything to be ashamed of, provided you get back up) is realistic. What I think people need to be careful of is what we make it mean about a person who is in recovery or recovered.

“You will always struggle with this.”

No. No, no, no, no, no, no. Did I mention “No”?

There might be people out there who will struggle for a long time. But this isn’t the same as suggesting that a person will always struggle because that’s just the way they are. Interpretation of that sentiment? This is a permanent part of you. Alternatively, my stance on eating disorders, a la Jenni Schaefer, is that an eating disorder is not a person’s identity. Separating from ED, like Jenni advocates for, was a big part of what helped me get healthier. Hearing even the suggestion of the biggest fear I had in my recovery—that I wouldn’t be strong enough to get better no matter how much work I put in because the eating disorder was who I am—is like being kicked in the stomach.

I believe that if we put in the work, we can leave eating disorders behind. This is what makes recovery worthwhile. My eating disorder taught me a lot about myself. It has made me who I am, but it is not–and never was–who I am. The things that contributed to it—let’s say perfectionism, dedication to a goal, determination, stubbornness, for instance—make up the person I am—and those things are not necessarily bad. It’s all in how you channel those parts of yourself, what you learn from the things that challenge and try you, and who you make of yourself.

I’ve been reading for fun in my little break from school and the first book I pleasure read was “A Life Without Limits,” Chrissie Wellington’s book. This lady is an example of someone who took her personality traits that may have predisposed her to an eating disorder and turned them into something that made her seriously successful. From bulimic to a world champion, I’d say there’s an example of someone who wasn’t okay with “struggling” for the rest of her life. Along with her, there are plenty of examples of friends and people I’ve met through my blog and in my life beyond the interwebs who have left their eating disorders in the past.

Even when we have a slip, that doesn’t confirm somehow that we are doomed to always have issues. A relapse, actually, can serve as a perfect chance to see just how much space we’ve put between us and our old ways. I know if I start to notice myself thinking or behaving in an unhealthy way nowadays, it drives me batty because I know just how far gone I am from the days where it was all ED, all the time. The struggles get further and few between. And further. And fewer. And I trust, because it’s the only thing that keeps me going, that sooner or later, they’ll be all done.

it gets better

Committing to recovery is the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. If I didn’t think it was possible, no lifelong struggles to come, I don’t know if I’d be able to be where I am today. I hope that I can serve more and more as an example of someone who has left their eating disorder in the dust and won’t settle for partially recovered or almost there. I’m putting my black and white thinking to use here and saying that it’s recovered or bust for me.

What do you think about the idea that you will always struggle if you’ve had an eating disorder? Comforting or damning?

resiliency, hormones, and trusting the process

The 24th day of Molly’s love your body challenge calls us to appreciate and celebrate the resilience of our bodies–something I talked about a few days ago. I talked about how my body has bounced back from all the crazy things I’ve done to it and how amazing it is that our bodies fix themselves even if we wrong them.

One of the ways I’m most in awe of my amazing body is in terms of the way it’s come to a happy hormone place for the first time in years. WARNING: I’m going to talk about girly things here.

I got my period when I was 11 years old. At the time, I was excited–I always liked passing milestones earlier than my older sister had, and I’d beat her on this one (if this isn’t testament to my competitive nature, I don’t know what is). I had regular periods for the next 5 or so years and never gave my hormones much thought.

When I started to get into the world of dieting and exercising more, I started to have some hormonal issues: migraines, some facial hair I wasn’t too excited about, and missing periods. At the time, the migraines and the hair were obviously reasons for concern, but I sort of celebrated not having a period. I was irregular enough that I brought things up with my doctor. Usually, I ended up taking a pregnancy test–when I graduated high school, I’d KISSED two boys and maybe held the hand of three, so this was always funny to me–but eventually I started to see specialists. By the time I’d graduated from high school (and put on some weight after hitting a low point in my eating disorder story and starting to work with a dietitian and a psychologist), I was still having odd periods. I’d tried the pill, something that lots of doctors will recommend, but my migraines were worse whenever I gave it a shot.

Somewhere along the line, I realized what not having my period meant. Even as I dabbled more in disordered eating and lost a lot of weight in university, I wanted my period back. I didn’t want to take a birth control pill anyways. I thought of it as a band-aid and I knew that if I took it, it would be too easy to ignore the fact that I literally wasn’t doing the right things for my body to function the way it was supposed to. I knew that not having a regular cycle meant my hormones were out of whack, which scared me mostly because I knew what that meant for my bones: namely, I wasn’t doing all the bone building I was supposed to during the years of my youth. I wasn’t really thinking about babies, but I knew that long term I didn’t want to be struggling with fertility issues. I’d had warnings from people around me and I read about the female athlete triad all over–both of my own volition and in my sports nutrition textbooks, for instance. This fact sheet does a pretty good job of summarizing things, in my opinion. Given a bone scan that scared the crap out me, my admittedly messed up eating, and my missing periods, I knew that this was describing me. Giving a name to what was going on made it seem more pressing and made recovery all the more important, in my mind.

What I really struggled with was the weighting (I meant to spell it that way) game. I was told that part of my recovery would be getting to a happy weight where my body would function properly again. I was also told that once I got to a healthy weight, it might take time for my body to start to produce hormones again. I was concerned that I would go heavier than I needed to while I was waiting, wrongly thinking that I hadn’t gained “enough” weight.

What happened for me, and I hope that if you’re struggling with this now, was being patient and trusting that my body would weigh what it needed to to sort itself out. What I found was that at a certain point, it didn’t matter too much whether I upped my exercise or tried to “eat healthier” or whatever–my body was pretty comfy at a specific number. Then, that number changed. And then it stabilized again. And after about a year of being at that weight, I started to get my period. Like clockwork. It was a miracle. I think I might be the only girl who would text her mother and friends in excitement over that time of the month rolling around. It’s been about a year of this steady stuff and it feels so good to know that my body’s doing what it needs to do. I’ve fluctuated within 5lbs all this year and I think that being consistent with making sure that I eat enough–of food in general but also of fat and carbs and protein so that I have the energy, the raw materials, etc. to make hormones–has been part of this stability.

If you ARE struggling with missing your periods, my advice to you is to be patient with your body and to keep in mind that not having your period means something is up: maybe you’re not eating enough, maybe you’re exercising too much, maybe you’re not eating consistently enough (i.e. restricting all week and bingeing on the weekend–your weight stays steady, but you’re still not nourished in this case), maybe something else is up. Call on professionals to help you–doctors, dietitians, and naturopaths were on my side in the process. Most importantly, take it seriously. Your body is trying to tell you something!

trust the process

Have you struggled with your hormones? What helped you get back on track?