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

Body Positivity Tuesday: Choose a (body) positive role model

This is the second of a series of posts I am putting out on Tuesdays to encourage you to continually work on embracing your body and loving yourself a little more. 

Week 2: Choose a (body) positive role model 

One of the people who taught me that sharing our stories and our strategies for recovery is not only inspiring but also healing is Jenni Schaefer. Her books, which came from her personal experience overcoming her eating disorder, were immensely powerful in my own recovery! Jenni is not only an example of someone who has made a full recovery from an eating disorder, she is also the kind of person who uses adversity in a way that turns it into a positive thing. I admire this greatly!

Maybe your role model has nothing to do with how we think about our bodies—and I would say that is fine and dandy! If you look up to Oprah, consider what it is about her that makes you feel inspired. Maybe it’s a teacher you have or a parent. Next, consider whether or not the appearance of your role model’s body has anything to do with what inspires you about them. I’ll guess that it’s something else, and I encourage you to think about that when you think about who and how you want to be in the world.

I’ll end this one with a quote (by Maya Angelou):

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Act accordingly.

tend to become

Did you have any role models before you read this post?
Who did you come up with?
How have your role models changed over time? 

PS If you are in London, please get involved with our Love Your Body day! Like the facebook page, come by the rec centre for the events on the 8th, and tell your friends. Stay tuned for a finalized schedule, but please mark the day on your schedule!

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! 

10 ways to stay on track, even when you can’t work out

’tis the season for flus, colds, and all kinds of ways to feel yucky that can derail even the most committed New Years resolution-ers who’ve decided to make 2015 their year to get fit. I was sick over Christmas with some form of bronchitis/pneumonia/bug that is finally starting to clear up.

meme sick

While I was definitely frustrated–I hate being sidelined whether it’s because my schedule is crazy, I’m sick, or I’m dealing with some kind of injury–I actually appreciate the time off that forced me to get organized out of sheer boredom. The experience got me to thinking, because in the past when I’ve gotten hurt I’ve been absolutely miserable about it.

So what are some things we can do to stay positive and even to set ourselves up for a healthier start when we do get back to our normal selves? If you’re sick, snowed in, or just finding yourself with free time, here are ten of my best ideas for getting yourself on track towards healthy:

  1. Make a playlist for your first workout back. It’s probably going to be a struggle, so you might as well have something to motivate you in the background. Bonus points if you also delete the same old playlist you’ve been using for 5 years and download lots of Britney in its place.
  2. Organize your workout clothes. I’m going to guess that yours could use a re-folding. There’s something so nice about opening up your closet and being able to find the top you want or the tights you need, especially if you workout in the morning and have approximately 10 seconds to do this before your partner wakes up and grunts.
  3. Clean out your gym bag. I am the queen of carrying too many things–lugging my workout bag to the gym is part of my workout. With my toys for CrossFit and weightlifting, two or sometimes three pairs of shoes, and then my shower necessities, it can be hard to fit a water bottle or a set of clothes in my (large) bag. For this reason, I need to clean out anything extraneous in the darn thing on the regular to make sure I don’t lose a shoe in the parking lot (again).
  4. Set a fitness goal or two. What is that big goal that you really wish you could achieve when it comes to your fitness? Is it lifting a certain amount of weight or finishing a certain race? Is it beating an old PR? Write down what you want to do and when you want to do it–it’s the first step in making it happen.
  5. Make a vision board. If you’re crafty and in the habit of setting goals, a vision board is a great way to make yourself a visual reminder of what you want to create in your life. You’ll love the feeling of looking at it every day–think instant motivation plus a feeling of pride when you start to see those things becoming your reality!

    My most recent vision board (right next to a reminder I need). It could use some updating, because things on there keep on happening in my life! Imagine that...

    My most recent vision board (right next to a reminder I need). It could use some updating, because things on there keep on happening in my life! Imagine that…

  6. Organize your tupperware situation. This trivial task is actually really important: if you don’t have anywhere to store your healthy food, how the heck will you make it? There’s nothing better than having a fridge stocked with healthy food that’s ready to grab when you’re hangry or rushed out the door and there is nothing worse than packing chili in a ziploc bag because all your tupperwares are in your trunk.
  7. Find a few healthy recipes to try. We are all creatures of habit, but variety is the spice of life. With the interwebs, there’s no excuse for not trying new recipes. Type in what you have in your cupboard and fridge and ta-dah!, you’ll have a recipe that works. I prefer cookbooks however, so if you’re like me, why not bookmark some recipes you’ve been meaning to try and make a point of planning them into your meals for the next week? Nomnomnom.
  8. Read an inspirational biography. If you’re pretty sick, you’re going to be spending a lot of time on the couch. Rather than watching the whole Harry Potter series start to finish, why not mix in some reading of the type that motivates you? Some of my favourites are people’s stories, like Dara Torres’ (Age is Just a Number), Chrissie Wellington’s (A Life Without Limits), Cheryl Strayed’s (Wild), and Kathryn Bertine’s (The Road Less Taken). 
  9. Watch a sports documentary. I don’t mountain bike or snowboard, but my boyfriend is into these sports and so I’ve caught myself watching a video or two of them and getting fired up. Whatever you do, seeing someone do what they do at their best can be supremely motivating. Try this one…
  10. Get some rest. There’s a reason you’re sick, and the sooner you take a nap, the sooner you’ll be back at it–whatever it is.
    don't feel good

If you are feeling sick, I hope you feel better in a jiffy. I also hope that even if you’re not, you’ll do one of these things–you’ll be fitter for it!

What keeps you positive when you can’t work out?

summing it up

This week, I am grateful to have an opportunity to talk with the board at Hope’s Garden about my fundraising bike tour next summer. While telling my story is something that I think gives it meaning, that doesn’t make it easy. So, as I’m getting myself ready for this meeting, I have been asking myself a couple of questions to try to make it easier on myself:

Who am I and what’s my story?

I love it when other people introduce me, but when I have to do it myself, I’m never sure where to go with things. Does someone need to know that I’m a grad student first? A fitness instructor? A writer? That I love riding a bicycle? That I had an eating disorder and I recovered? At any rate, these are all part of who I am.

Why a cross-continent bike tour?

As part of my freelance writing gig, I interviewed a man who rode across the US and raised money for brain and spinal cord regeneration research, blogging about it along the way and raising over $26 000 with his efforts. Ever since then, I’ve had the notion of biking across the continent in the name of eating disorders awareness on my mind.

As someone who struggled with their body, weight, eating, and self-esteem for as long as I can remember, my relationship with exercise has been rocky in the past. So many of us come to see our bodies as our enemies or as problems to be fixed and end up using exercise in a way that’s punishing. The time I spent slaving away in the gym, hating my body speak to this.

Cycling, though, was one of the first sites where I was able to appreciate my body for what it was capable of rather than simply being concerned about how it looks. It seems only fitting that if I were to put myself to this kind of a physical challenge, I would do it in the name of eating disorders awareness, prevention, and treatment—all of which are close to my heart.

The start of a 100 mile in Philadelphia: definitely one of the hardest (and hottest) rides I've ever done!

The start of a 100 mile in Philadelphia: definitely one of the hardest (and hottest) rides I’ve ever done!

What do I want to be able to say about this experience at the end of this all?

Anyone who bikes across the United States in 33 days gets bragging rights. Racking up 3, 457 miles in just over a month—over 100 miles per day, on average—is no small feat. If I just wanted to be able to say that I did it, I would sign up for this tour as a vacation and leave it at that.

But I’ve always been ambitious. I want to start a dialogue. I want that dialogue to change the way that people relate to their bodies. I want to change the way that people look at and talk about exercise. I want people to start to realize how amazingly capable their bodies are. I want them to start taking care of themselves so that they can do all of the amazing physical things that we’re all capable of. I want people to realize that they can come to a place where they enjoy working out and where it is about creating more health and happiness in their lives. I want people who are struggling to see an example of someone who has recovered and isn’t just surviving, but is thriving.

love your bod

Why Hope’s Garden?

During my recovery, Hope’s Garden was an amazing resource to me. I know how important it is to this community and I know how much that the support will be appreciated.

How’s this all going to work?

I have set a goal of raising $20,000 to go towards Hope’s Garden. The tour’s cost is $5 500 and beyond its cost, the money is directly going to benefit Hope’s Garden’s ongoing work with eating disorders. In the process, I hope that I can raise awareness and start to make some difference in people’s lives who hear about the tour. I plan on using online donations—I’ve set up a website where donations can be made directly to Hope’s Garden—as well as things like charity fitness classes, raffling off my personal training and coaching services, etc. along the way and would appreciate any kind of support or spreading the word that people can help with. Like I said, I am ambitious, but I know that this will not only be a physical challenge with a huge sense of accomplishment but something more.

The end.

I think that I’ve summed it up pretty well–and while the perfectionist in me says I can do better, I know what I’m doing is awesome and that people will connect with my story no matter what parts of it I choose to share. I have lots of time to go into more detail, too…

Screen Shot 2014-06-08 at 9.41.51 PM

I’m already grateful for the encouragement, the words of wisdom, and the energy I’m getting when I tell people about this. The saddle sores I’m already getting from upping my rides, not so much. Thank goodness for chamois butter!

chamois butter

 

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?

 

food for thought: let’s talk…what an eating disorder looks like and when to speak up

I want to start things off here with a bit of a story–a snippet of my story, to be specific.

When I look back on the time I spent struggling with my eating disorder, I can think of a few “rock bottom” periods. One of those was Christmas break of my second year at university. I binged and purged nearly every day of the break, sometimes multiple times a day. I worked out for at least an hour, sometimes two, every day over the break–I even remember waking up early on Christmas to get a run on the treadmill in while my family was sleeping.

But I looked “healthy.” I weighed ~160lbs (the same amount as I do now, for the record) and according to my BMI, I was overweight and had weight to lose. According to the voice in my head (Ed was screaming), I needed to lose it–yesterday.

yes, that's my butt. It was my 20th birthday. forgive me.

yes, that’s my butt. It was my 20th birthday. forgive me.

I don’t think people looked at me and thought “eating disorder” even though I was totally consumed with exercising, obsessing over what I was eating, bingeing, and purging and then doing it all over again. Like I said, this was one of my rock bottom moments.

My point there is that you really cannot judge an eating disorder book by its cover. Assuming that if someone is struggling, you’ll be able to tell by looking at them is misguided at best. Eating disorders come in all shapes and sizes, suck regardless of whether or not they meet “official criteria” or fit into a box of anorexia, bulimia, or EDNOS, and are all serious. I can remember not thinking I had a real problem because I wasn’t skinny enough to meet the criteria and feeling like I had to convince my doctor and the people around me that I was going through something serious–because I didn’t feel like I looked the part.

Even if someone is overweight or obese, if their habits are disordered, that’s the issue–not their weight. It can be easy for someone who is on a weight loss journey to have justifiably f*cked up relationships with food and/or exercise when we are so busy focusing on fixing the weight problem instead of building healthy habits that will therefore lead to a healthy weight. Weight loss at all costs and getting fixated on a number without giving serious consideration to the means by which a person gets to that goal number misses the point. No wonder there are so many weight loss successes who regain all the weight, plus more. No wonder there are so many miserable newly thin people. No wonder eating disorders are everywhere.

Getting your mind sorted out–in terms of how you think about food, about exercise, about your body and about yourself–isn’t the sexy “get in shape fast” or “bikini body by Friday” kind of crap that we’re sold and that it’s so easy to get caught up in, but it is the recipe for long term happiness, health, and sanity. If you have a healthy mindset, you will get to a healthy weight. If you don’t sort this stuff out, you’re doomed to ride the diet and weight loss rollercoaster forever more. If you’re not willing to do the hard work to shift your thoughts and your beliefs, you’ll be just as unhappy regardless of where your weight falls: disordered is disordered, no matter what kind of a package it comes in.

Now that that’s off my chest, I can get to the real reason behind this post: a couple of tough conversations and some thinking about what’s the right thing to do when you’re concerned about someone who may or may not be struggling with disordered eating, whether because of how they look (not the only indication, as I pointed out above) or because of the things they say (regarding food, exercise, their bodies, weight loss, whatever).

Since it’s not easy to tell, this is automatically a touchy subject. It’s also really easy to piss someone off and/or to feed an obsession. If you comment on how small someone obsessed with getting small is getting, even if you mean it out of a “I’m scared for your life” kind of place, it can be a celebration of them achieving their goal and can reinforce their unhealthy habits and thinking. If someone isn’t ready for it, your comment can wreck a relationship.

But it can save a life.

I make my decisions off of this: I stand for health and for happiness. For everyone.  

The conversations I mentioned both touched on the issue of a person not being underweight or looking sick, hence the rant that started this post off.

In response to that and whether or not having that crucial conversation that could save a life is appropriate if someone isn’t visibly disordered or is even overweight, I say it’s not just appropriate, it’s essential.

No one deserves to have an eating disorder. Whether you’re 20lbs overweight or 20lbs underweight or right at that weight that someone or something tells you is ideal, health and happiness require a healthy mindset. I say screw the scale, screw the criteria, screw the ideal. What’s important? What you’re doing, how you’re thinking, and how you’re feeling and functioning. If these things aren’t what you’re focused on making as healthy as possible, something needs to change.

So what do you say to that person? How do you address it without supporting bad behaviours or pissing someone off?

My advice: speak from the heart and be as honest as possible.

The conversation could still go poorly, but what do you give up if you don’t enter the conversation? What are you not honouring if you keep quiet?

If you stand for your friendship, you’ll have that conversation.

If you stand for health and happiness, you’ll have that conversation.

I remember vividly two conversations–one with a friend, and one with my sister–that left me upset. I sometimes wonder if other people who knew what was going on (I don’t think I was hiding it seamlessly) held back for whatever reason–whether because I didn’t look the part or they were scared of making me mad. The conversations that I did may have upset me but they also indicated to me that I mattered and people cared about me. 

The sooner we’re willing to talk about this–and to get busy focusing on a new solution, the better. I’m sick of eating disorders, especially the socially acceptable ones. Let’s get back to what’s important and start taking care of ourselves, regardless of what we weigh. 

have you ever brought up a concern with someone around an eating disorder? how did it go?
has anyone ever brought up a concern with you? what was it like?