Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Food Label BS

I bought a 7up today. Doesn't seem like a big deal, but it quickly turned into one.

As of late, it seems to me that everywhere I turn there is another diet scheme. Every thing I buy at the grocery store has some kind of healthy food label; it doesn't matter if I'm buying spinach or pop tarts. When did it become not only acceptable, but normal to find health claims on a soda for goodness sakes? It's hard for me to think of a more taboo "unhealthy" food or drink than soda, but it contains antioxidants now! That must mean if I drink five per day, my skin will suddenly become radiant and flawless, regardless of the sugar content.

I need to be careful here. What seems like my entire 2012, I have been learning how to eat these "unhealthy" foods. In fact, I will even admit, if you promise not to tell, there are a few frozen meals that I look forward to eating. Sometimes I even get excited. These meals are far from healthy, but there are still labels on the box that claim that they are. 


A few of my favorite label lies include: all natural, whole grain, heart healthy, no sugar added, sugar free, immunity boosters, free range, fat free, light, made with real fruit, and organic. Sadly, these are just a few of the most common fibs we are told every single day. There was a time when I bought into all of this; it's hard not to. Who doesn't want to think they are doing something great for their health?

Well, I'm here to call out the bullshit. 

All of the confusion and lies surrounding what we put in our mouths, makes it nearly impossible not to worry about whether it's "healthy" or not. Cereal, fruit roll ups, and peanut butter become staples at an early age for most Americans, myself included. But when did they suddenly become "healthy" options? Just because the labels have changed and now say things like all natural, whole grains, and made with real fruit, doesn't mean the manufactures changed any of their recipes.

The age of children developing eating disorders continues to decrease significantly each year. It makes me wonder if these misleading food labels have anything to do with it. Even certain brands of baby food now claim to be made with real fruit, when in fact they don't contain any real ingredients at all. Well, except for sugar.

I also believe that the today's dieting industry has lead to a number of eating disorders. Sugar free and fat free cookies might sound like a good idea to most dieters, but generally the calories are exactly the same, if not higher than full fat cookies. This can lead a person to believe binging on the entire box of diet cookies won't lead to weight gain. Yo-yo diets are a vicious cycle of restricting, starvation, binging, guilt, and then back to the restricting, which only ends up in weight gain. A simple restrictive diet is exactly how my eating disorder began many years ago.

In my perfect world, I would put an end to this madness. People would eat what their body's craved, health food or not. Food labels would be simple, not misleading. I have learned that a calorie is a calorie is a calorie, and after months of pounding this into my head, it's finally sinking in. Food labels are bullshit.


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Recovery Is...

Last week my therapist asked me to think about what the word recovery means. Puzzled, I left session wondering if she had forgotten I have a brain. My entire life revolves around that word right now, which automatically makes me an expert.

Recovery [rɪˈkʌvərɪ]n pl -eries
1. the act or process of recovering, esp from sickness, a shock, or a setback; recuperation
2. restoration to a former or better condition
3. the regaining of something lost

Recovery is getting rid of my eating disorder- simple as that.

However, after a week of thinking about this, I think I finally figured out what my therapist meant. Maybe I’m not the recovery expert I thought I was. There is so much more to recovery than simply recovering.

Recovery is...

A second chance
Sharing secrets
Letting go
A clean slate
Self Love
Chocolate everyday
Life changing
A fresh start
Time Consuming
Losing control
Yet, gaining control at the same time

Recovery does not have a short and sweet definition; like my best friend always says, it's a process. Recovery is not always a good time, but according to my list, the positives definitely outweigh the negatives. I can't wait to prove to my therapist that I do have a brain, after all. :)


Saturday, November 24, 2012

Thank You, Recovery

In eating disorder world, if there is such a thing, there is nothing more anxiety provoking than Thanksgiving. If I eat the amount of food I feel comfortable eating, then people will think I'm restricting. And if I'm being honest, what I'm comfortable eating is still considerably less than what my meal plan prescribes. If I fill my plate and eat like everyone else I quickly become miserably full, highly triggerd, and the entire day is ruined. Either way, my thoughts become overwhelming and it feels like I'm failing.

At the end of the day, with the help of a supportive friend, I met my calorie requirements, but my brain was still in overdrive. The tug of war game between my disordered and healthy thoughts was more intense than anything I've experienced in a long time. 

Eat dessert.
Don't eat dessert.
Put butter on your potato.
No, save the extra calories.
Drink regular soda.
If you drink diet, nobody will think anything of it.
Take a bigger piece of turkey.
Nah, a smaller piece will feel better when it settles.
Splurge on something you can only eat once a year on Thanksgiving.
No way, choose your safe foods. You don't want to be triggered.
Stick to your meal plan.
This is a stressful day, I deserve a break from that stupid plan.
Everyone is watching me eat, I better be good.
Nobody will know if I skimp here and there.
I will do my best to accurately estimate my calories today.
Round up, better to be under than over.
After the feast at lunch, I still have to eat dinner.
I'm too full to eat dinner.
I'm struggling, I better reach out.
Isolate. Isolate. Isolate.
I better smile so nobody knows how hard this is.
Why doesn't anyone care enough to ask me if I'm okay?
Ahhh, I'm giving myself a headache just thinking about it. It's no wonder I was a grouch that night. Ask my parents, it was brutal.

Now that the big day has come and gone, however, I can think a little more clearly about it. Yes, the entire day is focused on cooking, eating and being stuffed, but that doesn't make it any different than any other day I've faced so far in recovery. Actually, it was MUCH easier than the days when I was on 4,500+ calories per day during weight restoration.

Most importantly, even though my disordered brain was screaming at me and almost beat out my healthy brain, a few days later, I realized something: Going back to that old way of thinking, acting and living, is a hell of a lot worse than my darkest days in recovery. Even though it wasn't my best day, I couldn't be more thankful for what it taught me.

Every single day is a battle, but it's a battle worth fighting. Thank you, Recovery.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Happy Holidays

For the past week and a half I've been needlessly working myself up over the quickly approaching holiday season. Thanksgiving is probably my least favorite day of the year. My family has our big Thanksgiving feast at lunchtime, so the eating can continue throughout the entire day. A self induced food coma is expected out of everyone on this big day. I hate it. 

I stumbled across this, this morning and feel in love with it...

Happy Holidays
what if...
Hunger means you eat when physically hungry instead of emotionally hungry.
Attitudes about your size has to with the size of your heart instead of the size of your body.
Parents accept and value you for who you are, not according to how you look.
Problems are resolved in ways other than stuffing or restricting your feelings with food.
You spend as much time and energy on helping others, as you do on how you look.
Happiness comes from within rather than from expectations of others.
Occasions for the holidays emphasize relating to others instead of emphasizing food.
Love of self means you deserve to treat yourself in the best humanly possible way.
Identity of self involves more than how you look.
Disapproval of self is changed to approval of who you are.
Acceptance of what one can not change includes your body features.
You treat yourself as you treat your best friend.
Society values you for being you without emphasis to your weight or size.

What a perfect way to start my day. We are 48 hours from the big feast- I better start pumping myself up now.


Monday, November 19, 2012

Maintenance Weight

Among the hundreds of distorted thoughts that still linger in my brain, weight maintenance seems to be the most difficult to let go of. My biggest fear after leaving treatment was that I would continue to gain weight- because eating leads to weight gain, right?

Weekly weigh-ins and appointments with my therapist, plus a monthly check in with my doctor have held me accountable and kept me on track. My weight has remained a secret to me since my discharge date a few months ago. After getting weighed each week, the number on the scale is written down, placed in a sealed envelope, and I am trusted to deliver it to my therapist without peeking. I broke that trust today.

Over the past few weeks my weight has been bothering me; making me angry, even. My distorted brain has me believing that I gain a pound overnight, every night. I eat M&M's and borderline obsessive amounts of Nutella everyday. I haven't eaten a salad in at least seven months. I now eat meat on a daily basis again. I'm consuming sugar like a teenage kid. Sounds like a recipe for weight gain to me. 

After adapting to all of these "unhealthy" eating habits, my weight hasn't changed. Unbelievable. I actually let out a tiny scream of excitement when I saw number inside the envelope. Maintenance is possible. Am I dreaming?

For months I have been told that when I reach my goal weight and am on maintenance calories, I can eat whatever I want (within my calorie limits) and my weight won't change. Until this morning, I didn't believe it was possible, but here I am. I'm not looking forward to telling my therapist that I peeked at my weight tomorrow, however, I'm glad I can put a positive spin on it. 

I saw my weight today, proved to myself that maintenance is real, and didn't freak out when I saw that number. Who am I?


My Nutella obsession will continue :)

Friday, November 16, 2012

Food & Feelings

My therapist recently recommended a book called Food and Feelings to help me sort through my emotional food baggage. Of course, after she told me to only read and do the activities from the first chapter, I read the entire thing in one sitting. 

Two very important points stood out to me in the first chapter. Both give evidence that there is much more to recovering from an eating disorder than simply eating. I was so excited, I thought I would share...

1. "As infants we suffer from two horrifying and mystifying conditions: We're often hungry and hate being left alone for very long. Being held while being fed is something close to divine. For babies it just doesn't get any better. (bad often adults, too!) and that's where feeding and feeling first intersect or fuse. When we're lovingly being held while receiving nourishment, two of our most urgent needs are being gratifyingly met at once; hence, most of us begin to associate feeding with safety, security, closeness, pleasure, and comfort. From then on, the two are inextricably entwined- married for better or worse.

Some babies, however, are not so fortunate. Their parents are out of sync with their feeding needs or fail utterly to meet them. Infants who remain hungry for too long may associate hunger with extreme emotional discomfort and distress. Or they may be handled roughly while fed, a bottle shoved into their tiny mouth, and forced to drink it all whether they are hungry or not. Some babies receive little, if any, positive body contact while being fed. In such cases, feeling and feeding are still coupled, but in a cruel way: Nourishment is associated with punishment and/or literal intrusion, and food may eventually be perceived as discomforting."

2. "In spite of the fact that food is meant to nourish and be savored, if you are a restrictive or rigid non-eater, you may use food to avoid distress or emotional turmoil because the act of saying "No" is such a huge chunk of effort and validation of being in charge of your life. If you're feeling proud and elated about disciplining yourself  to refuse food, there's very little room for upsetting emotion to squeeze into consciousness. Moreover, by rejecting food you're putting your world back in balance as  you offset internal agita with self restraint. The vert act of overpowering your innate under and craving for nourishment is a way of proving to yourself that you are strong and invulnerable."

Food and feelings are almost always, unfortunately, intertwined. They go hand in hand. The good news is, this can be reversed. As I work through this book, hopefully I can figure out how to divorce my feelings from food and develop a healthier relationship between the two.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Professional Avoider

I would consider myself a professional avoider. If something makes me uncomfortable I run away. Fast. With 24 years of practice, I'm pretty confident in my avoiding skills. 

After a somewhat intense session with my therapist, I left feeling irritated, hopeless, and exhausted. Most weeks I am able to suppress my eating disordered thoughts just enough so they don't control my day to day life. However, the second I sit down in my therapist's office, all of that pent up emotion comes pouring out.
Over the past few weeks we have started exploring exactly what caused my eating disorder. My least favorite topic ever. Growing up with a loving family, a roof over my head, no traumatic experiences, and pretty much everything I could ever ask for as a child, there is a still big fat question mark in regards to what caused this illness. I hate thinking about it. With everything I could possibly need in life, there is a lot of guilt surrounding the disorder. Without an obvious answer, I have found it much easier to avoid the topic completely. Unfortunately, it's becoming more and more difficult to run away from.

My therapist's philosophy is that every eating disorder has a disposition; a starting point. It's frustrating for me, (and her, I'm sure) to look back on my life and not be able to think of a specific moment where I decided an eating disorder was the answer to all of my problems. I mean, really? I'm having trouble wrapping my head around that concept.

 After completely gutting my room upon returning home from treatment a couple months ago, I found piles of old diaries and journals. At the time it probably would have been smart to burn every last page of them. Surprisingly, however, after going through some of them yesterday I found a diary entry from March 2000. My 12th birthday...

"Today was a good day. I love my birthday. My mom made stuffed shells and chocolate cake with chocolate frosting. My favorite. I'm so full. I hate this feeling. I won't be eating anymore cake for a long time. What if my jeans don't fit tomorrow? That stupid cake ruined my birthday."

At twelve years old I didn't even have a clue what a calorie was, but I was still concerned with my weight. For quite sometime I have blamed my first diet at age 15 for the start of my disorder, but it seems to have developed much earlier than I realized. Finding this diary entry was upsetting at first, but maybe it was the missing piece I needed to stop avoiding this shameful topic. Maybe my eating disorder developed before I even knew what it was. 

Most importantly, maybe I can start learning to forgive myself. It's going to take a ton of work, but this might be the first step to uncovering the root of this stupid illness. Yes, I am ashamed of this disorder, but I don't think I need to run from it anymore. It might not be my fault after all. Being a professional avoider has served it's purpose for most of my life, but I think it's time to change career paths and face my fears.


Larsen & me on my 12th birthday :)

Monday, November 12, 2012

Hunger Cues

hun·ger (hnggr) n.
1.      a. A strong desire or need for food.
b. The discomfort, weakness, or pain caused by a prolonged lack of food.
2. A strong desire or craving: a hunger for affection.

cue 1  (ky)
        1. A signal, such as a word or action, used to prompt another event in a performance
         2.      a. A reminder or prompting.
                  b. A hint or suggestion.

Hunger cues.
I hate hunger cues.
It seems like a simple enough concept, right? Your body sends a signal to your brain that it needs food and you eat. Piece of cake. I wish, maybe in my dreams.

I was recently asked why I'm still meal planning and sticking to meal times after doing it for a few months. Why can't I just eat when I'm hungry and stop when I'm full? Why do I still need to count calories and measure out portion sizes? Why am I still e-mailing my meal plan for the following day to my therapist every night?

What most people don't realize is, hunger cues among those recovering from an eating disorder can take anywhere from six months to five years (!!!) to return to "normal." After an extended period of starvation, the body becomes confused and forgets what it feels like to have food on a regular basis. I literally have not been hungry for a good six months, but I continue to shovel food in my mouth all day long. My body is still in adjustment mode and without the rigidity of my meal plan, I would be in big trouble.

Rather than listening to my body's plea for fuel, I began to crave that empty feeling. As I continued to eat less and less, my stomach adapted and I loved that sense of control. It became my high. I was addicted and a loyal junky.

How many of us truly listen to our hunger cues though? There are so many external factors involved in eating that have nothing to do with food. Stress, exhaustion, time of day, social gatherings, or simply smelling a freshly baked chocolate chip cookie at the food court can all induce 'hunger.' How many times have you continued eating because you don't want to waste something, even though you are full? With all of these confusing messages being sent to the brain, it's no wonder eating has become much more than a fueling process.

So, after calming down from receiving a not so helpful comment about eating normally, I am actually feeling thankful for my meal plan today. I might not feel hungry when I sit down to eat, but maybe that's "normal." Maybe all of the confusion isn't so uncommon after all. With that said, I think I should still have the right to hate the concept of hunger cues though.


Saturday, November 10, 2012

Weight Loss High

"I would be so much happier if I could just drop a few pounds."

How many times have you thought or even said this? Just this past week alone, this thought has persistently been nagging at me. I've been tempted to cut a few calories here and there, choose lower calorie options and add a few extra minutes to my daily walk. Honestly, I have given into a few of these urges over the past week. I think most people can relate to that initial high and feeling of accomplishment after dropping a few lbs. 

Thankfully, after stopping and realizing that these behaviors are red flags in my recovery, I was able to think more logically about what was happening. Sure, if my jeans slide on a little easier and my stomach is flat, it will feel good in the moment, but it will only leave me disappointed and wanting more. I quickly begin to crave that high instead of dealing with the things that are causing those behaviors. 

If I have learned anything over the past six months, it is that the number on the scale, no matter what it is, will not make me happy. That number will never be good enough. My brain is in an intense game of tug of war between the healthy and disordered thoughts. If I lose weight, it's triggering. If I gain weight, it's triggering. If I maintain my current weight, it's triggering. It's a no win situation. 

So for today, all I can do is recognize those distorted thoughts and remember that losing a few pounds will not do me any good. At all. I might not like it, but those few extra pounds will keep me healthy and strong.


I recently googled "eating disorder cartoons" and our society continues to kill me...

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Spring Classes

I officially signed up for spring semester classes today.

I will be the first to admit, pursuing culinary with an eating disorder doesn't make any sense. At all. But, in my defense, I was completely obsessed with food. I would constantly search the web for new recipes and read Food & Wine like it was the bible. My brain was so starved for nutrients. I thought I could somehow fulfill that hunger and seem normal if I surrounded myself with people, who I thought, shared my same passion for food. So why not study it?! Makes sense, right? Unfortunately, my food obsession was quite different than my fellow classmates.

One thing I avoid dealing with is the guilt and shame I feel for graduating at the top of my class with a culinary arts degree, landing a 'dream job' at a thriving winery/bed and breakfast straight out of school, and not being happy or strong enough to handle it. My internship, in Aspen, Colorado, was the opportunity of a lifetime. I was working for a James Beard Award winning chef and helped prepare dinner for Bill Gates and Bill Clinton one night. I somehow landed a full pass to the Food & Wine Classic for goodness sakes. Even though I was learning from the best of the best and living in one of the most beautiful places I have ever been, I hated every second of it. It was miserable. What was wrong with me?

 As I continue put the pieces of my life back together, I am slowly beginning to deal with this mess I have gotten myself into. No matter how many times my therapist tells me none of this is my fault, I won't believe it until I'm ready to make that step. Somehow, I need to break free from the never ending guilt that is holding me back from finding what makes me happy. 

Signing up for spring semester classes might not seem like a big deal, but it is actually one of the most liberating things recovery has given me. This is one tiny step in letting go of my crippling shame and guilt. Today I am beginning the process of figuring out what I want to do with my life, not what my eating disorder wants.


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

F-Word Part II

Earlier this year I wrote about the "F-Word," meaning food. At that exact moment I was in the middle of my weight restoration and hated everything about food. Yet to be convinced that I would ever look at food in a positive way ever again, I quickly became frustrated, fragile, fearful, fatigued, and fed up.

Yesterday was a strenuous day for me. After being on my feet all day, I was reminded of days past when I would repeatedly work as long and hard as I could, only because I wanted to burn calories. Multiple times I remember being so worn down that I could hardly finish my shift. Simple, everyday tasks made me forgetful and frazzled. Putting myself in a similar situation was more triggering than I expected it would be.

However, on my drive home last night, I realized my head wasn't pounding or felt the need to fall asleep at the wheel. Thanks to my new favorite f-word, "fuel," I was not only able to get through the day, but actually enjoyed myself at the same time. I no longer have to live in a famished, fat free, and food snob world.

Finally, I am free to enjoy my favorite foods without any fear... And that's just fabulous.


Sunday, November 4, 2012

Monkey Love

I just received a very heart felt request from a good friend of mine for some sock monkeys. She is one of the first people I met along my recovery journey while I was still in Grand Rapids. Needless to say, this made me reach for my box of Kleenex. Her reasoning is spot on. It explains perfectly why I am such a monkey freak. Enjoy.

"That sounds great. I would like five please. I need one in different pinks, one in boy colors (blues or something?), an extremely girly one, one with purples and blues, and then one that you want me to have. One that you would see as me, for me only, and one that when I look at I'll have a positive feeling of hope from you. (asking a lot, I know!)
My reasoning for wanting the monkeys is a symbol of what happened to me. I'm going to surprise my brother, two sisters and mom with them, and I want one for myself. I want them to remember not only what we went through, but the fact that we came out stronger and better then ever. I want our symbol to be your sock monkeys because you went through it too and now look at you! You're doing so well and you're happy and healthy! That's all I could ask for for all of us."

Realizing how far we have come & how strong we remain is the best feeling ever. Thanks for the reminder KLM! :)


Thursday, November 1, 2012

Size What?

Something really strange happened today. I didn't even realize what was happening until a few hours later.

I love clothes. I love them more than anything I can think of, except for maybe coffee. For years clothes became a reward for all of my "hard work" and dedication to my eating disorder. If I was struggling with something else in my life, it seemed to instantly disappear as long as I could easily slip into a size zero.

So, as you can imagine, as I continued down the road toward weight restoration, shopping began to seem like torture. It was so triggering to be reminded of all the times I tried to fit into a certain size and the euphoric state it left me in when I did reach my goals. As I continue to get healthy, I'm starting to put more blame on fashion and society's expectations to be thin, for contributing to my illness. 

Anyways, today I went shopping for the fourth time since I've been home from treatment. After trying on what seemed like every single pair of pants in the store, I finally found a pair that fit perfectly. The most exciting part of this whole thing is, I didn't even realize what size they were until after I got home. Since being home I have bought sizes anywhere between 2 and 9, depending on the store, and my weight hasn't changed one bit. Amazing. 

For the first time ever, I can honestly say size does not matter. I'm still processing that thought & trying to let it sink it. This is huge.