Category Archives: Anorexia

Confession of a body advocate

“What does fat mean to you?” asked my therapist. My heart dropped into my gut with a giant ugh. This was the same question she asked me three-and-a-half years ago when I first entered recovery. I started to cry and replied, “Am I really back to this place again? I thought I processed this already… I thought I was over it.”  Problem is I was sitting in her office confessing that I had spent the previous day restricting my food, something I haven’t done in at least a couple of years.

Easter Sunday had been a tough day. While getting dressed for dinner, I was frustrated that none of my shirts were fitting comfortably. Since quitting Taekwondo last June due to a knee injury and restricting cardio exercise as per doctor’s orders until my knee is healed, my physical activity has waned significantly. I’ve been in physical therapy building strength and stability in my knee, hips, and core, but my whole body is in process of finding it’s new weight set point and shape. So my clothes are fitting differently and, in some cases, too small.

On Sunday my eating disorder simply told me I was getting fat. After a lovely ham dinner, I was comfortably full, but my eating disorder told me I am fat; I needed to eat less because I was eating too much; I am not exercising so I need to eat less; my body isn’t “changing shape” but growing fatter; and on and on and on. I was depressed all evening, and on Monday I couldn’t stand the feel of my body in my clothes, I couldn’t stand looking at myself in the mirror, and I couldn’t stand the thought of eating a whole day’s worth of food. So I made the conscious choice to restrict my food intake, including skipping lunch.

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So why was fat such a big deal all of sudden and why wouldn’t it be okay if I was fat? I had come to terms long ago that fat and skinny aren’t terms that God sees or uses let alone attaches any value. So why did the size of my body matter to me?

Well, unfortunately it turns out cultural judgments about fat were starting to become my own judgments again. American culture says “If you live in a fat body, then you are unhealthy.”

I don’t want to be regarded as unhealthy. As a food and body advocate I fear people won’t trust me if I live in a larger body. I don’t know where my body is going to settle, but if it settles larger than what’s considered appropriate or desirable for “healthy” according to our societal standards then I may lose credibility… my value as an advocate. This feels scary and disheartening to me.

So, I did what anyone with an eating disorder and feeling lack of value does. I restricted my food in an effort to keep my body from getting any bigger. It was a terrible idea on many levels, and I felt miserable by the end of the day from starvation.

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Sitting here now a week later, after using my support network, I have a much clearer focus on reality that I want to share with you:

    • Healthy doesn’t come in one size. It comes in all the sizes, including larger, shapelier sizes. You and I can live in a fat body and be 100% healthy–feeling good, living well.
    • Fat and skinny don’t exist in God’s realm, but they do exist here on earth. We can’t get away from those terms, but we can change how we think of them. We need to learn to use them as neutral facts. The way a shirt is pink or shoes are black or hair is blonde, so can a body be fat, a pair of legs be thin, a butt be round, or cheeks be plump. Fat and thin are observable descriptors rather than judgments of value or desire.
  • The human body has an amazing feature where it adapts itself based on life circumstances. It is literally the smartest device we own:

~When a woman is pregnant the belly stretches to accommodate space for the baby and adds weight wherever necessary to support baby’s growth and dependence on our body’s resources.

~When we have an injury, the body adjusts appetite to promote healing and changes shape to accommodate new movements and build strength where needed.

~ When we’re sick, it utilizes stored resources (like fat and sugar), pauses internal functions in effort to send energy to sick or damaged areas… always with the goal of keeping us alive.

~ When we’re over or under weight, causing medical malfunction, the body works hard to send signals of what it needs in nutrition and movement to find its best natural set point based on the life we’re trying to live.

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I confess I lost my focus last week, and, worse, lost trust in my body, in where my value truly lies, and in what God is asking of me as an advocate. I judged fat and I got scared of what it might mean if I was fat. My only excuse is that I’m human… living in a disordered culture that values thin bodies and regards health on a single dimension… recovering from an eating disorder that still lives inside my brain and causes doubt sometimes. But thank GOD, literally, I have an amazing support network and an open line to the Holy Spirit to help me bring the truth back into focus.

 

 

Do you wonder:  What does Healthy Mean?

 

 

Why the scale is a dangerous piece of junk

I accidentally saw my weight back in June 2017. It’s the first time I’d seen my weight in two-and-a-half years. It’s the first time I’d even thought about my weight in over a year. In eating disorder recovery, you are blind to your weight in addition to calories and other nutritional information; those numbers trigger the eating disorder voice to scream that you’re fat or getting fat, eating too much, and doing “healthy” wrong. It’s dangerous to see your weight.

When I saw mine back in June, I was a little shocked, but I also had enough (strong) recovery under my belt to know that I felt great, my clothes fit, and I was comfortable inside my body. That number didn’t matter, and it held no value for me. I let it go.

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This week I accidentally saw my weight again. The nurse was new so she didn’t know to keep the weight blind; I didn’t even think to let her know I needed my weight to be blind; and I wasn’t careful about avoiding my eyes. It was a careless accident, and the number has been aggravating my mind like a loose hangnail. My weight was higher than it was in June, which my eating disorder voice was quick to point out: “You’ve gained weight! You knew it. You suspected it and now you know. What are you going to do about it!?”

What am I going to do about it?? Should I do anything about it? Why did I gain that weight? Am I not paying attention to my body? What am I doing wrong? Am I going to keep gaining? Am I eating too much? Too much sugar? Too much fat? Am I not moving enough? What the hell?

The sudden anxiety questioned all the body advocacy and intuitive eating truths I believe; all the messaging on this blog about not worrying about weight and body size became burdened with doubt.

Why?

Because of a stupid number.

This is why the scale is a dangerous piece of junk!

The number coming from an inanimate object made of plastic and metal doesn’t have the power to change anything about me, so why let it have a say?

Who cares if I put on a few pounds? Only my eating disorder cares.
Did the core of who I am change? Nope.
Am I still a good mom? Yes!
Do I still have an active heart and belief in the people for whom I advocate? Yes!
Does my husband still wrap his arms around me telling me how much he loves me, loves my humor, and honors all the things I do for my family? Yep!
Do I still believe that God is in charge of my body and my body knows what it’s doing? Yes!

Then what’s the problem?

Dumb scale.

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No one needs a scale. All it does is connect us with a number and distances us from our bodies and God. The scale induces anxiety, food rules, self-doubt, and shame–the barriers to body love and the joy to live freely inside our bodies as God intended.  Or if you like what the scale says because you value the number or drop in number, then your sense of worth and accomplishment are being validated by something that has no life and no vested interest in who you are.

The only people who need to know your weight are your doctors, and they can get that themselves–blindly! Turn your back; avoid your eyes; tell the nurse you don’t need to know. Look, if you own a scale. Smash it. I mean that literally. Smash it to pieces and then make art out of the debris. I did this with a friend of mine a couple years ago, and wrote about it here. It is so  liberating! Also, it wasn’t my idea. Check this out: https://www.southernsmash.org/

If you decide to smash your scale, I want to know about it and see pictures of it! You can tell me here in the comments or post on my Facebook wall  or Twitter!

Peace and love,
Leanne

Let the weight loss bandwagon pass

Twenty seventeen has been one of the most challenging years I’ve ever experienced. It started with my young daughter suffering through major depressive episodes that came with suicidal thoughts, self-harm, and inexplicable anxious behaviors. In early spring one of our elderly cats of 17 years passed away. Late spring brought the murder of one of my dearest cousins in a tragic domestic violence murder-suicide event. By summer my daughter’s mental health was so unstable and scary that we began her on medication (which was unnerving because she’s so young). Fall melted into the holidays which included two surgeries (one for my husband and one for my daughter), my own knee injury that many times renders me to the couch, and a school change for my daughter.

Was the year all bad? No. In April my daughter and I both earned our Taekwondo black belts; in the summer we adopted an amputee cat who was slated to be euthanized; in late summer my husband and I celebrated 13 years of marriage; and in November we adopted a therapy puppy named Jade who’s been an unexpected gift to our lives.

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With all the changes and the extreme emotions my body, mind and heart have endured, it’s no wonder that my eating disorder has begun to chatter again. It tells me that I’m gaining weight; that I look fat; that I’m eating too many carbs; that it matters how I look. A few weeks ago it told me to skip lunch, eat a tiny breakfast, skip the cookie. With New Year’s Day approaching and the resolutions to lose weight and “get healthier,” the ED says that’s a bandwagon I should join. My eating disorder is a liar. And a bitch. (Pardon my language.)

I brace myself for the weight loss resolutions that splash across all the media platforms because they are always triggering for me. Plus I have a bad attitude about New Year’s resolutions because we often make them with no realistic strategy for how to accomplish them and fail before the end of February leaving us face-down in a pool of guilt and shame. It’s depressing.

However, as I reflect deeper on the cusp of a new year, I realize that my body, mind, and heart never failed me this year. God never failed me this year. Though my daily connection with God grew distant and the sound of his voice became a mere whisper, I know He was close because my body, my mind, and my heart never gave up. When I listened to my body I was listening to the Spirit. When my body told me to lie down, I did. When my heart told me to let the tears flow, I did. When my mind gave me a new strategy to try, I did. When I was hungry, I ate. When I needed to move, I walked. When my brain needed help, I went on an anti-depressant. When I needed a friend, I reached out. And all of it was HARD. The eating disorder was so loud and convincing at the same time.

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Here’s what I am going to do, and what I encourage you to do too: let the weight loss band wagon pass right on by. Don’t jump on. Resolve to stay in tune with your body each day as it is. Don’t think about what it should be, what you want it to be, what it needs to be. Think about and maybe even write down (as I did here today) all the challenges and joy it’s brought you through in its current shape. It doesn’t matter if we’re round or flat; curvy or straight; heavy or light. Life is deeper that shape and weight. What matters is that our body, mind, and heart don’t give up. Resolve to pay attention to yourself, grow appreciation for what your body does right now, and enjoy the freedom of being detached from food rules and body regulations.

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Given how hard 2017 was for me, it’d be easy to say “Sayonara! Don’t let the door hit you in the hiney on the way out.” However, not only did I survive the year fully in tact–well, except for the bum knee–I am ready to take on whatever 2018 brings. The lies of the eating disorder are just lies and I’m not listening. Thanks to God, my body, heart, and mind are strong and ready for 2018.

What anorexia recovery looks like 2 years later

Eating disorder recovery during the holidays feels like swimming against the current. Pushing against the flow of people, friends, and family who all ride the desires of wanting and striving to eat better and live in better bodies.

The triggers at the holidays are exhausting for me. When I first entered anorexia recovery in 2014, Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners were excruciating because I was in the re-feeding phase. My body was learning how to accept and process food again, so I spent 12 weeks feeling swollen and ill. In 2015, I was focused on figuring out which holiday foods I loved, getting them on my plate, and noticing how I felt: “Am I hungry? Am I full? Do I like this turkey? Do I actually not like green bean casserole or am I just scared of it? Do I want some more mashed potatoes?Did I enjoy that gluten free pumpkin pie?”

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This year, the food was easy. I know what I love. I am confident in the kitchen (borderline showing off my culinary skills), and I am publicly outspoken about there being no rules around food. A giant spread of good eats splayed in front of me causes no angst and I feel freedom to eat.

Yet the eating disorder that lives in my brain is pounding on the walls. I’ve written and talked about and advocated for food and body love all year long; I am learning, expressing, living and enjoying the freedom to eat and move intuitively without being bound by the rules and expectations of cultural norms. But the people with whom I share the holidays–from the friends in my Facebook feed to the family members sitting across from me at the dinner table do not feel freedom to eat and verbalize judgement of their bodies, the food on their plates, and the food being served. Constant chatter about pre-meal workouts, post-holiday cleanses, new year bodies, new and improved eating grows louder as the new year creeps closer.

The triggers are everywhere and it takes copious energy to remain strong against the flow of old thought and behavior patterns because they align with the current cultural… well, current. The eating disorder in my brain is casting doubt on everything I’ve learned in my two years of recovery. I know the truth about calories, food, and how the body works. I understand and believe the power my body has to be healthy without the need to control it. However, the old feelings of wanting to “just not eat” are strong; insecurities about my body shape and flaws are rising to the surface.

The thing about anorexia recovery, though, is I know too much now. Recovery has opened my eyes to what happens biologically and mentally to my body when I starve. To blatantly skip meals or snacks would be like running a red light on purpose. On the other hand the eating disorder is a sneaky  because it argues that I don’t have to skip eating altogether, I could just little by little put less on my plate or not eat every bite. It tells me that even though my stomach is growling, I’m actually not that hungry so eating less is okay.

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I can’t control the anorexia voice; it just sort of inserts its opinions into my life without invitation. I can recognize it, though, and use my healthy voice to respond. I’ve worked hard the last two years to find and grow that healthy voice, and it has served me (and maybe you) well this holiday season. The following posts were born from that healthy voice as I was coping with triggers:

Why you’ll enjoy Thanksgiving dinner this year

You’re already in shape

What is self-love?

Resolution Revolution

What does healthy mean?

You guys, I’m tired. Each of these posts is me swimming against the current, and it takes lots of mental and emotional energy. Recovery has made me better, no doubt. At the same time, I am only two years into healing from a disease I’ve had for over 13 years. This is what recovery looks like for me. I’m doing awesome while at the same time living with the reality of an ongoing process of a mental illness.

 

What does healthy mean?

Our culture has a wacky perspective on what healthy means. Culture says if you eat lots of greens, a bunch of protein, and little to zero carbs, simple sugars, and fat, then you are healthy. You will also be healthy if you force your body into shape by walking thousands of steps a day, crunch your abs flat, and burn more calories than you eat. If you don’t follow the rules and control yourself then you are unhealthy, which means you will stay fat or get fat if you aren’t already.  Culture’s definition of healthy is “skinny.”  Skinny isn’t enough, though, because even if you aren’t fat right now, you should probably “drop a few l-bs” because it will be healthier for you.

If you are following the rules but you aren’t slimming into those pants that are supposed to slim you down even more, and you’re feeling miserable about why your body is still craving sugar, then according to culture you need to have better self-discipline and take care of that addiction or you are just never going to be healthy. Shame on you.

I tried culture’s way and ended up in recovery for an eating disorder that almost killed me. Doing healthy culture’s way led me to the unhealthiest I’ve ever been in my life.

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Health has nothing to do with what I’m eating, how much I’m eating, how much I weigh, or what size I wear.  Health has to do with being connected to myself; healthy is between me and my body. Healthy is being able to tune into my body and know what it needs based on the things I feel–hunger, sadness, pain, pleasure, wonder, fatigue, etc. Healthy is responding to my body in a way that is respectful and loving without judgement, shame, or questioning.  When I am connected to my body and obliging what it needs and wants, then I am healthy. I can be whatever size and weight and eat all of my favorite foods and still be healthy because healthy doesn’t have a shape or size or criteria. Healthy doesn’t look a certain way; healthy is a state of being.

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There’s a difference between not feeling well and being unhealthy. When I am not feeling well, my body is trying to tell me something is wrong, and it will adjust until I do something to feel better, like maybe eat a sandwich; take a nap; go to the doctor. When I am connected to my body, I intuitively know what to do to feel better and I will do it. That’s healthy.

Conversely, when I am “unhealthy,” outside of being legitimately sick, then I have become disconnected from my body– viewing and operating myself from the perch of the world–the media, my friends, my family, my doctor, my peers, culture–and living from a space of perceived expectations without understanding that I am perfectly fine just as I am. There’s actually nothing wrong with my body, but I believe I am unhealthy because the world says I should be eating certain foods, weighing a certain amount, and looking a certain way. So I squirm in the discomfort, forcing and dieting my way into “health.”

I can’t think of anything more unhealthy than disconnecting from my body and forcing it to squeeze into culture’s expectations of what healthy means.

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Practically speaking, healthy is:

  • being in tune with my hunger and fullness cues.
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  • knowing which foods I enjoy eating and which ones I don’t.
  • eating what sounds good rather than because something is good for me.
  • listening to when my body wants to move and when it doesn’t.
  • understanding how my body moves and how it doesn’t.
  • accepting (maybe even loving!) my body as it is today.
  • appreciating what my body can do as it is today.
  • wearing clothes that fit me today.
  • resting when my body is tired.
  • challenging myself when I’m energized and uncomfortable.
  • feeling the feels when I’m triggered emotionally.
  • coping with life using tools that are right for me.
  • respecting what my body tells me ( e.g. More please. I’m done. That hurts. I’m hungry. Let’s rest.)
  • honoring the need for self care.

Healthy is not:

  • counting calories.
  • restricting/omitting food groups.
  • watching what I eat.
  • idolizing greens and protein.
  • demonizing carbs and fat.
  • controlling portions.
  • regimenting exercise.
  • burning more calories than I eat.
  • judging food as “good” or “bad.”
  • fitting into a particular size.
  • reaching a goal weight.
  • ignoring hunger or fullness.
  • demanding a certain number of steps in my day.
  • shaming myself for eating or eating something I supposedly shouldn’t have.
  • disrespecting my body’s call for rest.

What does healthy mean? Healthy means I am connected to my body–trusting and responding to whatever it’s asking for. 

How do I know if I’m healthy? I live in the freedom to eat and move how I want to; I feel good inside my own skin; I am at peace with myself regardless of the cultural noise around me about nutrition and body.

What does healthy mean to you?