Category Archives: Anorexia

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?

The Best Messiest Decade

I am 36 today and it feels huge. True to my nature, my “milestone” year doesn’t fit with tradition of the “big ones” like 21 or 40 or 50. As I go through the highlight reel of  just my 30’s, I realize I’ve made questionable/hard decisions that have yielded extraordinary new chances to live better for a lifetime. I give 100% credit to God who keeps redeeming and rebuilding me. In the words of one of my favorite bloggers, I never have my shit together, but somehow it doesn’t matter because it’s in the messes I make for myself that God does his best work.

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20160812_200526Straight out of the gate at 30 years old, I had cosmetic surgery. I don’t regret the surgery, but I do question if I’d make the same decision today. I never saw my decision as a symptom of a deeper mental health issue until I found myself in anorexia recovery four years later. Now, I am in a season of learning to love my body as is. I am connected with my physical self, and I finally understand and appreciate all the work my body does to take care of me even when I mistreat it. Optional surgery was a life-altering decision; I live with the result every day, remembering how far I have come from the inner-unrest of my past and appreciating the different perspective I have today.

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At 31 I had an affair and subsequently experienced a marital rough patch. I don’t want to relive 20160825_183327those years, and I pray my marriage doesn’t experience anything of the like again; however, if it weren’t for the two years that threatened to destroy my marriage, my husband and I wouldn’t be what we are today–grateful, humble, and in love. It was a lot of work to fix what was wrong; it’s still work to keep it strong. Nearly 15 years together, 12 of those married, my husband and I are are more in love today than ever, yet experience has taught me I cannot take love for granted. Love doesn’t just happen. We make the choice every single day, in the bustling mix of kids, work, commitments, projects, and appointments, to look each other in the eye; to wrap our arms around each other; to say I love you; to say us first, then the rest; to acknowledge I see you and hear you and you matter; to say I’m sorry; to say thank you.

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The timing of my newly strengthened marriage couldn’t have been better because the two years following that season were tumultuous for my health. At 33 I was diagnosed with celiac disease, which exacerbated the full blown eating disorder I was living with but wouldn’t be treated until I was 34. Physically and mentally, I was very ill and in danger of dying.

Even so, I ignored my body and became a Taekwondo student that season. My intention behind the menevergiveupdecision was to do something fun and bonding with my children, especially my daughter. (Shortly after I joined, I had to take a three-month medical leave to enter anorexia rehabilitation.) Little did I know the Taekwondo studio would become my training ground for perfectionism recovery and a supplemental space where God continues to show me what my body and mind can do as is. Technique-wise, you won’t find me winning competitions and awing crowds in demonstrations. I am clunky and slow and often mis-torqued in movement; however, I am the strongest and most mentally resilient than I ever have been.

My daughter and I are T-minus six months away from our earning black belts together.  Mission almost accomplished!

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portland-and-meAt 34 I entered anorexia recovery, which continues today. This has been my biggest challenge (after motherhood, of course) I’ve ever faced. I depended on anorexia for over 13 years to help me maintain the illusion that I had my life all together, but it nearly killed me. You won’t hear me use the words “I’ve overcome my eating disorder” because while I am better and don’t need the disease, the eating disorder voice is always quietly hanging out in my head. Complacency is dangerous.

With my recovery came a passion for mental health and suicide prevention advocacy. True to God’s nature he’s taken my fears and experience and rebuilt them as a platform to lift up others who find themselves struggling in mental illness.

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My dad and my daughter.

Shortly after my 35th birthday I asked my dad to go to counseling with me, which we did earlier this year. You cannot heal in the present without visiting your past. Part of anorexia recovery meant taking my dad’s hand and walking together through some painful memories from my childhood.  It was eight intense weeks of raw honesty and emotion that yielded understanding, forgiveness, and fresh space for us to grow in relationship going forward.  I know my dad loves me and he’s got my back even if we don’t agree on things. I feel confident and valued knowing my dad has my back, which is imperative as I continue to learn and express who I am without the crutch of perfection. A girl always needs her dad. <3

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My 30’s so far have been my best messiest decade. It’s the decade where God is carving away my self-made facade to reveal who I really am as He crafted me. With both discomfort and gratitude I appreciate the process, yet I am still learning how to rejoice in the results. So, happy birthday to me! And happy birthday to you if we share this day or even this season. May your fresh new year be blessed with something beautifully unexpected.

<3 Peace and love.

The Mundane-ness of Mental Illness

I’m annoyed with my mental illness. I’ve been trucking along in anorexia recovery for about a year and a half now. I’ve worked really hard to get better, re-feeding my body, re-learning how to listen to and oblige my body cues for food, rest, and movement, digging under the thick layers of pain and distorted beliefs to root out the truth, and traversing through an emotional healing journey with my dad.  I’m better, and sometimes I even feel like I am all better.

Until a random trigger crops up out of no where and rolls around my brain like a pebble in my shoe. I don’t know where the pebble came from, and when I try to shake out the pebble to get on with my life, I realize the damn thing is still in my shoe.

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My mom graduated from Linfield College this past Sunday. It was a challenging and exhilarating six-year feat that my mom conquered with graceful (and coffee-fueled) perseverance. We took lots of pictures, one of which was this sweet shot of my brother, Carl, my  mom, dad, and me:

 

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I love this picture. I hate this picture. The joy and pride and love we have as a family and for my mom is real. Genuine. My heart is happy and warm when I look at this photo as a whole portrait.

But my brain, which has wonky wiring that I’m working hard to reprogram, is spewing all sorts of terrible lies about how I look in this picture. It has triggered up the volume on my eating disorder voice.

You need to know that I hate writing about this and didn’t want to because I am feeling a lot of shame for feeling how I feel. But in an effort to help you (and me) understand the eating disorder, I need to unpack this fresh, real-life moment inside the illness. Because I thought I was better. And I am, but I still have this pebble rolling around in my life called anorexia.

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The eating disorder tells me that in this picture:

  • I look fat and mis-shapen
  • I haven’t been paying attention to my eating
  • I can’t trust my body to intuitive eating
  • I am a fraud with all this intuitive eating shit
  • This body happened without my knowing, without my control
  • I need to lose weight

Shame is telling me:

  • I’m selfish for focusing on myself when it’s my mom’s big day
  • No one wants to hear about my disorder because it’s boring and getting mundane
  • I have become complacent in my recovery
  • Why can’t I just be better already?
  • It’s ridiculous to let an innocent picture trigger me into a tailspin

I spent Sunday fighting the urge to restrict and battling the voice that told me I was weak when I did eat. Monday I tried to work out my anxiety through yoga and running… swearing I wasn’t running to work out my body but to work out my angst and find my healthy voice. I was able to grasp on to enough positive truth to propel me through a good date-day with my husband, who, by the way, was at a loss as to how to help me. He thought I was fine too; this trigger sent us both flailing.

Thankfully I had therapy yesterday, and while my coping strategy with yoga and running worked okay temporarily, my therapist helped me see how the eating disorder manipulated running into a “healthy” choice when my actual healthy self had already questioned the choice as a healthy solution.

“I wonder,” said Tamara, “how things might have been different if instead of running or doing yoga to get rid of the ‘yuck’ you were feeling, you would have… what?”

“Sat in it,” I filled in the blank.

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Sometimes in my illness I try to run away from it. Literally, I guess. When I feel bad, I don’t want to feel bad so I do things to distract or feel better… like running and yoga and cleaning and organizing and even cooking. It’s me trying to “shake out the pebble”– to shake off the shame and shake out the eating disorder. Please understand these activities are perfectly fine when I do them from a healthy space. But when doing them in response to trigger, none of these activities are helpful and can just feed my disorder.

It isn’t until I sit down, still, and let myself feel–usually in prayer–that I uncover what is really going on–why the trigger was such a trigger. I have to take the pebble out with my hands, examine it, figure out where it came from, and decide what to do with it. The process is hard, and after a year and a half of being in recovery… doing this so. many. times., sitting in my feelings feels mundane and annoying because I think I should be all better now. I am better. And what I am going through right now is also normal in recovery. I’m not sick but I’m also not all better. There is no clear box for me to stand in, and I suppose that’s also annoying since I like things organized in their own little boxes.

I don’t have a neat ending to this post. I haven’t yet sat still. I’m fidgety and anxious today, struggling to keep in touch with my body cues. I haven’t approached God yet, and I don’t know why. I usually run to Him first, but I think I am afraid. My brain tells me God is going to tell me I am selfish and self-centered or that I have done something wrong. This trigger is my fault. My heart knows these are lies, but the illness makes me uncertain, and the illness is really loud right now.

 

What you need to know about eating disorders

Drowning In Fat

It’s National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, and as someone who is almost 16 months into recovery from anorexia, there are a minimum of two things I would love for you to be aware of. Ready?

  1. Anorexia is not a body disorder. It’s a mental disorder. I didn’t go into recovery because I was severely underweight. I went into recovery because of my compulsive behaviors and thought patterns that were based on distorted beliefs about my body and food. Specifically, I was struggling with:

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