Tag Archives: eating disorders

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.

 

Anorexia Recovery: How food changed for my kids

The best intuitive eaters on the planet are kids. My job as a mom is to protect my children’s innate ability to feed themselves well. I wasn’t very good at this until the last year and a half while going through eating disorder recovery. It turns out that anorexia not only affected me, but also my children because I was super controlling of their food and portions. I watched their sugar, fat, and carb intakes; was hyper aware of fruit and veggie consumption; had strict rules about treats; managed snacks; and controlled how much/little food went on to their plates.

That was a lot of work, and really, in the scheme of culture totally normal for a parent wanting their kids to eat healthy. However, it caused stress at meal times. My kids weren’t good eaters–picky, whiny, and adverse to trying new things; everyone seemed hungry all the time;

When I went into eating disorder recovery, I had to relearn how to feed my family and reteach my kids what it really means to eat well. We follow the Ellen Satter Institute principles, which center on getting kids back to their intuitive ability to eat. Do kids need structure? Yes. Do they need to be hyper controlled? No. The nutshell of how this works:

~ Parents choose what and when kids eat

~ Kids choose if and how much/little they’ll eat.

As a mom I had to learn how to:

  1. Give my kids lots of choices of all the nutrients (including sugar, fat and carbs)
  2. Pull back on controlling what my kids put on their plates
  3. Teach my kids how to tune in with their bodies

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What this looks like in our house

We have zero food rules. All nutrients are treated equal, which means ice cream, cookies, and treats have equal value as fruit, veggies, and whole grains. When we don’t put food on a pedestal to be earned or treated as the holy grail of all things yummy, the interest and desire to eat the treats becomes more even keel.

There is no such thing as “good” or “bad” food nor “healthy” and “unhealthy.” We have play food and serious food–all of it good and healthy if our bodies are hungry and asking for them.

We have a zero-pressure environment at meal times. All the choices are put on the table  and then we tune in with our bodies. “What sounds good? Maybe start with a little and see how you feel–if you want more, have more. If you don’t like it, that’s okay. Maybe try a different choice on the table.”

No one has to eat everything on their plate. You don’t have to  try anything if you don’t want to; you can try everything if you want to. Decide what sounds good to you and eat that. If a plate of cookies sounds good… go for it. If your body doesn’t feel good later, we’ll talk about it and see if maybe next time we try less cookies in combo with another choice like chicken or fruit. Maybe our body would like that better.

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What mealtimes look like

Breakfast:

Eat whatever sounds good. Sean typically eats toaster waffles w/syrup or peanut butter; sometimes he’ll have an egg too, if he’s in the mood.

Haley usually eats one or more of the following with a bowl of chocolate ice cream on the side:

  • 1/2 peanut butter and jelly sandwich
  • Leftovers from dinner
  • Bagel and cream cheese
  • Bacon if it’s freshly cooked

Yeah. That’s right. Sometimes her breakfast is a bowl of ice cream with bacon on the side. Crazy? From a cultural perspective, yes. Biologically speaking, though, her body is reading and absorbing fat, calcium, Vitamin D, sugar and protein–all necessary nutrients to get her metabolism and brain up and running in the morning.

Lunch

Both kidlets get an apportioned amount of dollars  per month in their hot-lunch account. Each day they pick what sounds good–either the hot lunch choice, as per the monthly menu hanging in our kitchen, or whatever sounds good for home lunch. Home lunch will range from dinner leftovers to mac and cheese to a bologna sandwich. They make their own lunches with minor assistance from me. Once in a great while, depending on what’s happening, I will make lunch for them and they are over the moon.

Since ditching the food rules, the kids choose home lunch more often than hot lunch (averaging hot lunch about twice per week).

Snacks

We have a snack shelf in our pantry. They pack their home lunches from that shelf and have free access to the shelf whenever their bodies say “I’m hungry.” After school, they do have to have their snack eaten by 4:15 so they have appetites for dinner later.

I try to keep a bowl of “easy fruit” on the table at all times– grapes, cherries, blueberries–which I refresh every couple of days. Sometimes I switch to carrots, olives, cherry tomatoes. The whole family will graze on these as we’re coming and going through out the week.

Every night we have an optional “last snack of the day” between 8 and 9pm. Sometimes this is something as simple as string cheese or something off the snack shelf or it could be  more involved, like a hot dog or quesadilla. It just depends on the activity we had during the evening. No one needs to go to bed hungry, and, in fact, we find we sleep better when our bodies have fuel for the work it does while we sleep.

Dinner

Dinnertime is where intuitive eating really takes charge. Lots of choices and no pressure. Here’s a visual of what last week’s dinners looked like:

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Monday: Pizza Chicken; arugula salad with the toppings (mandarin oranges, strawberries) separate in case someone wanted fruit but no lettuce; whipped cream (for the strawberries if you want); Go-gurt, Jello, and chocolate pudding.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Tuesday: My husband cooked Steak & Veggie Kabobs; rice; arugula salad with tomatoes; sliced strawberries. Not much else for choices that night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Wednesday: Broccoli Chicken; rice; baked beans, leftover popcorn from snack time; applesauce; cheese and crackers. This night was a total jackpot on the choices! Haley sampled a little of everything; Sean loaded up on cheese and crackers, baked beans, and a little broccoli chicken.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Thursday: Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup; grilled cheese sandwiches; grapes; cherries; pickles. There was also ice cream, but I kept that in the freezer with expressed permission to grab some if desired. Sean’s baseball game had been cancelled due to rain, so we had a rare night at home! I took full advantage of the time by making something a little more time consuming.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Friday: Sloppy Joes; ABC Salad (arugula, bacon, and cheddar cheese); grapes ‘n’ strawberry salad; Spongebob Squarepants fruit snacks; Chips Ahoy. Need I say more here?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday: Pizza night! Forgot to take a picture.

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Sunday: Spaghetti Mac w/cheese; chocolate pudding; Jello; grapes and cherries; Go-gurt. I was running low on groceries that day and kind of made up the pasta dish. It was essentially elbow macaroni with meat sauce and shredded cheddar.

It took several months to find a new rhythm and sometimes we run into hiccups if our routine is thrown off, but removing the rigidity and rules (yet still keeping structure) has changed my kids for the better! They eat a variety of foods, including trying more new things; meal times are fun and relaxed; there’s no more begging for treats and snacks; they’re learning how to listen and respond to their own bodies. Now that they’ve reconnected to their intuition, food is fun, nourishing, and enjoyable as it was meant to be!

Have scale, will destroy

One of the symptoms of an eating disorder, or even disordered habits, is an obsession with the bathroom scale.

Almost like a drug, I craved weighing myself everyday, multiple times a day. I would weigh myself in the buff, first thing in the morning; I would weigh again in the middle of the day (often to my horror weighing more because of gravity and wearing clothing); sometimes I would weigh myself at night to confirm whether or not I had restricted enough. If my weight was up, then I made a firm decision to exercise and restrict calories even more the next day.

I had to weigh myself. I had to make sure I was keeping in control. That my weight was either staying the same or dropping lower. If I couldn’t weigh myself, I would wring my hands with anxiety, swearing up and down that I was gaining weight by the minute, until I could step on the scale again. It was only when I saw the numbers that I could quasi-relax. Even if the number was up, I knew what I could do to control the number back to where I wanted it.

Right before I went into anorexia recovery, my husband removed my scale from the house. I was pissed. I went through anxious withdrawals, tears, cravings, and a lot of anger. It was two months before my anxiety about weighing myself began to fade. In recovery, my therapy team took “blind weight” measurement (they saw the number, I didn’t) to track my progress away from death and back into healthy range. Once I was out of danger, they stopped weighing me.

It’s been nearly two years since I’ve seen my weight, and I don’t plan on ever knowing how much I weigh. My doctor knows, and she is the only person who needs to know.

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AnneRecently my friend Anne and I had a long conversation about body image, weight, Weight Watchers, food struggles, and scales. At the mention of getting rid of my scale, Anne immediately declared she could never get rid of hers. As we dug deeper into the conversation, her anxiety about not being able to track her weight revealed a lack of trust in her own body–a fear that if she couldn’t weigh herself then surely her body would would creep up in pounds.

Anne’s fear mirrored my own past fears. It’s a fear our culture struggles with as a whole: if we don’t keep track of our weight, then we’ll get fat and that is bad. Shameful. Unhealthy. Terrible.

Thing is, the scale doesn’t make us fat or keep us thin. It’s simply a combination of metal and plastic and glass and numbers. The scale has no real power, but we tend to give it the power to destroy our body trust, sense of beauty, and self-confidence.  We hear all the time, “the number on the scale doesn’t define you.” Yet we cling to the scale, allowing our feelings and belief in ourselves go up and down with the numbers.

No one needs a scale. If you have a health condition, such as high blood pressure or diabetes, that depends on you maintaining certain body weight, I have three points:

  1. Your doctor can weigh you.
  2. You can measure blood pressure and blood sugar without a scale.
  3. Your body talks to you. You don’t need a scale to tell you that you don’t feel good or that you feel amazing. The way your clothes fit will let you know whether or not your body shape is changing. You don’t need a scale to tell you that your pants don’t fit or that your shirt looks fabulous.

You can trust your body, friend.

Scale smash 2Anne and I didn’t want the scale to have power over our bodies or minds anymore. So we destroyed our scales. (Turned out my husband had hidden our scale in the deep recesses of our garage, so thankfully I had one to smash to smithereens!)  Anne and I reclaimed power, confidence, beauty, and trust back within our selves by turning the rubble of metal, glass and plastic into art.

It was an empowering, freeing, and cathartic morning. I Scale Smash 1highly recommend that everyone do it! People have been smashing their scales around the country in an effort to raise awareness about eating disorders and negative body image for a while. In fact, check out this story behind the Southern Smash, which is a non-profit organization annual event.

 

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Mine is on the left; Anne’s is on the right. Our scales are unrecognizable. Glass, wires, and gizmos from the scales turned into colorful and meaningful messages from within ourselves–something far more valuable than a scale could ever express.

I beg you, please stop doing this

Healthy food or unhealthy food?

Please, please, stop using food as reward and punishment for your kidlets. I am guilty of this in the past with my own children–promises of treats if they’re good while I’m on the phone; bribery of yummy things to come for patience while we’re in the store; threatening no dessert if they don’t eat their veggies; warnings of no goodies if they don’t behave.

I hear it all around me from fellow frustrated parents: “No snack for you if you don’t listen.” “Uh-oh, I guess everyone else gets a treat except for you because you made a bad choice.”

Food, especially “treats,” seem like a handy piece of leverage when our nerves frayed. Food is an easy tool for parenting control, but it’s dangerous. The problems with using food as reward and punishment is it sends messages that can cause dangerous eating habits later.

  • Message: Food is a privilege and it must be earned, whether we’re hungry or not. Food is not a right; it’s a basic human need, especially for kiddos whose little bodies are constantly burning physical, mental, and emotional energy. They need constant refueling, and if that need is attached to strings, it causes dissonance between internal body cues and external rules. It’s confusing: “Do I eat when I’m hungry or do I have to wait until I’m good enough–meet all the requirements such that I’ve earned my ability to satisfy my need?”
  • Message:  Food says if I’m bad or good. First of all, placing foods on pedestals as “treats” or “special” makes them that much more desirable. Who doesn’t want a little piece of something super special? And if we earn it, then we must be special too. We’re so good! But what happens if we don’t eat the veggies and don’t earn the special reward? Over time, food starts becoming associated with shame and self-esteem. “I didn’t get ice cream with daddy because I was bad today.” Food becomes less about feeding the body and more of a tool to cope with feelings of value–whether overeating because “I deserve it” or restricting it because “I need more control.”

There’s another angle to consider when putting food itself into “good” and “bad” categories. To a child who doesn’t like peas, peas are bad; dessert is good. Yet, as parents we tend to send the message that peas are “good” for you; the dessert is special because it’s actually “bad” for you. Treats should only be eaten at certain times and under certain conditions. In our house, we used to call dessert foods “sometimes” foods. Food rules regarding what’s good and what’s bad is confusing and interrupts a child’s ability and confidence to read h/her body cues regarding hunger and what sounds good: “I’m hungry and a cookie sounds good. Mom says cookies aren’t good for me and that celery with peanut butter is healthier. I don’t like celery and not in the mood for peanut butter. I guess I’m not hungry.”

  • Message: Eating means following rules and ignoring your body. As an adult do you typically eat food you don’t like? When’s the last time you forced yourself to eat tomatoes, even though tomatoes make you gag, simply because they’re “good” for you? I hate Lima beans and I won’t eat them if you paid me. Lima beans are chock full of amazing nutrients and I couldn’t care less. If my dinner order comes with Lima beans, I will substitute them out for something else, probably french fries.

Forcing your kiddo–using dessert as leverage–to eat everything on h/her plate or certain items because it’s “healthy” sets faulty internal rules: a) if I’m full, I still have to keep eating because there’s food on my plate; b) I have to eat things I don’t like in order to be healthy; c) certain food rules apply to certain people. Grown ups can/cannot eat foods as they choose; Tommy is allowed to pick off his tomatoes, but I’m not; in order to eat foods l love, I must endure foods I hate.

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Kids are intuitive eaters by nature. However, when we use food as reward and punishment for control, nature takes a back seat and food habits are formed based on rules and emotional feelings instead. This is so dangerous and can lead to disordered eating habits that will have health implications. Good eating habits start when kids are kids. If you’d like information on  about developing healthy eating habits for your family, I highly recommend the Ellyn Satter Institute. When I went into recovery for anorexia, I was introduced to Ellyn Satter to help incorporate new habits for my whole family. Anorexia didn’t just harm me, it was harming my sweet kidlets too.

What does fat mean to you?

Thin and fat woman measuring waist with tape

 

What does fat mean to you? This thing you are so scared of, work so hard not to be.

Every pang of hunger comes with counting and fretting; demands of should and should not. The push and pull of guilt against desire. Eating is wrong and exercise the penance. Punishment and chastisement for feeding the hunger; sweat and force when numbers go up;  false happiness and pressure when numbers down. Restrict and binge; purge and control. New diet, old diet, no solution at all to the hating and shaming of your body. Continue reading