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No matter where you are in your journey, I encourage you to get help. The best decision I made was emailing my mom about everything I was going through. As difficult and scary as it was, it opened communication between us that has created a stronger relationship today as a result. And of course, it helped me to get help sooner, which I think has made the recovery process easier.
I realize how lucky I am to have pulled myself out soon enough. In fact, if I hadn’t gained the weight from bingeing, I don’t think I would have had the guts to admit that I had a bad relationship with food. It took weight gain for me to fess up, because by that point it had become physically dramatic. I had to tell someone–because the thing stuck in my head was taking over my life.
I was lucky to have the support from my parents. The best thing my mom did was ask if I would like professional help. The worst thing I did was tell her “no” at first, thinking I wasn’t “sick enough” and that I was making a bigger deal out of it than I should have.
Everything about this eating disorder was embarrassing to me – but less so when I realized how many others were hiding their fears and bad relationships with food just as I had. I was not so different after all, and that’s what helped me to accept that getting help didn’t need to wait until it was “bad enough.”
Going to a support group for eating disorders (you’ll read it about it when I get the book published) was the first big step. It took me a long time to get there, though – to realize that just because I wasn’t 85 pounds, I still had a problem that needed to be fixed. And I couldn’t fix it myself. That was evident after a summer of “no mom, I don’t need professional help” and realizing how dark and deep I was falling into this eating disorder. No diet was going to save me, but it took me months to figure that out.
As I worked with my therapist and eventually my dietician, I slowly gained more and more power over the relationship food and I had together. We began to understand each other. I didn’t see the changes immediately, and even months into it I wasn’t sure if I was really even getting anywhere, but when we sat down to look at what changes I made, I realized what huge leaps and bounds I had made.
Once I understood my weaknesses better, I had to plan out goals for myself. I worked on a goal per week last summer, actually, as the journey continued. One of the biggest realizations I had was that each meal couldn’t be “perfect,” and that even if one meal hadn’t gone as well as I would have hoped, I still had another chance later to improve things. As long as we keep living, we keep getting second chances.
I came across Brittany’s blog about a year ago and found her eating disorder struggle similar to my own. I have certainly not gone through the same intensity, but as in with any eating disorder or disordered eating, the disorder should be treated with the same care, love, and importance. Eating disorders are not petty, adolescent “stages” we go through, but intense, unhealthy, and growing problems that must be addressed at any and all stages of intensity. Certainly Brittany’s drastic weight fluctuation in a small amount of time is relatable to me as well as many more of us, and shows that the problem lies not in appearance, but in our attitude toward food.
Just like me, Brittany is also in the process of getting a memoir published about her eating disorder experiences. I’m so glad Brittany was willing to share her journey as well as the struggles she still encounters on a daily basis, as I believe eating disorders should be monitored even in recovery.
My name is Brittany and I want to let you all know no matter what you are struggling with that there is always hope for a better life. For me, my major life struggle was with my weight and appearance. Growing up I was constantly bullied and teased and I never had a close friend; only acquaintances to say hi to so I didn’t seem like a complete and utter loser. I was always a great student and a very talented tennis player and horseback rider to top it off, but that didn’t matter. My self-esteem was nonexistent and every day I wondered what was so wrong with me that I didn’t fit in like everyone else. Instead of realizing there was nothing wrong with me other than I was shy and insecure, I turned my anger and sadness inward.
When I was 13 I fell victim to anorexia and exercise addiction. I was never overweight to begin with, but this new found coping skill to deal with my loneliness and disgust for myself soon took over my life. I couldn’t control other’s behaviors towards me, nor could I control whether I became a professional tennis player or not, but what I did believe I could control was my weight and that led me down a road more lonely than anything I had ever imagined. I spent the next 7 years in and out of the top treatment centers and hospitals only to have doctors and therapists come to the same conclusion: “She’s hopeless. We’ve never seen such a tragic case.”
In the beginning of 2009 it looked as if I had finally lost my battle. I became so sick that I got asked to leave my freshman year of college by the university. I wasn’t allowed back until I achieved certain health requirements. So began my next 6 months in a hospital on the brink of death. With my weight dropping to a low of 56lbs I lost all my hair, faced liver failure, had to relearn how to walk, couldn’t think or recognize people, went bald and was given almost no chance to survive. The Universe must have had other plans for me because miraculously I pulled through.
The night of August 15, 2009 would change my life forever. I binged. After 8 years of controlling, resisting, and depriving myself of food, I gave in. It was the most exhilarating, wonderful, and scariest sensation I’ve ever experienced and I didn’t know how to stop. I was now 75lbs and climbing. What I didn’t realize was that I had traded bingeing for anorexia. My disease took on an entirely new appearance even though it was the same inner demons driving it from the inside. As my body changed quicker than I could comprehend I found myself in a trance of disbelief. I shut myself in my house; embarrassed that someone I knew might see me looking so drastically different. I would only leave to buy food so that I could binge. By the middle of 2010, I had hit rock bottom again, but this time on the opposite side of the scale. A stranger is all the mirror would ever reveal to my eyes, but the scale confirmed my illusion and worst nightmare as the digital number 221 flashed before me.
It took many difficult years of patience, hard work and a little hope, but I have now completely turned my life around. I’m healthy, I’m happy, I have good friends and I’m learning to love who I am flaws and all. My eating disorder was an outward expression of how I felt about myself on the inside. It was never about weight. It was about walking a self-destructive path based on a false belief that I was never good enough, loveable, or acceptable… but I am.
Recovery has been the hardest thing I have and ever will do in my life. There was a while where I questioned my life over and over wondering why me? How could something so awful rob so many years of my life and then spit me back out? I wanted to make sense of the madness, but the more I looked back the more stuck I became. There came a point where I had to learn to let go in order to let in what was meant to be all along.
After many years filled with restricting, over exercising, bingeing, laxatives, colonics, hospitals, treatment centers, fat camps, depression and loneliness I have written a book composed of mainly journal entries I kept. Safety In Numbers: From 56 to 221 Pounds, My Battle with Eating Disorders offers a chaotic, humorous, tear jerking; suspenseful and frightfully honest first hand look into the unthinkable. Ultimately it brings hope and the courage to never give up. I hope it will be published within the next year.
I am currently finishing my psychology degree at Cal Poly and am back to training competitively for tennis. Please know you are never alone, there are good people out there and you can build the most beautiful life no matter how many odds are stacked against you. Feel free to stay in touch and connect with me. I believe in you all.
I can’t help but think of Lord of the Rings when I think of the relationship we have with an eating disorder–or for anyone with any addiction, for that matter.
I was never a huge, nerdy (the cool nerdy! No hatin’ here against the die-hard fans) Lord of the Rings fan, but I’ve definitely enjoyed the books and the movies. It’s fascinating for me to see the way the characters become entranced by the ring–some more strongly than others if they become vulnerable to its power–and how similar dabbling in eating-disordered habits allows people to become consumed with their own ring of supposed “power.” Funny, too, how the circular nature of a ring is not unlike a metaphor for the cyclical pattern of addiction–especially with eating disorders.
Most recently I watched one of the final scenes of movie three of the trilogy where Frodo and Sam reach the pinnacle of the fiery pit to destroy the ring at last. Frodo stands at the edge, holding the ring over the lava, still contemplating whether he truly wants to destroy it or not. It calls to him. It reminds him of the power he can still have in their relationship. And many of us face that nearly every day with our eating disorders.
Do we really want recovery? It’s a battle with wanting to get rid of the eating disorder but not knowing how to live life without it. We don’t want to completely throw away the ring of power, because when we put it on–when we fall hard into the eating disorder–we can become invisible, can sneak around and deny that we have a problem, that we need help.
And then Gollum creeps into this scene. In that moment, I can’t help but think that perhaps this is the picture of what can happen–and does happen–to many who fall too hard and long into addiction, and are too consumed with the power we think it gives us. Gollum is the picture of the animal we become when we become lost from our true selves, when the identity of the ring/power takes over our lives, and thus our bodies. And as Gollum eventually tumbles into the fiery pit– even as his body disintegrates in the lava–he holds his hand up to his idol, his addiction, giving it the final say in his life.
We can’t let the eating disorder do that to us, too.
But the most poignant scene in this intense struggle? Frodo, hanging off the side of the cliff, surely about to face the similar fate of Gollum. The ring still calls to him as it sits above the lava, not yet disintegrated, and Frodo has a choice to make–grab the hand of his best friend Sam and be pulled to safety, or let the ring win in its final moments.
And then something happens. Frodo hears a voice, and it is not pleading, but stern and empowering–
“Don’t you let go,” Sam tells him.
Don’t you let go.
I couldn’t help but feel moved to tears at hearing this, feeling that Sam is not only speaking to Frodo, but to all of us–that we must keep holding on, and that even in our darkest moments when it seems all is lost, when we think that we cannot fight back any longer, we must accept those who want to help us and make the decision to keep fighting for ourselves.
Don’t you let go.
Even if I am the only one to tell you this–if you do not hear this from anyone else–I plead with you, reach out to you, and want to tell you in the same, heart-felt voice that Sam uses with Frodo,
Don’t you let go, either.
“What is that, forest food?”
I looked up, confused. A man walked by the front desk where I worked to peer down at my lunch.
It was leftover zucchini tossed in coconut oil. The rosemary I added on top apparently must have looked like pine needles or something. I laughed, unsure of how to respond.
My lunches have always been a little strange – that is, ever since I became obsessed with “clean eating.” With passionate Facebook foodies and newly-born health advocates shoving paleo, vegan, gluten-free, and crash diets down our throats, as well as the media perpetuating the fat-shaming, GMO-blaming and purist principles from all our dieter idols, it is clear that we are obsessed. We want healthy.
But we want bad, too.
I know my “good” side wants all the healthy stuff – so much so that I make strange combinations that probably others would be repulsed by (oatmeal, tuna, and celery, anyone?). Unfortunately, my obsession leads to embarrassment, because here I am at work eating an extravagant meal and I don’t want anyone to see me eat. I don’t want anyone looking at my food. I guess it doesn’t help to have possibly the most unique lunch there instead of the typical peanut butter sandwich.
Most people who go to extremes find themselves lashing back on the opposite end. I never thought that person would be me.
“What about healthy Rachael?”
Nope. When I fall into the binge, all I can say in a deep, devilish snarl is, “She’s gone!”
Granola bars are my guilty pleasure. Few people would find themselves guilty over a few Clif bars, but with as “pure” as I’ve tried to be with food, a single bite of one of those babies can send me in an all-out binge.
Smile, hand him the cash … yup, just paying for these Clif bars. “I’m buying ten of these to save them up for the rest of the semester to eat them before workouts and such,” I explain.
Minutes later I’m hiding and eating them in a voracious frenzy. I scarf down what other people might deem “healthy energy bars” when all I see is them as sugary downfalls compared to my “pure” eating of vegetables and low-fat chicken breasts.
This isn’t me, this isn’t Rachael, this isn’t right…
I know there are those of you out there who do the same thing, but perhaps with other chosen “devil” foods. Welcome back into the light, secret eaters! You are not alone. Who are we hiding from? It’s not like simply hiding in the shadows with our stash of Clif-to-be-eaten-later-bars mean we aren’t actually consuming them.
Conquering the Cravings
I’ve come a long way from that eating mess, but it took time and patience with my mind and body. What’s helped is learning to understand the cravings and where the desires come from. With a more healthy, balanced approach to eating, even if I’m not eating healthier, I think my body is healthier overall with a more calm, balanced mindset – and that sometimes meant letting go and allowing myself those precious indulgences without going overboard. Of course, if you could find a cause for the cravings, wouldn’t you like to try to prevent them or at least find some alternatives?
Try supplementing with zinc, magnesium, or chromium. A deficiency in these vitamins could be the cause of your sugar cravings. B Complex vitamins are great too because they provide a boost to the adrenal system; and when the adrenal system is low, sugar cravings increase.
Cinnamon is known to reduce the glycemic index of foods, so it normalizes blood sugar levels.
Make sure to include a little protein in every meal. Protein takes longer than carbs to digest, so it sticks to you longer.
Perhaps the last thing you want to put into your mouth when you’re craving sugar is fermented food like sauerkraut or kimchee, but supposedly this can help curb cravings.
Take a Nap
Do you notice if you crave sugar during that afternoon slump? Often cravings come from just being tired. Sometimes when I have a bad sugar craving and I know I may not be truly hungry, I try to just lie down for a nap and see if that makes me feel better. If I find myself still thinking about food and unable to sleep, I often realize that I am truly hungry.
Well, desserts are not exactly dangerous, but you know they feel that way if you’re trying to lose weight. I’m not saying to give up desserts. In fact, incorporating them here and there throughout the week may do you more good than bad (something that took me a long time to learn and get used to–I had grown so used to bingeing). A rule of thumb: wait at least 45 minutes after dinner before you reach for the dessert. That can give you time to see if the yearning for dessert diminishes. If it doesn’t, try just three bites and walk away. Often that is all we really need. Of course, walking away is the most difficult part, but after waiting for a little while it can do the job. For some healthier indulgences, read on.
Craving chocolate? Are you tired, too? The craving could be a desire for caffeine. Or, more chemically, you may simply be low in magnesium, which is common since our crops have decreased in magnesium over the years due to nutrient-deficient soil.
If you are going to indulge in chocolate, most people know that the higher percentage of dark, the better. But who knew that the ingredient of cocoa butter is healthier, too? Cocoa butter is a natural fat in the cocoa bean that is often removed and replaced with unhealthy partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. Also, choose chocolate with sugar or cane juice instead of corn syrup. A great chocolate that meets all these “health” requirements (it’s still dessert here) is Endangered Species.
Hit Up the Natural Sweeteners
The first time I tried a date (the fruit, not a person) was pure heaven. I had no idea these giant raisin-like fruits even existed! I actually bought a box of dates from California two winters ago, which was fantastic. I’d already tried the medjool dates (those are the most common ones you can get from the store) but now I could try out the honey dates, which were even sweeter! Soaking dates can leave you with sweetened water to use for recipes, too.
Dates are a great way to sweeten up recipes and make for a great whole-food dessert. My favorite is to use dates to make a chocolate pudding (dates, avocado, banana, and cacao powder in a food processor).
Choosing raw honey is a great sugary alternative, too. While it seems like there isn’t much of a difference between raw and regular honey, raw honey is actually sweeter so you need less of it (and thus, less calories) for recipes for the same sweetness. It has a glycemic index of about 30 compared to the regular honey with a glycemic index of 75.
And a great way to switch your craving for ice cream? Peel and pack away bananas in a ziploc back in the freezer. Once frozen, you can slice them up, put them in a food processor, and voila! Monkeys-Gone-Bananas ice cream.
Okay, I know, sometimes you just need the bad boys: A cake at a birthday party, or a chocolate bar from the vending machine. As long as it’s savored, loved, and cherished on occasion, you’ll probably be a lot better off than that “clean eater” who binges in the closet.
And eats forest food.
com/food_editorials/cooking/ herbs_and_spices/curb_ cravings_with_cinnamon_the_ spice_of_life.html
I want to tell you that it is okay to ask for help. That even now I still struggle to do it myself. That just the other day, when I finally admitted to myself that the eating disorder was worsening again, that it was okay to say something.
That I must.
I want to tell you that no problem is too small to keep to yourself. That you deserve to speak for your body, and that perhaps those of us who suffer from eating disorders or other modes of self-harm have some of the toughest times asking for help because we have learned to speak with our body instead of our tongues. That we do speak, but in a language of silence when we leave the dinner table too soon, when we skip lunch, when we creep to the kitchen at midnight to fill our bodies too quickly and too guiltily, when we stow away to the bathroom after every meal–because doesn’t it feel like your eating disorder will always be there for you? That it will keep you company when you feel your worst, and no one else will get hurt but you? That you don’t have to “wear anyone down” but yourself when you feel stressed and hurt and angry and frustrated?
I am angry. I am hurt. I am frustrated. I also know I have a fantastic life, that I live day-to-day with a smile on my face, that I have so many good things going for me. But there is still that girl who needs to be listened to–the girl deep inside of me screaming and shaking the bars of a prison she feels she can never escape because I keep ignoring her, because I keep telling her to shut the hell up.
I want to tell you that you deserve to speak–because when I tell you this, I have to say it to myself, too. Because not but a day ago did I think, I shouldn’t bother people with this, I shouldn’t let them worry, I shouldn’t seem like I am trying to seek attention.
But when I awake each morning to peaceful silence while everything inside of my head screams, I drown the Rachael inside of me as I go about the day, as I hear her pounding to get out, as I carry on with my chores and work and crawl back into bed, where my chest tightens and aches and it is not until then–when I close my eyes and face myself again–that the tears emerge. Sometimes I tell myself I shouldn’t worry, that I shouldn’t feel concerned when I take it out on my own body, because I know I am not alone in my feelings. Someone, somewhere in the world may “have it worse” than me, people say. But how many times have I stressed to others–and to myself–that it doesn’t mean we don’t deserve to speak!
WE DESERVE TO SPEAK.
I will speak because I encourage you all to speak. And as I returned home from a day of errands the other day thinking I didn’t need to tell anyone I was hurting, I realized I would never want you to do the same.
We must speak.
We must speak.
WE. MUST. SPEAK.
It is the best tool we have.
WARNING: The following content may be triggering if you feel you are not at a good place to read about another person’s experience with their eating disorder.
A wonderful reader and supporter of this blog agreed to share her eating disorder story. She has her own great blog (Carrots and [Candy] Sticks), which I am constantly reading for her quirky insight and strong, brave thoughts through her struggles with food and life. Thank you, Florence for sharing more of your story here.
It’s been about three years since my eating disorder began. I’ve always had a sweet tooth and tended to overeat especially at parties, but I was an athlete in high school and never worried too much about it. It wasn’t until I started drinking that my eating disorder began, because I would drunk-binge and feel terrible about myself. It lead me to gain a lot of weight right before college, which only got worse my freshmen year.
My first year of college I was stressed out, overwhelmed, and my eating was super unhealthy. I’d have dessert for dinner, drink too much on the weekends then eat lots of pizza, snack all day, eat lots of fried foods and no vegetables, plus eat way past the point of fullness. I thought the only way to improve my terrible eating habits was to go on a diet. I was sick of feeling lousy and being unhappy with my body and figured dieting was a step in the right direction.
I lasted three weeks on the Dukan Diet, which was majorly restrictive: no carbs or sugar, not even fruit or nuts. I lived off of soy milk, hard boiled eggs, and dry tuna. It felt good to be in control and I lost a lot of weight…until I snapped. I got so hungry in the dining hall one day and bored of the monotonous food that I binged on ice cream and cookies and bread with butter. Horrified at what I’d done and worried I’d gain all the weight back I thought I should throw up everything I ate. So I found a secluded bathroom and had my first bulimic episode. I joked about it with my parents and friends because I thought it was a one time thing and that there was no way I could actually develop an eating disorder. But over the next six months I was embedded in a terrible cycle of dieting, bingeing, purging, and starting all over again. I was vomiting two or three times a week and alcohol definitely exacerbated things. I was reluctant to admit anything was wrong because I still thought the episodes were sporadic. Plus I convinced myself that every time would be the last time and so I never got help.
Finally one day in October, after this had been going on for about six months, I realized I had a problem. When I tried to tell my parents they didn’t really understand (I had sheltered them from a lot of the disorder) and said that there must be something underlying my food issues, that eating wasn’t the real problem; stress was. And while that was true I really needed to talk to someone about my obsessive behavior around food (and find a way to stop vomiting). It ended up being my boyfriend who helped me with the vomiting. I would always confess after I vomited because I’d feel so guilty and so he asked me to start telling him before I wanted to. At first I couldn’t do it but after admitting to him once or twice that I wanted to he would sit with me until the feeling passed. He was like my buddy/built-in-babysitter.
Eventually I started realizing I didn’t have to give in to the urges to vomit. At that point I also went home for winter break. Since my house is small and my parents were home the whole time I physically couldn’t vomit anywhere. This two month span of vomit-free living was enough to break the habit for me and over the next few months I would vomit sporadically, maybe once a month, but in June I had my last spell and have not vomited in a year. Unfortunately that was not the end of my food issues. Over the next eight months I had an incredibly obsessive relationship with eating. I researched everything I could about nutrition, tried to stick to the paleo diet, but only ended up bingeing frequently (hence starting a cycle of dieting and bingeing with no purging). I tried gluten free and vegetarianism but ultimately I felt entirely lost. Every source had different information about what was “healthy” and I felt like nothing I ate was okay. That lead me to binge more, because I felt so overwhelmed and figured if nothing is healthy I might as well eat ice cream and cookies. This period of my life was terrible because I felt so confused and lonely and lost about how to nourish my body and the bingeing was uncomfortable and scary. I felt entirely out of control and really hated myself and my life. I convinced myself that the way I was eating was causing me stress and anxiety and literally making me sick, and if only I could find the “right” way to eat I’d be healthy and happy. It was so much easier to blame myself for my anxiety than admit I might have an anxiety disorder.
The turning point came when I read a book about eating disorders in the Barnes and Noble store and it said that any benefits of the special diet I thought I had to be on for health reasons were outweighed by the stress it caused my body. That really clicked for me. I was definitely doing more harm to myself by thinking gluten was evil (and then gorging myself on it after a week without it) than by eating it moderately and with a healthy attitude. And so that September I stopped dieting for good and took some time off from school. In that time I went to counseling and started an anti-anxiety medication and learned how to eat normally again without restrictions on any type of food. To give myself a little bit of structure I counted calories using an app and that was just what I needed to re-learn how to eat. Also not drinking for those few months that I was home really helped my stress levels and stopped binges prematurely (hang over binges were sometimes worse than drunk binges).
In the last six months I’ve been working to maintain a healthy relationship with food. I’ve stopped counting calories and am really trying to take it one meal at a time. I still binge sometimes, maybe three times a month, but I’m learning to eat intuitively. I wouldn’t say I have it all figured out but food no longer runs my life anymore and I’m so grateful for that. I also go to therapy twice a week which is the anchor I need, and am still on anti-anxiety medication. I also meditate and believe this combination is bringing me to my healthiest place yet. I don’t recommend the way I went about recovery. It was lonely and prolonged and I know I should’ve sought professional help awhile back. I urge you if you’re struggling to ask for help and keep asking until you find someone or something—an inpatient/outpatient support group, a mentor, anything, that helps you achieve a relationship with food that you’re proud of.
This month’s guest post is by Laura Burkett, a holistic nutrition counselor and eating psychology coach in West Michigan who works with local and national clients. I actually met Laura the summer I was learning and first experimenting with raw food. She came to speak at a nutrition workshop/seminar at Gazelle Sports in Grand Rapids, and I met her in her office a few months later to discuss holistic nutrition. Even with the very few times we talked, I was very interested in what Laura did for a living so I hope you all can learn a bit about what she has to offer about intuitive eating.