food

So Thanks For Making Me A Fighter

I’m doing well.

I visited my therapist for the first time since winter break. “You seem to be in a really good place,” she said.

“You sound happy,” a friend told me on the phone. “I love hearing you sound happy.” I love hearing me sound happy too.

I was chatting with my academic advisor in her office, and she told me I had a really great attitude. I don’t think I’ve ever been told that before. I usually have a remarkably disturbing and pessimistic attitude, one that tends to make medical professionals uncomfortable. Twice my therapist has kept me ten minutes after my appointment was supposed to be over because she was worried about something I’d said. Yeah, having a good attitude is new to me.

“Want some chocolate?” one of my fellow interns asked me at work today. She slid the two-pound bag of caramels toward me. “Sure,” I replied. I ate a few. I still ate my entire lunch half an hour later.

I’m happy. Not creepy happy; things aren’t perfect all the time. But relatively speaking, I like my life. I like the people I surround myself with, I like the work I do, I like the hobbies that occupy my free time. I like me.

I think for a long time I was working toward the wrong goal. I spent so much time fighting the eating disorder that I forgot what’s important. I’m important. It’s not about making the ED weaker, it’s about making me stronger.

Eating disorders don’t disappear. The thoughts that drove me to self-decimation still occur just as frequently as ever. I sometimes spend hours agonizing over my reflection in the mirror even when I have better things to do. I still order fish instead of steak at restaurants because I know it has fewer calories. I still get nervous when things don’t happen right on schedule, the way I like them. The eating disorder is strong, and it will probably always be strong. The difference now is that I am stronger.

I write and I know that my writing matters. I study and I know that it does not define me. I sing and it touches people. I goof off and they laugh. Sometimes, just sometimes, I walk past a mirror and I see someone who’s a little bit beautiful. I know that I have the potential to do great things, regardless of whether I meet someone’s subjective definition of “perfect.” Even if it is my own.

Recovery is a lot of really hard work. It’s long days and uncomfortable situations. It’s emotions you don’t want to feel. It’s a battle against something you so strongly perceive as part of yourself that sometimes fighting seems fruitless. It’s not. Because the eating disorder isn’t you, or me. Finding yourself, growing yourself, and loving yourself – that’s the only way to beat it. I had to stand up tall, stare it in the face, and say, “I am stronger than you are.” I had to trust that I was smarter, more important, more worthy.

I don’t pretend that I’m an expert, because I’m not. I’m just happy. And that’s something I never thought I could be. Imperfect, but still happy. I am not a supermodel or a movie star. I am not a genius or a comedian or Beyonce. I’m just me. That’s all I ever have to be. And that’s okay. I can live with that. I can be proud of that every single day, because it’s more of an accomplishment than anyone will ever understand.

Ed

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Thanks for the Memories

This Thanksgiving, I am surrounded by family – doting grandparents, fabulous aunt and uncle, adorable tiny cousins. Sure, I’m sad that I’m not with my parents or my brother this year, but if I had to be stuck anywhere else, I’m glad it’s here.

Screenshot 2013-11-28 19.51.51

Oh, and you know who ISN’T at the Thanksgiving table this year?

My eating disorder.

Feels pretty damn amazing.

Eating Disorders Are Real, And They’re Not Going Away

I hate that I have to write this post.

But I do.

Because yesterday I came across an article online entitled “5 Reasons To Date a Girl With An Eating Disorder.”

I am reluctant to share this article because I despise the publicity its author is probably getting. But it’s already out there, surfing the internet waves, so here’s the link if you’d like to read it too. (Disclaimer: may cause extreme disturbance and loss of faith in the human race.)

I cannot sit here in silence and let an article like this exist in cyberspace without doing something, anything, to combat its destructive and dehumanizing message. Not only is it insulting to the seriousness of the disorder that has taken more lives than any other mental illness, but it is also incredibly demeaning to women as an entire social group.

Now, I recognize that the website on which this was published is inherently misogynistic. Everything is written by men, for men. Although with articles like “24 Signs She’s a Slut,” I’d be more apt to change that to “by pigs, for pigs,” because most of the men I know wouldn’t find their favorite reading material on this site either. But I digress. I am writing not to condemn Return of Kings, but rather to counter the all-too-prevalent view that eating disorders are a privileged white girl problem. And apparently also to make it clear that eating disorders are not a joke.

There are records of eating disorders (specifically anorexia nervosa) throughout history as early as 1689. There are also manifestations across cultures, first-world and third-world alike. Eating disorders may be disproportionately popular in Western societies, but their existence is well-documented through space and time. Now, bulimia nervosa is slightly more culture-bound than anorexia simply because a binge-purge behavior cycle requires more resources. But food is relatively inexpensive even in our culture, and we cannot use the notion of culture-binding to assume that bulimia is an illness reserved only for the wealthy.

Eating disorders are also not confined to females. In fact, one of the first two documented cases of anorexia was male, and while the DSM’s gender ratio remains 10:1, there are many studies that reflect a ratio closer to 3:1. Perhaps men do not express the same disordered behaviors and symptoms as women, and thus slip by undiagnosed. Or perhaps we are just living in a society that places significantly less pressure on men to be thin. However, I have personally known several men who have struggled with and even lost their lives to eating disorders, and anyone who has watched them bravely fight their illness would be horrified to hear someone call it an exclusively female issue.

The reality is, our culture glamorizes eating disorders. From Seth MacFarlane’s Oscar joke (“For all those women who had the ‘flu.’ it paid off. Lookin’ good.”) to the increasing obsession with the ever-elusive “thigh gap,” there is a profound understanding of eating disorders as an issue of personal appearance. Like the “5 Reasons” article claims, “her obsession over her body will improve her overall looks.” Right? Isn’t that how it works?

Wrong. Chances are, she doesn’t look good, bro. Because she’s killing herself. Because she’s probably dealing with anxiety, depression, OCD, borderline, PTSD, or some other illness as well. Because her life has been forcibly taken from her by the disease that criticizes everything she says and does and is, not just how she looks. Even if she appears normal on the outside, she is in an immense amount of pain, and you are contributing to that pain by refusing to validate the parts of her that make her unique and special and beautiful.

And “better in bed”? I’m not even going to dignify that with a response.

When I was at my lowest weight, I got a lot of attention from both men and women. I’m not saying that to sound arrogant or self-righteous, although it may seem that way. I just want to clarify that the person who wrote this article is not saying anything new – Western media idealizes female thinness at the expense of female health, and will probably continue to do so for many, many years.

This attitude has to change. We cannot continue to apply such pressure on people to look a certain way and expect them not to crack under it. We cannot continue to write off serious mental illnesses as “privileged white girl problems” and ignore their impact on the lives of so many who fall outside that category. We cannot continue to place blame on the ones who are suffering the most. Eating disorders are real and scary and fatal, and they’re not going away.

An Anorexic’s Perspective on “Diet” Food

About a month ago, I was at the grocery store with my mother when we were stopped by the in-store nutritionist. “Would you like a sample?” she asked with a big smile. She had a cart with some sort of creamy nacho dip, which Mom happily sampled as I watched (someday I hope to be recovered enough that I can sample nacho dip at the grocery store, but I’m not there yet).

After my mother complimented the dip she’d tasted, the nutritionist handed her a recipe “so you can make it at home!” I glanced over at the paper to see what was in it, because I was curious, and it looked pretty good. But as my eyes ran down the list, I found myself beginning to get angry. Nearly every ingredient in the dip the nutritionist was distributing was “diet.” Fat-free sour cream. Reduced-fat cheese. I felt a strong urge to punch her in the face.

Why did I have such a strong reaction? I mean, I don’t have an agenda regarding low-fat foods – I’m not even trying to say they’re bad. I simply have a personal vendetta against them.

And they’re everywhere.

My eating disorder, on the other hand, adores low-fat foods. The fewer calories, the better. It’s pretty safe to say that’s how it all began – skinny lattes from Starbucks, nonfat yogurt, Truvia, Diet Coke, 100-calorie packs…the list goes on and on. These products were readily available and heavily marketed, and I felt good about myself when I chose them over the “unhealthy” options. And objectively speaking, these foods aren’t a bad idea. With our country’s increasing obesity rates, the general population of people could probably afford to consume less fat and sugar. The challenge is, then, to try to recover from an eating disorder in a society where “diet” products are being shoved down your throat.

I don’t want to shed negative light on my family, but this is an example: in my house we always used low-fat sour cream and fat-free salad dressing. It was kind of just an accepted fact as I was growing up – I actually don’t think I had ever tasted full-fat salad dressing before this year. In treatment, however, anything low-fat or low-cal was not an acceptable part of a meal plan, so I was no longer “allowed” those things. Basically, that meant I had to go to the store and get my own salad dressings and sour cream. If you were to visit our house on a night we were eating salad, you would see a bunch of reduced or non-fat dressing bottles on one side of the table, and a bottle of regular honey mustard dressing on the other – right in front of my place setting. In other words, it is painfully obvious that I am somehow singled out from our household “norm.”

I could give a thousand more examples. When I shop, I have to block out the advertisements that are yelling at me to choose the reduced-fat graham crackers or the 1% cottage cheese. And that becomes even more difficult to deal with when you add on the voice of the manipulative eating disorder that lives in my head and refuses to let me have a moment of peace (I will spare you the things it says to me, but believe me, they are very unpleasant).

Recovering from an eating disorder in a society that idealizes thinness and weight loss and constantly markets dieting? It’s really, really hard.

One day when I was in residential, we were sitting in the kitchen eating lunch and listening to the radio, like we always did, when suddenly we heard a commercial. I think it was for some kind of weight loss smoothie. Anyway, there was a woman on the phone with “customer service,” telling him about her experiences with these smoothies. “I have a problem,” she concluded. “I love your smoothies, but I just can’t stop losing weight!”

We stared at each other in silence, and for the rest of the week we listened to Pandora during meals. We didn’t turn on the radio again.

I want to stress that it is not these products themselves that I have a problem with, but rather my own shortcomings and my inability to stand up to them. I used to feel strong when people complimented me on my ability to resist taking a second cookie or eat plain yogurt (I still cannot fathom how I managed that one), but now with every bite I DON’T take I’m reminded that I still don’t have control over my own life. And while the voice of recovery tells me that I should use that full-fat sour cream, the eating disorder still picks the lowest calorie cereal it can find.

So, back to the nutritionist. I didn’t really want to punch her in the face. I wasn’t angry at her – none of the violent battles going on in my head were her fault, or anybody’s fault. I was just frustrated with the process, and of all the ways my environment seemed to be working against me while I struggled to do the right thing. And that’s not something that’s going to go away. Calorie-counting is always going to be a successful way for people to lose weight and get healthy, so they will continue to do it – and calories will always remain at the top of the nutrition label. Choosing certain diet foods is always going to help lower blood pressure and cholesterol, so they will continue to be widely available. And thin is still going to be “in.”

For now, it’s just going to be hard. And it’s going to suck. And I’m going to keep having nightmares about accidentally eating an extra granola bar and feeling pangs of jealousy when I watch my mother eat a nonfat yogurt.

And one day I won’t get angry when I see a recipe for low-fat nacho dip. I’ll smile and say, “where’s the lard?” and move on.

A Farewell to Boost™

Photo on 1-25-13 at 11.09 AM

My dearest Boost™ Complete Nutritional Drink,

It is with great pleasure that I announce our official break-up.

We’ve traveled a long road together, you and I. Our relationship was complicated, but you were always reliable. Every day between the hours of 10:30 and 11:30 am, I would reach into the refrigerator and grip your chilled, ergonomic bottle in my hand, feeling reassured by your unwavering presence. I would peel the crackly label from your cap, almost always ripping part of your nutrition label (which was okay, because I pretty much had it memorized anyway). I would shake you firmly and unscrew your tight crimson cap, watching as the thin layer of froth bubbled down. I would go through the agonizing process of trying to make one of my many colorful straws rest inside you without it floating to the surface, splashing me with liquid, and plummeting from your stagnant mouth. Each day the process repeated itself with comforting accuracy. We had a rhythm, supported by weeks of experience, and it was beautiful.

But I don’t need you anymore.

Look, it was nice while it lasted. I recognize that, and I’m grateful for everything you’ve been able to do for me. But I think it’s time we both move on.

You see, I’ve grown pretty used to your thick, chocolatey, plastic-ey flavor, and every once in a while I might think back to you fondly. But you carry much more than that when you glide over my tongue. You taste like being sick, like failing; you taste like giving up. You remind me of the bitter disappointment of noncompliance and the frustration of refeeding. You are a punishment. My relationship with you has been nothing but a rebound from the terrible abuse I inflicted upon myself. Sure, that’s not your fault. You simply exist, and what you have come to mean to me is a result of my own experiences, not your purpose. But I know that with you in my life, constantly reminding me of the ways I’ve let myself down, I cannot move forward. So as I rinse the dregs from the inside of your curvy 8 oz. bottle and toss you into the recycle bin for the last time, I feel a sense of beautiful release.

I’m replacing you with a slice of pumpkin bread or a Pop-tart, an apple and peanut butter or a Luna bar. I don’t know what exactly it’s going to be; it will probably be different every day. All I know is that I don’t need you to be there for me anymore. I’ve got relationships in my life far more important than ours, and it’s time I allow them to become healthy and strong. Your chapter in my story has ended and I owe it to myself to start a new one.

Goodbye, Boost™. May our only encounters be glances stolen across the grocery store aisle, until I am old and toothless and need you once again.

Lots of love,

Gwen

A Walk in the Park

It’s really amazing, some of the things that little kids know and understand. I seem to think I have things figured out, but nothing is ever quite the way I see it. A little change in perspective; for example, the perspective of a three-year-old; can sometimes be enough to make you think a little differently.

This is my cousin Jillian posing in front of Oz Park.

This kid is a bundle of CRAZY energy. I never see her slow down except when she’s sleeping – and even then, she’s probably having all sorts of adventures in her dreams, so that doesn’t even count. When we went to the park this afternoon, she was running every which way, through play structures and down slides, up stairs, on swings – it was nearly impossible to even follow her with our eyes, much less actually follow her! It was a beautiful day, though, and it was really very nice to be outside. The sun was warm and the leaves were all nice and crunchy, like they should be in the fall. Jillian spent a lot of time kicking the leaves and/or hitting them with a stick. I’m not sure what the appeal of that particular activity is, but I’m also not three so I’m not going to pretend I understand.

Anyway, it was nice to have some time to be outside and have a chat with my mom and my aunt about life direction, which I’ve been struggling a lot with lately. They definitely had different college experiences than each other (and also than me) and it’s always helpful to hear other people’s opinions about the things on which I meditate daily. It seems like everybody has gone through a similar directional crisis at some point, and at least I’ve been able to identify mine at a time when I have a great opportunity to reflect and refocus. Hopefully with the extra few months I’ve acquired before the next time I start classes, I’ll be able to spend some energy sort of figuring out what comes next for me.

Of course, like any good afternoon in the park, it ended with ice cream.

If there’s anything Jillian did NOT need at this point in the afternoon, it was sugar (aka more energy). But she is just so adorable when she gets sprinkles all over her face!

She also seemed so genuinely concerned about the fact that I wasn’t eating ice cream, and proceeded to question me thoroughly about it. “Where’s your ice cream?” she asked. Followed by, “don’t you LIKE ice cream?” And when I answered that yes, of course I liked ice cream, she appeared even more concerned that I wasn’t eating it. That’s why I love seeing her perspective; everything is so black-and-white for her. In her three-year-old brain, me liking ice cream + me being in an ice cream shop should = me eating ice cream, because that’s just the way it is. I wish it really was that simple. It kills me that someday she’s going to grow up and be able to understand why I didn’t eat any ice cream. I wish everybody’s mind worked just like hers, especially mine. Because I really could have gone for a Pumpkin Pie Blizzard.

When I get back to school, the first thing I’m going to do is take Jillian out for ice cream. And I’m going to chase her around the park and push her on the swing and do all the things I didn’t have the energy to do for her today. She’s a smart kid. She deserves it.