5 Reasons I Chose to Fight My Eating Disorder… and won.

Looking back at my descent into, and out of, anorexia, I feel that there were a few key realizations that, together, were enough to shift my paradigm out of the eating disorder mentality and into one that fostered recovery. I credit these realizations with my healthy life today, and I hope they’re as meaningful for you as they were for me.

1. I didn’t see a light at the end of the tunnel.

It’s easy to fall into the eating disorder trap by focusing on one “diet” after another. I always thought that the next diet, or the next 5 pounds, would be the solution that would lead to “happiness” and “then” I could start living.

Well, guess what? That light at the end of the tunnel never came. It was always another 5 pounds, another diet, another imperfection to conquer. I began looking back at my life and realized how many things I had missed out on — special dinners, a nice glass of wine at night, sleeping in and lazy mornings — and wondered if I was going to spend this whole precious life focusing on how I looked.

Suddenly, I realized that the eating disorder was never going to go away.  It was a game that I was never going to win, and it was stripping away thousands of irreplaceable experiences along with it.

I truly believe that it took recognizing what I was giving up, and then accepting that it’s alright to want some of those luxuries in my life, that set the wheels in motion for my recovery.

Suddenly I was able to honestly question my investments and returns in this endless battle with my body that I had embarked on.

2. My body, for all of the work and attention it was demanding, looked surprisingly awkward. 

We can prod, pinch, and starve, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to look like Adriana Lima. Why would we want to? Sometimes I think we can focus on a superficial, aesthetic goal without taking the time to question whether or not it’s as relevant to our personal bodies and success as we believe it is.

Eating disorders, although not voluntary, are often supported and fueled by messages sent by the media and our surroundings that the thinner we are, the happier and more successful we will be. The images in magazines, movies, and television seem to often imply that slender is equated with sexy, lovable, or powerful – when often it’s quite the contrary. Health and energy are incredibly powerful in relationships, the workforce, and our own happiness.

The truth of the matter is, a healthy weight helps our bodies look the way they’re designed to look — which is far more balanced and, in my opinion, more attractive, than their starved counterparts.

Once I took the time to nourish my body and let it fill out naturally, I was astounded at how unique my figure is for me. There really is a reason that it’s my body, and I have started to learn that I have my own unique beauty — and that’s a very exciting, and authentic, feeling.

3. The chance for a future.

You’ve heard it before and I’ll say it again: an eating disorder is an incredibly dangerous thing. Now, as someone that’s been there, I’m aware that saying this to someone with an eating disorder is like telling a smoker that cigarettes cause cancer.

Nonetheless, I don’t do well with boundaries, and I will continue to bring this point into play until the cows come home. I truly believe that once these dangers are fully realized and internalized they will have the power to make a difference. The human mind has an astounding ability to dissociate what we know rationally from what we can accept, especially when we’re addicted to or otherwise dependent on something harmful to us.

At the time of my eating disorder I was smack dab in the threshold of adolescence, a time notorious for the infamous invincibility fallacy and, as a result, far too much self-abuse.

At a certain point, I grew up a bit and began to recognize that I am not invincible and that these things could happen to me. I began to regret the damage I had already done. As life began to surprise me with wonderful things I had never anticipated, I began accepting the power and potential of the unknown.

I realized that I might fall in love one day and wish I hadn’t destroyed my bones and longevity, or even worse, that I might be infertile the day that that man and I want to have a baby. I realized I couldn’t undo the damage I had already done, but I began to fight back to protect the health, time, and future that I still had before me.

4.  I was socially isolated and, well, downright boring to be around.

There’s no way around it — an eating disorder will cramp your style when it comes to quality of life. Over time, living on the routines and neurosis required to maintain overly strict eating and exercise habits, one will become increasingly uninteresting. Vapid. Dull. Insipid.

The truth of the matter is, people eventually become tired of it. My family became tired of going to a fancy dinner on vacation with me when all I would order is a diet coke and steamed veggies (and then would become bloated and agitated from pure fiber, caffeine, and bubbles).

Friends became tired of me canceling on evening plans because I was too tired (eating disorders are exhausting), or too anxious about how I looked, or what food I would be faced with if we went out, or how late I’d be up and if I’d be able to make my workout in the morning.

Slowly I became incredibly lonely, and I also became boring. I realized that when I was on a date, or meeting a new person, I hadn’t had the energy or time for the humor, experiences, and hobbies that make a person someone you want to spend time with.

The truth of the matter is that I was downright boring. And, over time, I was alone.

5. I had insurmountable barriers to intimacy.

One of the things that suffers most during the course of an eating disorder is that individual’s capacity for intimate relationships. It wasn’t just that I was always bloated and uncomfortable from subsisting on vegetables, or that I was energy-less and depressed from avoiding carbs for 10 years, or that no sane man would tolerate my aforementioned regimes and schedules, no — it was that the longer I starved the more I distanced myself from my physical being, creating a chasm where there should be unity between my mind, body, and heart.

The deeper I went into anorexia, the more I physically rejected my body and any sort of physical experience. Further, over time, being so hard on my body and myself made me increasingly hard on others.

It was hard to be patient and forgiving with another person (a fundamental part of a healthy, loving relationship) when I was spending huge amounts of time and energy repressing my true, healthy, imperfect self.

At a certain point, I wanted kindness. I wanted to learn to flow with the imperfections of myself, others, and life. I wanted to eat cake at my wedding.

At a certain point, I wanted to fight. And once I sat down and looked at these reasons, and truly understood them and their implications, for the first time I saw a way out.

(Source: blogs.psychcentral.com)

It’s never been true, not anywhere at any time, that the value of a soul, of a human spirit, is dependent on a number on a scale. We are unrepeatable beings of light and space and water who need these physical vehicles to get around. When we start defining ourselves by that which can be measured or weighed, something deep within us rebels.
Geneen Roth

Surviving the holidays during ED recovery

If you don’t suffer from an eating disorder, the holiday season can be a time of exultation—a time that abounds with friends, family and food. However, those struggling to recover from eating disorders are often ambivalent to celebrate and can even become debilitated by stress and anxiety over the holidays due to food’s starring role in family gatherings.

Recovery does not have to be compromised by the season. There are many ways to prepare for the trademark holiday dinner in order to assuage stress and anxiety, and even enjoy the evening.

Plan ahead

Stern also says that many of her clients have benefited from having a specific friend or family member at the table who knows about their plan and to find a signal for “let’s chat in the other room/on the porch” in case they need a breather from the festivities.

Psychotherapist, activist and founder of the Eating Disorder Activist Network (EDAN) Rachael Lauren Stern recommends creating a plan ahead of time about eating and behavior on the holiday as well as the day after. “I find that if [my eating disordered clients] plan to eat the things they like, there is much less guilt or expectation attached,” says Stern. “Also, part of the plan is following a normal eating schedule the next day no matter what the night before looked like.”

Voices in Recovery echoes that it is integral to form a plan ahead of time and to “Discuss with your treatment team a relapse prevention plan…Know your triggers and prepare a plan to approach each trigger.”

Be mindful

President of Binge Eating Disorder Association (BEDA), Chevese Turner, has experience with the struggles that arise from eating disorders as someone who has fully recovered from binge eating disorder. “For those who binge eat, we do the careful dance of not allowing others to see us eat too much and then bingeing afterwards or we binge during the meal and feel awful afterwards,” she relates. “Focus on the fact that overeating on Thanksgiving [and other holidays] is ‘normal’ but does not need to set us up to restrict or binge—we can be in the moment, enjoy the food and others with us and move on to the next day without engaging in ED…being mindful of how you are feeling through it is really the key.”


Although it may seem simple, a few deep, calming breaths can work wonders in mollifying anxiety before it swells out of control. To add to the relaxation process, Voices in Recovery suggests going to a “happy place” where you close your eyes for five minutes and visualize a safe place.

Laugh it up

Laughter really can be the best medicine. According to the textbook Stress Management for Life, laughter can be referred to as “internal jogging” being that it produces the same pleasant feelings catalyzed during exercise. “The pleasant feelings associated with mirthful laughter may modify some of the neuroendocrine components of the stress response.  In addition, stress hormones that constrict blood vessels and suppress immune activity decrease after being exposed to humor.  Laughter has been shown consistently to improve mood and reduce stress” (Olpin and Hesson 2010).

Finding carefree moments with family and friends and indulging in humor can not only keep anxiety at bay but also aid in making the holiday a fun experience instead of an obstacle.

Don’t try to be perfect

At the end of the day, one should never expect to be perfect but only to do the best they can. Having a support system intact and family or friends to communicate with if things become overwhelming can help get one through the holiday and cope with emotions afterward.

(Source: examiner.com)

Relapse Prevention Strategies

Here are some key elements to relapse prevention, and recovering from a slip. They are based on what I’ve learned while in treatment that worked for me and still works for me today.

1. Withdrawal is unavoidable but not permanent. First, you have physical withdrawal: feeling bloated, lack of hunger signals, the incredible binge, weight gain, possible edema, electrolyte imbalances, nausea, constipation, dizzy spells, and insomnia. It’s part and parcel. Everyone goes through this! If your problem is COE, there will be extreme hunger, insomnia, fatigue and nausea. Think of it like detoxing off of drugs or alcohol. You have to be very careful during the first few weeks of recovery because if you don’t work carefully with your mealplan, it can be dangerous to your health…rather like alcohol withdrawal. Secondly, mentally you will feel depressed, anxious, angry, etc. All those emotions you were hiding/numbing come back fast and furious. Not to mention that your measure of self-worth is pretty damn low when you start your recovery. It is so important that you have support behind you or it can seem absolutely hopeless. However, just like withdrawal from drugs, it passes. It’s NOT permanent!

2. Know your triggers. Make a list of your triggers… ALL of them. What I mean by that are internal triggers like shame, boredom, anger, fear, etc., external triggers including obvious things like scales, etc., and factors like family, financial problems, weather, unwanted sexual attention, etc. After you’ve made a list, imprint it on your brain. A list won’t help unless that information is in your mental stores.  

3. Build a recovery peer group. For me, an online recovery peer group is support enough. But I don’t know what I’d do without it. For other people, it may take a real time group to keep you accountable. OA is a great organization that’s free, ABA/EDA are great organizations, ANAD is too, and there may be other groups in your area. Some of them cost money. If you can afford it, go! Skimping on recovery is a part of the general rule of relapsing as listed above. Keep in mind that if you are in a relationship where the other person (parent, child, sibling, friend, partner, etc.) is addicted, Alanon and Naranon can be excellent resources even if their addiction is not limited to substances. One other important point: make sure there are plenty of people in your group who are in recovery! There’s a 12-step phrase “stick with the winners.” Make sure your “winners” are actually winners!

4. Write down an emergency phone list and keep it with you at all times. On the top of this list should be your therapist, your internist (or pediatrician, cardiologist, GP, etc.), your dietician, and your pdoc. If you are involved in a 12-step, your sponsor should be up there, too. Fill in the rest of the list with people who are supportive of your recovery till you get at least 10 names and numbers. This should include peers and friends instead of partners and/or family. There are too many emotional strings attached to family and romance. They should never be the first resort when you are teetering on the edge of relapse. Other numbers (beyond the 10) you might consider including are the hotlines for the Good Samaritans (for suicidality) and EDA, AA, ANAD, Alanon, etc.

5. Make a list of affirmations about yourself. Many of us (almost all of us) believe that we’re the scum of the earth half the time. This is especially true in relapse mode. So… make a list of at least 10 affirmations and keep it with you at all times. Post it on your bathroom mirror and your car visor as well. Don’t try to come up with extensive, elaborate affirmations. They should be as basic as necessary. You don’t even have to believe them for now. For example: I am a human, and I have a right to be cared for; I am loved; I care about myself; I deserve good mental and physical health; I deny myself when I deny my problems; etc.

6. Develop a mantra that works for you. For me I always said “I am worth it” when I was struggling. My sponsor in AA said “I love me.” Other people I know used “I can do this,” “I’ll do it for me,” and “easy does it.”

7. Make a “God” box. This seems stupid, but I’m serious here. Make a sack or a box or something. This is your “God” box. Every time something gets overwhelming or hard, write it on a slip of paper and drop it in your “God” box. Then, try to practice radical acceptance instead of ruminating on the said problem.

8. Know your symptoms. What I mean by this is that you should be able to recognize a slip coming. This is different from triggers. This is being able to recognize those thoughts that come along and say “ya know… I don’t really need to eat my snack tonight,” “lots of people exercise for hours at a time,” “ya know… I’ve got this under control enough to go on a diet again,” or “I really should keep laxatives around for when I’m constipated,” etc. This also includes “I don’t really think I need my meds; I feel fine right now” or “my meds are so expensive; I think I’ll stop taking them.” Be aware of behaviors, too. For example, progressively being later and later to work or school, buying magazines about people losing weight, letting your sleep habits fall by the wayside, etc. Lastly, be overly aware of things like flashbacks, nightmares, etc. Knowing your symptoms is as important as knowing your triggers.

9. Recognize loss of symptom control. This may seem obvious, but what I mean by this is recognizing depression, anxiety, ED/SI/CD thoughts, maladaptive behaviors. Basically if you know your symptoms, don’t go into denial as soon as they start to rear their heads. Be consciously aware of symptoms creeping up. 

10. Keep a journal. I cannot stress the importance of this. If you put your thoughts out on paper, you will begin to notice patterns. If it’s on paper, you can’t deny it. Kinda like a business contract is made legal when it’s on paper, if you write down those emotions, the thoughts, your fears, etc. you can’t deny that they’re there. And since they’re in concrete form you can share them with your sponsor, T, dietician, etc. So… I highly encourage keeping a journal for accountability.

11. Do recovery assignments. I didn’t really hit recovery until I started doing regular recovery assignments in treatment. This could be updating lists of triggers, going over your affirmations, writing about your feelings, writing about past abuse, goodbye letters to your ED, SI, CD, etc. This has been one of my saving graces in recovery.

12. Attend regular therapy appointments and keep in regular contact with your sponsor. As much as we hate to admit it, we cannot work recovery on our own. WE CANNOT WORK RECOVERY ON OUR OWN!!! We need help, and that is one of the hardest things to accept and ask for. So… get into therapy. If you can’t afford therapy, go to a 12-step group and get sponsor. This is so extremely important if you’re in relapse mode or just in recovery.

13. Develop healthy coping skills. Make a list of 10 things that are healthy coping skills. These can be things like hot showers, knitting, writing, drawing, crochet, taking a walk, napping (as long as it’s healthy napping), baking, etc. Here’s the important point: use them when you’re struggling!

14. Practice radical acceptance. Life is hardly perfect. We are hardly perfect. Yet we tend to expect it to be, and when something goes wrong we crash and burn. It’s not our fault, but we assume it is. We assume that we must either punish ourselves or numb the pain somehow. The best phrase I ever learned was “it is what it is!” Punishing ourselves and numbing the pain will not make a situation go away. All you are doing is avoiding the truth. So… practice radical acceptance and turn to your healthy coping skills.

15. Pray. I’m not getting religious on you! That said, we tend to discount that there is always something more powerful than each of us. Whether it’s science, nature, the sheer number of people who are already in recovery, God, HaShem, Goddess, Allah, the spirit of someone deceased whom you were close to (grandmother, grandfather, brother, partner, etc.), there is a greater Something than you and me individually. So… I challenge you to get up in the morning and pray “Help me get through this day without ED, SI, CD, etc.” Then at night when you’re about to go to bed pray ‘thank you for getting me through this day without ED, SI, CD, etc.”

(Source: joyproject.org)

If you focus on loving yourself, then you’ll see your true beauty.
Focus and you will find success.
Focus, and others will love you as well. 

Happiness, health and sanity are always infinitely more important over losing weight.

Your eating disorder can and will bring you down. Stay true to you.

Why you feel fatter when you’ve lost weight.

Imagine this - you’re still consumed by your eating disorder and you’re in your bathroom, whether that be starving, binging, purging, what have you. You exhale and step on the scale, waiting for its result. You’ve lost weight. A small tinge of excitement runs through your body, yet it still feels like it’s not enough. Over the course of the day (or week, month, and all that follows), you start to feel fatter. You look in the mirror at your body and are repulsed. Everyone tells you that you are too thin, too weak, too consumed with your eating disorder, but all you can see is room for improvement. You feel fatter than you did when you first began. 

This is a typical scenario. Most eating disordered individuals do feel fatter than they did when they first took the tumble into their eating disorder, and thus they feel the need to lose more weight. And more. And more, and more, and so on and so forth. There’s a few reasons why this occurs, and it’s not because you’re fatter. Rather, it’s the opposite. 

  • You’re not getting enough nutrients. When your body is deprived of calories, or is constantly getting rid of them, your brain cannot function properly. Your decisions will be irrational and your thought process will be skewed. You will be constantly in a state of disarray because your body does not have the nutrients to go through the process of rational thought. 
  • Fat is an adjective. At least to eating disordered individuals. When an eating disordered individual says that they are fat, there is always underlying meaning. It can mean that they are feeling stressed, upset, guilty or angry. An eating disorder is a mask for other problems, and to them, saying that they feel fat is an underlying cover for other problems, as it encompasses all the negative thoughts they feel.
  • You’re anxious. This ties in with the second point of ‘fat is an adjective’. Contrary to belief some have, your eating disorder will not make you less anxious or make your problems go away. It really only increases them. As your eating disorder worsens, your family and friends will become worried, and tensions will surely flare. They may get angry because they don’t understand why you’re doing this to yourself, your grades or work will suffer, you will not be able to perform and do things that you used to do. You may feel guilty about putting them through stress, eating the food in the house, et cetera. Coupled with the fact that you cannot think rationally, your body is in a state of ridiculous stress and thus makes you more susceptible to heavier anxiety than you’ve ever felt before. This can bring on the feeling of fat.