Eating Disorders

Finding Meaning in Your Eating Disorder Recovery

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The Eating Disorder

I had an eating disorder from the time I was 16 years old until 26. Ten long years of misery. My eating disorder was not something I was proud of. I was very ashamed of it and the behaviors that accompanied it. I binged on huge amounts of food. I restricted and starved myself. I over-exercised and pushed my body to the point of exhaustion. All the while hiding behind a façade of working as a dietitian teaching others how to live a healthy life. I felt like a total hypocrite. Something had to change.  

When I finally gained control of my eating disorder the main reason I did so was because I knew somewhere in the back of mind I wanted to have children. While going through recovery was the hardest thing I had done in my life up until that point, the promise of having children motivated me and propelled me to regain my health and find balance in my life. Even though I had not found “the one” yet, I knew that once I did I would want my eating disorder to be a thing of the past to ensure our chances of conceiving.

Recovery

Any time I thought about going back to my old ways of behaving, I remembered my values of health and family, and how nothing with be possible if I kept using my eating disorder behaviors. I learned how to deal with my feelings without using food, how to stand up for myself, and how to ask for what I needed. In short I became a total functioning, fulfilled person. And then I met my husband. I knew when I met him he was the one. Sounds SO corny I know. But it’s true. He was everything I ever wanted.

Marriage

Things moved fairly fast for us. We moved in together after dating only 8 months. A year later we were engaged and a year later we were married. I started my own therapy business right after we married, and while we both knew we wanted kids we wanted to wait a bit to settle into marriage. So we did. All the while I NEVER worried about getting pregnant. At this point I was 33 years old and well into recovery. I had no doubt in my mind that my body was healthy, and I felt stable and happy with my life.

Baby???

When we were ready to have a baby and started trying I thought getting pregnant would be easy. Because why wouldn’t it be? Isn’t this what I have been told my entire life? Women have babies. Our bodies are designed to do this. We are BORN to do this. It’s as innate as learning to walk or laughing at a funny joke. Or so I thought…  

Fertility and the Eating Disorder

My journey with fertility (I refuse to use the word INfertility out of sheer principle) has been difficult. Heart wrenching at times. Not getting pregnant yet has caused me to question every decision in my life. And to circle back around to my eating disorder, it’s caused me to question my recovery. My recovery that I held as the most sacred event of my life. It has caused me to think “If I recovered because I wanted to have children, but I can’t have children, does that mean I recovered for nothing? And what does this mean for my life?"

When I first had this thought, it stopped me dead in my tracks. My recovery was a waste? How could this be? Cue the most intense shame and guilt you could imagine, along with trying to convince myself that I was not having these thoughts of “recovery being a waste”. Because rationally I knew recovery was not a waste. I knew that without my recovery my life would be a mess. Or I might not even be alive anymore. I knew I would never have been able to create the life I did if I was still using my old eating disorder behaviors.

My eating disorder caused me to push away relationships, friends, jobs, and anything else good in my life. So without recovery I would have NOTHING. But this did not stop the emotional part of my brain continuing to think this thought “If I can’t have kids, what does that mean for my recovery?”

Meaning of Recovery

Now that I am 10 years into recovery, I am re-examining the meaning of my recovery. I have realized that the original reasons I recovered must be changed and adapted for my life today. What worked for me 10 years ago does not work anymore. What is the meaning of your recovery? What do you want in your life? If you would have asked me these questions 10 years ago I would have told you “to have children” but now I realize there is more to it. There has to be. And I am slowly coming to a place of acceptance around this.

Releasing the Shame

My hope with sharing this is to connect with you if you are feeling shame and loneliness about something in your life. It is also partially selfish. I want to alleviate some of my shame around the situation.

I have realized that the shame I feel about my difficulties getting pregnant is similar to the shame I felt about my eating disorder. I felt very isolated and ashamed of my behaviors so I kept them all a secret. But the shame only grew and continued when I did that. I would like to believe I have grown and evolved from the person I was 10 years ago, and here is one way I am doing that. I am speaking out about my struggles. I refuse to feel this shame anymore because shame is toxic. And silence breeds shame. And we don’t have to do it alone.

 

Why You Should Never Comment on Someone Else's Food Choices

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I’ve come to realize that people love to comment on what someone else chooses to eat. If you were to eavesdrop at any restaurant table you might hear various forms of “Did you hear the latest news? You shouldn’t eat olive oil, butter is back in now. Have you heard about the new Brittany Spears diet? Are you Paleo? I’ve heard that carbs make you fat. I heard that you shouldn’t eat grains and meat together. Maybe you should try juicing. I stay away from white foods” and the list goes on and on.

As if our choices in what and how much we eat are up for debate and discussion. My work with people with eating disorders and body image issues proves time and time again that we can NEVER assume we know better what that person should or shouldn't be eating. And commenting on it, no matter how well-meaning or benign you mean it to be, will not turn out well.

Recently I attended a family wedding. At this wedding there were delicious cupcakes in place of a traditional cake. Given my love of all things frosting and hatred of the actual cake part (yes I am one of those people) I decided to eat only the frosting off of a cupcake. It was absolutely heavenly, and since there were several different kinds of cupcakes, I thought it was my duty to try the other kinds of frosting off the cupcakes. And let's be real how often do you get to eat gourmet cupcakes. As I went for my 3rd cupcake, a family member commented "Melissa! You're going to gain 10 pounds with all that frosting!" As she chuckled to herself, I felt myself sink. I was, as we say in the therapy world "triggered".

Now let me state that I do not think this family member had any intention to hurt me by her comment. I think she honestly thought she was making a joke and thought nothing of it. However, as an eating disorder therapist I could not help but be flooded with all of the hidden meanings of her seemingly harmless comment.

First of all, as a dietitian and someone that understands calories and metabolism, this is just a ridiculous comment. There is no physiological way eating the frosting off of three cupcakes could cause someone to gain 10 pounds. It takes 35,000 extra calories beyond what you burn in normal daily living to gain 10 pounds. I don't count calories, but I'm pretty certain 3 cupcakes do not add up to 35,000 calories.

Secondly, and more important, what if I DID gain 10 pounds. What would that mean?  Her comment implied that gaining 10 pounds would be something I would not want to happen. This would be an unacceptable outcome. As someone who has been through hell and back with her body, I take great pride in being okay with my body now. I realize that my body is a vehicle to take me through the myriad of life experiences. It is not something that needs to be scrutinized, hated, and controlled on a daily basis anymore. Nor it is something that must conform to what society says is acceptable. Perhaps now my body is what society deems as acceptable, but I know that it will change throughout my life and I will not always look this way. There may be life experiences and changes that cause me to gain 10 pounds, or more than 10 pounds!  Does this mean that if I gain weight I am not acceptable? I sure hope not.

I was rather surprised how much this comment affected me. My inner therapist wanted to speak up and tell this person how hurtful her comment was, but I realized a wedding was not the best place to have this type of conversation. I removed myself and took a walk outside and realized why I was so upset. My heart was hurting for all of those suffering with poor body image because of comments like these. Often times this is all it takes to make someone decide that they need to change what they eat. That the next time they reach for that cupcake or something else deemed “bad” they should think twice about how this food may affect their body. That “bad” food causes one to gain weight, and this should be avoided at all costs. That our bodies are the most important thing and we should value them over any enjoyment we may get from food.

Not everyone will be affected by words like these. But the fact remains that you never know how someone will take something, or what kind of internal war they have going on in their head. What someone else chooses to eat has no impact on you, so the next time you think about commenting on your friend’s/ spouse’s/ co-worker’s/ partner’s food, think twice about the intention of your comment. You may be saving someone from a lifetime of questioning their choices on the very thing that keeps us all alive.

Can You Judge a Book by Its Cover?

Can You Judge a Book by Its Cover?

Recently, I was having a discussion with one of my clients about the importance of loving her body just the way it is now. This woman is moderately overweight and is having a difficult time learning to love her body. We discussed how she reacts to feelings about her body. When she doesn’t love her body, she develops negative feelings towards it. When she feels negative about her body, she is more likely to abuse it. So she continues the cycle of abusing her body with food, which keeps her in a perpetually overweight and unhealthy state.  She understands this idea and agrees with it; yet it remains a difficult concept for anyone in her situation to accept. While discussing this at a recent session she said, “Well it’s easy for you to say that because you are thin.” This comment stopped me in my tracks.