Sometimes I like to unpack all of the beautiful groceries and just look at them before I put them away. I love how the colors look together, and I like to imagine how I will prepare everything.
This is my favorite part of the weekend. Grocery shopping. I’m boring, I know.
It’s just that I used to not eat, but I have always loved food. Those years spent in self-enforced food exile have made me endlessly delighted by and grateful for the bounty I enjoy now. I’m grateful that I have a well-paying job and can afford healthy food regardless of cost. I’m grateful that I have a fiancé who likes my cooking and appreciates what I make. I’m grateful that I don’t live in a food desert. I’m grateful that I have transportation to the store, and that if I forget something I can just turn right around and go back for it. That I can experiment. That I have internet access to look up recipes.
And most of all I’m grateful that the voice inside my head that terrorized me for all of those years is mostly silent now. That I can eat in peace- in joy, even. And that I can nourish my body as an act of love. My recovery has been one of the most miraculous experiences of my life. I’m endlessly grateful.
I’ve reblogged this before, but Portia de Rossi is so honest in her book, “Unbearable Lightness: A story of gain and loss. Check it out!
Love it, love her, love Ellen. Love!
Intuitive eating — or whatever you want to call the radical notion of eating what you want, when you’re hungry, and stopping when you’re full — demands that we trust our bodies. Most women learn early and often that their bodies are never to be trusted, that their bodies need strict regulation, especially when it comes to desire, be it the desire for food or for sex. As a result, learning to trust one’s body is difficult enough; when you add in a past that includes trauma and abuse, it becomes harder still. But your body IS trustworthy. I promise you that. Your body is not your enemy.
I’m practicing bravery today and wearing a dress that is short enough to make me pretty uncomfortable (I generally hate my legs and never show them above the knee.) I got this really cute dress and it just doesn’t look right with leggings. Plus it’s hot as balls, so forget that.
Screw you, ED! I’m going to look fierce today.
the fact that “love your body” rhetoric shifts the responsibility for body acceptance over to the individual, and away from communities, institutions, and power, is also problematic. individuals who do not love their bodies, who find their bodies difficult to love, are seen as being part of the problem. the underlying assumption is that if we all loved our bodies just as they are, our fat-shaming, beauty-policing culture would be different. if we don’t love our bodies, we are, in effect, perpetuating normative (read: impossible) beauty standards. if we don’t love our individual bodies, we are at fault for collectively continuing the oppressive and misogynistic culture. if you don’t love your body, you’re not trying hard enough to love it. in this framework, your body is still the paramount focus, and one way or another, you’re failing. it’s too close to the usual body-shaming, self-policing crap, albeit with a few quasi-feminist twists, for comfort.
I get this perspective and I totally agree that the heart of the problem lies in the sick, thin-worshipping culture that surrounds us. Individuals are not to blame for their resulting body-image problems. However, I do feel that I have to try to love my body in spite of the cultural pressure to hate it. I don’t have the power to change the culture, but I do have the power to TRY to love my body anyway. In my ED recovery work a lot of the focus was on taking power back and choosing how I was going to move forward in my life. I choose to defy cultural nonsense and do my best to love my body every day. However, on the days that I just can’t love my body I know that it isn’t my fault- I am living in a toxic environment and it’s perfectly reasonable that sometimes I can’t escape it, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually.
This morning I had brunch with one of my favorite people. She’s my mentor and a well-renowned eating disorders specialist I met through my old job. She’s also been sort of a work mom for me and has helped me through different trials and tribulations both work related and personal over the past four years. I consider her an angel in my life.
She’s an intimidatingly brillant woman, an M.D. and a published author of several books about medicine, food, and ED recovery. She has been the medical director at some of the best residential treatment centers in the country, and…basically what I’m getting at is that she knows her shit. The woman is smart, and she has said some things to me in the past that were very, very hard to hear- mostly because I knew she was right. She’s confronted me on lingering ED behaviors that I did not want to look at and critiqued my work as a therapist until I cried, but everything she’s said has helped me in tremendous ways. I believe she taught me how to receive both criticism and praise (the former with acceptance and openness, the latter with confidence and grace.) Up until the day I left my last job she was gently but firmly pushing me to continue exploring my eating habits and look at the places my eating disorder still hides out.
Since I’ve been at my new job I’ve gained some weight. Not a lot, but enough to be noticeable. It was weight I needed to gain back, as I’d lost it due to stress. I have found renewed joy in cooking and eating, and I’ve just sort of let go a little more. This morning, after breakfast, my mentor turned to me and said. “You seem like you’re doing really well. This was the first time I’ve ever eaten with you when I didn’t feel like you had an eating disorder.” I was kind of shocked and asked her to tell me what she meant. She said, “when I eat with girls who are still sick, there is just a presence at the table. The energy is on the food, not on the company or the conversation. It used to be like that with you, but it’s not anymore. This morning was the first time I’ve really, really enjoyed eating with you.”
I was completely floored. You know, I have ostensibly been in recovery for several years, with some rough patches. But I knew exactly what she meant. Even at my best I tend to have anxiety around eating, especially with other people. Only recently have I begun to eat like it’s just another function of my body, like breathing. This morning I think I hardly looked down at my plate once because I was so engaged in our conversation. I think I was so excited at one point (telling her about the book I’m writing) that I almost choked on a biscuit.
I feel sort of accomplished in a way that I wasn’t expecting. I trust this woman’s opinion and I value it highly. If she tells me she didn’t feel my ED hanging around this morning, then I believe it wasn’t there. And that is awesome.
Oh, P.S. She also told me her agent and publisher would be interested in my book whenever it’s finished.
TW for ED, body issues, etc.
I grew up in Florida and basically lived outside throughout my childhood. Weekends were always spent at the beach or the pool, or some combination of both, endlessly and for as long as I can remember. I had beach birthday parties every year, in January (which never struck me as odd until I moved to a colder climate.) Bathing suits were just a part of life.
I don’t remember the precise moment I started hating my body. I know it was just before or right around the time I went through puberty. I mean, I had always had some issues with food- I would either binge on sweets when I was happy or excited, or I’d totally avoid food when I was nervous. But I don’t think I consciously connected food to body image until right around puberty. Anyway, that was around the time when my ballet friends started talking about not eating dessert because it would make them fat, and when my father began to lecture me about how dancers were supposed to eat, and I guess I just started filing that all away in my brain.
At some point I made the decision that mine was not the sort of body that was meant to be seen in a bathing suit. I guess this was around 6th or 7th grade, but maybe before that. I made up my mind that I wasn’t going to subject the world to the particular horrors of my unclothed body. I started wearing large t-shirts over my bathing suits, or adding board shorts to cover what I believed to be totally unacceptable thighs. I coveted my friends’ summer clothes, the short shorts and tank tops of the girls I believed were allowed to wear such things. I wore jeans and three-quarter length blouses all summer, sweating furiously and telling everyone that this was just what I liked to wear. I still do, actually.
I don’t own a pair of shorts. Well, no, that’s a lie. I own two pairs of cheerleading shorts that I bought in college, thinking I might be brave. I have never worn them outside of my house, and I rarely wear them in my house because even I don’t like to look at myself in them. No matter how hot the day, I will always wear a cardigan over a tank top. I still believe my arms do not have permission to see the light of day. It makes me so sad, so incredibly lonely and sad, to see the summer fashions coming out at the end of spring. Fall and winter feel like a respite from the constant body shaming I do in my head because, after all, everyone’s covered up. In summer it’s harder to hide how much I hate my body, how fiercely and unmercifully I keep it covered.
Recently I’ve been pushing myself- well, forcing is a better word- to wear things I don’t feel comfortable in. I’m taking it slow, but I’m doing it. Last night I wore a little strapless sundress that I have only ever worn with tights. This time I went without tights, but I still wore a light cardigan. I spent the whole night self-conscious about my legs, but I did it anyway. My best friend rolled her eyes when I said I was uncomfortable. She told me I looked cute. She had no idea how I felt inside.
The past two afternoons have seen me at the pool in a bathing suit. Despite discomfort bordering on panic, I didn’t hide myself in a towel when I walked to the bathroom- twice. Baby steps. I guess I feel like recovery for me has to be about more than eating. I’m not an anorexic person anymore but I still have an anorexic brain- relentlessly perfectionistic, abusive, and fearful. I have to train my brain, like I would train some kind of wild animal, and stop letting it decide my life for me. It’s going to take a lot of work, but I’m ready.
when I wish I never ever had an eating disorder and never starved myself and never caused damage to my body that is still messing up my life today, years into recovery.
Of all the bullshit that I had to go through with my anorexia, this long-lasting medical complications mess is maybe the worst. Because I feel like I’ve earned a normal life now, you know? I’ve done all this agonizing work to get back to “normal” and even though all of the visible effects of my ED are gone (ie. I’m no longer skinny,) my body is not “normal.” I’m still paying for stupid mistakes that I made when I was out of my mind and didn’t know any better, and maybe I’ll still be paying forever. I don’t know.
I wish I could enjoy Pinterest without seeing thinspo everywhere. Pinterest has this weird complex- every other pin is a workout/diet plan or a damn cake recipe. It makes my head spin. There’s even thinspo in the “DIY and Crafts” tag. You know, I think I’m at a place in my recovery where I can handle seeing that shit, but it’s still unpleasant.
Trigger Warning for ED/Body Image issues
So, I just had my first appointment with a physical trainer. Before you give me the side-eye, let me explain. I just renewed my gym membership and as part of the package they include three sessions with a trainer. Last year when I signed up I basically decided to never use the free sessions (mostly because all of the trainers looked scary to me), but this time I thought it might be worth a try. I asked ahead of time which trainer would be most gentle/reasonable/non-psychotic, etc. I got set up with a woman named Sherry who was super nice and open to discussing my ED. I explained that I was not comfortable being weighed or having a weight goal, and that I work out no more than four or five days a week for no more than 45 mins to an hour at a time. She was really understanding and talked about how her daughter, a runner, struggled with ED too. I feel like I really lucked out getting assigned to her instead of one of the big thick-necked muscle-heads who I always see barking at their clients on the treadmill.
Anyway, I was really nervous going into the session and started having a lot of ED thoughts, like “she’s not going to believe that you were anorexic because of how fat you are now,” and “you are going to be so embarrassed because you’re terribly out of shape.” My wise mind knows that I am perfectly within my healthy weight range (like, right square in the middle of it) and I work out regularly, so I’m not out of shape really. But when the ED voice cranks up it is really convincing. I wore my usual gym clothes but threw on a hoodie too, so that the trainer wouldn’t see my enormous wobbly arms and judge me. I drank a lot of water and prayed that I wouldn’t embarrass myself.
We started on the treadmill and she said she just wanted to watch my heart rate for a while. I launched into all kinds of explanations about how I don’t do enough cardio and that’s why I’m a wimp. Well, after fifteen minutes of interval cardio (walking, jogging, uphill, etc.) what she actually said was “wow, you’ve got great endurance. How often are you working out?” My heart rate hadn’t gone out of my target range even once! She seemed genuine and said that most of her clients can’t do half as well as I did. I was totally surprised.
We moved on to arms, starting with a bench press machine, and she warned me that I probably wouldn’t be able to do more than one set of twelve reps at the weight that she’d put it on. She explained that she could barely do three sets at this weight, but the machine didn’t go any lower. Nervously I began my first set, praying I could at least finish it. I ended up doing three sets fairly easily and she said “look, you’re in really good shape already!” I couldn’t believe it. My arms were barely tired! Surprise #2.
Throughout the workout there were several more moments where I had to realize that my self perception and reality are still woefully far apart. As frustrating as this was, I left the session feeling kind of awesome about myself. I really appreciate when my ED voice gets put in its place. It is disturbing to recognize how foreign and how downright abusive an aspect of my own mind can be. At times like these, when I am confronted with reality and how incredibly different it is from what my ED tries to tell me, I find myself stepping back and asking the ED voice “who ARE you and where did you come from?” It finally starts to feel like a separate entity, totally disconnected from my true self, and totally unwelcome in my life. It’s like finally cleaning off a dirty mirror and seeing myself clearly again. Hard to explain, but really good.
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