Confessions of a Baby Vegan

Note: the gorgeous cover photo was found at Studio Codie Caissie. See it here

“Ew you sound like a vegan.”

“I’m vegan-phobic.”

“LOL if I were a vegan I would kill myself.”

– A sampling of quotes from friends and family

Three days ago, I decided to go vegan. I’m in horrible health, bingeing on sugar and fat, drinking in excess, not moving my body or sleeping or drinking enough. And I’ve been in horrible health for the last ten years as I’ve stepped through eating disorders with bingeing, starving and purging ebbing and flowing. At this point, I’m desperate to be healthy, and being vegan seems like a pretty surefire way to achieve that.

A quick note: I’m not just a ‘regular’ vegan, which would mean that I could be eating lots of processed vegan grains (white bread and rice), processed vegan food alternatives (vegan cheese, or soy protein burgers) and vegan snacks (potato chips, pretzels, Doritos, etc.) Nope– I’m avoiding processed foods as much as possible and sticking mostly to plants, nuts, seeds, legumes, and whole grains. Today I had a fruit smoothie with chia seeds, a squash-and-pecans concoction for lunch, stir fry with tofu and quinoa for dinner, and a sweet potato for dessert. Yum.

I could go on and on about why I’ve gone vegan, mostly in order to defend myself from those who would accuse me of doing it to lose weight (you’d be partially right) and those who would accuse me of zealotry (you’re wrong on that one, actually). But it might be more useful to provide a truncated list of the main reasons, so here they are:

  1. I don’t believe in eating animals. I’m more ambivalent about dairy and eggs, but I do feel that the way we keep dairy and egg animals is inhumane, and therefore I shouldn’t eat them.
  2. I don’t believe animal products are good for our bodies. People who eat plant-based diets live longer, healthier lives. Of course, lots of people at small amounts of fish and meats, and are also perfectly healthy when balanced with many plants. But it’s not healthy at all to eat them in amounts that we do, and then again, see point one.
  3. I’m desperate for a solution to my eating disorders. And if this could possibly be it, I’m willing to try it. No more counting, no more obsessing… just eating fully, of plant foods.
  4. It’s better for the planet to eat this way. I’ll be the first to admit I’ve been a little ambivalent about global warming (obviously it’s not a myth, I just suck at recycling). So if changing my diet is a way that I can make a serious impact on my environmental footprint, I owe it to the planet to do that.

Okay, so there are my main reasons. So here’s an abbreviated list of the things I’m worried about:

  • Going out to restaurants. Most places don’t have vegan options other than a salad, hold the cheese, chicken and ranch dressing.
  • Family and friends retribution and stigmatization. See quotes at top of the post.
  • Spending more on food. I know it’s a myth that being vegan has to be expensive, but I’m still concerned that buying more healthy veggies, nuts and legumes will add up in expense, compared to my typical eggs and oatmeal diet.
  • Not being able to eat my absolute favorite foods. I’m talking about my grandma’s cheesy lasagna, cream cheese frosting, and pizza. There are substitutions, and by being vegan, I’m not giving up these foods for life. I’m taking a flexible approach where, if once in a rare while, I truly feel like I’ll gain joy from eating a non-vegan food– maybe some cheesecake on my birthday– of course I’ll do it! As long as the balance is far more vegan, plant-based foods than not. I’m shooting for about 95%.

I’m into day three, and actually feeling really…. great. My energy levels are excellent, I’m feeling positive and comfortable with my food choices, and I’m not having cravings. Again, for simplicity, I’ll share a quick list of the positives that I’ve already experienced (after three days!)

  1. I’m not counting calories or food amounts. Like, at all. I can’t even describe how rare that is for me. Usually if I’m in that kind of place, I’m in one of my short periods of recovery from the eating disorders. Last time I had one was 4 years ago.
  2. My digestion is going really smoothly. Twice daily kind of smoothly. It’s great, considering I had IBS in high school and early college and usually would only go once a week.
  3. I’m not bingeing, nor am I having the urge to binge. When I’m hungry, I’m eating. Bananas, sweet potatoes, prunes, oatmeal, blueberries, peanut butter. Peanut butter! I’m eating it and not feeling guilty and depressed about it!
  4. My energy has been oddly stable.
  5. Because I’ve been eating only vegan foods, I’ve had to put a lot more effort into meal planning and cooking. I thought I would find it arduous, but I love it. I love cooking, I love getting home and chopping vegetables for half an hour. It’s so much more cleansing (literally, too) than watching an episode of Friends, plus I end up with a healthy dinner.

And some negatives….

  1. My skin is really broken out. But I’m certain it’s because of the wild bingeing that happened over the last two weeks. Something tells me that three days of being vegan wouldn’t cause me to have a massive breakout. Nope– that’s been in the making for some time, and it’s finally showing up.
  2. I’ve been a little extra gassy. Lots of lentils and beans.
  3. I’ve had to be a little bit evasive around friends, coworkers, and family. When I’m offered food with eggs, chicken or cheese, I have to decline, and usually that’s the end of it– but occasionally, I’ve been pushed and had to really defend my choice. It’s weird, actually… and I’m realizing that we need to be a lot more respectful of people’s food choices.
  4. I actually underate the last few days without trying to at all. After the days had ended, out of curiosity (not compulsion) I counted up the calories, and came in well below my daily maintenance amount. Today I’ve been more mindful of having snacks when I’m hungry so I don’t have a significant undereat.

Okay, that’s my quick and very parsed-out explanation of my vegan experience over the past couple of days. I’m very excited to continue doing this, and for the time being I am just taking things one day at a time. If this Saturday I have a piece of cheese, so be it. Whatever. But I’m thinking that my default might indeed become plant-based vegan, because this is feeling really, really good.

Food Mutilation: A Quick Note

I’ve heard my food habits called ‘cute’, ‘unusual’, ‘annoying’ and ‘obnoxious’. For the most part, I ignore these praises/accusations and continue in my ways, because that’s the only way I feasibly can. To be clear, here are the habits I’m talking about:

  • I can never eat a ‘whole’ piece of food. I always, always cut slivers off of a food item (be it chocolate, bread, cheese or a dried date), and leave partially-eaten remnants in the bag. Usually, I’ll return to my remnant throughout the day and finish it in the same way: in gradual slivers. Whenever I’m offered a piece of candy, I immediately cut it in half, to the dismay of the offerer.
  • I steal food. All the time. When I’m not caught, it’s not a problem. If someone leaves food out, or has something delectable in the fridge or pantry, I can’t control myself. Usually I justify it by saying, “I’m just so hungry, I can’t help it.” Obviously, I try to only steal in small amount so that it’s not noticeable.
  • I hide food. In my room, in secret parts of the kitchen, etc. Not so that people won’t take it, necessarily… more so that I won’t be tempted by it, or maybe that I will be. In any case, I receive the brunt of shock when someone finds my stash of hidden food under the sink, or in my underwear drawer.
  • I take food off of people’s plates. Sometimes without really asking. At restaurants. I’ve been yelled at copiously by friends and family, but I do it anyways. Especially when someone goes to the bathroom, I take the food off their plate. I usually get caught.

The pattern in all of these ‘habits’ is that I am, in one way or another, mutilating the food that I’m eating, or otherwise mutilating the process of eating and food sharing. With the food-breaking and half-eating, which folks tend to find more amusing than anything, I know that it’s a result of my anxiety around food. See, if I eat two halves of a cookie at separate times, it feels less nerve wracking than eating an entire cookie at once. It’s nonsensical. It’s also extremely common in people with eating disorders.

With the remaining habits of hiding and stealing, I think it’s more to do with the fact that I’m always starving. Even when I’m not starving, I am. I steal food most often when I am restricting below 1000 calories per day, and enter fits of ravenousness. When you’ve had no breakfast or lunch, it suddenly doesn’t matter whose stir fry is sitting on the stove. I’ll be there dangling noodles into my mouth furtively until you catch me and rat me out.

I’ve always known at some level that my disturbed food habits are all related to my ongoing and chronic eating disordered-ness, but have never fully acknowledged it this way. So I’m taking a moment to acknowledge it. I know a few folks who have “fully recovered”, who refuse to share food, who never eat in halves, and who never cut their food into unnecessarily small bits. It makes it even more clear to me that my funny, cute, troubling, annoying, and obnoxious food habits are a prolongation of the eating disorder. Oh well– I’ll go have another quarter of an Oreo now (my sixth quarter of the evening so far).

You Don’t Have Binge Eating Disorder (You’re Just a Pig)

Image from Revelist, link here.

This is what I tell myself whenever I am wondering how to qualify my episodes of bingeing. It’s narrow minded, internalized reductionism (aka, I feel that I have to tell myself that my experiences aren’t significant) and I don’t truly believe it. At least, I don’t believe it in an outward-facing way. When other people describe their binge eating disorder, I am immediately empathetic and want to validate their experience. Why can’t I do that for myself?

One of the problems that makes me doubtful is the fact that people use the word “binge” to colloquially reference an episode of over-eating. I must tell you, that is not what a binge is. A binge is an episode of extreme over-eating that occurs where a person feels that they have no control, are unable to stop, and feel intensely guilty and sad. A binge involves eating to the point of pain, or even vomiting. And binge eating disorder occurs when this happens on a regular basis. I think the current criteria are that a binge must occur at least weekly for the syndrome to be considered BED– unfortunately, for a lot of folks with BED, the episodes occur far more often.

Because people use the word binge so freely, and not always in reference to BED (binge eating disorder), I doubt myself. My friend says she ‘binged’ last night, had two bowls of spaghetti and a few cookies. But she seems carefree about it, and doesn’t do it regularly. Still, I worry that my own bingeing experience is just the same as hers– nothing to worry about, and certainly not an eating disorder.

I have to remind myself frequently that my experience is abnormal, that it disrupts my life and that therefore, I shouldn’t just brush over it as if it were nothing. I go through periods where I binge every single day, twice a day, and am in constant pain from the food. And I fear it– I feel a loss of control over the bingeing, and so during class, or at work, I’m dreading the return home where I have free access to food, because I know that my night will be spent eating against my will (in a sense). It’s a horrible experience that have persisted over the years, and that is a serious pain in my life. And yet I still discredit myself: There’s nothing really wrong with youYou’re just a fat pig with no willpower.

Folks with binge eating disorder are often discredited in general, because the syndrome is not viewed as being as “real” as anorexia, bulimia, or even EDNOS. BED people often hide their symptoms, and aren’t usually extremely thin, making the disorder almost invisible. So the question becomes this: how can we make BED a more visible, less stigmatized illness, such that people who suffer from it (myself included) feel that they can get help? How do we stop delegitimizing BED people’s symptoms as just being a lack of willpower? I find myself thinking about this a lot lately because I’ve experienced the whole range of eating disorder symptoms, and I’ve resultantly had different experiences with treatment. When I was ‘anorexic’ and extremely underweight, I received a lot of attention and immediate treatment due to the visibility of the illness. When I was bulimic and exercising for hours and hours a day, people noticed and started questioning me. But with BED, nobody sees, and so there is a lack of treatment that I feel I can access. It feels like a disorder that is particularly isolating.

It’s important to feel validated when you have any issue, but particularly with BED. I say this from my own experience of feeling particularly invalidated, and struggling with getting help as a result. Unfortunately, I can’t offer any immediate support to those of you reading who might also have BED, other than the account of my own experience. Hopefully, in reading this, and in reading the way that I’ve invalidated myself, someone might feel a bit less alone in their bingeing.

Anorexic Men: Where Feminists Fail

Just because only 1 in 10 people with eating disorders are men, doesn’t mean they should receive 10% of the treatment or attention.

  • Brief note: the cover photo is of an “art party” and probably has implications I’m not intending. But at the least it’s interesting. Photo Here

I was visiting a pro-anorexia website a while back (if you don’t know what that is, I don’t recommend looking it up) and I was struck by a pattern that I saw: a large minority of the posters on the site were men. Not just young men, either– there were a number of middle aged men who professed to have anorexia and other disorders. I was taken aback, since I had always known intellectually that men have eating disorders, but I don’t think it dawned on me just how many. It also hadn’t dawned on me that middle aged white men that looked like my uncle could be anorexic.

Most eating disorder spaces are for women, and there’s value in that. There aren’t many spaces that are for women only, and so where they appear, they can provide a unique space for women to be free from the (potential) threat of male influence. For example, no one would dispute the benefit of a female-only rape survivors’ group. But with eating disorders, the picture gets a bit fuzzier. In a world where support groups, both on- and off-line, treatment centers, and even pro-ana websites are comprised mostly of women, where do the men with eating disorders go?

*Mostly I’m talking about 1. men and 2. women and ignoring for a moment the fact that there are plenty of transgender and gender nonbinary people with eating disorders. The reason I’m ignoring this is because there is no research, no visibility, and and no recognition for nonbinary people at the moment, while there is a great deal more dialogue on men and women. So I suppose, when I’m talking about a lack of men in the space and a lack of inclusivity, I’m talking about anyone that is not a woman. Anyways…

At times I have seen the active exclusion of men from eating disorder spaces. There is a lot of stigma around eating disorders in general, and a great deal more for men– men are traditionally expected to be Large, to Eat Heartily, and to not care that much about their physical appearance. Eating disorders mostly contradict all of that, excluding for a moment the prevalence of muscle dysmorphia among men, which carries its own contradictory baggage. In the realm of traditional eating disorders, like anorexia and  bulimia, they are seen as feminine– small bodies, small portions, waifs and personal control. So where men have eating disorders, their masculinity is often in contrast with eating disordered ideals, thus inviting stigma.

I won’t lie– I haven’t paid much attention to men with eating disorders ever before. I suppose I always thought, “So what if men have them too? It’s mostly women that have the disorders, and it’s mostly women that are pressured into losing weight. So shouldn’t we mostly focus on women?” However, there is a glaring problem with this, which I realized, oddly enough, in my exploration of the pro-ana world. Far more men than we realize suffer from eating disorders– they are far less likely to get treatment, due to the stigma I mentioned above, reducing the numbers of apparent sufferers. But there are in fact many, and their suffering is no less significant due to their gender.

I’ve come to believe quite strongly that the exclusion of men, intentional and unintentional, from the world of eating disorders is a failure of feminism rather than a victory. In no way do I mean to suggest that women should receive less attention for their eating disorders– only that men should receive more. What’s happening is that the amount of attention eating disordered men are receiving currently is proportionate to the perceived number of men with eating disorders– but unfortunately, this logic is invalid. Just because only 1 in 10  people with eating disorders are men, doesn’t mean they should receive 10% of the treatment or attention.

And hey, maybe it’s just me that’s always neglected eating disordered men in my mind. But I doubt it, based on treatment rates, and the fact that in online spaces, men are often actively excluded. There is still value in female-only treatment spaces, no doubt, but that does not allow the rejection of men’s treatment needs, which is what seems to be the case. The same must be said, too, of transgender and gender nonbinary people, for whom there is almost no visibility at all. Feminist eating disordered people need to make concerted efforts to recognize the simple fact that all genders suffer from eating disorders, and although there are surely different precipitators for men, women, and everyone else, all are equally deserving of recognition.

 

To Pill or Not to Pill: Considering Antidepressants (Again)

First, a touch of background (though I’ve mentioned this in previous posts):

October 2015:  I started taking Zoloft in 2015 after a sustained period of depression and social anxiety (about 16 months) which culminated in a period of intense depression/anxiety, OCD, muscular ticks, trichotillomania, suicidality, self-harm, etc. Basically, a bunch of psychological diagnostic jargon that just means I have no healthy coping mechanisms. 

November 2016:  Anyways, the Zoloft really, really helped. I felt happy for the first time in a long time, and that was sustained for almost a year… until I stopped regularly taking my pills. After sporadically taking my pills for a month, I crashed, became extremely suicidal and didn’t leave my bed for 6 weeks.

January-September 2017:   After that, it wasn’t the same. I switched to Prozac, no help. Increased my Prozac to 40, 60, and finally 80mg, the maximum dosage, but still struggled with feeling chronically hopeless and fatigued.

September 2017:    In September of last year, I decided to stop taking antidepressants. They weren’t helping sufficiently, and I was afraid they were causing me to binge excessively. At that point, I was struggling deeply with my drinking, with my eating, and didn’t see any help in antidepressants. I weaned off over about 6 weeks, and took my last pill in early October.

October 2017:   I went through a month of withdrawals, mostly involving intense dizziness and faint spells, but that subsided. I figured I was fine.

November 2017:   Unfortunately, the depression began to creep back in. At first, it was in the form of mild withdrawal, sadness, feeling a bit darker than usual. By late November, I was once more unable to leave my bed, stopped eating and bathing, and withdrew completely from other people. Throughout November and December, I felt extremely irritable, sad, and I binge drank daily.

January 2018: I made a New Year’s resolution to get happy. I returned to school, and hoped I would feel better from a change of scenery. What actually happened (and what I should have predicted) was that I got worse, began skipping meals, and having visions once again of suicide.

So now, I’m left with a dilemma. After stopping antidepressants, I became depressed again. And it hasn’t lifted in almost three months now. It’s difficult to function, and even preparing food or changing my clothes feels like a mammoth task most of the time. I’m beginning to wonder if I should take antidepressants again.

When I stopped taking pills, I was overjoyed. I had felt under the grip of medication for so long, and I finally felt like I could control my own happiness, my own life. I don’t want to give that up.

Theoretically I could try therapy first, but I’ve gone through 5 therapists and had considerably negative experiences with that. Plus, I know for a fact that I don’t have the energy to take a bus out to the city to meet with a therapist that I’m afraid doesn’t like me. Theoretically, I should exercise more and eat healthier foods to feel better, but even that feels out of my grasp.

I’m stuck at an impasse, in my point of view, and while I wait to decide I continue to feel dark, sad and helpless. I think what I’m most afraid of, though, is not that I’ll lose an element of psychological freedom if I begin to take pills again… it’s that the medication might not help this time. And then I’ll really be stranded.

How to Not Hate a Drug Addict

I think it’s easy to hate drug addicts and alcoholics. Call me cold, but it’s true– ask anyone who’s dealt with an addicted family member. I’m blessed to not have any immediate family or friends that deal with addiction, and for myself, despite my difficulties, I wouldn’t call myself an addict. No, I’m talking about someone deeply and irrevocably addicted– in this case, to pain killers. Addicts will do many things, including many evil things, to get their fix. They use and abuse their loved ones. They choose their addiction over their families, and in a way, they don’t have a choice– they’re addicted. Obviously I’m generalizing but… not that much.

So, knowing that an addict can do horrible things to the people around them, but keeping in mind that they’re addicted, have a form of disease and need help, what do you do? How do you not hate a drug addict?

I have an extended family member who I am visiting today who is addicted to pain killers. She takes them daily and when she does, she gets high and calls her family to cry and ask them for money. She tries to commit suicide. She gets fired from her job for starting fights, when her family doesn’t have enough money to pay the bills. She is an addict that sacrifices the wellbeing of herself, her family, her children in order to continue being addicted. And I hate her, for the damage she has inflicted. From the outside, she seems selfish, stupid and self-destructive. But I know, intellectually, that it’s much more complicated than that. Still– how do I look past all that and forgive her?

I grew up going to church, and have instilled in me the “turn the other cheek” message, as well as that of ultimate forgiveness. I may not be a Catholic that goes to confession, but I do believe that forgiving others is crucial– somewhat for their benefit, but mostly for your own goodness. So I believe firmly that it’s my task to forgive her for her addiction, forgive her for all the abuse she has inflicted on those I love, and find a way to support her and feel compassion.

I’m just not sure how.

I’m holding a lot of grudges lately towards people that have caused me pain, and though I’ve never been a grudgeful person, I’m finding it surprisingly difficult to let go. But ultimately, I don’t want to die hating the people I love. So, during my visit today, which is sure to test the limits of my patience and sanity, here’s what I’ll be trying out:

  1. Keep reminding myself that this person was once a child with hopes, dreams, and purity of heart, and that that person is the same somewhere.
  2. Remind myself that we could die tomorrow, and that I don’t want to die hating this woman, nor do I want  her to hate me, if that’s the case.
  3. Remind myself that drug addiction and depression are powerful– I’ve very much experienced the latter and perhaps had a taste of the former, and I’ve experienced how it can change your temperament and make you unkind. And try to forgive her actions and words.

Wish us luck.

What to Do When You Realize You’re Growing Up to Be the Angry Woman on the Train

First and foremost, the reason for my lack of recent posts: I put overwhelming pressure on myself to make the posts some version of “perfect,” ever-knowing that a future employer could stumble across this blog and judge me (appropriately, maybe) on my writing skills and analytical ability. No more– that sort of pressure has totally deterred me from contributing to my own self-growth project, and has meant that the fee I paid for this domain is going to waste!

So from here on out, at least in my own mind, I want to make this blog an exploration for myself, and an exercise in self-reflection. I try to keep a journal, but find writing arduous, so maybe I’ll keep better tabs on my life in digital format.

I’ve also attempted to have each of my posts completely related to eating disorder recovery– insightful, critical, eloquent recovery. Unfortunately, I haven’t been working on recovery, and I’ll admit, I’ve been restricting, bingeing, the usual bit. And because of that, I’ve felt ashamed to write on my recovery blog. Well, I’m widening the focus here, and I’m going to write about whatever I feel like. And I’m going to do my best to ignore the daunting thought in my head, the question that asks, “Who gives a crap what you say about your life?”

So with that overly long introduction, I’ll jump into the topic that I’ve been mulling over for a number of weeks/months now, which is that I’m Growing Up to be an angry, wrinkled, sour woman. Exactly the type of person, in fact, that I always watched as a child and thought to myself, “God, I don’t ever want to be her.” You know who I’m talking about– in the checkout line at the grocery store, she rolls her eyes at the bagger, glares at the magazines, doesn’t smile back at the cashier. She has deep frown lines in her face and she wears years of disappointment on her back. Well, I’m not quite that bad, but I’ve begun to show some symptoms that reveal my progressions towards being The Sour Woman in the Grocery Store. The Sad Woman Sitting in Traffic. The Angry Woman on the Train.

I don’t smile at anyone, even my friends and loved ones, unless I’m drunk or high. And I gave up drinking and drugging two weeks ago, so really, I don’t smile at all. I notice that my natural face is frowning, that I slouch terribly, and that I’m just as bad as the New Yorker pedestrians who rudely bluster past everyone and everything. I don’t smile at the homeless people begging for money, not that I even ever did, but I should, dammit. I don’t look out the window when we cross the bridge on the subway. And I cry, a lot.

It would be nice if I could say that this hasn’t been a pattern, that I’m just depressed, that this will pass and that my “natural” state is a kind, generous, smiling young woman. But the evidence has proven otherwise. I’ve spent the better part of four years now fighting against this state of bitterness and sadness, and despite brief excursions into the world of Sunshine and Happiness, I’ve always ultimately returned here. I look at this pattern and, having studied analytical thinking, I come to the conclusion that there is a Trend. And that that Trend is my personality, solidifying with age.

I don’t like it.

I always dreamt of being a dreamer, hoped to be an optimist, and I have failed myself. In times past, I assumed that I could be happier if I wanted to, and I would, just not right now. I’ll start meditating next week, I’ll drink less coffee and feel more grateful, then I’ll be happier. But I’ve spent too long now being Unhappy, and I fear I’ve let the rope wear thin. I fear I’m now an Unhappy Person.

I see old people sometimes who are deeply bitter. 80-year-olds fighting with their spouses, lying in bed all day, maybe, and yelling at millenials. And suddenly, lately, I’m able to see myself in them in a way that is new to me. I can see my future as it currently stands, and the hopelessness of it troubles me.

I promised in the title of this post that I would provide “What to do’s,” and I won’t fall short on that promise. Only I can’t promise that my advice will be helpful, given that I’ve only ever practiced it on myself, once, and yet here we are. Knowing what you know, take my advice with a grain of salt.

  1. First, practice smiling when you’re alone. Even if you hate yourself for it a little bit. It’ll help counteract the frown lines.
  2. Always carry single bills and have them in your pocket when you ride the subway, and don’t wear mittens so that it’s easy to access them to give to beggars. (Is beggars politically correct?)
  3. Drink more water.
  4. Never yell at your mother.
  5. Pray. To God, to Allah, to Mother Nature, to your ancestors, or yourself. Whatever you can pray to, and don’t say that you’re atheistic and can’t because if we fail to experiment in thought beyond our individual minds, we are bottomless.
  6. Forgive yourself, just a little bit.
  7. Stop listening constantly to NPR and see how good you are at listening to silence.
  8. Tell yourself that you are significant, and believe it.
  9. But remember that you are insignificant, and that your life doesn’t matter above any others’.
  10. And finally, make a list of all the people who you hate the most, and tell yourself that you love them. At first your stomach will turn at the thought, but after a while it might not quease you so much. Hating people, more than almost anything else, is what turns us into Angry Train People.

Don’t try to lose weight on Christmas.

Pretty much every day of the year, magazines, news articles, Instagram accounts and diet commercials tout weight loss, the newest and best fad diet, the most effective surgery to flatten your belly. It’s so ubiquitous that it can become hard to notice.

It’s also so easy to lose track of how often you’re on a diet. After so many days, months, and years of counting calories, limiting sweets, and measuring yourself by the scale, we forget that trying to lose weight isn’t baseline. Actually, you can give up those behaviors, even if just for a little while.

Trying to lose weight during the holidays, on a birthday, or at any time when there’s a wonderful celebration filled with food and home cooking, is a terrible way to go. Not only because you will likely fail– try to give up Christmas cookies all week and by Saturday you might find yourself hovering over a plate and shoveling them into your mouth. The fact that weight loss is nearly impossible this time of year isn’t the only reason you should give up the struggle, at least for a while. It’s because life is about more than dieting.

It sounds simple, I know. But really, truly think about it. If you’re a lifelong dieter, or maybe even a person with an eating disorder (past or present) like me, take the time to consider it. Meditate on it. What’s more worth it– skipping your mother’s best Christmas turkey to save a couple hundred calories, or really slowing down and savoring food, appreciating your body and family, at least for a day? If you want, you can always go back to the diet after the holiday is over. That option isn’t going away (perhaps unfortunately). But for the time being, just consider it. Maybe try it. Give it up for one day. Allow yourself to experience a life that’s deeper, richer, and more beautiful than skipping two hundred calories can give you.

The best recovery cure: Cooking.

I was blessed to grow up in a home where home cooking was the standard. We ate together almost every night, and enjoyed my mom’s home-cooked food. Not that is was always wild or gourmet cuisine– sometimes just grilled chicken breast with rice and salad. But it was always fresh, hot, and made by someone I loved. Unsurprisingly then, I love cooking.

I started cooking when I was about 12, and I was horrible. I made pasta with raw garlic for my first dish, flavored with cold vinegar. My family (respectfully) choked it down. Almost ten years later, however, I’ve become pretty savvy in the kitchen. Tonight for dinner I made my family red lentil dal with eggplant and red chiles, using spices I seldom use like coriander and cumin seed. Planning it, hunting down the spices in the store, cooking it and eating it, was all part of a joyful (and somewhat challenging) process ending in a delicious, spicy meal. And while making this, I’ve come to realize this: that cooking may just be the best cure for an eating disorder.

 

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So many folks I’ve spoken with who are recovering from eating disorders say that learning to cook was their saving grace. I think I could say the same, to a large extent. Preparing a meal from start to finish, trying out new recipes and even new flavor profiles removes you from the calories, the counting, and the anxiety. Food becomes what it truly is about: flavor and nourishment and love.

If you don’t know how to cook, don’t worry — nobody knows how to cook in the beginning. Start small. Buy a new vegetable you haven’t eaten, and roast it in the oven with some salt. Throw a new herb into your morning eggs, instead of thinking about the calories in yolks and whites. Then, enjoy it. Really savor it. You just might find (like I have) that the ED thoughts are a little bit quieter, and your body feels a little bit better.

 

*The image above isn’t the dish I made, just one I pulled from the Internet from Food Network by Aarti (Check out her recipe here).  Mine was similar, though.

What to do when having a terrible day.

Cover image on WallpaperUp by Belle Deesse (See it here).

Earlier this week, I had a terrible, awful day. I wept because I didn’t have anything else to do. I was blindingly bored, physically exhausted, and highly irritable. There wasn’t any good reason– probably I had slept too long and watched too much TV, throwing me completely out of balance.

I hate to admit that I didn’t deal with it all that well. I kept on watching bad reality TV. I ate loads of junk food, and as soon as 5 o’clock rolled around I took the opportunity to start drinking. I avoided my family all night and was awful to my fiance. I stayed up until midnight.

Retrospectively, I feel (I hope) I have a much better idea for how to deal with a having just a terrible day. A day when your mood is in the gutter, you can’t get off the couch, it’s cold and raining and miserable. Here are my tips (which I intend to enact next time I feel bad, and every day).

  1. SHUT THE LAPTOP. Staring in to space is healthier than browsing the Internet when you’re in a bad state.
  2. Have a large glass of water. Then another. Having dehydration-inflicted brain fog can be half the problem. (Today I’ve had six glasses so far).
  3. Put on pants. Even leggings are fine– just get out of your pajamas by 10am.
  4. Wallow in it. Write some bad poetry, draw a bad picture, play a sad song. It’s okay to embrace feeling terrible, but only for a little while (not all day long, like I did) and as long as it’s in a healthy way (not drinking alcohol and refreshing your Facebook page).
  5. Finally, give yourself a break. For me, the worst part of feeling bad is the sense of underproductivity. When I’m already sad, frustrated, or fatigued, the sense that I need to work harder and achieve more buries me further in the hole. Sometimes I tell myself that I’m sick with the flu, therefore it’s okay that I’m not getting much done that day. Suddenly, I feel more forgiving of myself. Suddenly my laziness is self-care rather than self-indulgence, and by the end of the day I feel refreshed rather than miserable and guilty.

I tried out these tips today, and ended up feeling much, much better. I’ll be trying and revising these techniques, and I’ll have plenty of time now that I’m on winter break from school.

If you’re having a horrible, terrible day, just remember that it will pass. In the mean time, have a cup of tea and take a deep breath.