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.

Losing weight with BED?

Common wisdom says that it’s not possible to healthily lose weight (through restriction) when you have binge eating disorder (BED). Restriction triggers bingeing, pretty much without fail, for most bingers. Okay… so how do you lose weight with this eating disorder?

Folks have made many suggestions as to how to circumvent restriction to lose weight. Some claim that vegan diets will help you lose weight without restriction, or that a low-carb diet will do the trick. But in my experience, that never works. If you eat enough to not binge, you’re not losing weight, no matter whether or not you’re eating animal products, carbs, or what have you.

Of course, sheer willpower doesn’t do it, either. Believe me, I’ve tried simply digging my toes into the ground when the urge to binge arrives, and I always cave. The urge to binge is more like possession than it is just an “urge.” It’s overwhelming, overpowering, unbeatable.

So here’s one thing I’ve been able to do to lose weight without bingeing, with relative success. I restrict to lose a few pounds, and naturally, the urge to binge arrives. But I don’t keep any food in the house other than the minimum necessary to sustain myself, and I don’t keep any binge-worthy foods in the house. When you’re craving breads, sweets, cheese or carbs, but there aren’t any in the house, there’s not much you can do other than resist the desire. It works.

I’ll admit, once my roommate made herself a pot of pasta with tomato sauce (one of my favorites). I’d restricted pretty thoroughly all day, and was hungry. Well, I gorged myself on her pasta (to a limited extent — I wasn’t supposed to eat it, so I had to hide the gaps and hope she wouldn’t notice). But I ate a fair amount and derailed my diet for the day. It’s not a perfect method, and completely relies on the absence of foods. When you live with other people, that’s not always an option.

Until I find a different method for losing weight as a binge eater, this is what I’ll be sticking to. But I’ll keep looking out for a different approach.

 

*Note: losing weight in a restrictive fashion is questionable for any person who’s had an eating disorder, so I’m not really condoning my actions. But this is my experience right now, so I may as well share it.

Dieting is Better than Sex

It’s been quite a while since my last blog post, even though I promised myself I would write at least five times per week (yeah, right). In between finals, thesis-ing, living with roommates, taking care of my dogs and my 7th anniversary, I just haven’t had the energy.

I also haven’t been writing because my mind hasn’t been in a good place (hence the title). At least, I know technically that it isn’t in a good place, but truly it’s hard to see that given how great I feel. I’ll explain.

I keep making diet plans. 1100 calories, 1200 calories, 1500 calories per day, this much exercise, 200 pushups per week, 300 next week, no sugar, more water, more sleep, less sleep. Every time I write out a new diet plan, it’s like taking a hit of cocaine (I think). Few things make me feel more in control, more elated, more motivated than creating a plan. All of a sudden I’m no longer having to wallow in my miserable, helpless fatness, because I have a plan.

Let’s be clear; it’s not the dieting itself that feels great, it’s just planning the diet. When it comes to actually restricting (and bingeing and obsessing and spitting out food), suddenly things feel less playful. But it always comes back to the pleasure of planning the next weight-loss adventure. It’s thinking that FINALLY, this time is it. This time I’ll stick to my rigorous plan and lose the weight. It’s what makes “full recovery” so difficult, and it’s why I’ve been staying away from the computer.

Breaking: A White Girl Studies Anorexia

It’s a pattern that’s been pointed out countless times by even the most casual observer. A striking number of people with eating disorders go on to study eating disorders, become dietitians, or receive nutritional degrees. On the other hand, talk to a dietician and a surprising number will admit to an eating disordered history.

So what do I do about the fact that’s I’m joining those ranks? What do I do about the fact that I’m get another white, middle class woman with a history of eating disorders going into the field of research?

This year I’m writing a senior thesis about eating disorder recovery groups. It’s fascinating, bewildering, sometimes overwhelming. I find that after about 2 or 3 hours of data collection, I’ll start crying for no particular reason as the discussion of calorie restriction, weight recovery, and familial tension overwhelms my defenses. Mostly, I just feel excited to have the opportunity to research it, and scared at the task of having to write a 100 page essay. But sometimes, I feel guilty (or maybe anxious, or maybe I’m just wrestling with cognitive dissonance) that I’m studying what I am.

I really don’t have an answer for these questions. There aren’t enough eating disorders researchers as there are, and the psychological field as I see it has been narrow in scope. We need more people studying eating issues with nuanced perspectives and variations in interpretation. What do we do to get more people interested in the topic, especially if it seems that only past sufferers gain enough interest to pursue study?

Figuring out how to navigate a place where you’re just another of the common faces without being complicit in that is difficult. Clearly, this phenomenon (and yes, my participation in it) points to a need for a restructuring of the field of psychological research and more specifically eating disorders research.

How to be sad and not die (seriously).

People with eating disorders are often said to be unable to regulate their own emotions well. When any negative emotion arises (stress, anxiety, sadness, etc.) people with eating disorders immediately turn to negative coping skills like restriction, bingeing, drinking, or cutting, because of an inability to tolerate mental pain and a lack of appropriate coping skills.

Obviously, this isn’t true for everybody, but talk to a lot of folks with eating disorders and they’ll confirm that that’s accurate, at least to some degree. I can confirm, too. My inability to tolerate painful emotions is what has time and time again sent me into downward spirals of depression, self-loathing, and even suicidality.

SO, days, months, and years deep into eating disorder recovery, here’s my question: how do you cope with sadness without letting it (metaphorically or perhaps literally) kill you?

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This  morning I woke up on the wrong side of the bed. I felt sad, and it sucked. Here’s the thing, though, which might be a bit unusual. As soon as I felt sad, I began to feel the beginning of the “spiral.” I thought about self-harming. I thought about restricting. I thought about skipping my meetings and classes to lie in bed and cry all day, eating cookies and binge-drinking. My emotions escalated so fast that it was unbelievable, overwhelming, and frightening. And that’s how it always goes.

In the past, I would succumb to the negative thoughts and the harmful behaviors, because I truly did not know any better. Urge to self-harm… why not? Urge to binge because of emotional pain… well, I’d rather not, but what else do I do?

About 8 months ago now I took a meditation class which went on for several weeks. One of our exercises was to practice sitting with our emotions, whatever they may be, without taking action against them. It was horrible, and wonderful. Never before had I realized that being sad was OK. It was a transient state. It was painful, but I was not going to die.

Today I felt sad and thought about letting the pain spiral out of control like it usually does. Instead I made a plan:

  1. Drink some coffee, extra hot.
  2. Put on soft pants.
  3. Make the bed.
  4. Call mom.
  5. Listen to some music.
  6. Just be sad.

It worked.

Today I didn’t cut. I didn’t hit my head against the wall. I ate mostly regular meals. I didn’t go to the liquor store. And I didn’t let the self-loathing thoughts consume me.

For me, one of the most important parts of recovery has involved learning how to deal healthily with emotions, and the first step has been to learn that negative emotions are okay. They are normal. It seems like a ridiculously small step and quite obvious, but it’s taken practice, care, and a lot of strength to just sit with pain and not externalize it in any way.

So those of you struggling with self-harm or other ways of managing pain that are harmful, including disordered eating, try accepting the pain for just a moment. Then another moment. And another. See how long you can sit with it until you scratch the itch– and maybe next time, you won’t have to.

 

Love, Anna

Nefarious Fitspo: Thinspo in Disguise

Warning: I post pictures of thinspo and fitspo in this blog post. They may be triggering, but reading may be worth it.

Fitspo, fitspiration, fitness goals. If you’re reading this blog, it’s likely you’re the same kind of person who’s come across fitspo images, or at least that you’re aware of it.

I’m a fitspo addict, I’ll be the first to admit. Nothing is more ED behavior triggering as photoshopped images of super slim, muscled, pretty women posing next to vaguely threatening text. My fitspo place of choice has always been Pinterest. I’ve found that the fitspo presence on Instagram, Twitter, and tumblr is just not as thorough. 

It shouldn’t surprise you that I’m a frequent consumer of fitspo images. I mean, obviously– I have a long history of eating disorders! So, my following critique must be contextualized by my current, obsessive use of fitspo. It’s the definition of hypocrisy, I know. But hear me out.

Fitspo is thinly veiled thinspo. Thinspo itself is a thinly veiled celebration of sick and eating disordered bodies, used to inspire eating disordered people. Folks looking to simply lose weight aren’t usually the thinspo demographic, because thinspo leans much more extreme and tends to appeal only to ED-leaning people. Here’s why:

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Here’s a fairly typical example of a thinspo picture. The girl is emaciated. Here bones are showing. Lacking medical analysis, it’s still correct to assume that her BMI is below normal and that in one way or another, be it eating disorder or other ailment, she is not well. It’s the kind of image that would make a “normal” person cringe (and there are far worse examples, with some of the worst categorized under #bonespo (featuring, you guessed it, protruding bones). For a brain distorted by eating disordered thinking, however, such an ill body is often seen as desirable. In the depths of starvation, there were plenty of moments when I though that a body like the one above wasn’t thin enough. You get the point.

So what about fitspo? Clearly it’s not always as extreme as that. But, in my opinion, it is.

The same images are often classified under both thinspo and fitspo in the same post. Thinspo is popularly demonized by the media (and perhaps rightfully so), while fitspo is still quite accepted in the mainstream. Changing the label of your image, then, changes whether or not the body in it is an acceptable or unacceptable ideal. The images we see under thinspo we tend to recognize as unattainable and undesirable due to their sickliness (unless your brain is trapped in an eating disorder). But fitspo is different. Because they are labeled acceptable (who doesn’t support fitness? Fitness is good. Fitness is healthy), the bodies in the images, no matter how thin, are seen as attainable. This is dangerous.

Here’s one of the images I posted above:

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The catch probably rings familiar to anyone familiar with thinspo. “Nothing tastes as good as being skinny feels” is a universally known saying often implemented by eating disordered folks. But it’s okay if you’re talking about fitness, right?

The woman in the above image is thin. She has very little body fat. She is not an attainable body type for most women, and yet she is used as weight loss motivation for many. In this way, fitspo functions the same as thinspo: encouraging people to lose weight beyond the point of health or attainability for most. Images like these are often triggering just like thinspo pictures, only it’s harder to recognize how problematic these images are.

It’s easy to see how damaging fitspo is to eating disorder-prone individuals when you’re one such individual that uses fitspo. Websites have been pretty proactive in banning thinspo. If you search thinspo on Pinterest, 9 times out of 10 (why not always, I don’t know), your search results will be prefaced with a warning from the site and a prompt asking, “Do you need help with an eating disorder?” A search for fitspo won’t do the same. We need to openly recognize the harm in fitspo, not just for eating disorder prone people but for everyone. Fitspo doesn’t do anything different than what we typically see: it shows us bodies outside the attainable range and expects us to change. Maybe it’s time we put aside body inspiration themes altogether. Starting with me.

The “Revelation”: Do People Really Have Points of No Return?

We need more complex narratives about how people recover. The revelation version can be beautiful, but it is usually flawed, incomplete, and ignores real recovery. 

Maybe you’ve seen the commercial. A sunlit room, a man or woman sitting in a rocking chair looking peaceful. They look out the window and say something along these lines: “Here was where I had my turning point. I looked at my (son, wife, hands, the sky, etc.) and realized that I can’t go on like this. That is the day, the very moment, I decided I was going to recover.”

Sometimes the commercials take on a different tone, but convey the same message. A woman in a dark place, poorly lit, bemoaning that her life had dropped to a despairing low, and that there was one concrete moment (in her office, in her kitchen, on the subway) when she realized, “I will not live like this any longer. Today I begin recovery.”

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These commercials are usually for addiction recovery centers, with the message being that once you’ve made the decision to recovery, you can rely on such a center to aid you in your journey. More importantly, though, these commercials display the common trope that recovery often involves a critical and identifiable “turning point,” a moment of clarity, a cathartic moment of almost religious understanding. The Beginning.

So here’s my question: do people who recover from eating disorders also have a critical “turning point,” a “revelation,” that begins their recovery journey?

I often do see edfolks online mention that there was a specific moment when they decided to recover. For example, one girl once described that she was hospitalized for anorexia for a fourth time, and that she was lying in bed looking around the room when it dawned on her that she had no choice but to recover. From that point on, she describes, she pursued recovery and was able to leave the hospital for good. Clearly, it seems that points of revelation can happen for folks with eating disorders, much like folks who have other addictions.

So why does this question matter? The problem is, when there is a point of revelation, there is an implied catch: that the person who’s had their moment of pure catharsis is now on an upward trajectory in a permanent sense; that, after their one moment of revelation, they are forever on the pursuit of recovery, eventually achieving ‘remission.’ Most recovering EDfolks will immediately recognize the fallacy here. Recovering from an eating disorder is not linear. Even though there may seem to be a marked turning point, that doesn’t mean that recovery is guaranteed, consistent, or that the eating disorder won’t ever return in its full capacity. I know I’m talking about implication here, but it’s important: the meanings that sneak in along with the revelation narrative shape people’s beliefs about what recovery is, and what it should be. 

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Image located on Pinterest, unknown point of origin.

There’s an even bigger problem here. Telling the revelation story (in commercials, on popular ED blogs, or in movies about eating disorders) begins to reinforce the idea that in order for someone to begin recovery, there must be a point of revelation. This is troubling. Recovery does not always (and I would suggest rarely) begins with a finite point. It happens gradually out of a mixture of progress and failure. It happens with encouragement from friends and family (often), with personal struggle (always), and perhaps with prolonged consultation with professionals. Recovery begins out of starts and stops, trial and error, and this is an acceptable way to recover. Recovery isn’t only valid when it’s spurred by a point of revelation. 

Disclaimer time: there’s nothing inherently wrong with a revelation story. They can be inspiring, and many people do experience such a turning point. The issue I’m discussing, then, comes because people don’t usually tell alternatives to the revelation perspective. Folks with messier starts to recovery don’t as often publicize their stories, and it doesn’t make as nice of a commercial as a concrete start to recovery. This limits the possibilities for how people understand their own recovery, and troublingly, for how to go about beginning recovery.

It’s probably necessary for me to share how I got to thinking this way. I had what I believed at the time to be a true “point of revelation,” and so for a while I wholeheartedly bought into the idea that recovery from an eating disorder had a single point of initiation. It’s simple, but felt massive:

  • I was in New Hampshire, staying in a B&B with my parents. It was our annual summer vacation, and we’d decided to go away hiking in the mountains for two days.
  • I was not at my lowest weight at this point but I was close to it. In fact, I’d just gained a pound or two and was distressed by this, so my efforts to fight food were renewed. 
  • The entire day spent with my family had been characteristically fraught with fighting over food. We’d had lunch and dinner together, and I had spat food into napkins, cut it into tiny portions, endured agonized glares from my family members. By the end of the day I was exhausted. 
  • I was also stressed at this point because I had been seeing my dietician for two months, lying to her about what I was eating and muddling up the weigh-ins by drinking gallons of water before each one. She’d threatened me that if I didn’t try harder, she’d cancel our future appointments. I was panicked and guilty and resistant.
  • I was alone in a room in the B&B, lying in bed and hating myself wretchedly because I’d had five pieces of sushi for dinner instead of my allotted four. I was texting my then-boyfriend, now fiancé, telling the poor thing that I was suicidal and then avoiding his frantic calls. It was midnight. It was some version of hell, at the time.
  • I got out of bed and took off my shirt to put on my pajamas. I looked in the mirror and there arrived my Point of Revelation. I realized this.
    • I’m going to die one day, and I don’t want to spend another moment agonizing like this over being thin. I want to live.

That next morning I got up and ate a massive breakfast with minimal guilt. It was a true turning point, I believed.

But I soon discovered that despite my “miraculous” turning point, recovery was not so simple. I discovered that increasing my caloric intake to 800 calories daily wasn’t as big of an accomplishment as I first thought. I learned that gaining weight is painful when you’ve been starving. And, in the years following, I’ve had low points– so low as to count as full relapse, for many months at a time. I gained weight, I lost weight. My turning point wasn’t as magical as I had originally thought.

That’s why I’m questioning the notion of a turning point, or a miraculous revelation, to precipitate recovery. I thought I had one (it sure felt like it,) yet ever since then I’ve struggled deeply with eating and recurrent full-blown eating disorders. So what does it mean if a turning point “fails”?

We need more complex narratives about how people recover. The revelation version can be beautiful, but it is usually flawed, incomplete, and ignores real recovery. Of course, my opinion is biased by my experience, but I have a feeling that it’s a resonant tale for a lot of other recoverers who feel that their recovery isn’t accurately represented by the revelation stories we see in movies or commercials.

I’d be curious to see if anyone feels that they have truly had a full, complete recovery which was started by their revelation point. Someone who truly had a point of no return, where the eating disorder (or addiction, or another struggle) ceased to have power. Clearly there are different routes to recovery– does anyone have this seemingly magical, evasive experience to its fullest extent?

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Weight Loss in Recovery

Cover photo from Celebrate Creativity: See it here.

Is it possible to lose weight healthily during eating disorder recovery? Sometimes all I want to do is be able to lose a pound or two “normally.” To count calories regularly and moderate my portions without going overboard, counting obsessively all day and measuring every bite I take.

Weight loss during recovery (assuming you are at a healthy, sustainable weight and/or overweight) seems impossible. So much of what happens during recovery is acting out extremes. You can’t just lose one pound, it has to be ten. You can’t just exercise once a day, it has to be four times. Eating disorder behaviors are usually the extremes of normal behaviors, and anyone who’s struggled with them is probably familiar with the relentless pull to continue those behaviors.

That’s why I ask if “healthy” weight loss is even a possibility for a recovering/recovered ED person. Trying to lose weight is triggering for most recoverers most of the time and often spirals into relapse-type situations.

If it IS possible, then how? And, frighteningly, if it’s not possible to lose weight as someone with an eating disorder without it spiraling out of control, what do you do if weight loss would greatly improve your physical health?

Obviously, these questions are in and of themselves problematic. Recovering/recovered ED folks probably shouldn’t think about weight loss, but the reality is different, and it is twofold. One, the desire to be thinner is difficult to suppress, and the desire presents itself often. Two, there are times in life when we are told (by doctors, for example) that we need to lose weight to improve our health. What do we do then?

This is especially true for bingers. Part of recovering from BED (binge eating disorder), from bulimia, binge-purge anorexia, or EDNOS is understanding that weight doesn’t matter, and that attempting to lose weight exacerbates behaviors. But for lots of bingers, weight gain can be a problem in particular, to the point where it can lead to health issues (i.e. high blood pressure, joint inflammation, etc.)

That is why it’s necessary to ask this question. I won’t lie– part of me in this moment is only asking for ed-fueled and self-absorbed reasons, since I’m uncomfortable with the way my body looks. But primarily I’m asking because weight loss can sometimes be necessary. So if you’re a recoverer, are you stuck? Am I stuck? Will a pursuit of weight loss always, inevitably lead to relapse?

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Photo from the Odyssey online, Nov. 2016. Check out the article here.