eating disorder recovery

I know I don’t talk about this a lot, but one of my inspirations for starting my blog was my journey and recovery through an eating disorder when I was a teenager. You can read about my story here on my blog, or you can check out an article of mine that was published recently in What’s Up Ocala and posted on their website here. Yay! I’ve been published! What’s Up Ocala is an amazing publication, and their website offers a variety of articles on health and wellness, local dining and entertainment, and trendy cultural topics. I’ve done a few different articles for the magazine, my most recent being on communication and social networking, which hasn’t posted quite yet. But writing the article about eatings disorders touched my heart most of all, because I decided to share an intimate and personal moment in my life with the rest of the world.

I’ve noticed lately that it’s not uncommon for many healthy living bloggers to have dabbled in the past with disordered eating. I want to applaud you all, because sharing your story is not an easy task. I didn’t really become open with my eating disorder recovery until recently, and I have almost 10 years of recovery under my belt. Why has it taken me so many years to open up about my eating disorder? I can’t pinpoint the reasons exactly but I can estimate it was a combination of shame, hatred of my ED, guilt, embarrassment, and fear of others passing judgement. But in the end, opening up and sharing proved to be beneficial; not only to myself but to others! I get emails, facebook messages, phone calls and personal comments on a regular basis from either young girls struggling with an ED or friends and family trying to relate to a loved one who is struggling. And I love it. I love helping people, or at least trying to help them understand that an ED is an illness and a very serious one. But it can be overcome. It takes a lot of hard work, patience and persistence to go down the road of eating disorder recovery, but it’s so worth it in the end. Food used to be my enemy. I hated food and I loathed every morsel I put into my mouth. But what a sad way to live a life, no? Now I love nourishing my body with wholesome and healthy foods, and cooking has obviously become quite a passion. Lucky me. :)

So, do I still have ED triggers in my day-to-day life, nearly 10 years after recovery? Well… yes and no. It’s hard to pinpoint an exact answer. As a 27-year-old woman, who’s metabolism is just starting to decline a bit (ha!), I still struggle maintaing my weight at times. I eat very healthy but my physical activity alters depending on how busy I am with work and school or most recently a knee joint condition that I have dealt with on and off since I was about 15. I try to stick with exercises that are easy on my joints, but sometimes that’s easier said than done. When my weight is higher than I’d like (which is actually true right now by a few pounds) I get in a mind set that I need to lose the weight to feel better about myself and fit into my clothes the way I’d like to. But, most adult women deal with this on a regular basis. The key difference is I don’t switch to an ED mindset. In my eating disorder everything was either black or white, good or bad. I had so many “bad foods” that I wouldn’t go near. And even if I was craving something I played mind tricks and purposely deprived myself. Nowadays I try to stay more in tune with my body and my mind, and listen to intuitive eating. If I’m trying to lose weight I cut back on sweets and alcohol and eat slightly smaller portions, while increasing my physical activity. This is the healthiest way for me to lose weight without resorting to ED behavior.

For weight loss, estimating daily calories is one of the best methods. That is why programs like Weight Watchers really do work. But first and foremost, I have to make sure I am still eating an adequate number of calories. In my experience with personal trainers and nutritionists, I was recommended around 1400 calories a day for weight loss. And this number was given to me for a reason. Just because a nutritionist tells me 1400 doesn’t mean I should chop that amount in half so I can lose the weight twice as fast. That would be depriving my body of the nutrients it needs. So if I am counting calories for weight loss I stick to a realistic number and I don’t allow myself to get obsessive about every teeny tiny calorie in every teeny tiny morsel of food, like I used to–because that is eating disorder behavior and it’s unhealthy. In fact, I don’t even write them down, I just get a ball park figure in my head and think… okay well I’m trying to lose a few pounds and I already had at least 1600 calories for the day so do I really need dessert? Probably not. I believe this is a healthy weight loss mindset.

Even if I’m on a weight loss plan I never ever EVER weigh myself more than once a week. It is simply RIDICULOUS to weigh yourself every day or even every other day. First of all, your body weight fluctuates on a daily basis depending on water content, the clothes you are wearing, how much sodium you had the previous day, whether or not you are on your menstrual cycle, and a variety of other reasons. Weight loss or weight gain cannot be accounted for accurately within a day or two day’s time. You are being cruel to yourself to weigh-in every day. Just sayin’… I don’t allow the number on the scale to make or break my day. I no longer punish myself if the number is higher than I’d like by depriving myself of food or overindulging in exercise. I simply keep my head up and remind myself that tomorrow is a new day.

With all of that said, the last issue I’d like to approach is a recent question I have been asked… Isn’t following a vegan diet similar to eating disorder behavior? Here is my take on this doozy. In simple terms, no. First of all, I don’t tell people I follow a vegan diet, I tell people I follow a plant-based diet. I allow small amounts of flexibility in my diet on occasion. Mostly so that I can show others that it’s easy to follow a plant-based diet and to avoid obsessive behaviors regarding food. It’s easy to avoid meat but it’s not always easy to avoid eggs and dairy. They can be quite sneaky at times. Since I was so obsessive in my ED disorder days, I’d like to avoid that at all costs. Avoiding obsessive behavior is key.

My reasons for following a plant-based diet are numerous, but none of them are related to my eating disorder. I avoid meat and dairy because my body feels better when I eat this way. I also believe a vegetarian and/or vegan diet is one of the kindest things we can do for our bodies and for the planet. I’ve loved animals since I was a wee little girl and the idea of eating animal flesh does not appeal to me at all anymore. But that is just what works for me. I do not consider my plant-based diet to be eating disorder behavior because I still get all of the nutrients and calories that my body needs to function. Also, I know that I am no longer a mental prisoner when it comes to food. When it comes down to it, an eating disorder is really about your mentality. When I order a veggie sub at the deli, I know it’s not because I’m scared of the calories or fat in cheese and meat. In fact, I’ll probably gobble up an apple slathered with peanut butter or a huge plate of avocado with lemon juice for a snack later. Mentally, I am no longer obsessive. I am realistic. I choose what to put into my body because I believe I am being as kind to my body as possible.

Eating disorder recovery is like getting corrective lenses. All of a sudden, you begin to see the world again. You appreciate the little things in life, that you used to take for granted. You learn to appreciate the enjoyment of cooking yourself a meal, piling food on your plate, and gobbling it up until you’re full. And then having a little bit of dessert, just because you can. I used to hate that word, “full”. But it’s one of life’s simple pleasures and there is no harm in indulging on occasion. Eating disorder recovery is a weight lifted off your shoulders. I can jump on and off the scale now and not have a heart attack when I go up and down a few pounds. They are just pounds… and small ones. Who really cares? If I am 5 pounds heavier will my friends or family love me less? Certainly not. The truth is, it really is the inside that counts. An eating disorder is a mental prison with no escape, but recovery can set you free. Once you taste freedom you won’t ever want to go back. At least, not for me :)

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