Easier Said Than Done

I know that I’ve been incredibly positive, posting about my wins and making sure to tweet my gratitude daily…but I do have to admit that life after ED is not always rainbows and lollipops and warm puppy kisses. (Well, I do at least get to partake daily in the latter, but you catch my drift.)

  Kissing my puppy

I’ve been lucky to have had the whole summer to sit alone in my house and make peace with my disordered eating and my eating disorder; however, now that I’m back out in the world, forced to interact with real people and not just ancestral health podcasts and recovery blogs, I’m finding myself bombarded with disorder again. I don’t think people even realize how disordered their conversations are–even if they don’t actually have an eating disorder proper. But just because talking about calories and exercise and food and dieting is “normal,” doesn’t mean that it’s right.

I’ve really been struggling lately, because I’ve had no choice but to be back out in the world again, reading Facebook posts about feeling guilty for not exercising, in line at Starbucks listening to apologetic “I really shouldn’ts”, at work watching my friends check their Nike fuel, on Twitter reading HuffPost articles about calories out and super foods, in physical therapy at the gym watching women toil away on their treadmills, at rehearsal listening to my fellow actors worry about costumes feeling tighter than when we first tried them on…and it goes on.

On top of that, I often have to stop myself from even trying to explain my position on food and nutrition in public. People bristle when I try to explain that I’m eating low carb/high fat, or else they apologize for eating gluten/sugar in front of me (“I know it’s not healthy, but I can’t imagine life without it/but I only have one life to live and I don’t want to miss out on cake/but I know that saturated fat is bad for you, so I’m actually eating raw vegan on the weekends now and giving up soda every other Thursday…)

Maybe I’m just listening for it…but it seems like that’s all anyone knows how to talk about anymore.

Moreover, my physical therapist asked me to go back to the gym…to do cardio. At first I balked, but I eventually decided to compromise: I went back to do strength/rehab exercises. No cardio machines involved. I found myself finishing my workout quickly and then eyeing the cardio equipment, convinced that I hadn’t sweat enough yet. And I found myself trying to justify my desire to hop on the revolving stairs for an hour with the thought that my PT wanted me to do cardio. (Never mind the fact that he was talking about 30 minutes of non-impact exercise a few times a week.) But as soon as I neared the cardio section of the gym, I knew I had to stop myself.

Sometimes I think that going back to the gym period was as bad as asking an alcoholic to hang out at a bar. I could feel ED stirring.

Since I’ve spent the last two weeks at work and in rehearsal/in a show with barely a moment for breathing in between (especially since I got sick somewhere in there), I haven’t been able to work out at all. And even though I made it through the summer just fine, between the conversations about Thanksgiving calories and the reawakened gym rat in me, I’m struggling.

That being said, a little struggle is no reason to give up or give in. I’m just having to relearn how to be a part of this nutritionally backward culture, where we value the last box of Twinkies more than a life without diabetes or calorie counting.

  Save the Twinkie Political Cartoon

I’ve had to stop myself from getting involved in peoples’ conversations or offering my opinion. I’ve had to stop myself from getting upset when people start in on me about why they have to keep eating wheat or why they have to go to the gym for sixteen thousand more hours. I’ve had to stop myself from allowing other people’s disorders trigger my own.

I’ve realized that, just as I’ve resolved to meet myself where I am each day, I have to do the same for others.

I get it. Not everyone buys the “Paleo” thing. And I get that people are leery of going low carb and high fat. I get that hours on the stairmaster seems like a necessity. I get it, because I once was there. I get it, because I see and hear just how ingrained the message is. And just because I’m learning (and trying) to disavow that kind of thinking doesn’t mean that everyone else in the world is ready.

I accept that the world is full of disorder. I accept that I am responsible only for myself. I accept that I have to respect the body I’ve been given, and I have to honor my beliefs. And I believe that following a low carb/high fat Paleo diet is going to keep me from seeking ED in times of stress and vulnerability.

And just to explain: Paleo–or, rather, ancestral health, as I prefer to refer to it, since I’m more focused on just eating real food and not following a “diet”–is a lifestyle choice. It’s not a restrictive diet (can’t eat this or that, only so many calories, no cheating, etc.).* At the core of the Paleo movement is the belief that modern disease was born with the advent of agriculture, and that human beings are genetically better adapted to a pre-agricultural  hunter-gatherer diet. In overly simplified terms, going Paleo means not only cutting out all of the processed foods that have come to clutter our grocery store shelves, but also cutting out foods that the human body has difficulty processing for nutrients (or foods that actively poison the human body) like wheat, grains, legumes, and dairy.

  Paleo Cartoon Restrictive Eating

As soon as I wrote that, I could already hear you, my readership, flinching. Wait, you’re thinking, so you are cutting and restricting your food again? Looks like you’ve still got a lot of recovering to do

And to that, I counter:

I no longer think about the foods I can’t eat. I look forward, instead, to the foods I can. I eat meat, fish, eggs, fruit, and all the vegetables I want. And the best part is, Paleo really isn’t as simple as just cutting out foods and starving for “cheats” from the bakery section. In fact, that’s why I kind of shy away from the whole “Paleo” moniker, since it’s associated with certain limitations.

This past summer, while I’ve been trapped in my house, waiting to heal and go back to work, I’ve had the opportunity to do a little research about nutrition as well as the science behind food addiction and health. And the most important thing I’ve learned is that there is no one way of eating. The only “diet” you should follow is the one that works for you, and you alone. That means that if you can tolerate dairy, go for it. If nightshades make you sick, don’t eat them. If you were one of the lucky ones who developed the gene to produce more amylase** than your hunter-gatherer forefathers, have at those carbs and don’t look back.

And when you find the foods that work for you and cut back on the ones that don’t, you’ll start to free yourself from the ugly world of obsession and food addiction, calorie counting and processed foods.

Personally, because I’m not working out very hard (or moving very much at all), I’ve found that a low(er) carb approach works best for me. No, this isn’t Atkins, and I’m not going to die of a heart attack because I’m drinking heavy cream. I’m also not going low carb, low fat, and high protein, because that actually causes calorie restriction by necessity. I eat fat. A lot of it. Maybe not enough, but I’m not afraid of it anymore. And I often don’t measure my portions except with my eyes–nor do I worry about calorie counting.

And, while I’m not able to go out for a run, I’m in good “shape.” I am happy living in my body, because my body not only looks good and healthy, it feels good and healthy. And I’ve realized that’s even more important than the image in the mirror.

I have to just remember that what I’m doing is healthy, that I don’t need ED to be loved or respected, that a “perfect” body means I’ll have to live an imperfect life. I don’t need to binge on cereal for the same reasons that I don’t need to chain myself to the treadmill.

I will find balance. I will not look for excuses, and I will not give in to triggers.

It’s easier said than done, but just because something isn’t easy, doesn’t mean I can’t do it.

I’m going to keep my head up and do what’s right for me. Because I respect myself. I respect my values and beliefs. I respect this body I’ve been given. And it’s as simple as that.

- K.

*Although there are plenty of people who do it wrong, and it morphs into the same cycle of restriction and deprivation that leads to yo-yo dieting.

**An enzyme released in the mouth during the digestive process that helps break down starches.

5 thoughts on “Easier Said Than Done

  1. I’ve noticed that you keep mentioning going back to the gym/doing cardio as an obstacle to recovery, and I absolutely understand where you’re coming from. It’s difficult to change your mindset about food and exercise when you continue exercising at the same intensity that an eating disorder would dictate. But I was wondering if you think it’s possible, and if you have any suggestions for how to improve the food/exercise relationship without giving up the exercise.
    Because, you see, I am on my high school’s swim team, and I absolutely LOVE swimming. I wouldn’t stop swimming for the world. But I also feel as though its hiding and subtly reinforcing my disordered thinking. My train of thought goes: I swam for two hours, therefore it’s okay to eat a lot, it’s okay to have everything my nutritionist told me to have in a day. However, when the weekend comes, I feel lost. No practice=no workout, which means I haven’t burned as many calories, which means…I shouldn’t eat as much? I know this is absolutely not right, and I need to find a way to change this mindset while still doing what I love. Any suggestions?

    • I like to think of it as training my metabolism. It takes a while for your body to learn that it doesn’t have to hold onto calories out of fear that you’ll starve or exercise them away. Once your body learns that calories aren’t a “reward” for exercise, it will function more normally. Just know that it’s going to feel quite awful in the “now”, but it will make the future so much better.
      And a little proof from my own life: After 15 years of anorexia, exercising every day, I now eat roughly the same number of calories every day (I don’t count anymore, but some days I’m hungrier, some days I’m less hungry) even though I don’t work out every day. And you know what? My weight has stayed in the same 5 lb range for a year now. Some charts even say I’m still “underweight”, even though I eat a normal amount of calories, and probably only exercise 3 times/week.
      Just hold onto the “it gets better” mentality. It’s worth it.

    • Hey Jamie!

      Sorry it’s taken so long to reply–it’s been a hellish couple of weeks & I’m without a computer…

      What you’re going through is really rough–you’re doing something you love, but it’s helping you feed the mindset you hate. I am the same way about the gym…I love lifting weights, but as soon as I make it a habit, ED steps in and punishes me for not doing enough or missing a day, etc.

      I think it’s a matter if making choices. You can choose to completely end the behavior/action that’s causing you pain–probably not your first choice, and maybe not your best at this time, since you’re a part of your school sports teams. So then it’s a matter of the OTHER choices you can make. You can choose to give in and beat yourself up because ED tells you to, or you can choose to come home from practice without doing extra laps or working out more afterward and eat a reasonable amount of food and sit with that feeling of discomfort for a while. At first, it’s really going to suck. But, like with any addiction, you have to give it time. You have to consciously choose new behaviors and keep doing them until they finally become a habit.

      And, in some ways, you can think of ED like a child throwing a tantrum. The more you try to quit him down, what is he going to do? But if you ignore him, deal with the screaming and crying and general annoyance of it all…eventually he’s going to cry himself out and curl up in the corner sniffling. And he may never leave that corner, may never be fully over his tantrum–and may threaten to start up again as soon as he gets any sign that you’re paying him attention. But that’s something that you are strong enough to live with, something you are strong enough to fight through.

      Anyway, I hope this helps a little. It’s not easy, and there are no right answers that work for everybody…I’m still fighting to ignore the tantrum that ED started throwing again while I was in the theatre listening to the other actresses obsess about their weight during the time that I had given up from the gym in order to be in the show…but I’m letting him cry himself out, because I’d rather be able to enjoy eating my back. For breakfast than obsessing about not eating it…

      Much love to you & stay strong!
      K.

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