Last year I began focusing on my recovery and fighting to gain control over my life. The way I think of this is that I truly destroyed my foundation, everything I’ve ever known. Although I needed to do this in order to progress, it was a tough transition of my life. There were many times when I felt alone, when I felt overwhelmed by support, when I felt unworthy of happiness, when I felt damaged for experiencing mental instability, and very commonly when I wished to be normal. I’ve experienced a lot of loss through this process, at times my sanity, commonly my sense of self, and inevitably my relationships. I let down all of my walls and became my most vulnerable self. I fought battles that took me back a step and I fought battles that took me forward a few. I won’t summarize the progress I’ve felt in myself, but a few weeks ago, I decided that I was in a safe place to get involved in fitness again. Safe place. What does that even mean? When I was younger, I struggled with anorexia nervosa. I’ve posted about my most aggressive episode in a prior post I Am Not Hungry, but in this post I will focus on my current mindset. As I sit here and reflect on my week, I’m trying my best to shield myself from any old habits as I’m disappointed in my efforts. There were days that my mental health took a toll on me, but there were also days when I was lazy. I didn’t have a reason for eating carelessly or skipping my workout – I simply did not want to. To cope, I want to share some insight with my recent life change to shed light on information that may be helpful to others as well as a reminder to myself.
Typically, I obsess over my appearance (particularly my flaws) and ignore the beauty of being unique. I lift my shirt to judge my waist every time I enter a room with a mirror in my home. The thought process with my lingering eating disorder combined with a lack of self-compassion and love is: what I see gives me permission to eat or the motivation to starve or to binge, thinking one less meal would make a huge difference or one more meal would make no difference. A majority of the time I’ve mastered dismissing these thoughts by being mindful and recognizing that they are just cruel, they are temporary, that I know better than to let them get to me. Sometimes I laugh it off – I am imaginative and have created a jingle called Love Handles. Bouncing around in front of the mirror grabbing my sides, I sing “love handles over here, love handles over there, love handles everywhere, smack your derriere” as I turn and smack my butt. Sounds silly right? But it’s what I have to do to shake the nasty thoughts. Sometimes I can’t shake it off. I’ll scroll through social media, from one model to the next thinking that I would give anything to look like them, to feel that beauty, to feel comfortable in my skin. I’ll take a bite of my meal and toss the rest in the garbage, thinking of every bite as an additional roll of fat on my stomach. I’ll work myself to exhaustion in the gym and take weight loss supplements and energizers that enable me to do so. I know that bodies naturally fluctuate weight, but I’ll weigh myself daily and take blame for any increase. I’ll deny my hunger until the feeling disappears and track my calorie intake when I do eat so that I could shame myself. When I look in the mirror, I emphasize the fat I see (imagined or real) and make sure that I do not forget it. My brain is trained to believe that I must maintain a specific figure in order to feel accepted and valued.
As I try to build myself back up, I want to learn how to actually be healthy (something I’ve never been) and incorporate that into a lifestyle. I enlisted the help of an online personal trainer – she is phenomenal. Through experience, when I work out with a personal trainer, there are mental obstacles that get in the way. Personal trainers are devoted to helping you reach your fitness goals, so they are going to watch you, they are going to share their knowledge with you, and they are going to cheer you on. However, the only thing my mind focuses on is the fat that they are looking at, the judgments they are making of me, and how to move my body in ways that will minimize the unflattering angles of my body. I never get a worthy workout and when my form is corrected, I immediately shut down because the trainer takes away the only thing I have, the control over how my body is being perceived. They are making me bend in ways that scrunch my body fat, they are making me reach to heights that allow an inch of my stomach to show, they are watching me and I cannot handle it. Online personal training sounded perfect and it gives me the guidance that I need while allowing me to perform my workouts alone, at my own pace, and in my own comfort. It allows me to exercise control and will power because I am provided the plans and the accountability, but there are no appointments to attend, there are not eyes on me, there are no means of knowing whether what I tell her are true or not as to my progress. I am responsible for the results I obtain. I am going to the gym, I am pushing myself through my workouts, I am making decisions with foods, I am controlling my efforts and I am controlling my reactions. I am learning to push myself and I am learning to appreciate what my body allows me to do. I am learning a love for my body that I’ve never had.
Eating disorders have a lifetime recovery, as with all mental illnesses. There will be times when it feels more aggressive and times when it feels overcome – but it will never disappear. My trainer and I have been extremely cautious with our planning in order to avoid known triggers. I wanted to share my goal and experience thus far with anyone that struggles with eating disorders and obtaining a balanced health. My goal is to focus on my FEELINGS. It is extremely difficult to maintain this mindset but it is noticeably healthier. I want to feel good about the reflection I see, not the number on a scale. I want to feel good in my clothing, not a specific size or fitting into my favorite high school outfit. I want to feel good about the food I eat, not let my calorie intake rule my decisions. I will progressively get better with nutrition as I learn but when I grocery shop, I don’t refuse myself of foods that I want – I would never stick to it. I look at my options and I pick out the healthiest option for that food. I feed myself when I am hungry and I stop myself when I am full. Some of you are reading and thinking… oh, so you’re a normal human? Eating disorders have a level of control over your every decision that you have not been exposed to, and I’m happy that you’ve never experienced it. However, be mindful of the individuals that are. I am practicing a healthier relationship with foods and keeping in mind that I made healthier choices at the grocery store provides me comfort and prevents me from limiting myself. I am providing myself fuel when I need it and that is okay. I want to feel good when I move my body. This means not pushing myself past my limits and allowing myself rest without compromising my routine and goals.
My first recommendation is to acknowledge your triggers. For myself, numbers and photographs are straight poison! Though I acknowledge that with my current weight, picking a number of weight to lose wouldn’t be terrible – but for me, it leads me down an unhealthy path. Depending on that number, I will make future decisions on my food intake and workout schedule as punishment and corrective action to lower that number. Whenever I weigh myself and I am not making progress, I get downright nasty to myself. Picking a smaller size shirt or jean is also ruled by numbers and complicated by different measurements used by different brands. I could get excited that I fit into a size small shirt that I grew out of, but that pride could be wiped away instantly when a size small at the store is too tight for my comfort. Taking photographs for progress is another trigger of mine. As compulsive as I want to check my weight and measurements, I want to take photos to compare to prior photos I’ve taken, I want to see what others see in me. Already, I have a very critical lens when I judge myself, but if I notice no change or a change that I consider too small to celebrate, I will punish myself. Putting forth the goal to focus on the way I feel, I have been able to correct myself when I fall into old habits by reminding myself that I feel good. I feel better than I did last week. I feel better than I did last month. I remind myself of the good feelings I’ve felt and that even though it feels foreign to me, I am practicing healthy habits.
My second recommendation is to set boundaries with known triggers. I took initial weight and measurements, but aside from that, I’ve avoided weighing myself and picking up the measuring tape as best as I can. At times it is difficult. I’ve hidden my scale and measuring tape in my home, but that’s not where I spend all of my time. My friend bought a scale recently that tells you all the details I’d just love to obsess over – your body weight, percentage fat, bone mass, and body water. There are a few times the scale has lit up from a piece of clothing falling onto it or an accidental bump, just welcoming me with open arms to step upon it. It’s calling my name and all I can do is stare at it and remind myself of the negative impacts it will have on my mindset if I cave in. It takes a lot of will power in order to walk away. When I need to buy snacks or meals from the café at work, I try my best to hide the labels or occupy my mind so I do not remember any of the nutrition facts (primarily because I will focus solely on the fats and calories). If progress photos are your trigger, avoid them. If you cannot, set realistic timelines for noticeable change – my timeline is 3 months. While keeping in mind that health is something I want to commit to and prioritize, I want to allow myself time to adjust to this lifestyle and room for the slip ups in routine that will occur. Just think creatively of boundaries you can put into place to avoid your triggers the best that you can.
My third recommendation is to admit your slip-ups and move forward. It has only been a few weeks in my new routine, but I’ve already felt noticeably happier and healthier. I decided to put on the clothing I wore two years ago when I took my first ever progress pictures. I posed for a few images to reflect the poses in those pictures. I knew the possible repercussions of my actions, I knew that this could go well or terribly wrong. Thank goodness it went well. I noticed change, some physical, a lot mental. I looked healthier physically, but also vibrantly happy mentally. For the first time, I looked at the images and was motivated to continue – but not for my usual reasons, I was motivated to be better than myself. I didn’t think of other people, the models I see through social media, the thinner friends that I have – I thought of the difference I noticed physically and mentally in my before and after photographs and became eager. If this is how great I feel after only a few weeks, I can’t even imagine the happiness and strength I will feel months and years down the road. I’m unsure what sparked this me vs myself mindset, but in between my photos, I’ve reached my lowest point mentally and physically – but I am here, I am smiling, and I am visibly happier and healthier. It was a realization that I am capable of whatever I put my mind to, I deserve credit and I deserve the time and efforts I am putting into bettering myself. Despite the lucky outcome, I acknowledge that this could have triggered my eating disorder and am using it as a lesson moving forward. For those days that you feel lazy and know your potential is so much more or those meals that you eat and regret, forgive yourself and aim to make the following day better.
My final recommendation is to believe in yourself and your journey to create a better self. Every choice you make is a step towards your goals. Coming out of my depression rut, I’ve spent months coming home and laying on my couch until I fell asleep, ordering fast food delivery because I couldn’t take care of myself. That healthy choice I made for breakfast – even if I lived the remainder of my day the same as I used to, I am STILL doing better than I was. Recognize these steps you’re making and let yourself feel good. Don’t dwell on all of the things that you consider adverse to your goals. Perfection is not real, so never aim for it! Those old outfits in your closet that you keep as a goal to fit back into – throw them out! For myself, they only served as a reminder that I was failing until I fit into them again. At times, these goals are unrealistic. We need to set realistic goals with ourselves and if you need more encouragement to toss those loved items out – remember that styles change and your style will change too. Nothing like a new outfit to reward these good feelings you’ve been experiencing. Lastly, learn mindfulness and pay attention to how you feel as a result to your action or decision. It feels good to feel good, and you deserve every bit of it.