Exploring Your ED Puzzle

This assignment comes from Costin’s chapter called It’s Not About The Food, which explains that there are underlying issues surrounding your eating disorder; things beyond wanting to lose weight are at play. 

Write about when you developed your eating disorder, or when you first started dieting.
Well, looking back I can see when I began to diet. It was after two of my closest friends pushed me out of their life for no logical reason. That was back in high school, 11th grade, and I really did not have many friends other than them. They went to a separate high school, so it wasn’t like I had to run into them all the time. I guess my insecurities really came up then, because I couldn’t understand why they would want me out of their life. I wanted to make myself desirable to others around me: I wanted guys to find me attractive, and I wanted girls to find me worthy of friendship. So, I began to do something anyone would if they wanted a change: dieting. I lost weight healthfully at first, but then things got out of control. The spiral downward was pretty gradual, so it is really difficult to pinpoint a time when I developed an eating disorder. I think it may have been dormant in my body for a while and it crept in bit by bit. 

What else was going on in your life either before or around that time?
Those things I mentioned above were pretty much all that was going on in my life at that time. Before, however, I can see I was always pretty insecure. My closest friends were all thinner than I was, and the boys liked them more than me. I craved attention and to be attractive, but it seemed that I could do nothing to help it. I couldn’t change my hair color, I couldn’t change that I had braces, I couldn’t change that I had a scar on my face. What I could change, however, was my weight. That was one thing that I could work on to work up to the beauty that my friends had. 

What are some things that you felt/feel that dieting or your eating disorder or even having an eating disorder gave/gives you?
Dieting and my eating disorder gave me control. Weight was something that I could focus all my attention on. it was something that people could be envious of me for. I got compliments saying how great I looked and the success was measurable. My hard, hard work was able to be gauged by the number on the scale and the size of my clothes. When things really got out of hand and I dropped into the double-digits, I secretly relished in my sick success. When I’d try on clothes and see that the smallest sizes were too big, I would dread seeing the sadness on my mother’s face, but I would remember how well I was doing at dieting. I guess it didn’t cross my mind that I was the size of a pre-pubescent girl. 

What problems or feelings did/does your eating disorder help you deal with or distract you from?
I was distracted from my pain of losing friends. I couldn’t afford to place my attention elsewhere or my diet would fail. I couldn’t lose control. I had become the girl who lost weight and looked great; I couldn’t lose that identity. I didn’t realize that even though I was becoming that person, I was not Erin anymore. Now, though, I get to use my eating disorder to distract myself from stressful situations. When things are hard to deal with, I know that I can stick to my safe foods and feel great about controlling my eating when everything else is so unpredictable. If I am having a bad day for self-esteem, I can eat “safely” and not have the stress and guilt over eating something unhealthy. 

How well does the eating disorder work to help you deal with or cope with underlying issues?
It doesn’t. To this day, I still dread seeing the girl who was the mastermind behind my downward spiral. I saw her not too long ago and broke down in tears, sobbing, and had to leave the store where I was. I thought that I was doing a great job of dealing with my stressors, but I was actually making things worse. 

Even if the eating disorder behaviors “work,” what price do you have to pay?
I lost my social life because of my eating disorder. I had to isolate because what if I was in a situation around food? I obviously would not be able to not eat, that would attract unwanted attention. But I also couldn’t eat because there would only be food that I didn’t allow myself and I’d want to eat everything. Then the remorse and guilt would be monumental. I would have to be in the gym for hours the next day to make up for it, and even that wouldn’t cut it. Another big thing I had to suffer through is watching my family suffer over not knowing what to do or how to help me. It was terrible and I hated myself for how I treated them; even though I didn’t want to watch them suffer, I couldn’t stop my irrational behaviors. 

What are you afraid will happen if you stop your eating disorder behaviors?
I feel that I will get fat. I am worried that I will no longer have that part of my identity. I am worried that I will no longer have something to succeed at. I am worried that if I give up my control on food, I will give up my control on every other aspect of my life. I am worried that people will stop caring about me. I just do not want to give up on anything.

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My Eating Disorder Thoughts

This assignment is to get me to talk back to my eating disorder thoughts from my healthy side. It is often much easier to think of how you would talk back to eating disordered thoughts if you imagined someone else as having them, so that is something this assignment asks.

My eating disorder self: Your body is different from other peoples’. If you have any bad food, you will gain weight from it and you’ll have to work super hard to get rid of that weight.
My healthy self: Why would I gain 2 pounds from eating a brownie that weighs nowhere near that much? That doesn’t make any sense. Also, my dietitian told me that if I eat healthfully on a normal basis that when I do eat junk food, my body will know that’s not normal and will be able to handle it.

My eating disorder self: You’ve been eating a lot more than usual lately, that means that you have to get more cardio in.
My healthy selfI do not want to feel compulsions to exercise. I really enjoy running and I don’t want my stupid eating disorder to take away the joy from it that I get.

My eating disorder self: So what if you loose weight right now? It’s the holiday season which means you’ll  probably put back on anything that you lose anyway. You could do for 5 fewer pounds.
My healthy self: (This one is really hard for me. It gets near impossible for me to not justify weight loss in preparation for imminent gain). Maybe I can just stop weighing myself around this time of year and see how that goes. If I keep up with physical activity on a normal basis and not overdo things with christmas cookies I should be fine.

My eating disorder self: Feel your thighs rubbing together as you walk? See your stomach bulging over when you sit?
My healthy self: You know I hate feeling and seeing those things and it’s rude to mention it. I can’t help that my stomach is not as flat as a bikini model’s or my thighs as thin as a runway model. In fact, most people I see have the same “problems” as me. Also, Javier likes me just the way I am.

 

Obviously, if I heard anyone saying these things I would be seriously alarmed and concerned for their well being. For me, it is strange being told to challenge these cognitions because they are so normal in my life. I do not remember the last time I was able to go a week without having a negative thought about my body or eating. I know it is not normal, but what is normal, anyway? Everyone is different and this is the way that my mind works. I do not really see these things as problems because I’m not starving myself like I used to and I am happy. Generally, I can count on having a good day; I have great friends, great parents and a wonderful boyfriend. What more could I need in life?

10 Phases of Recovery

Well, here’s writing assignment number 2:

In my book, The 8 Keys to Recovering from an Eating Disorder by Carolyn Costin, she lists 10 phases of recovery:

1) I don’t think I have a problem
2) I might have a problem but it’s not that bad
3) I have a problem but I don’t care
4) I want to change but I don’t know how and I’m scared
5) I tried to change but I couldn’t
6) I can stop some of the behaviors but not all of them
7) I can stop the behaviors, but not my thoughts
8) I am often free from behaviors and thoughts, but not all the time
9) I am free from behaviors and thoughts
10) I am recovered

This assignment asks me to look at these phases and determine which phase I am in. 

I would say that I am solidly in phase 6. I have eating disorder thoughts almost constantly and I do act on them from time to time. I feel as though I would be happier if I lost weight. I feel compulsions to exercise. I count calories without even thinking twice. I know that some meals I restrict. 

I get discouraged admitting to myself that I am in this stage because I have definitely slipped back considerably from a couple months ago. I believe that at my best, I was in phase 8. I feel as though I’ve failed myself, failed my treatment team, failed my family and failed my friends. Some days I think it’d be easier to just throw the towel in and fall into weight loss again. Weight loss is a safe, happy place for me. One of my biggest fears is gaining weight, and I know that if I am losing weight I am free from that worry. 

To keep going forward I have to remind myself of where I have come from. I came from a shell basically. I essentially had no contact with friends other than my mother. My daily happiness would begin with the number on my scale. After a momentary happiness from a consistent weight or a drop, I would feel as though even that weight was not low enough. I would battle guilt from whatever I ate; even if it was a “safe” food, I was eating too much of it. 

But then the eating disorder pops in my mind and reminds me of the better place where I’ve slipped from. I slipped from a carefree happiness where 90% of the time I didn’t worry about what I ate. I was happy and smiling and living on campus like a normal college student. Now I am sad and depressed most of the time, feel the need to cry a lot more than I should, get stressed out when things are out of my tight grip of control, and am ridden with anxiety at food or weight. I am not even living on campus anymore; I had to move home a couple weeks ago because I couldn’t deal with the stress I was going through. 

This is not where I want to be. 

I’m trying really hard to get back on track, but I feel that my intense desire to lose weight is like a huge concrete wall in front of me. I can’t go forward, but I can definitely turn back. Yes, it really scares me, but I hope that my support system can help me to break down that wall. 

 

8 Keys To Recovery From An Eating Disorder

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Last week, my dietitian and I watched a video by Carolyn Costin on her 8 keys to eating disorder recovery. I felt as though they really spoke to me and I loved that Costin herself is recovered from an eating disorder. I have been in the market for a recovery book but didn’t want one that was just the same as every other one that I’ve read in the past. I decided to give this one a shot. In each chapter there are writing assignments to help to book get across its message better. Because I’ve been running low on post inspiration, I decided to use the writing assignments as blog topics. I hope that by reading these you can get more insight into what goes through my mind.

 

My Worst Eating Disorder Day
It was last school year, fall semester. During my weight gain, I had to go to my doctor’s office for weekly weight checks. When I first got out of Remuda I insisted on looking at the scale. My treatment team and I decided that was not the best choice, and so I stopped looking. I knew that when I checked out, my weight was written on my sheet, so I would purposely fold it up super small so I wouldn’t have to see it. 

One day going in for a routine check up, I found out what my weight was. I can’t remember how it happened, if there was another nurse doing it who told me my weight, or if it was written on a paper I had to take with me, but I found out what my weight was and I was floored.

I knew that I was heavier than I liked but not that heavy. It took all the strength I could muster up to not break down in the doctor’s office. Once I stepped out the door and sat down in my car, the flood gates opened and the tears rolled down my cheeks. 

My appointment was scheduled so that I could get back on campus in time for class, but that never happened. I got into my room, shut and locked the door, curled into bed and wept. I don’t know how long I laid in bed but it must have been hours. The only thing I wanted more than to cry was to be thin again. I hated my body, but most days I could live with it. However, on that day I didn’t see any way that I could keep on recovering. 

At that point, I didn’t have many close friends. my roommate came back later in the day and knew something was wrong because I was still crying God knows how long after I got back. I didn’t want to go on with life as I knew it. Seclusion felt safe. What I wanted more than anything was to have the willpower to stop eating. But, living with my roommate and best friend didn’t allow for that to happen. She made me come to dinner, even though I’m sure I barely ate. She made me keep going. Yes, she did allow me to sit and cry, because it’s important to get that out of the way, but she reminded me of all that was better in life because of my recovery. 

I’m not going to sit and say that everything was better when I woke up the next day, but not having to go through that day alone probably saved me from relapse. 

That day also showed me, albeit much later on, that in order to be fully recovered I can’t be afraid of the scale. I can’t let stepping on the scale give me any sort of reaction. I’m nowhere near that point, but I know it’s where I need to be and that’s all that really matters at this point.

Recovery is going to be full of tough days like that one, but what matters is what you do with them. I don’t consider that day to be a slip up despite my restriction. I felt my reaction was normal to a traumatizing experience like the one I had. To a “normal” person, my reaction to stepping on the scale was not normal, but my reaction to extreme trauma was. 

What I’d like you to get out of this is that bad days will happen. They will range on the spectrum of suck-ass-ness, but what matters most is how you deal with them. If you seclude yourself and plan your relapse, you need to seek help. You need to make sure you talk to someone. Or at least be around someone who will care for you when you aren’t able to see the purpose in self-love. An eating disorder is NOT something that you can get over alone. 

The Best Way To Spread Holiday Cheer Is Singing Loud For All To Hear

The holiday season can be an especially terrifying time for someone with or recovering from an eating disorder. Cookies. Cake. Pie. Food. Food. Food. Even without eating the turkey the thought alone is enough to send one into a coma- or at least a pretty full-fledged anxiety attack. 

I’m not going to lie- I’m pretty worried about my mood levels for the holiday season. It doesn’t help that my birthday is three days after Thanksgiving, which means both pie and birthday cake in one week. I’m nervous. 

Most anxiety, I think, stems from the heightened difficulty of getting exercise in. It’s cold out so people don’t want to go outside. Gyms get really crowded. When family is off work and visiting, it seems rude to leave for two hours to go to the gym. 

But, there are alternatives. When it snows, simply going outside to play in the snow and build a snowman is some great cardio work. Shoveling the driveway is sure to get you sweating! Just going out for a walk around the neighborhood with your family is a nice way to spend lazy afternoons. 

It’s so easy to pump out advice like this to others. Completely rational, level-minded thoughts. But, it’s not so easy trying to convince yourself that it is enough when you’re living with an eating disorder. The thoughts in my mind that talk back to those statements are “well, you certainly don’t burn the same amount of calories making a snowman than being on the elliptical” “you’re eating more calories in the winter and you’re getting less exercise than usual” “you can tell other people that one month of unusual eating won’t kill them but you’re different; you’ll pile on the weight and go back to school looking disgusting.”

It’s terrible the thoughts that go through my mind at this season. There’s really no way for me to prevent them, but there are ways for me to quiet them and to tune them out. Keeping busy is the best thing for me. I need to have books to read (I have a recovery book on my shopping list, The 8 Keys to Eating Disorder Recovery), I need to have crafts to do, I need to have movies to watch, I need to have people to socialize with. 

One way that I love keeping busy is through volunteering at the mall with my local Kiwanis Club at their gift wrapping stand. No, I don’t need volunteer hours for school and no, I don’t get paid. It’s nice to do something selfless, especially at the holiday season. 

Another thing is going to yoga/pilates. A local yoga studio offers “community” lessons, alternating yoga and pilates each Sunday. The only fee is simply a donation to a charity of the studio’s choice. I hadn’t gone to yoga in a while and man, when I got back into the studio it’s amazing. Being in a dim room with incense burning does wonders for my nerves. When I am in there, my worries disappear for an hour.

Keeping social is key to my recovery, I believe. If I begin to recluse myself, it would be harder for people to realize how I am struggling and if I were to slip back into the weight loss spiral. Also, I fear that if I secluded myself, people would think that I didn’t want to be their friend any longer and not feel the need to speak up if they saw me exhibiting dangerous behaviors.

 

To wrap things up, the holidays are tough. They always will be, but the important thing to do is put yourself first. Speak up and reach out to people. Be smart. You don’t have to have every single christmas cookie in the house. It’s okay to turn one down. If having cookies would cause you too much anxiety, just simply say “thank you, they look delicious but I’ll have one later.” 

Put yourself first to stay happy, healthy and above all sane