5 Years Recovered

Practice self-care, my friends; this post may be triggering to some.

Journal Entry on Recovery

When I wrote the above journal entry I had been in recovery for two years. It would be another two years and 8 months before I binged and purged for the last time. The road was long, grueling, messy, and confusing, but I made it, and today I celebrate five years recovered from an eating disorder that took 12 years of my life.

This old journal entry really captured my attention, because it sums up what was most challenging about my recovery process: sitting with the discomfort. Of course, at times, “discomfort” couldn’t begin to describe what I was feeling, the skin-crawling, nail-biting, heart-wrenching, head-pounding agony of living in my own skin after eating. I used to imagine digging my fingernails into the couch cushions, into the walls, into anything that would anchor me down and keep me out of the bathroom. There were times when I wanted to die, because it all seemed too painful to bear.

Looking back, it’s no surprise that I had trouble sitting with discomfort, with distress. Studies show that low levels of distress tolerance paired with high levels of urgency can predict bulimia nervosa (Anestis et al., 2007). The paradox of this life-threatening disease is that immediately following a binge/purge episode, bulimics experience a rapid drop in stress and other negative emotions along with a corresponding increase in positive emotions (Smyth et al., 2007). In other words, purging is an effective coping mechanism that makes sense… in the short-term. These reinforcing factors are part of what makes it so hard to beat.

And yet, it’s possible. I’m living proof.

This is not to say that my day-to-day is without struggle. A better marker than years for recovery would be the number of times I’ve felt physical discomfort or emotional pain and chosen to do something other than binge, purge, or restrict my food intake. What a number that would be! That’s how ‘five years recovered’ happens: sitting with one uncomfortable urge at a time.

Dr. G. Alan Marlatt, who was the director of the Addictive Behaviors Research Center at the University of Washington, called this practice “urge surfing,” and he used it with patients suffering from all kinds of addiction, from drugs, to sex, to food (Taitz, 2012). But you don’t need an addiction to use urge surfing; everyone can benefit from mindfully observing the rise and fall of a craving. We all struggle with urges that satisfy us in the short-term but might not be in line with our long-term goals. That makes us human.

Luckily, the intensity of my struggle has diminished with time and practice. I’ve gained a great deal of insight studying Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), mindfulness, and yoga. Each in their own way has helped me cultivate self-empathy and nonjudgmental awareness. I find when I’m able to slow down, notice what’s happening in the present moment, and accept the moment for what it is, I am free to create more beneficial patterns of thinking and behaving. And that is what recovery is all about.

So how do I plan on spending my big day? Well, I’ll start with my favorite yoga class, and I’ll probably end with a meal at my favorite New York City restaurant, Pure Food and Wine. A massage might be in order. More importantly, I’m dedicating this day to embracing each emotion as it comes, the good, the bad, and the not-conventionally-beautiful. Because if I can embrace those emotional waves and ride them with loving kindness, there’s nothing that can stop me.

5 Years of Recovery

References:

  • Anestis, M. D., Selby, E. A., Fink, E. L. and Joiner, T. E. (2007), The multifaceted role of distress tolerance in dysregulated eating behaviors. Int. J. Eat. Disord., 40: 718–726. doi: 10.1002/eat.20471
  • Smyth, J., Wonderlich, S., Heron, K., Sliwinski, M., Crosby, R., Mitchell, J., & Engel, S. (2007). Daily and momentary mood and stress are associated with binge eating and vomiting in bulimia nervosa patients in the natural environment. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 75 (4), 629-638 DOI: 10.1037/0022-006X.75.4.629
  • Taitz, J. L. (2012). End emotional eating: Using Dialectical Behavior Therapy skills to cope with difficult emotions and develop a healthy relationship to food. Oakland: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

I Believe

Image: Flickr Commons

Image: Flickr Commons

I believe that our society promotes the dangerous notion of aesthetic-based worth.

I believe that conventional “diets” are counterproductive to achieving and maintaining healthy weight.

I believe that you can make vast improvements in your physical and mental health with nutrition.

I believe that when you start making food choices that positively affect your brain and body, junk food automatically falls by the wayside.

I believe in crowding out less ideal foods with healthier, feel-good options rather than engaging in deprivation and punishment.

I believe in bio-individuality, that each person has unique dietary and lifestyle needs.

I believe that there’s no such thing as a bad food choice, only a good opportunity to examine how different foods make you feel.

I believe that deprivation backfires every time.

I believe that fat, carbs, and protein all serve their purpose and contribute to a healthy, balanced diet.

I believe that mindful eating is the missing link in the big picture of weight management.

I believe that mindful eating increases joy and satisfaction.

I believe you can achieve healthy weight through joyful living.

I believe that it is possible to overcome a dysfunctional relationship with food.

I believe that our bodies have a wisdom that outshines (and, if honed, can outperform) any cerebral conceptualization of “healthy diet.”

I believe that we all have the ability to tune in and listen to what our bodies are telling us.

I believe that learning about the health properties of specific ingredients can offer respite from dysfunctional eating.

I believe that the “war on obesity” should focus on changing the current U.S. food system, not on fat-shaming.

I believe in celebrating healthy body shapes that differ from the Hollywood ideal.

I believe that body acceptance is a radical act of feminism.

I believe that following your bliss takes guts.

I believe that loving your guts is where it all begins.

People magazine thinks your eating disorder is glamorous

adiranaIn November of 2011, People magazine featured a ‘Scoop’ segment entitled “Adriana Lima: My Lingerie Workout!” The full text is reproduced below:

To get toned for New York City’s Victoria’s Secret fashion show on Nov. 9 (it airs Nov. 29), Adriana Lima, 30, told the Daily Telegraph that three weeks before hitting the catwalk, she has “intense” workouts twice a day. Nine days before, she stops eating solids and gets by on protein shakes, and 12 hours before, she stops drinking liquids entirely. No, really, all that deprivation in the name of sexy sleepwear is “a dream come true for me,” says Lima. And after the show, that burger is on us.

Look, I enjoy a trashy magazine from time to time, but the above “story” is just a straight up advertisement for eating disorders. Imagine! If I just stopped eating solids, perhaps I, too, could make sleepwear “sexy,” be world-famous, pull in at least six figures, and achieve my “dream come true.” Not okay, People; not okay. A juice cleanse may be beneficial to one’s health from time to time but that is NOT what’s going on here.

I wrote my very first letter to the editor in response to this Scoop, and I’ve reproduced it here below. Though I never got a response from People, it felt empowering as hell to send. I hope it inspires you to speak your mind when something’s bothering you. Take your cue from the New York City MTA: “If you see something, say something.”

♦ ♦ ♦

Dear People,

You don’t know me, but you have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I grew up reading your magazine (my mom was a subscriber) and have enjoyed it to this day. However, I was incredibly disturbed to read the “Scoop” piece entitled “Adriana Lima: My Lingerie Workout!” featured in your November 22, 2011 issue. The blurb, while small, makes it painfully clear that eating disorders are both rewarded by society and promoted by the media as glamorous, enviable, and financially rewarding.

According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, in the U.S. “up to 24 million people of all ages and genders suffer from an eating disorder (anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder).” Among teenagers and college students alone, the prevalence of disordered eating is one in ten, with females accounting for 90 to 95 percent (Berg, 1999). Furthermore, research suggests that the prevalence of eating disorders is a growing threat. “The incidence of eating disorders has doubled since the 1960s and is increasing in younger age groups” (Daw, 2001, p. 1).

If People chooses to celebrate Adriana Lima’s dangerously restrictive diet, it most certainly has the right to do so. But at what point does your publication stop being a celebrity/human-interest publication and start becoming a beauty and fashion manual? Levine and Smolak (1996) found that among young women, the primary motivation for reading magazines was to gain knowledge of fashion, beauty and the like. When it comes to magazines, most young women are active consumers; they look to your publication for information on how to achieve societal standards of beauty (Tiggemann, 2003).

If People can be deemed a manual of sorts – a publication to which we look in part for current beauty, fashion, and attitude trends – then it has a responsibility to send healthy messages to its consumers. If a public reprimand of Lima’s pseudo-anorexic behavior seems too extreme, then I would have appreciated you not publish the piece at all. Your cheeky addition that “after the show, that burger is on us” simply makes light of an unhealthy and dangerous situation. I hope that Time Inc. will take advantage of the opportunity to rescind the lighthearted piece and make a public commitment to actively eradicating the prevalence of eating disorders worldwide.

Thank you for your time,

Kit

References:

Berg, F. M. (1999). An unhealthy obsession. In B. Leone (Ed.), Eating disorders: Contemporary issues companion (pp. 24-32). San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press.

Daw, J. (2001). Eating disorders on the rise. Monitor on Psychology, 32(9). Retrieved October 6, 2004 from http://www.apa.org/monitor/oct01/eating.html

Levine, M. P. & Smolak, L. (1996). Media as a context for the developmental psychopathology of eating disorders: Implications for research, prevention, and treatment. Mahway, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders. Retrieved November 13, 2011, from http://www.anad.org/get-information/about-eating-disorders/eating-disorders-statistics/

Tiggemann, M. (2003). Media exposure, body dissatisfaction and disordered eating: Television and magazines are not the same! European Eating Disorders Review, 11, 418-430.