Venturing into Fear Foods

Warning: I talk about specific foods and my personal eating habits here. If this will be triggering to you, please skip this one!

I had a little food incident a while back. I had a setback. Basically, after eating a meal which consisted of a bowl of brussels sprouts roasted with olive oil and spices, I felt more satiated than usual, which resulted in over-googling calorie contents of brussels sprouts. I began googling how brussels sprouts make you feel fuller than anything else. Because I had eaten what I thought was a virtuous dinner of brussels sprouts but somehow found myself feeling bloated and over-full, as if I had eaten three slices of pizza.

I still have trouble with that "full" feeling. And I couldn't stand it, and I wanted science to tell me why I was feeling the way I was rather than give in to the little voice in my head that was whispering "Jessie, don't you miss throwing up?". 

Well, I didn't throw up. I haven't made myself throw up for a very long time. But I still hear that voice sometimes. 

This exercise ultimately proved fruitful, though: not because I found scientific evidence that proved that brussels sprouts are some crazy food that tricks your body into feeling full, but because I found this article, which I thought had a lot of wisdom to impart. My favorite part? 

"You have to stop eating the same things every day.
You have to be brave and try meats, veggies, fruits, fats, and even spices with different nutritional and chemical makeups.
I know that giving up the safety of consistent foods or meals or timings can be overwhelming, if not downright scary as hell. But I guarantee that by compulsively eating (and eating and eating), you’re already in one kind of hell. What if it turns out the devil you know is worse than the devil you don’t?"

It was in reading this that I had to admit something to myself: I still really only eat "safe" foods.  

What the heck is a safe food, you ask? Well, for me, it's a food (or a food combination, or a particular way of eating a food) that doesn't trigger my eating disorder. While on the one hand it's good to stick with foods that won't cause you mental distress, it also kind of makes you no fun. It doesn't leave room for a lot of spontaneity, or variation in your diet. It makes going out to eat, or having someone else cook for you, etc, a very stressful thing. 

My safe foods are sneaky.

You might think that "safe" foods for someone in ED recovery would be things like lettuce, watermelon, and kale--low calorie foods. But for me, some of my safe foods are sneaky, because they are high calorie and give the impression that I am totally fine with foods of all sorts. For instance, I have no fear of peanut butter or cheese (common fear foods). But I am very specific about the amounts and the way in which I eat them, which kind of negates the whole point of variety in your diet. 

That is to say, I have a healthy variety of foods that I will eat, but I can be OCD about how I combine them. For instance, you'll never see me eating a peanut butter sandwich on the same day I eat pizza. You'll never see me eat oatmeal on the same day I eat macaroni and cheese. As for bagels? Sure, I'll eat one, but I have difficulty deciding what else is safe after that for the day. 

It's like living in a food purgatory: foods can transform from safe to unsafe at a moment's notice. It's a scary place to be while in recovery. 

With that in mind, I would try another experiment: working on fear foods, and on food variety. I would try to include more fear foods as "normal" options, and would eat something different at least one time a day. I wasn't going to worry too much about the timing of my meals (another issue) because it was already a lot, but maybe that can be the next thing I play with. 

Here, to keep it from being boring, I'm just going to focus on three days of the experiment (I did it for 10) and then round up my feelings at the end. 

Day 1: Carb-o-loading 

Breakfast 6:30 am: 

  • Sweet biscuit (sort of like a scone) with raisins.

Thoughts: I was scared of this biscuit. I broke it in half and that looked like a manageable size. I ate it and still wanted more. I was driving and just grabbed it and ate it to spite my eating disorder, vowing not to cut calories the rest of the day to "make up". 

Lunch 12:09pm:

  • A pear; 1/4 avocado; 1 tablespoon peanut butter 
  • diet coke 

Thoughts: I usually have an apple around this time, but I felt like I had to mix it up and a pear felt OK to me. I felt hungrier than just a pear and some peanut butter so I added the avocado, and it wasn't too scary. 


  • 12 ounce beer

Happy hour with a friend. I was hungry by this time so I feel like I drank it quickly. I didn't feel intoxicated (a little "happy" around the edges) but I was too scared to share an appetizer too. 


  • dinner roll 
  • small block of cheddar cheese 
  • 1/4 avocado 
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup peas 

Usually, my dinners are composed of fewer "elements". It felt like there was a lot going on, on my plate. I felt very full after this and felt like I needed to count calories twice. 

Day 2: Cake and other scary things 


  • 1 egg with vegetables and cheese
  • 4 baked plantain slices 

Thoughts: I've never eaten a combo like this for breakfast, so I was proud of myself. It felt good. 


  • fairly large slice of cake (1/8 a standard layer cake) and milk 

Thoughts: I often have cake for lunch on Friday, and the rule is that the slice can be however larger or small I want (it's like my thing). It was indeed friday, so this was not a variation from my habit, but I think it's kind of a fear food busting habit on its own, so I stuck with it. 


  • pomegranate arils
  • slice of cheese
  • glass of wine 

Thoughts: It's not unusual for me to have a glass of wine, but to have it the DAY AFTER I had another alcoholic beverage, and to pair it with a snack, was odd (I don't like combining food and drinks, yes, even though wine is supposed to pair with food). It felt like something so normal to do though, so I was proud of myself.


  • 1/2 hamburger, 1 cup brussels sprouts, piece cheese, 3 radishes, 1 thick slice homemade bread with butter 

Thoughts: This was a very unusual meal for me. I felt full after my dinner because usually I would only have a small slice of bread or forgo the cheese or had fewer elements to the meal. I felt like I had been fairly indulgent. But I forced myself to NOT count calories. I was proud of myself! 

Day 3: Still trying 


  • Slice of bread with 1 tablespoon peanut butter 

Thoughts: this is a standard breakfast for me. I kind of felt like I needed to stick with something safe because I felt like I had taken a lot of risks, food wise, the day before.


  • 1 medium pear
  • 3-4 pineapple chunks
  • handful of pomegranate arils
  • 1 tablespoon peanut butter 

Thoughts: Once again, usually around this time I would have an apple and peanut butter. I substituted the pear to have something different at least. I was hungrier than that though, so I added the pineapple and pomegranate, which helped.


  • 2 pretzel nuggets 

Thoughts: I know it's small, but I never snack, so this felt like a real victory. 


  • other half of the hamburger from yesterday
  • piece of cheese
  • 3/4 cup brussels sprouts
  • 2 radishes
  • 1/6 avocado
  • 5 pretzel nuggets 

Thoughts: I basically had the same dinner as last night. It was less scary this time, but the portion was overall smaller. I ate dinner really early (like 5:30) because that is when I wanted it. Part of me felt awful for that though. 

Day 4: Back to the comfort zone


  • Bread with peanut butter 

Thoughts: Even though I felt better about my dinner last night, I still felt scared after trying so many new things. This was a safe food that I needed at the time.


  • apple
  • 1/2 veggie sausage
  • cheese

Thoughts: Once again, this is a "safe" meal for me. I was annoyed that I hadn't challenged myself but I really felt like I wanted it. I didn't argue too much.


  • one carrot

Thoughts: once again, proud of myself for snacking! Even if it was small. 


  • 1/2 slice bread
  • cabbage salad
  • rest of veggie sausage
  • cheese
  • mushrooms

Thoughts: Once again, while the foods were little different, this was a very "safe" meal for me. Overall I was a little disappointed in my unwillingness to branch out today. 

OK, so I will spare you eating more of my daily diet and just tell you how things went. 

Overall observations

Throughout the course of this 10 day experiment, I observed several things. Here are some of them: 

I went very much in cycles. Basically, I would try a few new things, then get braver and try a few more. Then, inevitably, I'd have a "crash"--like on Day 4, listed above, where I basically went right back to my old ways of eating only safe foods. After a day of safe foods, however, I felt OK about trying new things again. 

Lunch was challenging for me. Usually, my go-to lunch is either a cookie or small treat and an apple. Most days, I enjoy something sweet at mid-day; I'd say 5 out of 7 days a week. I really crave something sweet every day. On the rare day when I don't, I eat a spoonful of peanut butter and an apple. I tried a number of different things for lunch instead this week. I ate less sweets overall through this project, but it wasn't about avoiding sugar, it was about getting out of the rut of always eating it at mid-day instead of a meal. 

I don't think I eat enough, in general. In looking over the tally of what I had eaten on each day, it sounds more like two meals' worth than three. Some people have apples and peanut butter as snacks; for me, I insist that it's a meal for some reason. 

I eat very much by the clock, and even if I am starving, if it's not an acceptable time to eat, I won't. This results in me feeling foggy and unproductive because I am not eating when my body is asking for it. The fear of breaking routine is very strong; I am proud of myself for trying out snacking, even if my attempts were very small. 

So, what did this do for me? 

So...was it a worthwhile experiment? 

Overall, yes. But it also made me see that I still have a lot of work to do in terms of recovery and mixing up my diet. 

For instance, I said above that I observed myself going through cycles: trying new things, then getting scared, and reigning it back in to a smaller sort of comfort zone. I think that is not such a terrible thing, especially if the cycle of trying new things expands each time, and the need for going back to the comfort of safe foods becomes less and less. Time will tell in that regard, though! 

It also made me realize that the actual variety of "safe" and "fear" foods isn't the only issue here. It's not just that I am eating the same things; it's that I have the same behaviors toward food. Like, I have to eat at certain times, with things in a certain array on my plate. Maybe as I advance in this challenging of fear foods, I will be better able to allow for flexibility in these regions, challenging my fear food behaviors.

I think it's good to challenge yourself like this every now and again, if only so that you don't become to stuck in a rut and complacent in your ways. Challenging yourself is a way to stay on track with recovery and not just settle for "recovered enough". 

What food behaviors would you like to challenge?


Can a Gratitude Practice Help Heal Your Eating Disorder?

In terms of my eating disorder recovery, I'm happy and proud to file myself under "mostly recovered". But "mostly recovered" doesn't mean "fully recovered". And I do believe in full recovery.

Don't get me wrong. I have no delusions that full recovery would mean that I am free from worry about food forever. Because honestly, even people who don't identify as disordered eaters get crazy about food sometimes. In a way, that is a relief. Being only normal-people crazy about food seems do-able to me. If it's ok to be sort of crazy about food sometimes, then I believe that I can fully recover.

"Full recovery" doesn't mean I will never have an ill thought about what I ate or never think about food as anything other than fuel again. For me, "full recovery" means living in a way that food doesn't dominate my thoughts and dictate how I act. But that having been said, I also consider full recovery a moving target. At a future point, I may need to redefine what recovery is. But for now, this feels good.

It also still feels like a goal. 

Reaching the aforementioned definition of full recovery still remains aspirational, because I still exhibit some troublesome food behavior. For example: 

  • I can only comfortably eat at certain times. For instance, breakfast has to be after 7am; lunch has to be after 12pm but before 2pm; dinner has to be after 6pm but before 8pm. I don't allow much flexibility with this, and on the days when meals don't coincide with these times, I feel a
  • In addition to safe times to eat, I also gravitate toward safe foods. While I am getting better about adding more variety into my diet, there's still a fairly limited pool of foods from which I eat, I'd say 80% of the time. 
  • I have difficulty with intuitive eating. Even with my safe foods, I still portion them in amounts that I think are appropriate or that I should eat, rather than listening to my body's cues about whether or not I want more or less.  
  • I still get stressed out eating with others, and very much prefer advance notice about when and the style of cuisine I will be sharing a meal with someone. 
  • I still have trouble combining certain foods. For instance, I can't eat pizza if I have eaten something else with cheese or bread on that day; there are more examples, but I won't bore you. 
  • I think about food a lot--when I will eat next, what I will eat, how much of it. More than I need to. 

None of these things individually are super major, and certainly not "get this disordered eater to the hospital"-worthy. But together, they form enough of an eating disorder noose that know I am still trapped. I'm smarter than the eating disorder, but at the moment, I still am a little trapped.

OK, so maybe this means I have entered the "fine tuning" portion of recovery. While I'm no longer exhibiting really worrisome behaviors with food, there's still important work to be done. And at this point, it's tricky work, and subtle.

There are tons of books out there for recovering from the more urgent stages of an eating disorder. Not so much written about later recovery. 

In an effort to figure out how to rid myself of some of those last vestiges of ED, I have become curious about the idea of cultivating a gratitude practice.

Honestly? I am hesitant to even say this because in spite of the fact that I teach yoga part of this seems hokey as get-out. But I decided to give it a try nonetheless, because what could it hurt, right?

So I tried a gratitude practice. Here's what I did. 

I wanted to make it easy, so that I could maintain it and not burn out. Basically, each day for five days, I took 5 minutes to write about what I am grateful for. Here's how it went.

Day 1: 

I am grateful for my two pugs. They joined my life in 2009, and now I cannot imagine my life without them. In many ways they could have the potential to annoy me or make me feel bogged down: I have to carry them down stairs, lift them on the sofa, and when I travel I have to drive so I can take them. But I don't feel bogged down, because when they look at me their eyes sparkle with true love.

I am thankful for the friends I have made in Asheville. Last night we had a yoga meet-up in the park by my house and while we didn't do much yoga, there was so much love in the circle within which we set up our yoga mats. I made cake. When we had kicked it, we came back to my house. I have never had so many people in my house. It made it feel real and happy because of their presence. It was a classic evening, and though I forgot until after people left, it was the first day of summer. I remembered that there was some crazy moon, so even though I was in bed I got out and went outside so I could say I saw the crazy moon. I saw it through the trees, and it shone brighter than any moon I remember. I went back to bed happy. 

Observations, Day 1:

I found it easy to get going but after writing the above I realized I still had a full minute left, so I thought about thinks I was grateful for for the rest of the time. But I was stressed about maximizing that last minute. I also felt doubts coming in with some of the last grateful things, like when I thought "I'm grateful for my sweet boyfriend" the thought boomerang-ed back: "but where is he right now". 

Day 2: 

I am thankful for Ashtanga yoga. I love my two teachers, and I love how I am getting stronger. When I first started doing Ashtanga the idea of lifting myself or jumping through or back seemed like things for other people. They're still not effortless for me but I can see how one day I could do all of these things. 

I'm thankful that I am getting more confident in headstand, I still can't do it away from the wall but I can do it next to the wall without touching it. It's just that the wall needs to be there so I feel safe. 

I'm happy that my friend  has started coming regularly to yoga with me, because I know that she is getting strong too. 

I'm so happy to have my two sweet tender pugs. Just looking at them sleep and watching them breathe-snore makes my heart grow ten times like the grinch. Just looking at them. Sometimes I bury my face in their necks and smell their little puggy smell, which is not necessarily sweet--it's a very dog smell--but it is sweet to me. Stinky tender loving pugs. 

I'm happy to live in such a beautiful place. 

I'm thankful that I have regular work and resolve to keep doing the best I can so that I can keep doing this kind of work. 

I'm happy that it is sultry summer. Summer in the south, it is my dream. HUMIDITY FOR LIIIFE.

Observations, Day 2:

I got a little critical while saying what I was thankful about, like when I said I was getting stronger part of me was saying "yeah but you can't do it yet". Later on my mind went to when my pugs die, and then when I wrote about work I worried that maybe I was jinxing myself and my brow furrow got deep. 

I need to be able to be thankful for things without conditions! 

Day 3:

I am thankful for my thighs. They are strong. 

I am thankful for my pugs. They are both snoring on either side of me as I write. Their presence gives me joy. Adding them to my life is one of the best decisions I have ever made.

I am thankful that I am not in Santa Fe at this instant.

I am thankful that I have had so many experiences in my life, and that I have had the opportunity to see the things I have. 

I am thankful that I finally got to see Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. It was pretty good, if not life changing. As usual I saw it years after everyone.

I am thankful that I am learning how to eat savory food for lunch. For many years, all I have had for lunch is a cookie and an apple. I am learning to actually eat food, which tends to make me feel more energized than a snack. 

I am thankful that I am learning to listen to my body's cues about food. I have been surprised to learn that I really crave fat, and sometimes I need fat and no carbohydrates. I don't think I am restricting, it's more a realization that sometimes the carbohydrates make me feel heavy and seem to sap me of my energy rather than give me energy. On the flip side, I am also learning to listen to my instincts when I have the "I need pizza" Feeling.

I am thankful that I have a new book deal. I am thankful that I have been trusted with this responsibility. 

I am thankful that my blogging work has taken off and I am getting additional assignment from one company that hired me. 

I am thankful that I have a new apartment. 

Observations, Day 3:

What would have been my 9th wedding anniversary is coming up, and I am encapsulated this week by a sense of self doubt. It makes it harder to think these gratitude things and think I really deserve them. I needed to say thank you for my thighs because I was tempted to think that they are fat and that I have too much cellulite. 

Day 4:

I am thankful for my pugs. I am thankful that sometimes when I sit with my legs crossed, one or the other or both will put their delicate little chins on my leg, using it as a rest. That level of trust and sweet love is hard to even absorb. It fills my heart with pure, true love. It makes me feel like they see something good in me. There's something to those cheesy sayings like "be the person your dog thinks you are". 

I am thankful that my sweetheart is such a good man. 

I'm thankful that I am in Asheville.

I am thankful that my sister is happy. Through her cancer experience, I know that all of her friends coming together has meant something true and deep to her. I am thankful that she is able to see that. 

I'm thankful that I have friends all over the world. Yesterday an Asheville friend was passing through St Louis on her road trip and I had this idea that she could hand deliver a little gift to my dear friend from Seattle who lives there now. Then I had the idea to include a note to another friend, too. Jenna delivered both and everyone's day became brighter. This made me feel connected to what makes me feel best: delight, a little mischief, and sweetness. 

I am thankful that I have started opening my heart more. 

I'm thankful that I have the ability to be attractive to others, and to be attracted to others. 

Observations, Day 4:

Today the time of gratitude went by very fast. I wonder if it has something to do with the fact that I had a great night last night with friends. My heart feels full. 

Day 5:

I am thankful that I have a sense of humor.

I am thankful that I have a friend like the one in Asheville who said the words "do you want to talk about it?" to me yesterday. I needed that so freaking bad at that moment.

I am thankful that I got to go in a "swim-hole" yesterday. It felt very classic and very summer. 

I am thankful that I am no longer 19. 

I am thankful for my pugs. I am so thankful that I turn on the air conditioning for them even though I personally hate it! 

Back to the pugs. Porkchop and Olive's faces. And when they adjust to cuddle deeper into me while we sit together. True love. 

I am thankful that I don't have to look at my bank statement before I go grocery shopping. I can pretty much buy what I want without worry. 

I am thankful that I have a great book deal.

I am thankful that I have a new apartment.

I am thankful that I live in Asheville.

I am thankful for my friends. I am thankful for my friends. I am thankful for my friends. I am thankful for my friends. For not only accepting but celebrating me. 

I am thankful that people think of me whenever they see something unicorn themed. 

I am thankful that my arms are getting stronger.

I am thankful for seltzer water. I am thankful for coffee. 

I am thankful that I am now able to identify anger and frustration. I am thankful that I am learning to identify my feelings and emotions.

I am thankful that I am seeing the connection with how I feel and how I eat. 

I am thankful that Greenlife is so close to where I live.

I am thankful that I can go to New Jersey this week if I choose. 

I am thankful that I am healthy.

I am thankful that my hair is long.

I am thankful that I win at yoga almost every time, there, I said it.

Observations, Day 5:

I felt almost angry while writing today's gratitude listing. I felt with many of them that I had to reframe them simply because the initial thought was negative. Like, for instance, I thought "I hate this person". And I had to transform that into "I am thankful that I am now able to identify anger and frustration. I am thankful that I am learning to identify my feelings and emotions.". And then I thought "I am fat" and then I transformed it to "I am thankful that my arms are getting stronger". 

I don't get my period regularly, but I just did, and it seems hard to be thankful because I hate getting my period. It hurts, it makes me angry, and because having a baby is on my mind it seems like a slap in the face like that is never going to happen. It's hard to resist the evil pull of negative thoughts telling me "it's never going to happen, not for you, Jessie." But interesting, I think that there was power in that reframing. 

Final Observations: 

I think that there is something to this gratitude practice. It was particularly interesting to do the "reframing" bit because I really felt like I "got" one of the things that is talked about a lot in recovery books and in therapy--reframing your thinking. It's talked about, but I feel like I kind of accidentally put it to work in a way I could really understand, and that this exercise allowed me the chance to do that. That part felt like a breakthrough.

Also, it was interesting to observe that while I repeat some of the things I am thankful for frequently in the exercise, each time I felt thankful anew for them. Like, I talk a lot about my pugs, and I'm sure that part of that is that they usually sit with me while I write. But each time I felt my heart swell with love for them while I wrote. And it felt sweet and good and pure.

Maybe the things and people and creatures that we love can act as a limitless well of love for us, if we keep letting them.

Like a daily meditation practice, I think that this is a great exercise and worthwhile, but really easy to forget about or let fall to the wayside. I would like to make a goal to do this at least a couple of times a week, because I really think that I could start seeing serious results on those last vestiges of the eating disorder. 

Have you ever tried a gratitude practice?


The Opposite of Addiction is Connection.

So, there's this great TED Talk. (How often have you heard that lately? It seems almost Portlandia-like, how often I hear this). 

But joking aside, there is this great TED talk. My friend told me about it. The subject of the talk is addiction, and while the "addicts" in question are drug addicts in recovery, I found that a lot of what the speaker had to say held true for food addictions (and eating disorder recovery), too. 

The big takeaway--and the thing that my friend told me about the talk that drew me in--was this single sentence: 

The opposite of addiction is not sobriety. It is connection. 

The opposite of an eating disorder is not recovery from disordered eating behavior. True recovery is connection.

How many of you in eating disorder recovery have found that after you ditched the behaviors with food, far from becoming better, your life just became massively empty, with the days seeming to have too many hours?

Me! Me! 

While it is tempting to blame depression, I really don't think it was that. I think that part of the hard part of recovery was realizing how much of who I was had been wrapped up in the eating disorder. Like parents who don't know what to do with themselves after the children have moved out and gone to college, I was lost without my eating disorder.

Because of my eating disorder, I had never really established a strong social life or a core group of friends that I hung out with on a regular basis. I couldn't; I was too busy having my eating disorder. Even having a job, having a boyfriend, was secondary. 

It was a surprise to me that as I became better at coping with the food behaviors, ditching the bingeing and the purging and the restriction, life itself seemed to get harder. I was lonely. I was bored. I didn't want my eating disorder back, but I wanted something. 

Turns out, the solution was maddeningly easy: connect with people. 

The solution to that boredom was not taking up a new hobby or working more or going back to school (though those things could be part of the solution). It was reaching out to others. For me, this project has taking shape in three major steps, which I will detail here: 

My first step was trying to connect with people on a basic level.

At first, my reaching out to others felt awkward. Why wouldn't it? Basically, I had shut down my emotional self at 13 to have an eating disorder. So in breaking out of that shell, I had to contend with the awkwardness of feeling like a fledgling person coming into the big scary world and saying hello and hoping someone would say it back.

  • I practiced being social. I would comment about the weather (the weather!) to grocery store clerks.
  • I would ask someone next to me in yoga class how long they had been doing yoga. I would commend them on a cool pose they could do.
  • I would ask someone with long hair what kind of shampoo she used. 

Basically, I would try to find something interesting about anyone and everyone I encountered, and try to use that to have a moment with them. 

While at first this felt somewhat artificial and forced, I found that over time, I really was interested in these things about people. People, as it turns out, are really interesting and have cool stories and thoughts that make me think, too. 

My second step was to socialize with people.

It was hard for me to take it "to the next level" with people, but I began trying. I began inviting people on social dates (coffee, tea, for a walk, etc). I learned early on that going out to lunch or dinner wasn't the best mode of socialization for me, because it would stress me out and bring me back into the dissociative state of disordered eating. I was not necessarily pleased about that but was able to acknowledge it and be gentle with myself about it - it was, after all, still a really big step just to go out to tea and actually talk with someone without constantly looking at the time and half-listening to them because there was already a ticker tape of disordered eating thoughts running through my mind. 

Some of my keys to success here were:

  • Inviting people to do what I considered "safe" activities. Walking, having tea or coffee, going to a gallery opening, going clothes shopping. Basically, activities that didn't involve food. 
  • Not looking at my phone. Not to say I didn't do it at all, but I really tried to not seem like I was eager to be anywhere else. Interestingly, by deciding that you want to be with the person you're with, you will have a better time. If I had somewhere else to be, I would set an alarm on my phone so that it would tell me when it was time to leave, rather than me looking at my phone every 2 minutes to check the time. 
  • Asking questions and listening. I have a lot of trouble listening! I often try to think of a clever response while the other person is talking. While it's good to be clever, it's not cool to be ignoring what the other person is saying for your own vanity.
  • Being interested. Related to the point above, but it requires a certain amount of energy to really be interested. It's worth it. 

My third step was to make friends. 

This is the step I'm currently on, and it's close to my heart. It's embarrassing to admit that I really never made a core of friends as an adult. I liked to tell myself that it's because I'm a better one on one person, but even that isn't quite it. I made friends as an adult, but never the types of friends like I made in middle or high school, with whom I'd have late night heart to hearts and really tell things. My adult friends were usually at a cordial distance, largely wedged between us by my eating disorder. 

But to really recover, I really needed--and need--to connect, so it's time to upgrade those semi-friends into the real thing, and pursue true friendships. Here's how I am doing that:

  • Do what I say I will. If someone invites me to a gallery opening or a concert and I say "sure", I actually keep my word and go. In the past, it was easy to say yes to everything but then frequently flake out when it actually came to be time to live up to my end. This made me feel bad, and undoubtedly made the other person feel bad, too. Now, I really try to do what I say I will. I'm not perfect, but I have gotten better. 
  • Keep in contact. When someone texts me or messages me, I can be tempted to think "too hard" and not respond for days. Now, I really try to be responsive. I think it shows respect, and it shows my commitment to them and "watering" our friendship. 
  • Doing things. I don't actually do a lot of social things, but that has been changing. I have been trying to really do things, like go for hikes, or go to music shows. It's hard for the introvert in me, but it often feels really good to do things with other people, so I am willing to keep on trying. 
  • Listen. This is a carry-over from step 2: actually listening. I think this is an ongoing practice that may get easier with time, but will always require a little attention and work. 
  • Caring. As I previously mentioned, I used to keep friends at a cordial distance. This was nice in some ways because there were never any extremes: no big fights or disagreements. But then again there wasn't really any intimacy. Part of caring, I have realized, is being my true and authentic self with people, and being fully available. This closeness can sometimes cause friction, but it is real, and there is a beauty to that. 
  • Overcoming fears. If someone wants to do something during a time that I would usually be eating or doing something else, that can be difficult for me. I miss my routine. But now I try to challenge it. Like, recently after a class I took someone asked me to take a walk. Well, I had been planning on going home and treating myself to a fancy beer I'd bought and making brussels sprouts (I like simple things). But I realized that what I would gain by going "offroading" on the path of my day would outweigh delaying my dinner. So we took a walk and I felt a happy glow all night after. Stepping out of the comfort zone isn't appropriate all the time for me, but I can be rewarded for taking baby steps out now and again. 

Connecting with people after an eating disorder is an unusual and sometimes strange and scary territory. But I want to tell you that based on my experience, it is a path well worth exploring if you want to take your recovery to the next step.

It's a huge step to let go of the food behaviors that were holding you back, whether it was bingeing, purging, restricting, whatever. I don't want to take that away from you; it's HUGE. But once you've done that, there's a bigger challenge ahead: not just being in the world, but engaging with it. Are you ready to live your best life and truly recover? The world is waiting. 

Rules and Habits.

I identify as "mostly recovered". To me, this means that while I have ditched a lot of the unhealthy food behaviors that characterize an eating disorder, I still have work to do. In particular, that work has to do with breaking my own habits and rules.

Nearly everyone I know who has suffered from an eating disorder has been bogged down by a weirdly intricate set of dictates which govern the disorder. Sometimes, they become so deeply ingrained that it's like they form a neural pathway groove: you don't even realize it's a habit or a rule. It's just what you do. 

However, by being able to identify the habits and rules that form the infrastructure of your disorder, maybe it's possible to begin lovingly and compassionately--yet assertively--tearing it down.

Ideally, without having a mental breakdown.

OK. So here's where I will own up and share some of my own rules and habits and things that need to be just-so before I can eat comfortably. I'm sure that there are some things that I don't even realize I do, but there are plenty that I have identified. Here are some of the big ones:

The plates, glasses, forks, knives, must be just right.

The wrong plate, or glass, or bowl, can ruin my entire eating experience. Before I go to a restaurant, I will try to find yelp images of the food to ascertain whether or not the food will be served in a way that I can deal with. If a restaurant serves food on huge plates, or uses oversized glasses for their drinks, I will probably avoid it. If I find myself at an establishment with non-pleasing plate sizes, I will often ask for an extra salad plate and use it to ration out what I see as a suitable serving. I despise large forks; I prefer to use a salad fork for every part of the meal. 

Ice cream cups are also a big thing that I have rules about. Many establishments use the same size vessel (usually an 8-ounce cup) whether you are getting one or two scoops. I hate this, and will actually avoid ice cream places, even good ones, that do this, because I can't "trust" the amount of ice cream in the cup. Even a single scoop seems like "too much" in the larger cup. I prefer a smaller cup so that my ice cream appears plentiful in the cup, and so that I feel I can trust the amount. 

Another rule is that drinks must never be served in oversized cups or glasses. I went to a local brewery not too long ago where they let you order the beer in various sizes. I ordered the smallest size, but they were out of the smallest sized glasses. "I'll pour the small amount in a larger glass", the bartender said, reasonably enough. I'm not sure which was more horrifying: the idea of carrying a gargantuan cup, or getting a drink that only filled the glass 2/3 of the way. "I'll wait for one of the smaller cups", I said, and there was an awkward pause. She honored my request, but likely thought I was crazy. I didn't care, because I knew that the awkwardness was better than feeling shitty the whole time I was drinking from the wrong sized glass. 

Acceptable meal times. 

I wake up early, largely thanks to my two pugs, who reliably wake me up wanting to go out between 6:04 and 6:15 am each day.  Often, I wake up hungry and my first thoughts are of food, but eating at 6:30 in the morning seems out of the question to me. I'm not exactly sure how or why it formed, but there is a rule running in my head that "You Must Wait Until After 7:00 AM to Eat". So usually, I will feed the pugs and give them their vitamins, maybe make coffee, check my email. But I am looking at the clock every 2 minutes to see if it is 7:00am yet and if I can eat. 

Likewise, lunch can only be after 12:00pm. Even if I'm really, really hungry, every clock in the house (even the one on the oven that registers a full five minutes slower than the one on the wall) plus my cell phone must register noon or later before it's OK for me to eat something. 

Dinner can only be after 6:00 pm. You get the picture. These rules make it very difficult to be flexible about eating, sometimes. And it can be hard in the in-between hours, because I get hungry. But it simply does not feel OK to eat at non-scheduled eating times. 

I should note, though, that I relish opportunities to eat later than the scheduled eating times. Like, if I am held up running errands and can't have lunch until 1:45 pm, that feels great. Like I haven't been ruled, but made a decision. But really, it's not the case because even though I was busy, I am still holding on to the "after 12" rule. 

No snacks, no between-meal eating. 

That last entry brings up this big rule: NO SNACKS. NO BETWEEN-MEAL EATING. This is, happily, a rule I am working hard to break. Usually, if I have eaten breakfast between 7 and 8 am, by the time noon rolls around, I am really hungry. A sensible person might have a handful of nuts or a piece of fruit at 10:30 or so. Not me. I bravely wait for the clock to register the time it must be for it to be OK for me to eat. On a day when I'm hungry, it's definitely "hangry" territory--you don't want to be around me between 11 am and noon.

I have taken some steps in this regard. For instance, if I am having a piece of peanut butter toast and apple slices for breakfast, I will only eat half of the apple and reserve the other half for my 10:30 "snack". Or if I know what I am having for dinner, I will have a small piece of it at 4pm and then have slightly less at dinner time to compensate for the "advance" I snacked on. Every now and again I do something crazy like eat four cashews in the afternoon. It's a bit regimented, yes, but it does feel like progress.

What I'm allowed to eat.

There are certain things that I feel I'm not "allowed" to eat. For example: both halves of a hamburger bun (I'll take off the top part and slice it like an open-faced sandwich, which is awkward at many establishments, especially the type that serve burgers in baskets). Or french fries. I'm just never allowed to eat french fries. I've talked myself into believing I don't like them, but I am not sure that is true, because doesn't everybody? 

I'm not allowed to eat a second slice of pizza, unless they are small slices and two are really the size of one normal one. 

I'm not allowed to eat more than 2 eggs. Three-egg omelet? I am going to divide that baby into thirds and only eat two of them.

I'm not allowed to eat both halves of a sandwich. Sometimes I do (I detail more about this in my fear of sandwiches post) but it's usually not pretty. 

Food combinations

This is related to, but slightly different than, the above entry. Food combinations remain a big issue for me. This can be foods combined in a single mealtime, or combinations of meals throughout the day. For instance: at a single meal, I am allowed to have chips or potatoes or pasta or bread, but only one. Not any combination of these carbohydrates. 

The combinations can be a day-long thing, too. For instance, if I had a grilled cheese and egg sandwich for breakfast, I would not be "allowed" to have pizza for dinner, because it would be too much "carb and cheese" for one day. Or if I had peanut butter toast for breakfast, I would not be allowed to have a spoonful of peanut butter for a snack because that would be too much peanut butter. If I've had French toast for breakfast, I am not allowed to have even a bite of cookie later--too much sugar. It has to be one or the other.

This is one that I am still exploring, because sometimes the "OK" and "not OK" options will present themselves as the day unfolds. 

Tasting what I'm making.

I have to taste the baked goods I make, and a good chef should be tasting dishes while cooking, but this can be very stressful for me. Even if I am taking a minuscule bite, I will still often wait until the "acceptable" meal time to do so. You will never have much success saying "taste this!" to me as you cook. This can throw a wrench in the process for sure.  

Lately, I have been making a lot of progress on this. I have been making sure that I am baking in manageable portions, so that I don't have to taste more than one scary, between-meals thing per day. 

A few months ago, I was teaching a baking class at a place that does catering, and the chef was working on tarts for a catering gig while I taught. I walked in to the kitchen and he handed me one and said "taste this!". Now, it wasn't a prescribed meal time, but they were beautiful and freshly made and he was a scary chef so I did it. And you know what? I didn't die from having a two-bite treat that wasn't on my schedule. 

Knowing the "plan". 

As you have likely gathered, I am not the most flexible eater. So when I am eating with others, or going on a trip, etc, etc, I like to have a plan in place. 

If I know what will be for dinner, I can eat foods that feel safe in combination with that dish for breakfast and lunch. 

If I know I will be making a cake, I can plan on that being my treat for the day and can "eat around" it. 

If I know that I am meeting a friend at a restaurant at this time, I can plan in advance what I might order and prepare myself for the scary silverware and serving dishes. 

Unfortunately, when things don't go according to "plan", I can feel like I am imploding. I still need to do a lot of work on this one. 

"Feeling" foods. 

I love places like Whole Foods because you can buy things like nuts in bulk, and they have those carry-out containers full of things like brussels sprouts or mediterranean salad etc that are priced by weight. I will go to the carry-out section and feel the weight of various containers, feeling all of them if I need to to find the amount that feels just right for me. 

I will heft the weight of a potential apple in my hand, making sure it doesn't have bruises and has the perfect texture. I will not settle for a substandard apple. 

While I can't necessarily feel them, in bakery settings I will zero in on the pastry that looks to be the size I want and identify that I want "the ginger cookie three down from the front". 

For me to enjoy them, foods have to be the right size, weight, and feel. 

Gum means the eating is over. 

Once I unwrap and begin to chew a piece of gum, the meal and eating is officially over. This is a habit (usually after breakfast, sometimes dinner) I have had for a couple of years now. If I feel scared that I want to eat more, I will knock that out as an option by popping a piece of gum. Having the gum in my mouth is a signal that eating is over, and a way to make my mouth taste such a way so that eating more wouldn't be pleasurable but minty-tinged. 

My rules and habits: how can I break free?

As I write and read back through these rules and habits, I realize that a lot of it is very Goldilocks-like: it can't be too much this or too much that, but it has to be just right. Interestingly, it seems less like an eating disorder and more like control issues or some sort of compulsive disorder (though I am not a doctor so that may be totally off!).

While these habits / rules don't have to mean that I have an eating disorder, I recognize that in some ways, they keep me from getting completely better. 

The idea of abandoning all of them right now seems liberating yet also impossible. I need these rules, because without structure, what would I have to protect me? It would be like going out in the the winter freeze with a bathing suit on. I need the protection. The rules are my fur coat. 

But at the same time, listing them like this makes it seem possible to begin to tear down these rules and regulations. Like:

  • What if just this once I was OK being served a beverage in a martini glass, or OK using a regular fork to eat? 
  • What if I did eat at 6:42 in the morning, instead of looking at the clock every three minutes until it's 7:00 (the safe/acceptable time)? 
  • What if I had a bite of cookie, and a slice of cake, on the same day?
  • What if I went out for pizza because someone suggested it, even though I had had grilled cheese for lunch? 

When I pose these questions in that way, it seems like maybe they would not kill me. 

So for now, I remain curious. I'm like a teenager, finally identifying the rules set by parents and testing which ones can be bended and broken, which ones I want to call "bullshit" on. I'm sure that at some point these rules and habits were formed as (misguided) attempts to protect myself. But I don't need them any more, and every time I break a rule, I will relish in finding my own freedom. 

What are your rules and habits? 

The Holidays: When Everyone Has an Eating Disorder

You know how "everyone's Irish" on March 17? Well, I have a theory that everyone has an eating disorder around the holidays. And I choose to find comfort in this: as someone in eating disorder recovery, the holidays are the time of year when everyone is right there in it with me. 

Think about it.

Let's start with Halloween. More than a few people over-indulge on Fun-sized (fun, to who?) candy bars. All throughout the next week,  you hear people talking about how they must atone for their sugar-coated sins by upping their workouts or eating only salads. This year, a yoga teacher actually even added an extra portion of ab work to a class for "if you've been hitting the kids' candy like me". Yoga should be a shame-free place, but it's often not. 

Then comes Thanksgiving, a day when we are not only encouraged but expected to overeat. So across the nation, we're all engaging in a binge eating episode. When I was bulimic, I was incredibly ashamed of my binge episodes and the amount of food I ate. I was pretty sure nobody in the history of the world had ever eaten as much as me on a binge. But these days, as I observe people eating on Thanksgiving, I have second thoughts about my (thankfully now long-ago) binges. I think there are some people, who do not have eating disorders, who could probably could have given me a run for my money. 

And after the Big Binge Episode known as Thanksgiving? Here's what I heard this year. A few people are on juice cleanses. One person vows to run an extra 10 miles per week. All over the place I am hearing people say these words: "I feel sooooo fat". And part of me thinks this:

Aren't those supposed to be my words, my sentiments? Who is the one with the eating disorder here?

Then after Thanksgiving, it only gets more pronounced as we enter the holiday season, where it's not one single day but basically a full month of excess, wherein drinks flow freely, cookies are in abundance, and it's not so much amuse buche as it is stuff yourself with bûche de noël. 

The media gets in on the action: magazines are teeming with articles about how to stay fit during the holidays. Websites offer tips for not losing control during holiday feasting. Some try to remain virtuous during the holidays, with grim expressions and Fit Bits cemented to their wrist. Others indulge more than fully, knowing that there are lean days ahead, and this time of plenty will not last.They're making their resolutions even while having a third glass of eggnog. Come January 1, it's juice and exercise. Every day! Twice a day! No sugar. No gluten. No fun. 

All of this sounds familiar to someone with an eating disorder, on both ends. The restricting, grimly avoiding all of the deviant pleasures and temptations that are all around. And on the other end of the spectrum, the binge and purge cycle, gorging now, making up for it later (or having the intent to). The obsession. The food. 

It's like the entire world has gone on a massive, month-long binge and purge cycle. 

For a lot of disordered eaters, myself included for a very long time, this was enough to confuse and send my recovery into a tailspin. Who's the one with an eating disorder here? If everyone's overeating, why don't I do it too? Or should I just avoid all of it because I might not be able to stop once I started?  

In the life cycle of my eating disorder, I started out bulimic, and ended on the anorexic end of the scale, and now, I identify more with the restriction type of compulsions. During the holidays, I don't have too much trouble resisting temptation. If anything, it's easy to avoid overindulging, and in a typical anorexic mindset, to feel imperious. The little anorexic voice in my head applauds me, and says "you're superior  and stronger than the weaklings who are chowing down on 12 cookies at a time."

To the anorexic still lingering in my brain, it's a fantastic time of year to prove just how much I can deny myself, which can be a trigger of sorts. But what really stresses me out about the holidays is the turmoil they cause in something very important to me--the structure of my days. There are holidays, my work schedule gets wonky, everything seems unpredictable. It's like the equivalent of being stuck in an airport in a snowstorm and not knowing when things will go back to normal.

I love a good routine, and the holidays throw it all out of whack. Just when I felt like I have figured out how social situations and people and eating together work, now all of the rules are different during the holidays. I hate not having a plan, a routine, knowing what the deal is.

But this year, I do have a plan, and I like it. I choose--boldly--to look upon this phenomenon with a bit of humor, and with a ton of compassion.

What the craziness around food during the holiday season tells me is that even people without eating disorders suffer from episodes of disordered eating. 

While on the one hand I am tempted to be downtrodden about this fact - what does that mean for my goal of full recovery if non-eating disordered people are exhibiting disordered behavior? But then again, when I look at it from a different point of view, this can actually be a very uplifting thing.

It means that we're more the same than I thought. It means that opening up and saying "I'm really stressed out about this holiday party and I almost don't want to go because there are going to be fatty appetizers and creamy drinks" to someone is totally ok, because even if they don't have an eating disorder, they are probably feeling the food pressure of the holidays, too. If you're restricting, it also means that you're not the only one depriving yourself and remaining stoic in the face of peppermint hot chocolate with marshmallows.

For many who are suffering or in recovery from eating disorders, the holidays are a tremendously difficult time of year. I would never try to argue that or take it away from anyone.

But maybe, just maybe, we can change our relationship with the holidays. They could win. They could stress us all out, eating disordered and non-eating disordered alike. But nobody ends up happy that way. Why not embrace the fact that we're all all little stress balls of holiday meltdown waiting to happen? Once we recognize that we're all getting stressed out, together, and maybe find a little humor in that fact, we can start to let the whole charade go and just have fun. I'd go to a party with that theme. 

Maybe that's the new holiday spirit. 


I have regrets.

Some of them I consider "regret-lite"--things that I feel, yes, but can dismiss as being fairly standard regret fare. You know. Things I said that I wish I hadn't, things I wish I had said that I didn't. Wishing I'd spent more time with my grandmother before she died. Lamenting the fact that I didn't study abroad when I had the chance. 

But then there are the great, big, whopping regrets.

The ones that still hurt, or at least ache whenever I think of them. The ones that I still feel shame about. 

All of these big, bad regrets seem to have something in common: they are all strongly tied to my eating disorder. Oh, the things I did (and didn't do) for my eating disorder. 


For one, not socializing in college. I made a couple of very close friends in college, and I am thankful for that. But the "friends for life" group that comes together for weddings, baby showers, girls weekends? That brings up crickets in my life. I didn't like eating with others. When I was restricting, it was no fun to be around others; when I was bingeing, there was too much shame to be around others. Therefore, I spent a lot of time alone with my disease. I lament what I missed out on. 

For another one, romantic relationships. Having an eating disorder and a boyfriend is like being in a three-way relationship, and not in a sexy-experimental Jules et Jim sort of way. My eating disorder was a wedge between me and the significant order in question, and it always came first. It chipped away at even the most saintly and patient of partners. 

I regret that throughout my eating disorder, I always left too soon. I never wanted to overstay my welcome, so I always left too early. This ranged from small-time (leaving a party early) to big-time (leaving a city before I'd realized my potential; leaving a romantic partner rather than giving them a chance). 

And then there are the regrets that are so close to me that it's hard to talk about them, even with people I love and trust. Moments where I truly regret my actions or decisions, and if a time machine was accessible to me, I would go back and react differently. These are the hardest regrets, the ones that when I think about them, I cry and cry and cry. 

My eating disorder isn't responsible for every wrong thing I've done, but it certainly didn't assist me in being the best person I could be. Under the guise of disordered eating, I lied, I manipulated, I used, I abused. I violated my own moral code, more than once.

My eating disorder starved me while it fed on my life. It makes me angry. It makes me wonder: how would things have been different if I didn't have an eating disorder?

Oh man, I could go over that one over and over and over. 

But here's the thing: while the "what if" game is seductive, it's truly not a good use of time. Not only because what has happened has happened, but because by obsessing about the past, I'm continuing in a vicious cycle of not taking part in my own life. New things, new relationships, new opportunities are still right here right now, and by spending my current time regretting the past, I am now creating a new situation where I will keep regretting the past because I was too busy regretting to take advantage of what was right in front of me. Deep, right? 

I know that it's a much better idea to accept the past as fact, and to move forward in the future learning from mistakes, and hopefully becoming a bigger and better person because of them. But it's not easy.

So how does one deal with regret? 

Part of me wants to shrug my shoulders, say "unuhuh" because "I don't know" is too hard to say, and keep on regretting my poor, tragic life.

But the braver part of me embraces the model from the lovely site Tiny Buddha. It seems like whenever I'm googling some sort of way to deal with emotions, I end up there. I'm going to outline the list of steps here, but to dig in and get to the meat of them, visit the website

  1. Identify and address your weakness.

  2. Use your mistake as a teaching tool.

  3. Use the opportunity to become better at adapting.

  4. Strengthen your ability to focus on things you can control. 

  5. Embrace impermanence.

  6. Evaluate your relationships.

  7. Get better at accepting blame.

  8. Challenge your thinking. 

Maybe, one day I will gain a better relationship with my regret. When I try really hard, I can see a silver lining. I can see how the things I regret have made me more accepting of others, less quick to judge, more likely to have empathy. The silver lining is small, though--still a sliver. 

Dealing with regret is not easy. On the contrary, it's exquisitely painful. My goal is not to avoid regret entirely. But it is to turn that aching, forever constant pain into a clean, clear pain. At least I can see that for what it is, and that gives me an opportunity to mourn. 

What is your relationship with regret?