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. 

5:05pm

  • 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. 

6:03pm

  • 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 

8:30am

  • 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. 

1pm:

  • 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. 

6pm:

  • 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.

7:30pm

  • 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 

7:30am

  • 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.

12:30pm:

  • 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.

3pm:

  • 2 pretzel nuggets 

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

5:30pm:

  • 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

7:30am:

  • 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.

12:02pm:

  • 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.

3pm:

  • one carrot

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

6:30pm:

  • 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 little...off.
  • 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